From the New London Day
James F. Calvert, 88, Sub Captain Who Surfaced At North Pole, Dies
By New York Times News Service Published on 6/16/2009
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Vice Adm. James F. Calvert, the commander of the first nuclear-powered submarine to surface at the North Pole, and later the 46th superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, died June 3 at his home in Bryn Mawr, Pa. He was 88.
The cause was heart failure, said his stepson Kemp Battle.
At 9:47 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Aug. 11, 1958, the 265-foot-long Skate — the third nuclear-powered submarine in the American fleet — poked through a break in the ice near the North Pole. Soon after, Calvert, then a commander, radioed the news to headquarters in New London, Conn.
The Skate was the second submarine to sail under the Pole. Eight days earlier, the Nautilus had reached the pole but had not risen to the surface.
In those days of Cold War tensions and the arms race with the Soviet Union, the polar exploits of both nuclear submarines made front-page news. In lauding the voyage of the Nautilus, President Dwight D. Eisenhower emphasized what he contended were the peaceful possibilities of sub-Arctic navigation.
“This points the way,” Eisenhower said, “for further exploration and possible use of this route by nuclear-powered cargo submarines as a new commercial seaway between the major oceans of the world.”
The military advantages were obvious. The Navy's Polaris missile, launched from submarines below the surface, was designed to soar several thousand miles to hit on-shore targets with nuclear warheads. Nuclear submarines, however, could cruise below the Arctic with little chance of detection, find a break in the ice and fire missiles over far shorter distances to Soviet targets. They could also roam 60,000 miles, almost three times around the world, without resurfacing to recharge.
Seven months after its first voyage to the pole, the Skate sailed there again. In that 12-day, 3,090-mile voyage, it surfaced 10 times. This time the stop at the pole took on a sentimental character.
On March 17, 1959, as the Skate floated between ice drifts, crew members fulfilled a wish of Hubert Wilkins, a polar explorer in the early 20th century, who had died three months before. Wilkins had hoped to reach the North Pole by submarine, but never made it. Atop the globe, in the half light of the polar winter, the crew of the Skate scattered Wilkins' ashes into a fierce wind.
Calvert, a protege of Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, known as the father of the nuclear Navy, rose to vice admiral and, in 1968, was appointed superintendent of the Naval Academy. In his four years there, he broadened the curriculum to include more than 20 majors. Until then, all cadets took the same military-related courses.
James Francis Calvert was born in Cleveland on Sept. 8, 1920, the only child of Charles and Grace Gholson Calvert. His father was an engineer with a steel company; but after he lost his job and opened a boarding house beside Lake Erie, his son became a sailor.
After attending Oberlin College for two years, James Calvert was appointed to the Naval Academy. He graduated in 1942, was sent to submarine training in New London and soon after was assigned to the Jack. He served for three years in the Pacific and was awarded two Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars.
Calvert's first wife, the former Nancy Ridgeway King, died in 1965. Three years later, he married Margaretta Harrison Battle. Besides his wife and his stepson Kemp, he is survived by two sons from his first marriage, James and Charles; three other stepsons, Craig, David and John; and 15 grandchildren. His daughter from his first marriage, Margaret Calvert, died in 1994.
Calvert wrote four books. In “Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages of the USS Skate” (McGraw-Hill, 1960), he brought a keen eye for detail to his account of that first rise to the North Pole: How a jellyfish swam into view as he nervously manipulated the periscope; how a polar bear slipped into the water with hardly a glance at the submarine that was suddenly sharing its bathing pool.