USCGC Southwind WAGB 280
   The Polar Prowler
USCGC Southwind
History Page
USCGC SOUTHWIND Awards and Decorations





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An Abbreviated History of the USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280)

On 20 July 1942 a keel was laid for the third icebreaker of the Coast Guard’s Eastwind class
in the shipyards of the Western Pipe and Iron Works of Los Angeles, California.  On 8 March
1943 Mrs. Ona Jones christened the rapidly developing hull, and a little over a year later, on
19 July 1944, the vessel was commissioned as
USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280), the
ultimate in icebreaker design.  After commissioning
Southwind became part of the Coast
Guard’s wartime fleet, and upon completion of shakedown and training exercises she joined
the Coast Guard’s wartime effort on the Greenland Patrol, bristling with guns and special
camouflage paint that covered her Coast Guard white color scheme, and under the
command of her first commanding officer, Commander Richard M. Hoyle, USCG.


While serving in the frigid Arctic waters her duties included escorting supply ships to
northern outposts, completing reconnaissance missions, gathering vital weather information,
and denying Nazi Germany access to Greenland.  Additionally, in October 1944
Southwind,
along with other Coast Guard cutters, played a significant role in the surface action against
the German Naval Auxiliary Motor Vessel
Externsteine that had covertly landed German
military personnel in an attempt to set up a weather station to aid Nazi Germany’s war effort.  
The enemy personnel were captured, and the encounter between the German vessel,
Southwind, and other Coast Guard vessels resulted in the only enemy surface vessel
captured at sea by U.S. Naval forces during the war. To read the complete account of the
capture of the
Externsteine, click on the following link: Capture Of the Externsteine

Similar to other icebreakers of the “Wind-Class”, Southwind was 269-feet in length, 63-feet
10-inches in beam, displaced 6,481 tons when fully loaded, and had a maximum draft of  29-
feet.  She was powered by two stern and one bow propellers that were driven electrically by
two electric motors that were driven by six Westinghouse DC (Discharging Current)
generators that were in turn powered by six Fairbanks-Morse, 10-cylinder, 2-cycle opposed
piston diesel engines.  Her three direct driving shaft motors provided a total of 10,000 shaft
horsepower astern, and her armament originally consisted of one 5-inch 38-caliber dual-
purpose gun mount and four 40MM and eight 20MM antiaircraft machine guns.  Her 1-5/8-
inch armored steel sides protected her from ice damage, her outboard bulkheads and
weather decks were originally insulated internally with a layer of 5-inch and 4-inch cork
respectively (later replaced), and her bow was especially designed to break rather than to
cleave ice.  In plain words
Southwind was designed for work in the ice.

Southwind’s initial period of service with the U.S. Coast Guard was short-lived for on 25
March 1945 she was transferred to the Soviet Union, one of U.S.’ World War Two Allies,
under the Lend-Lease Program.  The Soviets renamed the vessel the
Admiral Markarov
after the famous Russian mariner and naval architect Admiral Stephan Markarov who had
first conceived of the basic icebreaker class design many years before.  While operating
under the Soviet flag for nearly five years the vessel served the sea routes of northern
Russia and kept shipping channels open in the eastern and western areas of the Arctic.  In
the summer of 1950, the Soviet Union returned the vessel to the U.S. at Yokosuka, Japan.

To meet the growing demand for U.S. Naval shipping to supply Arctic bases the icebreaker
was awarded to the Navy and as a result a handful of officers and men reported aboard her
in the Summer of 1950 at Yokosuka to prepare to take her home.  On 1 October1950 after
two months of emergency repair work in Japan she was commissioned in the U.S. Navy as
USS Atka (AGB-3) after a small island in the Aleutian Chain, and 3 days later departed for
Boston.  The following summer, upon completion of an extensive overhaul and
modernization in the Boston Naval Shipyard, she took her place as an active unit of the U.S.
Atlantic Fleet and during her 16 years in Boston she completed a long series of
distinguished missions, including nineteen trips to Arctic and nine extensive voyages to the
Antarctic.

In 1964 the national icebreaking program was consolidated under the U.S. Coast Guard and
one by one the vessels formerly under Naval control were transferred to the Coast Guard.  
In the fall of 1966
Atka’s turn came.  She was decommissioned by the Navy on 31 October
1966, struck from the Naval Register, and commissioned in the Coast Guard after
Commander John S. Blake, USN relinquished command to Captain Sumner R. Dobler,
USCG.  Shortly thereafter her new crew sailed her from Boston to her new homeport in
Baltimore, Maryland, and she entered the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard on Key Highway in
preparation for Artic East 1967 and what would follow.  On 18 January 1967 she was
renamed from
USCGC Atka to USCGC Southwind, and by so doing completed a remarkable
historical cycle:  after more than twenty years, three name changes, and a career of honor
under both the flag of the Soviet Union, and commissioning pennant of the U.S. Navy,
Southwind finally returned home to the U.S. Coast Guard.

