-Caveat Lector-

Operation Highjump


RADM Richard E. Byrd (USN Ret.) - Officer in Charge TASK FORCE 68

RADM Richard H. Cruzen, USN, Commander TASK FORCE 68

EAST GROUP   (Task Group 68.3)
Captain George J. Dufek, USN

USS Pine Island:
    Seaplane Tender
USS Brownson:
USS Canisteo:

WEST GROUP   (Task Group 68.2)
Captain Charles A. Bond, USN

USS Currituck:
    Seaplane Tender
USS Henderson:
USS Cacapon:

CENTRAL GROUP   (Task Group 68.1)

USS Mt. Olympus:
USS Yancey:
USS Merrick:
USS Sennet:
USCGC Burton Island:
USCGC Northwind:

CARRIER GROUP   (Task Group 68.4)
USS Philippine Sea:
    Aircraft Carrier

BASE GROUP   (Task Group 68.5)

CDR Clifford M. Campbell, USN, Commander TG68.5, Little America IV


Chapter One
In the Beginning

  Nineteen forty-six was an unusual time, both in the United States and
abroad. Post World War II was a time of victory, a time of defeat and a time
of recovery as the world would never be the same again. Former enemies became
friends as former friends became bitter opponents. Difficult economic times
of the Depression era, followed by a stifled economy during the war, had left
the United States with an infrastructure much the same as it had been prior
to those events. Nearly twenty years had passed since the Great Depression
yet it still took a minimum of 14 hours to travel coast-to-coast by DC-3,
DC-4 or by Martin 202. Our telecommunications network and transcontinental
railway system had not materially changed since 1928, yet by mid-summer 1946
the country was busy building the foundation of a new America. Following the
war, America was suddenly burdened with the responsibility of a Superpower,
becoming a world leader in the political and economic arena nearly overnight.
Americans from one end of the country to the other were becoming skeptical of
their former ally, the Soviet Union. Soviet aggressiveness dominated events
and discussions around the world as the cold war took root in that summer of
1946. The American people were tired after fifteen years of scarcity and
sacrifice and anger swelled under fresh fears of further economic hardship.
The administration in Washington was considered by many to be uncertain and
fumbling. As a result, the frustration was summed up by the Republican Party
with the catch phrase, "Had Enough?" The Republican Party took control of
Congress in the off-year election that fall.

     Meanwhile, the world's greatest navy was being taken apart, piece by
piece. At the great naval bases in Norfolk, San Diego, Pearl Harbor, Yokosuka
and Quonset Point -- wherever navy men gathered -- gloom and doom ran
unchecked that summer of 1946. As worldwide tensions brewed in increasing
fervor, a huge, battle-tested armada was being systematically decommissioned.
Destroyers, battleships, aircraft carriers and dozens of other vessels were
slipping into quiet backwaters alongside remote docks in uncaring ports.
Surprisingly, most of the ships were less than ten years old, yet after a few
short years of battle they were sentenced to a life of neglect and
inactivity. The primarily civilian crews had no difficulty saying good-bye
but the comparative handful of professional sailors worked feverishly to
position themselves for the few choice service jobs remaining. By mid-1946
the United States Navy was rapidly becoming a shadow of its former self. To
man the few remaining ships, the navy was forced to recruit young men all
over again, just as it had done for the war. The young boys of 1942, now
hardened veterans from fighting in North Africa, Guadalcanal, Sicily, Saipan,
Normandy, Okinawa and Iwo Jima, were all too happy to remove their uniform
and begin civilian life. The new crewmen were quickly trained in 1945 and
1946, while the navy wound down for an anticipated long period of inactivity.

     Meanwhile, as sadness permeated the American naval bases, Admiral D. C.
Ramsey, chief of naval operations, was in Washington signing his name to an
astounding set of orders addressed to commanders in chief of the Atlantic and
Pacific Fleets. These orders would establish the Antarctic Developments
Project which would be carried out during the forthcoming Antarctic summer
(December 1946 - March 1947). Chief of naval operations, Chester W. Nimitz,
code named the project Operation Highjump. Instructions were for twelve ships
and several thousand men to make their way to the Antarctic rim to (1) train
personnel and test material in the frigid zones; (2) consolidate and extend
American sovereignty over the largest practical area of the Antarctic
continent; (3) determine the feasibility of establishing and maintaining
bases in the Antarctic and to investigate possible base sites; (4) develop
techniques for establishing and maintaining air bases on the ice, with
particular attention to the later applicability of such techniques to
operations in interior Greenland, where, it was claimed, physical and
climatic conditions resembled those in Antarctica, and (5) amplify existing
knowledge of hydrographic, geographic, geological, meteorological and
electromagnetic conditions in the area.

