Submarines Under Ice (1950s-1960s)
In 1930, Sir Hubert Wilkins acquired
the submarine O-12 from the US Navy. He outfitted her and renamed
her Nautilus, and prepared an undersea expedition to
the North Pole. The leader of the scientific staff was Harald
U. Sverdrup, who was to make measurements from a specially rigged
diving compartment. The submarine headed north into the pack
ice north of Spitsbergen in August 1931, but when the diving
plane became damaged, the submarine could no longer cruise very
far under the ice, and was relegated to making oceanographic
observations outside of the ice pack. However, the Nautilus
did make several short runs under ice, indicating that submarines
could feasibility operate in and under the ice pack.
Fifteen years after Wilkin's expedition, in 1946, the Navy organized
an expedition of the Kane Basin, codenamed Operation Nanook.
A specially outfitted submarine, the Atule, was to
carry out submarine operations under the ice in Baffin Bay and
to the north. The next year, with better ice sounding technology,
submarine operations were also conducted under the ice in Bering
Strait. In 1952, the Redfish joined the icebreaker
Burton Island and reached McClure Strait, and the following
year, with the Northwind, retraced the route part of
the way. Up to this point, the submarines operating in the Arctic
were mostly traveling among the ice floes, rather than below
the ice pack.
The world's first nuclear submarine was also called the Nautilus,
and was built in 1952. On its third try, it attained the North
Pole (but did not surface) in summer 1958, while crossing the
Arctic from the Bering to Fram Strait in 96 hours. The same
year, the nuclear powered submarine Skate visited drifting
ice station Alpha, and six months later became the first vessel
to surface at the Pole. The Soviets arrived in 1962 on the Leninski
Komsomolets, and the British made the crossing on the Dreadnought
On the web: Arctic Submarine Laboratory
Calvert, J., Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages
of the USS Skate, Naval Institute Press, 220 pp., 1996.
Williams, M.D., Submarines Under Ice: The U.S. Navy's Polar
Operations, Naval Institute Press, 223 pp., 1998.