During the Second World War the United States built 563 destroyer escorts (DE). These ships were small, quick / easy to build, inexpensive (about 6 million dollars each),  and were never intended to be sailing the high seas 25 years after their construction!

The Destroyer Escort Radar (DER) was a modified destroyer escort. After the war many of the surviving destoyer escorts were mothballed. In 1945 and later in the the 1950s DEs were converted to radar picket ships. This conversion allowed the ship to operate as seagoing radar and communications platforms. Then state-of-the-art radar, navigation and communications equipment were installed on DERs, and they then took their "picket" stations around the world.

Between the years 1957 and 1968  ten Destroyer Escort (DE) or Destroyer Escorts outfitted as radar picket ships (DER) participated in the US Navy's Operation Deep Freeze activities, manning picket stations at  60šS., 158šE. I did two Deep Freeze tours; 1965 - 66 on USS Calcaterra, DER-390 and 1966 - 67 on USS Thomas J. Gary, DER-326. During the early years two New Zealand ships also participated in weather picket operations; HMNZS Pukaki and HMNZS Rotoiti.

The DE(R)'s mission was multifaceted; including measuring upper atmosphere weather conditions for the planes flying between McMurdo Station and Christchurch, New Zealand, establishing a Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) presence for navigational purposes, and in an emergency to act as a Search and Rescue platform in the event a plane ever had to ditch in the ocean. The chances of survival in the cold Antarctic waters made even the thought of an ocean ditching an absolute last resort. Fortunately, I don't recall any Deep Freeze aircraft ever having to ditch.

The challenges of these "60° South" pickets were many. Normal shipboard operations and activities were always "interesting", especially while bobbing about like a cork in the wind blown Antarctic Ocean. The wear and tear on the equipment, not to mention the crew, was always keeping us busy. Being a radar Electronics Technician 3rd, I was always amazed that the SPS-8B's antenna (height finding radar) never broke off its mounting. The lateral forces on the antenna's stabilizing platform during those heavy rolls, while the SSQ-14 was trying to keep the antenna parallel to the horizon,  was nothing less than surreal. In my mind, I can still hear the motor generators and the platform stabilizing motors complaining loudly as they responded to the ship's pitching / rolling, and the antenna itself whipping about in the opposite direction of the pitch and roll. It's been over 38 years since my last picket, but it feels like yesterday.

With the subsequent demise of the WW-II Destroyer Escort, the crews of the Deep Freeze ships are among the last of the DE sailors, and certainly the last (maybe the only) who sailed to the coastline of Antarctica while dodging icebergs along the way.  Experiencing the thrill of circumnavigating the globe, crossing the Equator, International Date Line, Antarctic Circle and visiting many different countries, before the age of 21 was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Operation Deep Freeze" Picket Ships.

Bobbing around in the vicinity of 60šS., 158šE., these picket ships spent most of their Antarctic tour on the stormiest seas on earth, observing atmospheric conditions and reporting weather. These Edsall-class vessels were diesel powered, and capable of covering great distances before refueling..

The ships were particularly suitable for the control and guidance of aircraft, a mission they performed for planes flying along the 2,500-mile route from Christchurch, New Zealand to Antarctica. For four seasons (Deep Freeze 62-65), New Zealand provided Loch-class antisubmarine frigates, vessels similar in construction to Edsall-class ships to assist in the picket role.

Click here to read a fascinating Naval War College article on DERs and radar picket operations in the 1950 - 1960s.