     Tentative plans would establish an American base on the Ross Ice Shelf
near Little America III, home to Richard Byrd's 1939-41 expedition. As Little
America IV was established, a "systematic outward radial expansion of air
exploration" would be performed by ship-based planes operating along the
Antarctic coastline and by land-based airplanes departing from Little
America. Although not specifically stated in the August 26, 1946 orders, a
central objective of the project was the aerial mapping of as much of
Antarctica as possible, particularly the coastline.

                      Signed Commander Cruzen
     On October 15, 1946, Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, commander in chief of the
Atlantic Fleet, appointed Captain Richard H. Cruzen, who participated with
Richard Byrd in the United States Antarctic Service Expedition of 1939-41, as
commander of Operation Highjump. Admiral Mitscher instructed Cruzen to
terminate the project when the ice and sea conditions rendered further
research "unprofitable". It was "not intended that any ship or aircraft
remain in the Antarctic during the winter months". Cruzens own orders were
initiated two days later, centered around the construction and establishment
of "a temporary base on Ross Shelf Ice in Antarctica" in order to "extend
[the] explored area" of the continent and to "test material under frigid
conditions". On November 20, only two weeks before the first ships were to
sail, Cruzen released supplementary instructions which specified ship
departure dates and movements, personnel and equipment assignments, and so
forth. Additionally, another ship was added to the list of those heading
south --- the new fleet aircraft carrier Philippine Sea --- with Admiral
Richard Byrd aboard. She would have six R4D military transport planes lashed
to the deck for land-based use at Little America IV. Admiral Byrd would fly
an R4D into Little America IV and assume the role of chief scientific
commander of the project. Before ceasing operations, Byrd was to make a
flight over the South Pole. Although these were the stated plans and
objectives of the project, the purpose and origin of the 1947 Antarctic
Developments Project was much more complex.

Chapter Two
Territorial Claims

     From the beginning of 1946, as a numbed and war-torn world reflected
upon an uneasy peace, Antarctica and the polar regions once again became a
powerful magnet to human fancy. In January, plans by Lincoln Ellsworth were
announced in the press for an aerial and ground-mapping exercise in
Antarctica in 1947. Also in January, famous aviator Eddie Rickenbacker was
pushing for American exploration in Antarctica, including the use of atomic
bombs for mineral research. By late autumn, the Netherlands (Willem Barendsz)
and Soviet Union (Slava) whaling fleets were operating in Antarctic waters
for the very first time. (This first Dutch Antarctic whaling operation was
conducted in an area between Bouvet and the South Sandwich Islands. Five
zoologists accompanied the voyage for research on whales and birds). November
headlines in the New York Times declared a six-nation race to Antarctica "set
off by reports of uranium deposits". The article went on to charge that the
British was leading the race by sending a "secret expedition" to occupy
Byrd's 1939-41 "East Base" at Marguerite Bay on the Antarctic peninsula.

     Actually, the British had been active in Antarctica for a number of
years. After the outbreak of the war, a few German trading vessels,
essentially pirate ships, cruised Antarctic waters in search of potential
victims. In January 1941, German Commander Ernst-Felix Krüder, aboard the
Pinguin, captured a Norwegian whaling fleet (factory ships Ole Wegger and
Pelagos, supply ship Solglimt and eleven whale-catchers) in about 59°S,
02°30'W. The Pinguin was finally sunk off the Persian Gulf by HMS Cornwall on
May 8, 1941, after she had captured 136,550 tons of British and allied
shipping. Argentina, a long-standing neutral nation, took advantage of the
war to expand its territorial claims in the Antarctic. In January and
February of 1942, Commander Alberto J. Oddera, aboard the Primero de Mayo,
visited Deception Island in the South Shetlands and on February 8 Argentina
took formal possession of the sector between longitudes 25°W and 68°34'W,
south of 60°S. Possession was claimed for the Melchior Islands on February 20
and the Argentine Islands on February 24. The Argentine Government officially
notified the Government of the United Kingdom on February 15, 1943, letting
them know that they had left copper cylinders containing official notices of
their claims at all three sites. In 1943, the British Royal Navy launched
Operation Tabarin (Commanded by Keith Allan John Pitt aboard the Fitzroy and
Victor Aloysius John Baptist Marchesi aboard HMS William Scoresby), in order
to establish permanent meteorological stations at Port Lockroy (Base A) and
Deception Island (Base B). The cylinders previously left by the Argentine
expedition of 1942 were removed from these two places along with the cylinder
that had been left in the Melchior Islands. An occupation party was
attempted, without success, at Hope Bay and subsequent investigations found
no suitable site for a base on the Antarctic Peninsula. The expedition also
visited the South Orkney Islands and South Georgia and during the winter of
1944, geology, biology and survey programs were conducted. This was the first
of a series of British expeditions by the Royal Navy, Falkland Islands
Dependencies Survey, and British Antarctic Survey.

