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A Brief History of US Navy Yard Oiler YOG-34

I didn’t know anything about this ship - until I paddled past its wreck yesterday in New York’s Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard. It was so sad seeing her there that I decided to do a little research.

YOG stands for Yard Oiler, Gasoline. As its name implies, this class of oiler was not used for underway replenishments (UNREP) at sea, but rather for short-distance replenishments.

YOG-34 was built in 1943 in Camden, NJ. She earned the WWII Victory Medal, after seeing service in Saipan and Iwo Jima. This is what the ribbon looked like:

I'm sure this image was proudly painted on her bridge, as is common practice for US Navy ships.

After the war she was assigned to the 5th Naval District in Norfolk, VA. But in early 1955 she was given a very unusual mission. The International Geophysical Year (IGY) was coming in two years. Countries all over the world were assigned different parts of the Earth to explore and document. The US was to explore the least explored region of Earth as its part of IGY. The famous explorer, Admiral Richard E. Byrd Jr. was tasked with commanding the mission, which was named Operation Deepfreeze. This patch was designed for its participants by Walt Disney Studios:

I’m guessing that it too must have adorned the oiler’s bridge.

Admiral Byrd assigned YOG-34 to the Antarctic task force. She was towed from Norfolk to New Zealand via the Panama Canal by the USS Glacier (AGB-4). From there she was picked up by the USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-79) and towed to the site of the future McMurdo Station, the research facility that the US Navy Seabees were then building.

This is a watercolor painted by Commander Standish Backus. Backus had left the Navy after serving throughout WWII. But in 1955 he was recommissioned to accompany Admiral Byrd and create illustrations of Operation Deepfreeze. His paintings, which are on display in several museums, include this striking overhead view of YOG-34 lashed to the stern of Eastwind as it breaks through the Ross Sea ice on the way to McMurdo. An Eastwind helicopter is hovering above:

McMurdo is now the largest populated area in Antarctica. But back in 1955 there wasn’t much there yet. Here’s a photo from the US Naval Archives of YOG-34 completely covered in ice that summer:

Unfortunately I couldn’t find out much more about YOG-34 after her Antarctic Service. But she was awarded the Antarctic Service Medal which I guess was also painted onto her bridge alongside her others:

Sadly, my short story ends a few days ago as I was paddling my kayak in the waters of Arthur Kill, between New Jersey and New York. Before me was an old, broken, rusted hulk of a ship. On the starboard bow I could just make out “US NAVY YOG 34.”

After travelling the world she had finally come to rest just 50 miles from where her keel was originally laid 78 years ago.*

September 30, 2021

*Post Script

October 2, 2021

After completing this essay I discovered a fatal flaw. Take a close look at the hull number I saw that day:

It sure looked like a 34 to me. But today I found an older picture of the wreck when it hadn't weathered as much. The number is clearly 64, not 34. And YOG-64 had a far less interesting history.

But I think this is still a pretty good tale. And except for the last sentence, it is all true!

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