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Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages of the USS Skate

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On 17 March 1959, the USS Skate became the first submarine to surface at the North Pole. Under the guidance of James Calvert this nuclear submarine had navigated through polar ice packs, braved atrociously cold conditions, and broken through layers of thick ice to arrive at their destination; the northernmost point of the world. This mission, however, was not just abou On 17 March 1959, the USS Skate became the first submarine to surface at the North Pole. Under the guidance of James Calvert this nuclear submarine had navigated through polar ice packs, braved atrociously cold conditions, and broken through layers of thick ice to arrive at their destination; the northernmost point of the world. This mission, however, was not just about completing a seemingly impossibly feat of Arctic exploration. It also had huge implications for military strategy during the height of the Cold War. Now that submarines were able to travel under and break through the ice, it gave the U.S. military the capability of being avoid detection under the ice while being able to launch their Polaris missiles from points far closer to the Soviet Union. James Calvert’s remarkable account of his two voyages to the Arctic with the USS Skate provides vivid insight into life in a nuclear submarine and how these men were able to complete this treacherous mission. “a frank, honest and humorous account of the problems faced in penetrating this vast unknown.” Naval War College Review “he brought a keen eye for detail to his account of that first rise to the North Pole” The New York Times “[James Calvert] proves as handy with pen as with periscope. … the two penetrations of the ice pack, in August of 1958 and March of 1959, make fresh and original reading.” Kirkus Reviews Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages of the USS Skate should be essential reading for anyone interested in naval history and how U.S. Navy made innovative strides in arctic exploration through the 1950s. James Calvert served in the United States Navy, where he commanded USS Skate, the third nuclear submarine commissioned and the second submarine to reach the North Pole, which became the first to surface at the pole. His account of this journey, Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages of the USS Skate was published in 1960 and Calvert passed away in 2009.


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On 17 March 1959, the USS Skate became the first submarine to surface at the North Pole. Under the guidance of James Calvert this nuclear submarine had navigated through polar ice packs, braved atrociously cold conditions, and broken through layers of thick ice to arrive at their destination; the northernmost point of the world. This mission, however, was not just abou On 17 March 1959, the USS Skate became the first submarine to surface at the North Pole. Under the guidance of James Calvert this nuclear submarine had navigated through polar ice packs, braved atrociously cold conditions, and broken through layers of thick ice to arrive at their destination; the northernmost point of the world. This mission, however, was not just about completing a seemingly impossibly feat of Arctic exploration. It also had huge implications for military strategy during the height of the Cold War. Now that submarines were able to travel under and break through the ice, it gave the U.S. military the capability of being avoid detection under the ice while being able to launch their Polaris missiles from points far closer to the Soviet Union. James Calvert’s remarkable account of his two voyages to the Arctic with the USS Skate provides vivid insight into life in a nuclear submarine and how these men were able to complete this treacherous mission. “a frank, honest and humorous account of the problems faced in penetrating this vast unknown.” Naval War College Review “he brought a keen eye for detail to his account of that first rise to the North Pole” The New York Times “[James Calvert] proves as handy with pen as with periscope. … the two penetrations of the ice pack, in August of 1958 and March of 1959, make fresh and original reading.” Kirkus Reviews Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages of the USS Skate should be essential reading for anyone interested in naval history and how U.S. Navy made innovative strides in arctic exploration through the 1950s. James Calvert served in the United States Navy, where he commanded USS Skate, the third nuclear submarine commissioned and the second submarine to reach the North Pole, which became the first to surface at the pole. His account of this journey, Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages of the USS Skate was published in 1960 and Calvert passed away in 2009.

30 review for Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages of the USS Skate

