Glacier, 1966 (WAGB 4)


March 4, 2020

Glacier, 1966
AGB-4 / WAGB 4

Navy name retained (named for Glacier Bay, Alaska).

Builder: Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp., Pascagoula, MA
Length:  309’ 8” oa
Beam: 74’ 4”
Draft: 28’ 3”
Displacement: 8,650 tons (when commissioned)
Launched: 27 August 1954
Commissioned: 27 May 1955 (USN); 30 June 1966 (USCG)
Decommissioned: 7 July 1987
Status: Scrapped
Propulsion: 6 electric motors driven by 10 Westinghouse generators driven by 10 Fairbanks-Morse diesels; 21,000 HP; twin propellers
Top speed: 17 knots (1966); 16,000 mile range
Economic speed: 10 knots (1966), 29,280 mile range
Complement: 339
    Radar: SPS-6C; SPS-10; SPS-46 (1966)
    Sonar: UQN (1966)
Armament: 5”/38 (twin mount)
Other: Equipped with a flight pad, hangar and maintenance spaces for two helicopters.  Glacier was also equipped with aerological, hydrographic and photographic laboratories.

Class History:

The “revolutionary” USS Glacier was designed by the Navy to traverse through polar regions not then accessible to the Navy.  Her primary missions were to break ice for supply convoys and support arctic and Antarctic scientific research.  As with the Wind–class icebreakers, she was equipped with a built-in heeling system whereby an artificial 10-degree roll was initiated by the rapid shifting of 140,000 gallons of fuel side-to-side through tanks inside the hull, thereby permitting the ship to break free from binding ice.  Although somewhat similar to the Wind-class icebreakers Glacier was considerably larger and was the only one of her class built.
At the time of her launching she carried the largest diesel-electric plant “afloat in the free world.”  That power-plant produced 21,000 horsepower and turned two 17-foot wide propellers with each mounted on two-foot diameter shafts.  It was claimed that she was then the largest and “most powerful” icebreaker ever built in the U.S.”  With her thick armored hull, 74-foot wide beam, large screws, powerful propulsion and heeling systems along with great displacement she was “the most effective icebreaking vessel in United States history”, according to her National Park Service Statement of Significance.

Cutter History:

The fourth Navy vessel named Glacier (AGB-4) was launched 27 August 1954 by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  She was sponsored by Mrs. Roscoe F. Good and commissioned 27 May 1955, CDR E .H. Mater, USN in command.  She then began a career of serving as a major component of the Navy’s participation in each annual “Operation Deep Freeze.” 

In the late spring of 1966, after participating in her 11th Operation Deep Freeze, Glacier returned to her home port of Boston, Massachusetts. On 1 July 1966 Glacier was struck from the Navy List after her transfer to the Coast Guard 30 June while tied up at the Navy Shipyard in Boston.  After undergoing a major overhaul and having her hull painted Coast Guard white, she transferred to her new home port of Long Beach, California, arriving there on 24 August 1966.  Her first Coast Guard commanding officer was Captain Opie L. Dawson, USCG.

As a Coast Guard cutter Glacier participated in the following annual Operation Deep Freeze resupply missions to Antarctica: November 1966-April 1967; December 1967-March 1968; November 1968-April 1969; November 1969-April 1970; October 1972-March 1973; October 1973-March 1974; November 1974-March 1975; November 1975-March 1976; November 1977-April 1978; November 1978-April 1979; November 1979-March 1980; November 1980-February 1981; October 1981-April 1982; November 1982-April 1983; October 1983-March 1984; November 1985-May 1986; and November 1986-April 1987.

While in availability status on 25 September 1967 she was ordered to put to sea to assist her disabled sister cutter Northwind which was beset in ice 450 miles NNW off Point Barrow and “in imminent danger of being icebound for the long arctic winter at Latitude 79° 02’N Longitude 168° 06’W.”  Glacier arrived at the edge of the arctic pack on 8 October 1967 and by that time Northwind had been freed by other icebreakers but Glacier was nevertheless awarded a Letter of Commendation for “outstanding performance of duty.”  

Glacier also participated in annual “Arctic West” operations, which consisted in part with oceanographic exercises, beginning in the summer of 1970.  Additional deployments included: March-May 1971; June-September 1972 when she undertook oceanographic research in Alaskan waters and again the following year in Alaskan waters from June-July 1973.  She deployed to the Arctic from July-October 1976, from June-September 1977 and July –August 1978.

Two of her crew were charged with firebombing Glacier prior to a 1971 Arctic West deployment while the cutter prepared for the mission in Long Beach.  The two were accused of throwing an incendiary device at the cutter’s hangar in July, 1971 and both were court-martialed.  Also that year Glacier, under the command of Captain William E. West, made a goodwill visit to the port of Nakhodka, USSR, on the Sea of Japan, becoming the first Coast Guard vessel since World War II to visit a far eastern Soviet port.

In March, 1975, now under the command of Captain Clarence Gillett, Glacier lost two propeller blades while going to the assistance, along with CGC Burton Island, of the trapped Argentine icebreaker General San Martin beset in the ice seventeen miles north of Palmer Island.  Disabled, preparations were made to “winter-over” in Antarctica after first evacuating all non-essential personnel.  She was able to extricate herself from the ice though after nine days and returned safely to Long Beach.  In 1976 Captain John J. Dirschel, Jr., relieved Captain Gillett as commanding officer.

Glacier’s main 5-inch armament was removed in 1969.  On 3 January 1972 she broke with tradition when workmen began painting her hull red “to increase flight safety through improved visibility of the ship from the air” as pilots had noted that locating her white hull while in the ice had proven problematic.  She received a $3 million refit in 1980 whereby her mess deck, galley and berthing areas received upgrades and a new marine sanitary system was installed.

In May of 1983 Commander George F. Martin relieved Captain P. Richard Taylor as Commanding Officer.  The next year Glacier underwent a $12 million refit in Long Beach and the following year she transferred to her new homeport of Portland, Oregon, arriving there on 24 May 1985, under the command of Captain William P. Hewel.  In June, 1986, Captain Robert E. Hammond, II assumed command.

After she was drydocked in 1986 hull weakness was detected and her icebreaking missions were restricted.  She was decommissioned 7 July 1987 after she completed a scientific expedition in the Elephant and Seymour Islands area of the Antarctic Peninsula during that spring. 

During her career with both the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Glacier completed 29 missions to the Antarctic and 10 missions to the Arctic.  Her decorations included the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation awarded in 1961, 1969, 1971, 1975 and 1980.  She was awarded the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1983 and 1985.  She also received a Coast Guard Letter of Commendation, Arctic and Antarctic Service medals.


Glacier Cutter File, Coast Guard Historian's Office.
Robert Scheina.  Coast Guard Cutters & Craft, 1946-1990.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1990.