Archived Article

Norwich man recalls iceberg encounter

Norwich —  posted 04/03/2009
Every yearon the anniversary of the Titanic disaster ( April 14 ) , Skip Stannard is reminded of his own close encounter with an iceberg . It was July 9 , 1953 , and Stannard was a 20-year-old Machinist Mate Third Class aboard the Navy’s U . S . S . White Marsh , en route to Thule , Greenland . The waters were full of huge chunks of ice flowing out of the North Atlantic . “ We had an ice breaker in front of us , ” said Stannard , “ but he got too far ahead of us . ” Turning to avoid one iceberg , the White Marsh collided with a second chunk of ice which ripped a 40-foot gash in the ship’s starboard side pump room . Three men barely escaped the damaged room , and the ship immediately took on a six degree starboard list . Stannard was in the throttle room . “ I had my headphones on , so I knew what had happened , ” he said . “ It was a miracle that the fire room wasn’t damaged . ” That would have been a much worse situation , as the larger room would have allowed water to come in more quickly . “ Plus , youmix red-hot boilers with ice-cold water , it wouldn’t have been good , ” said Stannard .
The ship’s crew reacted quickly and calmly . “ Any other ship and youcouldn’t have done it , ” said Stannard . The White Marsh was an LSD-8 . Used for transporting landing craft and other vessels , the ship was lined on either side with ballast tanks that allowed it to be lowered into the water for loading . The ship’s crew took the damaged vessel to Saglek Bay in Labrador , and then utilized the ballast tanks to lift the damaged side of the ship out of the water , maintaining a list of 14 degrees for the week it took to do the work . “ It doesn’t sound like much , but youcouldn’t keep a plate on a table at that angle , ” said Stannard . The collision had also wiped out half of the ship’s electrical system , so the crew subsisted on minimal lighting and air while they worked 12-hour shifts . “ You don’t have much ventilation , so it got pretty hot , ” said Stannard .
Saglek Bay contained a few drifting icebergs of its own . “ One of them harassed the ship , ” said Stannard . The crew kept a sharp eye on the iceberg , moving the ship when necessary to keep out of its path .
To keep up morale , the crew engaged in some practical jokes . Stannard remembers one in particular . “ I was coming off a 12-hour shift , ” he said , “ and my commanding officer told me to go get some rest . ” Stannard went to lie down dressed only in blue jeans , a tee shirt , and socks . “ When I went to lie down , the ship was flat , ” he said . “ While I was sleeping , they put the 14 degree list on . ” Stannard awoke to a tilted ship and cries of “ We’re going down ! ” from some mischievous crew mates . “ I scrambled up that ladder , and wouldn’t youknow it , along comes my division officer . ” A sheepish Stannard quickly realized he’d been had .
The Navy sent a rescue ship to assist the White Marsh . Carpenters built a wooden cofferdam which was winched up tightly against the ship with the assistance of Navy divers . “ They used whatever wood they could get their hands on , ” said Stannard . Life vests were used to line the dam , making it somewhat watertight . “ We manned a bunch of submersible pumps pretty much constantly , ” said Stannard . The dam and the pumps kept the damaged area dry enough for welders to remove the damaged metal and weld a plate onto the gash in the hull . With the temporary patch in place , the U . S . S . White Marsh was able to make it to a shipyard in Baltimore , where it eventually required more than $ 600 , 000 in repairs . The ship’s crew received commendations from their commanding officer shortly after the event , attributing the ship’s survival to the “ combined thoughts , ingenuity , initiative , and laborious hours of all hands . ”
Although Stannard has been out of the Navy for many years( he quit when he met Patricia , his wife of 52 years) , he will never forget his run-in with the iceberg , and the actions of the crew that kept them afloat . “ I’ve thought about it so many times since then , ” said Stannard . “ It was an amazing feat of engineering . ”
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