Let's Visit The WESTWIND©

By Tom Serres

This originally appeared in the U.S. Coast Guard Magazine, June 1953 Issue - Reprinted by Permission of the Author.

    

USCGC WESTWIND (WAGB-281) Courtesy of Fred's Place

     There have been a great many tales told of ships of the past and of ships of the present. The story of the Coast Guard Cutter WESTWIND has an interesting plot which may be of interest to the readers of this magazine. Maybe some of the original crew would like to know of her whereabouts and of the duties she is about to perform.

     The following is the story about the WESTWIND –- its past as told to me by Lieutenant (jg) C. A. McQuaid,  who was one of the original crewmembers and who is now the assistant engineering officer on board –- and its present  after a survey for material as close to the actual truth as can be told.

     The WESTWIND was built and commissioned at the Western Pipe and Steel Company in San Pedro, Calif. Then in command was Captain  Stephen  Swicegood, with Commander  Thiele as the executive officer. The original crew consisted of approximately 180 officers and men along with divers, a doctor and a dentist.

     After leaving San Pedro, the new WESTWIND, while making her first shakedown cruise, lost a man over the side during a fierce storm just off the West Coast. Continuing with the shakedown, she hit ports of call such as San Diego, Long Beach, San Francisco and Seattle. While at anchor on Thanksgiving Day in 1944, Captain Swicegood was ordered to return his command to the Bremerton Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash.,  there, after conversion, to turn his vessel over to the Russian navy under the Lend Lease Program. Lieutenant McQuaid witnessed the exchange of flags when the Russians recommissioned her and named her the Severny Polaris [sic].

     When the WESTWIND reached Russia,  it is believed that she was operated in the Murmansk area near Sweden. No one knows just what was done after that but there is some scuttlebutt that she was frozen tightly in the ice near Siberia.

     After considerable pressure by our government to reclaim the ship along with a few others, a crew of U. S. Navy personnel was sent to pick her up at Bremerhaven, Germany. I believe the year was about 1951. She was in such poor shape that she had to be towed back to the United States for extensive repairs and restoration. After arriving in Boston, Mass., she was turned over to the U. S. Coast Guard, under the command of Commander Errol H. Seegers. Seegers was later relieved of his command by Commander John C. Mullin.

     In the summer of 1952, she was towed to the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., by the CGC Cherokee, there to rest and to be made ready for  a complete overhaul. After being at the Yard for awhile, a crew was organized. Included were veteran crewmembers of the cutter Eastwind, our sister ship. Daryl D. Paul, ENC, and George A. Marshall, EM1, had been aboard the Eastwind when she collided with the tanker Gulfstream just off Cape May, N. J., in the early part of 1949. (At that time I was attending boot camp and assigned to Company Nan 2). Other former EASTWIND personnel now aboard the WESTWIND are John F. Campbell, FN, Robert L. Whitt, SN, Clarence P. Arnold, SN and Clive R. Conover, EM2, who made the record breaking voyage last year.

     While the ship’s complement was being filled, a great deal of chipping of paint, sanding and red-leading was being accomplished under the watchful eyes of the chief boatswain’s mate, Howard R. Tarr, Jr. Continuous pressure was passed down from the skipper, the first lieutenant, the chief, leading seamen, and finally to the deck force so as to meet a deadline in order to make a summer patrol in 1953. Eighteen recruits were sent from Cape May to assist in the renovation to get her into shape for the journey. The crew worked like Trojans. Never was there a better, hard-working crew to board and Coast Guard vessel.

     Still working hard and scarcely in shape, we were commissioned on the 22nd day of September, 1952. It was raining and the commissioning was to be informal. At this time we were at the Bethlehem Steel Drydock Company in Baltimore, Md. Although we made our home in the barracks at the Yard, we were transported back and forth daily in an Army vehicle. This occurred three times a day, for chow and liberty. The duty section would bed down aboard, wherever they could find a bunk, while the liberty sections would return to the Yard, clean up, chow down and depart on liberty. Then we would return from liberty the following morning, change clothes, eat and hop in the bus and go back to the Yard to relieve the previous duty section. This went on for about a month. Then we returned to the Yard and sometime later the entire crew moved aboard. It was on a Sunday and again it was raining.

     In command now is Captain Ralph R. Curry, formerly the legal officer for the Third Coast Guard District on Admiral Olson’s staff. Captain Curry was the skipper of the Comanche during WWII  and served in the anti-submarine fleets. His last sea duty was on board the CGC Winnebago in 1949. He is a winner of the Legion of Merit along with the Commendation Ribbon.

     Commander Arthur W. Johnsen, our executive officer, was Officer-in-Charge of Marine Inspection in Norfolk, Va., and was the senior inspector for the Coast Guard Marine Inspection Unit during the construction of the SS United States. After its completion, he was assigned to the WESTWIND as the exec. He believes in good liberty and is doing his best to make it as liberal as possible.