  1. 5 out of 5

    ^

    This book has suddenly become hugely topical, thanks to the unusual (during the short period Man has inhabited Earth) and significant extent of melting of the North polar icecap. The resulting opportunities to forge trade routes by sea to/from the Far East, considerably shortening the distance, time, and transport costs, will prove irresistible. Surface at the Pole describes an extraordinary military ‘adventure’; led by a remarkable man who later rose to the rank of vice-admiral in the US navy. A This book has suddenly become hugely topical, thanks to the unusual (during the short period Man has inhabited Earth) and significant extent of melting of the North polar icecap. The resulting opportunities to forge trade routes by sea to/from the Far East, considerably shortening the distance, time, and transport costs, will prove irresistible. Surface at the Pole describes an extraordinary military ‘adventure’; led by a remarkable man who later rose to the rank of vice-admiral in the US navy. Anyone contemplating a career in the armed forces of their nation might be well advised to read this book, and consider Calvert’s leadership and calm, lateral, decision making skills. What we might call ‘luck’ did play a part at times. However, this book indirectly reminds that such ‘luck’ can be considerably enhanced by teamwork, knowledge, attention to detail, and decisions which promote odds in favour. Bearing all that in mind, this book more than many draws attention to the stark line between success and failure; moreso where weather is a factor. What so delighted me was to find that here was a very human ‘sailor’ who could write so extremely well. I found myself utterly caught up and held in the vividness of his narrative, and the community of crew on board, that in a cold room in January, reading by table-light, sitting wrapped-up in bed under a white, lofty, goosedown duvet; I could very almost imagine myself as part of the scene. This compelling book really is that difficult to take a break from. My only regret was that the narrative wasn’t longer in length. Obit. at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/16/us/... [accessed 25-Jan-2014].

  2. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Collins

    Really interesting narrative describing the under the ice exploration of the polar cap. Makes me glad I wasn't aboard!!! It brought claustrophobic thoughts!!!!!! Well written interesting and informative!!! Really interesting narrative describing the under the ice exploration of the polar cap. Makes me glad I wasn't aboard!!! It brought claustrophobic thoughts!!!!!! Well written interesting and informative!!!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jerry J. Matson

    Undeterred A voyage into a world completely unknown to most of mankind. The courage and tenacity they displayed should make all of us proud of those that serve our Country....

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bob Crawford

    As a country and even as a world, our people have become used to the impossible. We sent men to the moon and a probe to take perfect photos of Pluto, for gosh sake. But my grandparents remembered how excited they were and how their imaginations raced when people first reached the north and south poles on foot. And I’m old enough to recall the interest that was generated when Captain Calvert and his crew surfaced the Skate at the North Pole. Taking a submarine under the ice for weeks at a time see As a country and even as a world, our people have become used to the impossible. We sent men to the moon and a probe to take perfect photos of Pluto, for gosh sake. But my grandparents remembered how excited they were and how their imaginations raced when people first reached the north and south poles on foot. And I’m old enough to recall the interest that was generated when Captain Calvert and his crew surfaced the Skate at the North Pole. Taking a submarine under the ice for weeks at a time seemed like quite an adventure. Reading this book about that time rekindled my interest and excitement. And imagine, most people today don’t know about this feat, certainly don’t remember it happening, or wouldn’t care about it if they did. They’d rather get there adventure from comic books.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Wombold

    The sub I was on (USS Queenfish) went to pole and did a marvelous job of mapping new territories, but it was the Skate and the Nautilus the paved the way. I wasn't on the Queenfish when it went to the pole, but I wish I would've been part of that history. I relive my days as a submariner and all the perils that go along with that and the brotherhood that exists,every time I read a book on submarines. This is a must read for all those that crave adventure. The sub I was on (USS Queenfish) went to pole and did a marvelous job of mapping new territories, but it was the Skate and the Nautilus the paved the way. I wasn't on the Queenfish when it went to the pole, but I wish I would've been part of that history. I relive my days as a submariner and all the perils that go along with that and the brotherhood that exists,every time I read a book on submarines. This is a must read for all those that crave adventure.

  6. 4 out of 5

    McKinley Wood

    Great information about the arctic the submarine and the people The author made this history come alive. It wasn’t too technical but had enough to let you understand how a submarine functions. It told the story of the men and what they felt under the ice and how they felt with it. Great life lessons for anyone.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    A Great Adventure Relive vicariously the emotions of fear and awe of the first men to travel under the attic ice by submarine to the North Pole as they learn new procedures and test unproven equipment.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Tarantino

    Experiencing the Arctic vicariously. Very informative and told in a very interesting and entertaining way. Very descriptive and felt like you were experiencing it all along with them.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Albert W Needham

    Greatest read. ! This a super read about the experiences of a sub crew under polar ice with the best of experiences and the most frightening !!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dennis McDonald