      In 1944 the Falkland Islands Dependencies Government was established
and in December of that year postage stamps were issued for four of the
Dependencies --- Graham Land, South Shetland Islands, South Georgia and the
South Orkney Islands. In late 1944, Operation Tabarin II commenced with the
help of a third vessel, the Eagle, commanded by Robert Carl Sheppard. The two
existing stations were relieved and a new meteorological station was
established at Hope Bay (Base D). A hut was built at Sandefjord Bay (Base P)
on Coronation Island in the South Orkney Islands (subsequently destroyed by a
storm in February 1956). At the end of the war, the administrative
responsibilities for the bases established under Operation Tabarin were
transferred from the Admiralty to the Colonial Office under the new name,
Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS). In the Antarctic summer of
1945-46, the FIDS established new bases at Cape Geddes, Laurie Island (Base
C) and on Stonington Island (Base E). The following summer, the FIDS
established sites on Winter Island in the Argentine Islands (Base F), on
Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands (Base H) and a new hut was built and
temporarily occupied in Admiralty Bay, King George Island (Base G). By late
May 1946, Oslo had notified Washington of possibly reasserting its old claims
to regions of the Antarctic and by the first week of July, U.S. Ambassador
George Messersmith in Buenos Aires reported that the Argentine government was
about to dispute Britain's territorial claims in the Falklands. A few days
later Claude Bowers, in Santiago, Chile, informed the State Department that
the Chilean government was furious over the sweeping claims of the British.

      Adding fuel to an already explosive fire, the British released a set of
eight postage stamps on February 1, 1946, commemorating their claim to the
Falkland Islands Dependencies. The new stamp depicted a territorial map of
the Antarctic, completely overlooking Chilean claims as well as disregarding
much of Argentina's claim. For the first time in history, an international
crisis was brewing over territorial claims in the Antarctic wasteland. The
dismal state of the world economy fueled heightened tensions on a global
dimension. The advanced industrial nations of Europe had suffered tremendous
devastation during the war and many of these countries envisioned Antarctica
as a solution to their problem. The first to lay a legitimate claim could
possibly extract an abundance of expensive, necessary raw materials. The
formal American position on the polar regions had always been that they
should be open to exploration and research by all concerned but in the wake
of Admiral Byrd's formal announcement of Operation Highjump on November 12,
1946, Latin American governments became nervous and suspicious of the
notorious American Yankee. Operation Highjump was seen as a huge threat to
future Latin American claims. After all, thirteen ships with 4,700 men seemed
to confirm the notion that the United States had a plan of their own to seize
huge chunks of the continent. The official press release by Byrd seemed to
confirm their anxiety as Highjump was justified as an "extension" of the
United States Navy's "policy of developing the ability of naval forces to
operate under any and all climatic conditions". A publicly stated objective
was to "consolidate and develop the results of the U.S. Antarctic Service
Expedition of 1939-41". As it turns out, the Latin suspicions were correct.
Initial approval of Operation Highjump was apparently reached at a meeting of
the "Committee of Three" (Secretary of State, Secretary of War and Secretary
of the Navy) on August 7, 1946. A memorandum prepared for the meeting stated
that the "Navy proposes to send an expedition to the Antarctic early in 1947.
The purpose of this expedition includes training personnel and testing
material, consolidating and extending U.S. sovereignty over Antarctic areas,
investigating possible base sites and extending scientific knowledge in
general. Rear Admiral R.E. Byrd will be designated as Officer-in-Charge of
the project. Task Force Commander will be Captain R. H. Cruzen now commanding
Operation Nanook, an expedition to the Arctic". One week after the meeting,
Edward G. Trueblood, deputy director of the State Department's Latin American
desk, sent a memorandum to the head of the European desk stating there was no
objection to the "Byrd Expedition" so long as no territories claimed by
certain Latin American governments were entered. On August 22, Acting
Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave his department's approval to Highjump
with the stipulation that "in view of the territorial claims in the Antarctic
of other Governments, it is suggested that the areas to be visited by the
proposed naval expedition be discussed informally between representatives of
the State and Navy Departments. . ." That discussion was held on November 25,
only one week prior to the first ships departing. Acheson wrote the Secretary
of the Navy James Forrestal on December 14 and told him of his "complete
agreement" with the majority opinion reached at the November meeting and
"that this Government should follow a definite policy of exploration and use
of those Antarctic areas considered desirable for acquisition by the United
States". Since the formal opinion of the United States had been not to
recognize any territorial claims in the Antarctic, "in the view of this
Department vessels, aircraft or personnel of the U.S. Naval Antarctic
Developments Project 1947 are not precluded by prior territorial rights or
claims of other states from entering and engaging in lawful activity in any
of those areas or from making symbolic claims thereto or to newly discovered
territory on behalf of the United States". Admiral Marc Mitscher, commander
in chief of the Atlantic Fleet, was even more daring in his "Instructions for
Operation Highjump" issued on October 15. "Objectives" included
"Consolidating and extending United States sovereignty over the largest
practicable area of the Antarctic continent". Perhaps the Departments of
State and Navy had wished for major territorial claims, but the fact of the
matter is that no formal claims were made by the men of Operation Highjump.
It was not launched in a scramble for Antarctica's natural resources nor was
it launched for the chief purpose of territorial expansion. According to news
releases of Admiral Byrd's November 12 press conference announcing Operation
Highjump, "The Navy strongly discounted reports that the voyage will be
primarily a lap in the race for uranium. 'When this expedition was first
talked about, uranium wasn't even mentioned. The statement that this is a
uranium race for atomic energy is not correct', Admiral Byrd was quoted as
saying. However, the basic objectives were not diplomatic, scientific or
economic -- they were military. Operation Highjump was, and to this day still
is, the largest Antarctic expedition ever organized.