During her second tour of duty with the Coast Guard
Southwind was home ported at the U.S.
Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Maryland from commissioning in 1966 until  December 1972
when she was transferred to her new home port in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  
Southwind’s base
of operations home port remained in Milwaukee until shortly before decommissioning on 31
May 1974 in Baltimore, Maryland.  After decommissioning,
Southwind joined the mothball
fleet at the Coast Guard Yard, was sold for scrap in March 1976, and was eventually
reduced to scrap metal at a nearby shipbreaker’s yard.

Although she is now a memory, recollections and reminiscences of
Southwind are kept alive
by the many crew members who served aboard her during her thirty-year career.  As a
result, her history will live on forever by those who learn of her wartime exploits, including
surface action against and capture of an enemy surface combatant during World War Two,
her distinguished service during her tenure with the Soviet Union immediately after the war,
and her remarkable record of accomplishments including the safe completion a total of
twenty-five deployments to the Arctic and twelve trips to the Antarctic under both U.S. Coast
Guard and U.S. Navy control without incident.

Selected USCGC SOUTHWIND notable milestones:
Bermuda - 28 May 1967:
  • Completed shakedown training enroute to Bermuda
  • Towed disabled yacht Gytha from 50 miles north of Bermuda to that island

Arctic - 1 July 1967 to 7 August 1967:
  • Completed an Arctic deployment to Greenland, served as an escort for vessels
    requiring transit through ice fields, and conducted oceanographic research
    along both coasts of Greenland
  • Escorted special repair ship USS Aeolus and it's assist vessel USS Seneca in
    repairing an underwater communications cable that had been severed near
    Thule Air Force Base, Greenland
  • Some of the liberty calls included Thule, Greenland, Godthab, Greenland,
    Argentia, Newfoundland, and Goose Bay, Labrador

Antarctic - 15 December 1967 to 25 March 1968:
  • Completed an Operation Deep Freeze deployment to Antarctica
  • Assisted in the construction of a U.S. scientific station on Anvers Island
  • Ran aground on an uncharted pinnacle of rock near Arthur Harbor, Antarctica.
    As a result, escorted to Panama by USCGC Glacier, traveled through the
    Panama Canal alone, and accompanied to Baltimore by USCGC Cherokee
  • Some of the liberty calls included Rodman, Panama Canal Zone, Valparaiso,
    Chile, and Punta Arenas, Chile

Antarctic - 14 November 1968 to 3 April 1969:
  • Completed an Operation Deep Freeze deployment to Antarctica
  • Along with USCGC Burton Island and USCGC Glacier broke into and freed up ice
    leading into McMurdo Sound.
  • During ice operations sheared off the starboard propeller, and had to return to
    Wellington for emergency drydock repairs and propeller replacement
  • Escorted Danish M/V Thala Dan in the resupply of the Australian Antarctic
    station, and helped construct the new Casey station
  • Assisted in the construction of a satellite tracking station on Heard Island located
    in the Indian Ocean
  • Completed an around the world cruise, and some of the liberty calls included
    Rodman, Panama Canal Zone, Wellington, New Zealand, Perth, Australia,
    Port Louis, Mauritius, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Tanzania, and
    Lorenco Marques, Mozambique
  • Awarded a Coast Guard Unit Commendation

Arctic - 7 July 1969 to 29 August 1969:
  • Completed an Arctic deployment to Greenland, served as an escort for vessels
    requiring transit through ice fields, and conducted oceanographic research
    along the west coast of Greenland
  • On 15 August ran aground 130 miles ESE of Thule, Greenland; sustained
    minor damage

Arctic - 3 June 1970 to 20 November 1970:
  • Completed an Arctic deployment to Greenland, served as an escort for vessels
    requiring transit through ice fields, and resupplied military bases in Greenland
  • On 15 August reached 83 degrees 01 minutes North, the northernmost
    penetration into the Arctic Basin by a U.S. icebreaker up to that date

Arctic - 10 July 1971 to 29 July 1971:
  • Completed an Arctic deployment to Greenland, served as an escort for vessels
    requiring transit through ice fields, and resupplied military bases in Greenland
    Conducted a glacier survey along the west coast of Greenland

Antarctic - 5 January 1972 to 26 February 1972:
  • Completed an Operation Deep freeze deployment to Antarctica

Arctic - 2 September 1972 to 22 October 1972:
  • Completed an Arctic deployment to Greenland, served as an escort for vessels
    requiring transit through ice fields, and resupplied military bases in Greenland
    Freed icebound USCGC Edisto and USS Mizar, and towed Edisto to Reykjavik,
    Iceland
  • Awarded a second Coast Guard Unit Commendation

Milwaukee - December 1972:
  • Moved to new home port of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Deployed for international and domestic ice breaking from this port

Arctic - 18 July 1973 to 9 August 1973:
  • Completed an Arctic deployment to Greenland, served as an escort for vessels
    requiring transit through ice fields, and resupplied military bases in Greenland

Decommissioned - 31 May 1974

Sold for scrap - March 1976
For  the complete account of the Greenland Patrol, click here: Greenland Patrol
U S Coast  Guard Unit Commendation ribbon (with Operational
Distinguishing Device, and one Gold Star), and American Campaign Medal

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, World War ll Victory Medal, and
National Defense Medal with one Bronze Star

Antarctica Service Medal, U S Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal ( with 5
Silver Stars), and U S Navy Arctic Service Medal