Friday, February 3, 2012

A Cool Contest

Park City Daily News - August 26, 1960

Sailors from the Seadragon (SSN-584), background, clowning around on the ice during the craft's August 1960 Arctic operation. The batter is ready to receive the first baseball ever pitched at the North Pole.
(image from NavSource Online.  All rights reserved.)

Print of the Seadragon (SSN-584) passing through the Arctic Ocean ice pack in 1960.
(image from NavSource Online.  All rights reserved.)

The following eyewitness account comes from the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association & Foundation:
"World's First Baseball Game at The North Pole"

By CAPT Alfred S. McLaren, USN (Ret.), USNA '55 - 13th Company

On the 25th of August 1960, the nuclear attack submarine, USS Seadragon (SSN-584) surfaced in an open lake of water or "polynya" very near the North Pole. We were the fourth submarine in history to have reached the top of the world! I (Fred McLaren) was a young lieutenant then, with my principal duties being officer of the deck, diving officer of the watch, photographic officer, and anything else anyone more senior might wish to saddle me with.

Seadragon maneuvered to a position along the edge of the heavy sea ice field that surrounded the polynya. This was so members of our navigation team to go onto to the ice to establish the exact location of the Pole. Once this was accomplished - to a remarkable degree of accuracy, one tenth of a nautical mile - we, as a crew, prepared to play the very first game of baseball at the North Pole!

We first chose two "teams of nine players each." We then "laid out" the "baseball diamond" on the generally flat yet still quite rugged ice surface with a "base” placed at each point of the "diamond." The baseball "pitcher's mound, which is located in the center of the "diamond," was positioned at our best estimate of the North Pole. The baseball "diamond" was then aligned such that the following interesting/amusing things would occur during the course of the game. First, if the batter hit a "homerun," he would circumnavigate the world as he ran around the bases to home plate. Second, if the batter hit the ball to right field, the ball would go across the International Dateline into "tomorrow." And, if the ball player from the opposing team in "Right Field" caught the ball and threw it back towards the "pitcher's mound," he would be throwing the ball back into "yesterday!" During the game, "sliding" into the bases (on the sea ice!) took on new meaning, and we were never sure just what day we actually completed the game. The baseball we used is supposedly in the "Baseball Hall of Fame."

The following eyewitness account comes from a web-board dedicated to the USS SEADRAGON SSN 584:

I was a young LT on that voyage and knew Walt quite well. Appreciate your concern on the security classification on that trip. Actually we had 3 missions: One: operate safely submerged and at periscope depth in and around icebergs. We found these off Newfoundland. Two: attempt to transit under the icepack through the classical Nortwest Passage and map the whole area for future operations of nuclear submarines for passages under the ice from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Three: proceed to the North Pole and test (then new) single side band voice communications.

Our voyage was initially classified and we remained undetected until we cleared the NW Passage and as we entered the Artic Ocean headed to the Pole, it was unclassifed because of tactical operations randomly surfacing through the ice and communicating and after several of these procedures surfacing at the North Pole, staying three days. We even played a baseball game at the Pole (Officers/Chief Petty Officers losing to the Crew 13-10). Unique that in running around the bases, one ran around the world. Might add we had our own Navy Anti-Submarine aircraft fly overhead regularly and the Russian long range search planes (Bears) passing over frequently. Might also add that as a Navy Deep Sea Diver and Photographer that I was privileged to take the first pictures of the underside of the ice pack at the North Pole. The highlight of my Navy career.

So to answer your concerns... no, that part of the voyage was not classified and we did send out letters to family and friends with a SEADRAGON logo on the envelope as your father described most mailed from Nome Alaska, our first liberty port after more than 40 days at sea. Might add that I had the pleasure of having lunch recently with the then Commanding Officer of SEADRAGON, Cdr George Steele (now Vice Admiral (Retired)

Thanks for the pleasant memories.

Glenn Brewer Captain, USN (RET)

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