Chapter Three
Pre Highjump: Naval Operations 1945-46

     Admiral Byrd's comments in his press release of November 12, 1946,
stated that " . . . the purposes of the operation are primarily of a military
nature, that is to train naval personnel and to test ships, planes and
equipment under frigid zone conditions. . . A major purpose of the expedition
is to learn how the Navy's standard, everyday equipment will perform under
everyday conditions". The Soviets were paying close attention to this project
and editorialized in their naval journal, Red Fleet, following Byrd's press
conference that "U.S. measures in Antarctica testify that American military
circles are seeking to subject the [polar] regions to their control and to
create there permanent bases for their armed forces".

     Soviet-American relations were rapidly deteriorating throughout 1946 and
with American interest in both polar regions steaming up, Russian anxiety was
escalating with each passing day. The Soviets were quick to realize that if a
Third World War broke out between Russia and the West, a strategic
battleground would most likely be in the North Polar region. It was in
Americas best interest to expose and prepare their men, ships and equipment
to the extremes of the polar regions as quickly and efficiently as possible.

     The American political environment of 1946 also played a valuable role
in Operation Highjump. Following the end of World War II, many political
debates around the country focused on the merits of a single unified military
command under a single department of national defense. At first, navy brass
embraced the notion. However, as more details came forth, fears arose of a
navy dominated by the arrogant and chafing young generals of the air force
who would subordinate the Navy to simple coastal defense procedures. Talk was
floating around Washington that the marine corps would operate under the army
while aircraft carriers would be under the direction of the air force.
Obviously, the consolidation would save the American taxpayers a great deal
of money but the navy would simply have no part of it. Consequently, the navy
lost a great deal of public support. By the middle of 1946, admirals were
searching for a way to dramatize the navy's efficiency. This anxiety, coupled
with the escalating cold war, created the opportunity to heavily expand on
polar exploration.

     The first naval program of polar exploration was "Operation Frostbite"
in the fall and winter of 1945-46. A handful of ships accompanied the new
aircraft carrier Midway to the Davis Straits, off the coast of Greenland,
where men and equipment "underwent a grueling test. Torn by high seas and
raging blizzards in extreme cold and with drifts of snow across the flight
deck, they operated under the most exacting conditions to prove that such
operations are feasible". However, Operation Frostbite had not been conducted
far enough to the north. Arctic summers are simply too mild to adequately
expose and train men for subzero temperatures. Thus, in order to train a
large enough navy for polar conditions, testing would be required in regions
of severest weather for a prolonged period of time.

