USS Queenfish SSN 651
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USS Queenfish SSN 651   13 slides: Queenfish, a Cold War Tale - New York Times March 18, 2008   The skipper has since written a book about the voyage.

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USS Queenfish SSN 651  13 slides: Queenfish, a Cold War Tale - New York Times March 18, 2008  The skipper has since written a book about the voyage

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Under-ice mapper. Commissioned in 1966, the U.S.S. Queenfish was a nuclear-powered attack submarine, the first in a new class designed with additional abilities for sailing under ice.

The Queenfish had upward-looking sonar that could map the jagged underside of Arctic ice and rudders and control surfaces that were reinforced to break through thin ice without damage.

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Two-part mission. The Queenfish set off in late July 1970 on a mission to survey the undersea Arctic . Although far smaller than the Atlantic or the Pacific, the Arctic Ocean is six times the size of the Mediterranean Sea but still relatively unexplored because of the constantly changing ice cover, which averages 10 feet thick. For the second half of the voyage, the submarine explored the continental shelf off Siberia, within the 230 miles of shore that the Soviet Union claimed as territorial waters but outside the 12 miles that the United States recognized. To avoid identification by the Soviets, all markings on the submarine including the number were removed.

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Thinning ice. This view through the periscope on Aug. 3 was typical: ice and water. The first half of the Queenfish's journey retraced most of the path that the U.S.S. Nautilus took in its historic 1958 trip to the North Pole, the first vessel to travel there under the ice. Alfred S. McLaren, the Queenfish's commander, wanted to compare the ice conditions of 1970 with those 18 years earlier. The ice had, on average, thinned 28 inches between those two voyages.

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Polar bear watch. Commander McLaren and a crew member stand on watch for polar bears. Later in the voyage, the Queenfish had a memorable encounter with a polar bear family.

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Makeshift number. On Aug. 5, the Queenfish became the 10th American submarine to reach the geographic North Pole. It then surfaced through a hole in the ice about 500 yards away. Notice the number. To avoid identification during its secret survey along Siberia , the number and other identifying markings had been removed from the Queenfish. But for these photographs at the North Pole, the crew affixed numbers made out of cardboard.

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A cold swim. A team of scuba divers swam in the 29.5-degree water to take photographs of the underside of the ice. Winds and currents cause ice floes to pile up on each other. Later analysis showed that the ice within eight miles of the North Pole was, on average, 13 feet thick. In parts, where the ice floes piled up, it was close to 58 feet thick; in other spots, where the ice had been pushed aside, there was open water.

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Polar photo of Commander McLaren posing with the Hawaiian state flag at the North Pole. (The home port of the Queenfish is Pearl Harbor in Hawaii .) The 117 members of the crew had to share the limited amount of clothing deemed acceptable for photographing, including the 'submarine sweater‘ Commander McLaren was wearing. The one hour allocated for photographs stretched to more than six hours.

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Soviet glaciers. After departing the North Pole, the Queenfish surveyed a volcanic ridge, then headed to the Siberian coast. Here is a periscope view of glaciers on October Revolution Island.

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The three bears. ... A polar bear and two cubs walking on the ice pack.

Bear attack. The polar bears jumped into the water and swam directly at the periscope. 'The cross hairs are on her nose,' Dr. McLaren recalled in 2002. 'And I'm thinking, 'How am I going to explain teeth marks on my periscope when I get back to port?' The bear sniffed at the periscope and turned away, with the cubs following.

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Tight squeeze. In places, the Queenfish, 54 feet high in the middle, found itself hemmed in by ice above and sea floor below. Scraping the seabed or grazing the overhanging ice could have damaged the propellers or rudder. At one point, the Queenfish entered an underwater ice cul-de-sac. It took an hour for it to back out safely.

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Mission accomplished. The Queenfish passed south through the Bering Strait on Aug. 30, after traveling 3,100 nautical miles along the Siberian coast. It arrived at Pearl Harbor , its home port, on Sept. 11, 1970. (Note that there is no number on its side, unlike the photograph at the North Pole.)