Unknown Waters: A Firsthand Account of the Historic Under-Ice Survey of the Siberian Continental Shelf by USS Queenfish (SSN-651)

By Alfred S. McLaren | Go to book overview

tain peak. Throw in the possibility of encountering an iceberg, and the under water picture becomes quite crowded with hazards. For example, Queenfish encountered ice keels projecting more than one hundred feet below the ocean's surface. Such encounters were more likely to occur in missions such as mine and Fred McLaren's, where the main point of exploration was to gather information on these uncharted parts of the globe.

The year central to Captain McLaren's story, 1970, found Vietnam still difficult and the cold war at its height. It was thought the Soviets viewed the Arctic as a private backyard. Our own Nautilus had, in 1958, crossed that ocean and been to the pole, but we had not been to, and knew little about, the sea shelves immediately off the Siberian shore.

McLaren was among the first to recognize that this lack of information about a region of such great strategic importance could become a national embarrassment to the United States Navy. To gain the needed information, however, it would not be necessary to penetrate Russian territorial waters secretly; it would be adequate to survey along a path well north of the Soviet Union's territorial claim.

Selected and trained by Admiral Hyman Rickover, McLaren was chosen by Rickover in 1969 to command USS Queenfish. Possessing an outstanding ability as a submarine operator, and with considerable Arctic experience as a young officer on USS Seadragon (SSN-584), McLaren set about planning and getting support for a two-phase exploration. The first phase was to retrace most of Nautilus's 1958 track, beginning in the Bering Strait. One aim was to compare ice conditions of 1958 versus those of 1970 and perhaps draw some conclusions. The second phase would start 240 nautical miles after passing the pole and divert south and east to the Laptev Sea and then commence a detailed survey of the Siberian shelf, working back to the Bering Strait through the Laptev, East Siberian, and Chukchi seas.

This was an extremely hazardous mission, and Captain McLaren, his officers, and crew deserve great credit for having accomplished it. Just to put the cards on the table, though in Nautilus we had some squeeze problems of our own, McLaren and Queenfish went some places that I doubt I would have gone.

In the three seas covered, the next squeeze problem was always just ahead, each with its own unpredictable characteristics and special challenges. The net result of this almost constant need to zig and zag around deep ice keels and to go up and down to clear sea-bottom obstacles demanded a special delegation of responsibility to three highly trained command watch sections. Otherwise the skipper would not have been able to get any rest at all. Captain McLaren and his officers and crew have my admiration and deserve congratulations for the success of this arrangement.

-xiv-

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