     On February 12, 1946, Congress approved Public Law 296 directing the
chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau to establish "an international
meteorological reporting network in the Arctic regions of the Western
Hemisphere". The Weather Bureau turned to the army and navy and together, the
three agencies came up with a plan to build reporting stations that summer at
Thule, Greenland and at the southern tip of Melville Island in the Canadian
Arctic. The U.S. Atlantic Fleet commander, Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, selected
a few ships, designated them Task Force 68, and appointed Captain Richard
Cruzen as commander of "Operation Nanook". Admiral Curzen's first orders,
issued May 31, 1946, called for a general plan whose second phase consisted
"of operations to establish weather observation and reporting stations of the
U.S. Weather Bureau" in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. Additionally,
Cruzen ordered one icebreaker, the Eastwind, along with a seaplane tender,
the Norton Sound, to operate "in the general vicinity of the southern limit
of the ice pack which is expected to be encountered in the Baffin Bay area".
This may have been a peaceful project to make weather observations in the
Arctic, but an interesting argument could be made that these stations would
be additionally used as intelligence gathering sites. Regardless, with these
two projects the U.S. Navy began its effort to systematically expose men and
machine to the rigors of polar life.

Chapter Four
The Byrd "Family" and Highjump

     So, what role did Byrd and his companions, particularly Paul Siple, play
during this time? Actually, they found much of their research work
underwritten by the government, all in the name of national defense. Paul
Siple not only set men to work in Alaska and Greenland during World War II;
he also traveled to Europe to advise Eisenhower and his generals on the best
way to avoid an epidemic of trench foot among his men. In the spring of 1945,
Siple traveled to the Philippines to advice MacArthur "on winter clothing and
protection of forces preparing to invade the main islands of Japan". After
the end of the war, Siple found himself working in the federal service as a
civilian scientist in the army chief of staff's Office of Research and
Development. He was a brilliant man and could have easily taught at the
university level in his own science or geography department, but few
universities in 1945 contained these departments and no money was available
to establish his own research center, particularly in something as exotic as
polar study. Instead, he became a willing participant in the cold war. He
later wrote, "My new career was to involve the application of my
environmental research concepts to Army equipment and personnel in any
environment they might be called upon to fight to preserve the free way of
life. My interest was to broaden to the entire aspects of basic research and
the segment with which I was a charter scientist eventually developed into
the Army Research Office".

     But no single person was more responsible for Operation Highjump than
Richard E. Byrd. Byrd's reputation flourished throughout the war. He was
appointed a special assistant to the chief of naval operations, Admiral
Ernest J. King, and was a close, personal friend of President Roosevelt.
Between 1941 and 1945 he traveled to the war fronts in Europe, Alaska and the
North Pacific. But the spirited admiral of 1930's Antarctic fame never
commanded a single fighting ship during the war. Now, with the war ended, the
navy suddenly discovered they needed Richard Byrd. If it was to avoid being
stripped of its role, particularly the role of naval aviation, then some plan
to dramatize its value would have to be quickly put forward. According to
Paul Siple, it was Byrd who persuaded the Secretary of the Navy James
Forrestal and the Chief of Naval Operations Chester Nimitz into launching a
huge naval expedition to the Antarctic. Besides, Forrestal's obsession with
the Soviet menace was finding increasing sympathy and support on Capitol
Hill. Another close ally was Richard Byrd's brother, Senator Harry Flood
Byrd, then head of the powerful family machine that ran the Democratic party
of Virginia. Harry was a key figure in the Democratic politics of "the solid
South" of the 1930's and 1940's. Harry had a high degree of clout on the Hill
and many presidents, particularly new presidents with shaky popularity,
embraced him. Normally, Harry got for Richard whatever Richard wanted and in
1946, Richard wanted to go back to Antarctica. How the navy high command
convinced Congress to fund the expensive expedition is a mystery to this day.
The navy had not been in charge of a South Polar expedition since the
exploration by Charles Wilkes a hundred years earlier. One can only speculate
that the country was excited about sending forth the largest Antarctic
expedition in history, under peace-time conditions, on an adventure
apparently not involving death and destruction. The "Soviet menace",
accompanied by the threat of war in the Arctic, may have been reason alone.