     At  present we have recently emerged from drydock once more. Our propellers and shafts were removed because of a few discrepancies. They have been replaced and again we will make our shakedown cruise. After that, our port-of-call will be in Brooklyn, N. Y., under the Third Coast Guard District. Still later this year (1953) we will be enroute to the great north.

     Although  Russia really made a mess of a good ship, we can proudly say that with a lot of sweat and hard work we have accomplished a great task.

     You’ll hear more from the WESTWIND.

Postscript:  The WESTWIND, after being completely outfitted and seen fit for a northern cruise, crossed the Arctic Circle on June 28th 1953 for the first time as a U. S. Coast Guard Icebreaker. The ship then went to Sondrestrom Air Base in Greenland to load 25,000 pounds of supplies destined for Alert,  an Arctic outpost in the northernmost part of Canada. Other stops on the way were at Ellsmere Island, Resolute, and a few other ports considered vital to the DEWLINE (distant early warning) mission. The trip to the Arctic that year was uneventful. Only once was the WESTWIND in danger of being frozen tightly in the ice. A rare, southerly wind, was responsible for allowing the ship to break free. The author, 2002.

Harry T.(Tom) Serres, a seaman first class at the time served aboard the CGC WESTWIND shortly after the ship had been returned to the Coast Guard by Russia. His job was that of a log room yeoman. Tom eventually was selected by Alex Haley of " Roots" fame to attend the U. S. Navy Class A Journalist School at Great Lakes, Ill.   

The Following is borrowed from Ken Laessar's Coast Guard History Site:

WESTWIND

WESTWIND keel laid 24 August 1942, launched 31 March 1943, and commissioned 18
September 1944. Transferred to Russia 21 February 1945 and named SVERNI PULIUS.
WESTWIND was returned to the United States in December 51 and decommissioned in
the Coast Guard on 22 September 1952. The ship was decommissioned 29 February
1988. 

Some WESTWIND events:

22 Sep 52-May 66 stationed at Brooklyn, NY, and used for icebreaking; 
Jun-Sep 53 resupplied Arctic bases 
Dec 53-Jan 54 broke ice on Hudson R 
Jun-Sep 54 resupplied Arctic bases—trapped in ice about 450 mi from North Pole, which threatened the possibility of wintering over 
Summer 55 participated in DEW Line construction 
Summer 56 participated in DEW Line construction 
Dec 57-Mar 58 participated in Operation Deep Freeze to the Antarctic 
Jun-Jul 59 Resupplied Arctic bases 
Jul 60 escorted Danish MV Julius Thomson through ice-clogged water to Thule, Greenland 
Jun-Nov 62 resupplied Arctic bases 
Jul-Aug 63 resupplied Arctic bases 
Jul - Aug 64 resupplied Arctic bases 
Jun-Aug 65 resupplied Arctic bases 
Nov 65 assisted cable ship John Cabbot repair break in the Thule-Deer Lake ocean cable

May 66-1972 stationed at Baltimore, MD, and used for icebreaking 
Jul 66 conducted an oceanographic cruise to the Arctic 
Dec. 67-Mar 68 participated in Op Deep Freeze to the Antarctic 
21 Jan 68 freed grounded Danish MV Magga in Winter Quarters Bay 
Mar-Apr 69 broke ice on the Great Lakes as part of project to extend navigational season on the lakes 
Jul-Nov 69 participated in MSTS resupply cruise to the Arctic 
26 Aug 69 helicopter from cutter rescued expedition of 7 from U. of London near Sermilgaq, Greenland 
Mar-Apr 70 broke ice on the Great Lakes 
June-Sept 70 resupply Thule AFB. On this deployment WESTWIND broke record for furthest surface vessel north only to have it broken within days by SOUTHWIND operating on east side of Greenland 
Dec. 70 detoured to Thule, Greenland (enroute Deepfreeze) to assist Canadian cable ship CABBOT repair broken communications cable 
Dec. 70 - May 71 - Operation Deepfreeze 
Sept 71 - Lost port screw in ice east of Greenland - returned to US where she went directly into major rehab status. 
1972-73 Extensively renovated at CG Yard, Curtis Bay, MD 
1974-81 Stationed at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and used for icebreaking 
May-Oct 79 Conducted Arctic cruise; 7 Aug 79 rescued three from a private ac near Kulusuk, Greenland 
29 Aug 79 Penetrated to 83°45'N—375 mi from North Pole, the record 
1981-29 Feb 88 Stationed at Mobile, AL, and used for LE and icebreaking 
4 Oct 83-25 Feb 84 participated in Operation Deep Freeze to the Antarctic 
5 Oct 83 repaired engines on FV Ocean 
Decommissioned 29 February 1988

 

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