    This book touches on three of my favorite book genres: 1. Submarines 2. Arctic exploration 3. Seafaring The story: in the late 1950s one of the U.S. Navy‘s first nuclear submarines, the USS Skate, is sent on voyages to explore under the ice surrounding the North Pole and, if possible, surface at the exact North Pole itself. Two voyages are described, one in “Summer“ and the other in “Winter.“ The author’s keen writing (Calvert was captain on both the voyages) makes both the adventure and the danger c This book touches on three of my favorite book genres: 1. Submarines 2. Arctic exploration 3. Seafaring The story: in the late 1950s one of the U.S. Navy‘s first nuclear submarines, the USS Skate, is sent on voyages to explore under the ice surrounding the North Pole and, if possible, surface at the exact North Pole itself. Two voyages are described, one in “Summer“ and the other in “Winter.“ The author’s keen writing (Calvert was captain on both the voyages) makes both the adventure and the danger come alive for the reader. Elements of science, machinery, weather, the crew, shipboard routine, new technology, danger, and ice ice ice are all woven together seamlessly. These were great adventures and the author provides a ringside seat. I find it difficult to pick a favorite story point there are so many. Especially interesting are these: Using experimental technology to locate openings in the ice large enough for the submarine to surface. The constant presence of jellyfish near the undersurface of the ice. Breaking through thin ice – from below. The author’s description of the strange arctic environment when viewed from the surfaced submarine. Permeating this well written tale are references to previous explorers who attempted similar feats of reaching the pole but with much less sophisticated and advanced technology. Another thing that comes through: the author is well aware of his and his crew’s privileged position to have a nuclear submarine’s advanced technology at their disposal. While these events occurred 60 years ago, we are still battling nature, even more now than in the past.

  11. 5 out of 5

    russell e. fritz

    This account of the Skate at the pole, captivated me and even when not reading it, I had constant thoughts of the incredible courage and determination of the captain and the crew who trusted in him and his judgement. Very well written, and informative as to the challenges of being under the polar ice, with few opportunities to surface. Truly an eye opener to the uninitiated in submarines and the constant peril they faced under the ice... As a former US Navy 'hard hat' diver, I well understand th This account of the Skate at the pole, captivated me and even when not reading it, I had constant thoughts of the incredible courage and determination of the captain and the crew who trusted in him and his judgement. Very well written, and informative as to the challenges of being under the polar ice, with few opportunities to surface. Truly an eye opener to the uninitiated in submarines and the constant peril they faced under the ice... As a former US Navy 'hard hat' diver, I well understand the underwater element, and the dangers there. Under the ice, is another world entirely. Hoorah Deep Sea.

  12. 5 out of 5

    dejah_thoris

    An interesting memoir of one of the first nuclear submarines and its voyages under the Arctic ice. My favorite part was how the community that was living on a glacier started up a motor to help the Skate find the closest weak part in the ice where it could surface. I also learned the top part of a submarine is called a sail, which makes sense. Part military and part scientific history with a bit of exploration thrown in.

  13. 4 out of 5

    William O. Robertson

    An interesting read by the commander of SSN Skate about what it was like to be the first to break through the ice on a submarine on top of the world. The book is a first hand account of two journeys to the north pole conducted by the crew of the Skate submarine in the late 1950s. There is a lot of knowledge you will gain about the Arctic after reading this engaging book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    A.L.

    Interesting, if not gripping. It was a valuable addition to the various polar accounts I've been reading, and interesting to hear of something a little more modern. Also rather fascinating to hear about a journey under the polar ice, rather than over. Interesting, if not gripping. It was a valuable addition to the various polar accounts I've been reading, and interesting to hear of something a little more modern. Also rather fascinating to hear about a journey under the polar ice, rather than over.

  15. 4 out of 5

    shari lee

    Incredible account of a most glorious and dangerous expedition An incredibly well written document that reads like a novel and keeps the reader engaged wanting to discover like the crew of the Skate did.