     The U.S. Navy strongly emphasized that Operation Highjump was going to
be a navy show, with naval interests predominating over scientific studies.
Admiral Ramsey's preliminary orders of August 26, 1946, stated that "The
Chief of Naval Operations only will deal with other governmental agencies"
pertaining to Highjump. "No diplomatic negotiations are required. No foreign
observers will be accepted". Thus, it seemed there would be little room for
civilian scientists and observers. Subsequently, the chief of naval
operations sent a letter around to several other governmental agencies and
departments as an invitation to participate modestly in Highjump. According
to the Army Observers Report, "The War Department responded willingly to a
Navy invitation to send observers on this important expedition and increased
its representation to sixteen, ten more than originally allotted by the Navy.
The personnel included four men with prior Antarctic Service", including Paul
Siple. Also invited to participate were observers from the army, Weather
Bureau, Coast and Geodetic Survey, Geological Survey and the Fish and
Wildlife Service. Recommended scientific studies included aerological
measurements (synoptic observations, radar meteorology, intensity of solar
radiation), terrestrial magnetic observations, aerial geological studies
(including "Aerial Prospecting for Atomic Energy Source Materials"), cosmic
ray studies, etc. Notable scientists and researchers included Jack Hough,
Bill Metcalf and David Barnes from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
As soon as the ships returned from Operation Nanook, on September 18,
planning was intensified and an official sailing date of December 2 was

Chapter Five
Final Plans

(Click on the links below for photos and postal history)

     With the exception of Cruzen, the entire cast of ships and men would
eventually be changed. The leader of the expedition would be Richard Byrd,
who would base his operations at Little America and would later attempt to
fly down to, and perhaps beyond, the South Pole. In order to expose as many
men as possible to polar conditions, none of the ships used in Operation
Nanook would be sent south. Instead, the commanders of the Pacific and
Atlantic Fleets were to each designate six ships for the expedition. The
expedition flagship, Mount Olympus, came from the Atlantic Fleet. The ship
was crammed with comparatively crude communications and electronic equipment
for the time. Also coming from the Atlantic Fleet was the icebreaker Northwind
, the seaplane tender Pine Island, the fleet oiler Canisteo, the destroyer
Brownson, the submarine Sennet and, last to depart and similarly arrive in
Antarctica, the new fleet aircraft carrier Philippine Sea. The Pacific Fleet
would supply the destroyer Henderson, the cargo ships Yancey and Merrick, the
seaplane tender Currituck, the fleet oiler Cacapon and the navy icebreaker
Burton Island.

     A conference was held in early autumn at the Naval Hydrographic Office
in Suitland, Maryland, to prepare charts and navigational aids for Operation
Highjump. They soon realized that the most dependable charts of the Ross Sea
were from the British Admiralty. Copies were made and sent to all the ships.
Cruzen, Byrd and others gave serious thought to goals and priorities of the
expedition and jointly came to the conclusion that the single, most
spectacular objective should be the complete aerial mapping of the Antarctic
coastline and as much of the interior as possible. The expedition would
divide into three groups with the Central Group, led by the Coast Guard
Cutter Northwind, thrusting into the ice pack of the Ross Sea. Followed
closely behind would be the cargo ships Yancey and Merrick, the submarine
Sennet (sent along to test operational capabilities under polar conditions).
and the flagship Mount Olympus. (The navy's new icebreaker Burton Island, a
member of the Central Group, was still undergoing basic training and sea
trials off the California coast when Operation Highjump was launched).

     Charts and navigational aids used for Operation Highjump were assembled
at a gathering of minds at the Hydrographic Office in Suitland, Maryland,
early in the fall of 1946. The Ross Sea charts prepared by the British
Admiralty seemed to be the most reliable and were subsequently reproduced and
dispatched to all the ships. As a consequence, the Northwind would rely
exclusively on these charts to guide the ships of the Central Group through
the ice pack and into the Ross Sea. Admirals Byrd and Cruzen (promoted to
rear admiral prior to their departure) determined that the highest priority
of the expedition should be the virtually complete aerial mapping of the
Antarctic rim and as much of the interior as possible. The expedition would
be divided into three groups. The Central Group, led by the Northwind, would
include the Yancey and Merrick cargo ships, the submarine Sennet (sent along
specifically to test its capabilities under polar conditions) and the
flagship of the expedition, the Mount Olympus. The navy's icebreaker Burton
Island would arrive late in the final stages of Highjump. Once alongside the
shelf ice at the Bay of Whales, Little America IV would be established. A
landing strip for the six R4D (military version of the DC-3) transport planes
would be laid out, serving as a base of operations for the aerial mapping
missions to follow. In order to carry out this mission, the Central Group
would be supported by the aircraft carrier Philippine Sea which would carry
the planes, along with Admiral Byrd, to the edge of the ice pack. From here
the planes would make the risky six-hour flight to Little America IV. To
assist the planes in takeoff from the narrow flight deck, Jet-Assisted
Take-Off (JATO) bottles, filled with jet fuel, would be attached under the
wings and ignited just seconds after the plane began to roll, thereby
dramatically increasing the speed necessary for take-off. The R4D's were the
heaviest aircraft ever to launch from a carrier. They would also be the first
to take off on one end with wheels and land on the other end with skis. They
had only 400 feet of take-off to work with, otherwise their wide wingspan
would collide with the carrier's superstructure. First to depart would be
Admiral Byrd, with skilled polar flyer William "Trigger" Hawkes at the

