Clearing Ice : Frozen Navy & Winter Pain

Clearing Ice : Frozen Navy & Winter Pain

HMS Anson was a King George V-class battleship of the Royal Navy, named after Admiral George Anson.

Clearing ice was an incredibly dangerous job, particularly on the oil-fuelled ships, where there was no way to prevent it forming.

Scharnhorst turrets Anton and Caesar covered in ice, winter 1939/1940.

One of the trickiest tasks was clearing the radar and radio arrays. 

The former was particularly vulnerable on the destroyers and cruisers in Northern Waters, because, as they became top heavy, they were prone to whip on recovery from a roll. 

As any mild steel fittings were always in danger of suffering stress fractures in the cold of an Arctic winter, the crew was on constant alert.

Then the bridge crew might well hear a sudden loud crack when the ship heeled in a rough sea, and find that they might have to return to port. Eyeballs were used as their primary sensor system. 

A chilly day aboard HMS Norfolk, photo taken circa 1943. Note her main gun director with the long radar aerial above the bridge, positioned with her main 8″ guns. The guns will fire covered in snow as long as the barrel isn’t plugged with ice. The first round would invariably shed all the ice accumulated outside of the barrel.
HMS Anson – King George V class Battleship – 14 inch mark 7 Naval Gun barrels covered in ice.

It was chip, chip,  chip, brush and shovel, then start all over again. If necessary, they could use the steam hoses, but that often just added to the condensation, which, of course, froze.

Armament, radar and signal halyards were the main priorities, with the upper deck following if it was getting overloaded.

Moreover it proved impossible to free the guns (two of the British destroyers at the Battle of the Barents Sea went into action with only half of the main armament operation.

The Battle of Jutland by Hadrian Jeffs

Because the other gunmounts became frozen in place.

Snow covered the crowded deck of HMS EMPEROR as she made her way through the icy waters off Newfoundland with her cargo of Grumman Hellcat fighters
Norwegian Skjold-class corvette covered in ice.

Some of the command positions in the superstructure supposedly had heating, but that was wishful thinking.

The British escort carrier HMS Fencer May 1944, with crewmen clearing snow from the flight deck during an Arctic convoy. Two of 842 Naval Air Squadron’s Fairey Swordfish aircraft can be seen at the far end of the flight deck. ©IWM A23575

How could they avoid sliding around?

They couldn’t.

Frozen battleship Choe Yeong enters Russian port.

If you grabbed a handhold, the cold would remove the skin from your fingers and hands, sometimes the flesh.

HMS Belfast’s forward 6 in gun turrets encased by ice during Arctic convoy duty, 1943. Courtesy IWM
WW1 Battleship covered in ice. Courtesy of IWM
Clearing the frozen deck of the ship during an Arctic convoy in the Second World War, courtesy IWM
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Frozen ice coats USS Frederick’s forward eight-inch guns, forecastle and superstructure after operations at sea, circa 1917.

In conclusion, I’ve been through an ice storm at sea (the blood from the splinters froze to my face) in the Arctic in summer. And I have no idea what it was like for men on WW2 era (and older) warships in midwinter.

Members of the crew clearing the frozen focsle of HMS INGLEFIELD during convoy duty in Arctic waters.
Ice forming on a 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS SHEFFIELD whilst she is helping to escort an Arctic convoy to Russia.
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H.M.S. Vansittart.

Written by Hadrian Jeffs

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