  16. 5 out of 5

    roy suarez

    Modern Arctic Adventure I did not ever quite figure out the reasons for such a dangerous mission? Luck played a major role for their being able to return. This is a interesting book to read in a forgotten time period of America. in

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark Rose

    Heros of the artic deep Someone had to be first and Calvert and the crew of the Skate proved their metal! Cliff hanging thriller not to be outdone.. Best of the trio of sub reads so far.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bjorn Solli

    This is a very interesting book with a lot off information about the polar region and also about submarines. The story kept me interested.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Linda Shipman

    Outstanding Outstanding book! I couldn't put it down. Clearly written and easy to follow. I felt like I was right there with them. Outstanding Outstanding book! I couldn't put it down. Clearly written and easy to follow. I felt like I was right there with them.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Excellent account and charmingly naive in the boyish America and alle she stands for is great 1950'es- way Excellent account and charmingly naive in the boyish America and alle she stands for is great 1950'es- way

  21. 5 out of 5

    Loy Hower

    Great historical account of the challenges faced by the crew of the USS Skate while attempting, and subsequently completing, surfacing a submarine at the North Pole in winter.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael O'Neill

    Nice read! I really & truly did enjoy Calvert's tome on the State's Arctic adventures. It really did hold my interest. Nice job Jimbo! Nice read! I really & truly did enjoy Calvert's tome on the State's Arctic adventures. It really did hold my interest. Nice job Jimbo!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Miguel Garcia

    Great ! To the point and with no filling up in between with too much of personal or background stuff...real life adventure told in simple words

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Could not put it down I love stories about submarines and this is a good one. It was well written and held my interest through the entire book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Henry Petruskewic

    Reading this book was like being a member of both crews. Couldn't put this book down. The thrilling adventures these men witnessed had me holding my breath in each chapter. These brave sailors were truly the most amazing Americans! My respect for Submariners has never been stronger. Reading this book was like being a member of both crews. Couldn't put this book down. The thrilling adventures these men witnessed had me holding my breath in each chapter. These brave sailors were truly the most amazing Americans! My respect for Submariners has never been stronger.

  26. 5 out of 5

    James T. Stewart

    A very well written, interesting book by the commander of the SKATE. Having read the account of the skipper of the Nautilus, our first nuclear sub, (a very good book in itself) this account of the "extraordinary voyages" of the SKATE reveals more in depth the technological advances which made these explorations under the artic ice successful. And the author tells the human side of the crew and the dangers that they faced in traversing under the artic ice. This is a great read about the exciting t A very well written, interesting book by the commander of the SKATE. Having read the account of the skipper of the Nautilus, our first nuclear sub, (a very good book in itself) this account of the "extraordinary voyages" of the SKATE reveals more in depth the technological advances which made these explorations under the artic ice successful. And the author tells the human side of the crew and the dangers that they faced in traversing under the artic ice. This is a great read about the exciting time where the first nuclear submarines paved the way for scientific discovery and later helped to provide a deterrent which would eventually win the cold war.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anila Jayakrishnan

    This is a book for people who love adventures. Though sailing to the North Pole in a submarine is not something most of us have a privilege to actually experience, do read this book to live through the lows and highs faced by Commander James F. Calvert and his crew as they successfully completed a gargantuan mission. The descriptive language of the author helps us in visualizing the North Pole in the most tantalizing way. His narration makes you smile and relax as the journey proceeds beautifull This is a book for people who love adventures. Though sailing to the North Pole in a submarine is not something most of us have a privilege to actually experience, do read this book to live through the lows and highs faced by Commander James F. Calvert and his crew as they successfully completed a gargantuan mission. The descriptive language of the author helps us in visualizing the North Pole in the most tantalizing way. His narration makes you smile and relax as the journey proceeds beautifully and then sit up tense and upright as his submarine encounters difficulties and roadblocks. The authors’ adeptness in making us participate in the journey as and how he lived it is indeed remarkable and what I liked most about the book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Teena Kennedy

    USS Skate I have dear feelings for the early nuclear submarine, USS Skate, first to break through at the North Pole. I was on this ship as a touring kid many years ago, and was impressed. Surface at the Pole was a great read, and had me remembering my own experience on the sub, and the delicious ice cream we were served as part of the tour. Apparently, the ice cream was a special treat during her service years. It is mentioned more than once in the book. Nice story.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lee Yahnker

    The nuclear sub, Skate, and it's explorations under the Arctic ice. The nuclear sub, Skate, and it's explorations under the Arctic ice.

  30. 4 out of 5

    B.szoke

    I actually really enjoyed this book. A bit dry, but it gives a good account of what it is like living and working aboard a nuclear submarine.

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