     On either side of the Central Group and the Phillipine Sea would be the
Eastern and Western Groups. The Eastern Group, built around the seaplane
tender Pine Island, would rendezvous at Peter I Island and from there would
move toward zero degrees longitude (Greenwich Meridian). Joining the Pine
Island would be the oiler Canisteo and the destroyer Brownson. The Western
Group would be built around the seaplane tender Currituck. The Currituck
would rendezvous, together with the oiler Cacapon and destroyer Henderson, at
the Balleny Islands and then proceed on a westward course around Antarctica
until, hopefully, it met up with the Eastern Group. Each of the seaplane
tenders would be supplied with three Martin Mariner PBM flying boats, the
largest and most modern seaplanes built during World War II. Plans were made
to daily lower each plane into the sea, from where they would take off on
flights of many hours in an attempt to photograph as much of the coast and
interior as possible.

                 PBM George 2 and the tragic crash of George I
If all went according to plan, and the crews performed flawlessly, then there
was a chance, as Admiral Byrd later wrote, "that a complete circle could be
closed around the continent. It was hoped that in a few weeks more would be
learned of the great unknown than had come from a century of previous
exploration by land and sea".

     Throughout October and November 1946, swift preparations were underway
around the country. Admiral Cruzen and his subordinates on both coasts were
busy ordering parkas, goggles, boots, thermal underwear, special tents and
the matting for Little America's new runway. Special trainers were sent by
Byrd and Paul Siple into the New Hampshire woods to work with the dogs.
Meanwhile, caterpillar tractors, forklift trucks, "weasels" (powered sleds)
and other heavy machinery were being manufactured and loaded onto railroad
cars and shipped to docksides in California and Virginia. But all was not
well. Huge concerns were in the minds of planners as, for the very first time
in Antarctic history, every vessel used in the expedition would be steel
hulled. Steel is certainly stronger than wood, however wood tends to splinter
in the viselike grip of pack ice while steel is usually ripped apart. It is
true that Byrd successfully maneuvered the Eleanor Bolling through the ice
pack and around the shelf in 1929, however the Bolling's hull was
significantly thicker than that of most of the ships used in Highjump.
Compounding this problem was the fact that all but a handful of men were
totally lacking in adequate training for polar conditions. As Professor
Bertrand later noted, "Although personnel of Operation Nanook served as a
nucleus for staffing Operation Highjump, the much greater size of the later
expedition necessitated the filling of many posts with men who had no
previous polar exploration. It was possible to obtain the services of only
eleven veterans of previous U.S. Antarctic expeditions. Only two pilots in
the Central Group of the Task Force had experience in flying photographic
missions". As a matter of fact, none of the seaplane pilots or flight crews
had ever flown in Antarctica before. Only Byrd's personal pilot, Commander
William M. Hawkes, had polar experience as he had logged hundreds of hours in
the treacherous skies of Alaska. Extensive ship movements only made matters
worse as the lives of many men and their families were suddenly disrupted,
uprooted and shipped across country on the eve of the expedition. The Merrick
and Yancey were attached to the Atlantic Fleet when in October they were
ordered to sail for Port Hueneme, California, to prepare for the exercise.
The Mount Olympus, which played a major combat role in the war, and the Pine
Island had spent most of their lives in the Pacific Fleet and now were
suddenly ordered to the Atlantic Fleet for preparations. With all the
turmoil, Captain Rees of the Mount Olympus wrote in exasperation to Admiral
Cruzen, "Details as to the nature of the operation are completely unknown. It
is therefore urgently requested that this vessel be informed at once as to
what special equipment, instruments, clothing, etc. . . the ship must obtain
in the limited time remaining. The ship can not be considered a smart ship".
The carrier Philippine Sea had completed its shakedown cruise only weeks
before, yet now the ship and its crew were expected to launch the largest
planes ever sent from a carrier deck, quite possibly under extreme weather
conditions. The navy's new icebreaker, the Burton Island, was still
undergoing basic sea trials and training off the California coast as
Operation Highjump began. This meant that during the earliest and possibly
most crucial stages of the expedition, Cruzen and his untrained men would
have to rely solely on the Northwind to get the four thin-skinned ships of
the Central Group through the ice pack and into the Ross Sea. Not only that,
but if any of the ships from the Eastern or Western Groups ran into trouble,
only the Northwind would be able to assist. If the Northwind should become
disabled herself, the entire Central Group could be left helplessly for
weeks, deep in the Ross Sea, certain prey for icebergs and the crushing pack

