1947: One of the Most Active Icebreakers in the US Fleet Makes Her Maiden Voyage

January 17, 1947

The U.S. Navy ship USS Burton Island, which was named after an island off the coast of Delaware, began her maiden voyage from San Diego to the Antarctic region’s Ross Sea. Navy Commander Gerald L. Ketchum was in command of the ship.

The 269-foot (82-meter)-long icebreaker was designed by the naval architectural firm Gibbs & Cox in close consultation with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Lieutenant Commander Edward Thiele.​ Burton Island “was reported tough enough to cut through 15 feet [4.6 meters] of ice,” according to the Illinois-based Jacksonville Daily Journal newspaper on the day that the vessel first steamed from San Diego.

Upon reaching the Ross Sea just over three weeks after she left San Diego, Burton Island met up with various other vessels that were also part of the First Antarctic Developments Program. This U.S. Navy initiative, which became better known as Operation Highjump, marked the largest expedition to the Antarctic region up to that time. Burton Island’s main contribution to those efforts entailed navigating through ice packs to get to the Bay of Whales, which is the world’s southernmost point of open ocean, to drop off supplies there and pick up passengers for the return trip to the United States.

From that time to 1956, Burton Island took part in a number of U.S. Navy missions in the Antarctic region as well as the Arctic and Alaskan waters. Her wide range of assignments included not only icebreaking duties but also ferrying supplies; conducting reconnaissance of ice flows and packs; and facilitating oceanographic, geological, and hydrographic surveys.

Burton Island was transferred to the USCG in 1966 after it was decided that all U.S. military icebreaking operations should be performed solely by that military branch. As USCGC Burton Island, the vessel took part in ice-breaking duties as well as a number of scientific surveys, resupply missions, and search-and-rescue operations. Burton Island was decommissioned in 1978 and subsequently sold for scrap to Levin Metals Corporation.

Additional information on USS Burton Island (later recommissioned as USCGC Burton Island) is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USCGC_Burton_Island_(WAGB-283).

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