America’s Queen: Coast Guard Cutter Storis

Coast Guard Cutter Storis displaying gold hull numbers indicating the ship’s oldest commissioned cutter status in 2005. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher McLaughlin.

Coast Guard Cutter Storis displaying gold hull numbers indicating the ship’s oldest commissioned cutter status in 2005. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher McLaughlin.

Written by Lt. Galen Varon.

Coast Guard Cutter Storis is truly a magnificent ship. The accomplishments in her service record have secured her a permanent place in Coast Guard, American and maritime history. This fact was recently evidenced in December 2012 when the National Park Service officially listed her in the National Register of Historic Places.

Coast Guard Cutter Storis on Sept. 20, 1943.  During WWII, Storis patrolled of the coast of Greenland. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Cutter Storis on Sept. 20, 1943. During WWII, Storis patrolled of the coast of Greenland. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

To put this listing into perspective, there have been more than 1,567 commissioned cutters to serve in the Revenue Marine, Revenue Cutter Service and U.S. Coast Guard. Out of all of these cutters, Storis now joins Eagle, Ingham, Mclane and Taney as the only five non-tenders to be listed as National Historic Places.

The period of significance for the Storis’ listing was from 1942 to 1967. The most significant achievement during this time came in 1957 when the cutter successfully led Task Force 5.1.5 on a transit through the Northwest Passage. Not only was this expedition made in record time – which included documenting and erecting navigational aids for deep-draft vessels – but it was also the first voyage over the top of Canada by any U.S.-flagged vessel. Recognizing the significance of this event, the government of Canada named a channel in the Nunavut Territory after the Storis. This channel – located at 68º34′ N 99º30′ W – remains “Storis Passage” to this day.

The Storis was specifically constructed with icebreaking capabilities in mind in support of the U.S.-Danish Agreement of 1941. Commissioned on Sept. 30, 1942, Storis was assigned to serve off the coast of Greenland during WWII. The significance of her duties in WWII cannot be understated. In addition to responding to the Escanaba sinking – the largest loss of Coast Guard personnel in a single event – and diligently standing watch offshore over the town of Ivittuut – which produced a rare ore to make aluminum, a precious war commodity – Storis protected Greenland against Nazi weather station construction. Based on the accuracy of weather data from Greenland, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower planned the invasion of Normandy knowing how the weather would be on D-Day.

Coast Guard Cutter Storis breaking ice on Oct. 1, 1975. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Cutter Storis breaking ice on Oct. 1, 1975. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

After the de-escalation of U.S. military forces from WWII, Storis was assigned to Alaska to patrol the most grueling waters on earth – the Bering Sea. While Storis was conducting a routine patrol on March 27, 1964, the Great Alaskan Earthquake caused widespread damage throughout Alaska. Registering 9.2 on the Richter scale, this earthquake was the second largest earthquake ever recorded. Storis was re-routed to break ice in Cook Inlet and to provide immediate assistance to victims of the devastation. During the remainder of the 1960’s, Storis conducted traditional Bering Sea patrols of the late 1800s and provided assistance to more than 100,000 Alaskans located in the most remote areas of the state.

In 1975, Storis participated in an icebreaking patrol in Pudhoe Bay in Alaska’s North Slope in order to clear the way for tugs and barges to deliver construction material for the starting point of the Trans‐Alaskan Pipeline. Purposed by President Richard Nixon, the pipeline was “the single largest endeavor ever undertaken by private enterprise.” Fourteen years later on the night of March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound and spilled nearly 11 million gallons into the pristine Alaskan waters. Up to that point, it would be recorded as the worst ecological disaster in the nation’s history. Storis was the command and control vessel of the clean-up operation, working tirelessly to protect the pristine Alaskan wilderness from further devastation.

Plaque indicating National Historic Place Designation of the former Coast Guard Cutter Storis. Photo Courtesy of: Jon Ottman, Storis Musuem.

Plaque indicating National Historic Place Designation of the former Coast Guard Cutter Storis. Photo Courtesy of: Jon Ottman, Storis Musuem.

On Oct. 1, 1991, at the age of 49 years and 1 day, Storis received her coronation. She officially became the oldest commissioned cutter in the Coast Guard and earned the title “Queen of the Fleet.” Wearing her hull numbers in gold, on Nov. 16, 1992, she eclipsed Revenue Cutter Bear with the longest service in the Bering Sea. She eventually accumulated 58 years and four months of service in the Bering Sea, the current U.S. Coast Guard record.

About the author: Lt. Galen Varon is a former Storis sailor and Coast Guard history enthusiast. He recently published a full-length book entitled, “A Journey With America’s Queen” which provides vivid details about his tour aboard Storis. In 2012, his blog about the Storis, “The American Queen,” was a finalist in Military.com’s Military Blog of the Year in the U.S. Coast Guard category. He is currently a project officer at the Coast Guard’s Operations System Center in Kearneysville, W. Va.

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