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

17
Northward around
the New Siberian Islands

We departed the Laptev Sea at best speed shortly after midnight on 18 August. We were en route to a position well out in the deep water of the Arctic Ocean from which to send a check report. Rear Admiral Small, Commander Submarine Forces Pacific, with whom we had not communicated since early August, had asked us to confirm that all was well before we resumed the survey.

On reaching latitude 80° N shortly before noon, we slowed, decreased depth, and began searching for a polynya in which to come to periscope depth. We located one almost immediately, and Queenfish made a vertical ascent through isothermal, 29.5° F, water into a small polynya with very little deballasting required. We ascended to the surface through exceptionally clear water. A quick look through the periscope revealed the polynya to be fringed with thick multiyear and deformed ice. “Great job!” I congratulated the diving officer of the watch, Steve Gray. “We're right in the center of the polynya.”

“Hovering at six-eight feet, sir!” Gray reported back. I started to reply “very well” when a huge white shape rose from behind a large ridge, and I emitted an excited, “Polar bear, polar bear! It's on the edge of the polynya! Bearing, mark!”

“Bearing two-four-eight degrees true!” responded Quartermaster Clarence Williams, asking, “Estimated range?” “Close, Close!” I answered, followed by “Quick, hand me the camera!”

The command watch officer, Bob Baumhardt, placed a brand new Hasselblad 35-mm camera in my right hand while I continued to track the polar bear through the periscope. I removed the periscope eyepiece within a matter of seconds, rap-

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