1 March 1959 found USS HARDER (SS-568), a conventionally-powered (meaning non-nuclear) submarine participating in SUBICEX off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada along with USS TROUT (SS-566) and USS SKATE (SSN-578).
Although the nuclear-powered SKATE stole the show by breaking records for both time spent and distance traveled under the ice, as well as for scattering the ashes of polar explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins over the icepack in 34-degree-below-zero temperatures, HARDER proved that diesel boats were still very capable vessels by traveling a record 280 miles under the ice without any special gear—no diesel sub had ever penetrated so far into the Arctic. (TROUT traveled alongside for a large part of the journey.) HARDER came up for air in polynyas, small pools of water between chunks of ice, a total of 23 times during the seven days she spent in and around the icepack, remaining submerged for up to 14 hours between surfacings.
Although much of the trip was beneath fields of broken ice, she also traveled 75 miles beneath solid icepack that her commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Edward W. Cooke, judged to be about eight feet thick. “We ran slowly under it, with our periscope elevated to maximum, 60 degrees above horizontal,” he said. “When we found out that the underside of the ice was not smooth, we had to be careful to avoid striking the bumps projecting downward. If we bent one propeller we would have been seriously handicapped; if we bent both, we would have been dead.” Cooke also gave a vivid description of what it was like to peer through the scope: it “was like watching a curved dome revolving overhead. You got the curious feeling you were about to fall forward on your face. The ice looked like a whitish, cumulus cloud; the open water was a dull gray, with ripples.” Crewmembers found the views above the ice to be equally disconcerting. “It was an eerie feeling to look around that endless empty field of ice,” one man observed. “No land, no ships, no birds—just plenty of nothing, and a dead silence too.”