     The inexperience of the men, particularly the fliers, was all too
apparent. One of the pilots, Lieutenant (jg) William Kearns, later recalled
that volunteer pilots, navigators and air crewmen were gleaned from both the
Atlantic and Pacific Fleets "in the fond hope that some experienced men would
be among those selected. Since the vast majority of personnel knew nothing
about the type of operation for which we were destined, we were forced to dig
into books for even the most elementary information". The information was
frightening. Temperatures were far colder than the Arctic regions and the
fliers could fall prey to an empty, inhuman landscape from which no help
could be expected. Traditional navigational aids were of little help as
Mercator projections were of no use due to the convergence of meridians at
high latitudes and the consequent distortion of areas between the parallels.
Thus, a grid system would have to be used. "From the experiences of men who
had been to both regions and learned the hard way, we saw that polar flying,
even at its best, was never really safe. There were no airways, no weather
reporting stations, no convenient alternate airports. We were, in fact,
extremely fortunate if we found any charts at all available for the
'Highjump' operating area. With all these facts in mind, some of us began to
regret our decisions to become intrepid Antarctic explorers, and to long for
the good green lands and the waving palms of Florida". Pilot Thomas R. Henry
wrote, "Once a plane rose from the ski strip at Little America, it was
virtually imprisoned in the sky for at least five hours; it could come down
only with a crash landing on the rough ice surface, which would almost
certainly ruin the aircraft itself and seriously endanger the crew". If the
mapping objectives of Highjump were to be met, planes would have to be
heavily overloaded with photographic equipment and topped-off fuel tanks.
Antarctica was simply too large, its weather too unpredictable, not to make
every flight fully count in terms of photographic exploration during the
brief expedition.

     A certain sense of uneasiness flowed through the seaplane crews at
Norfolk, Virginia. The follow-up report on their mission stated that the
operation "was characterized by a very limited period of personnel training,
material inspections and logistic planning". The crews of all six PBM's were
drawn from current squadrons and assembled at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk,
VA, on November 1, 1946. This gave them only one month to prepare. Meanwhile,
the PBM's were winterized and fitted out with some special navigational
instruments, as well as the trimetrogon photographic equipment. Survival gear
was gathered as the crews were quickly instructed in polar navigation. On
November 27 three of the seaplanes flew from Norfolk to San Diego,
California, and were lifted aboard the Currituck, which was in its final
loading phase. Back in Virginia, the other three planes were brought aboard
the Pine Island. When the Pine Island reached the Panama Canal, the planes
had to be sent off, later landing at Balboa on the Pacific side, in order to
get through the canal.

     Despite the many risks of such an adventure, morale actually turned for
the better as sailing time approached. Married men, many of whom had spent
prolonged months of separation from their spouses during the war, were
obviously less enthusiastic than their generally younger, unmarried peers.
But, as the official report noted, the general mood was one of a "trip of a
lifetime" and of "a big expedition to Antarctica".

     As last-minute preparations were underway, diplomats of several nations
continued to snip at one another. On November 13, Ellis O. Briggs of the
Latin American bureau of the State Department noted that "The [British]
Empire continues to bleed over the forthcoming Byrd Antarctic expedition if
Mr. Everson of the British Embassy who called on me this morning is to be
believed". Briggs told Everson "that our Government is at least as interested
in practicing cold water operations as it is in what may be found sub-zero,
sub-rosa, sub-ice caps, etc." However, Everson "did not seem altogether
soothed". Briggs went on to say that Everson muttered something about
Antarctica being British territory and that the United States should have
cleared the expedition with His Majesty's government. "If London has any such
notions as that, I assume steps will be taken to disabuse our British friends
of any belief that we consider Antarctica British", Briggs concluded. Two
days later Briggs noted that New Zealand, Australia and Chile had also
indicated a rather keen interest in the motives and objectives of Operation
Highjump. Would the United States abandon current policy and lay claim to
vast areas not only claimed by the above, but also by the French, Norwegians
and Argentineans? Briggs noted that representatives of the governments of
Australia, New Zealand and Chile requested permission to go along as
observers but that permission was firmly opposed by the navy. Finally, on
November 27 as the Yancey and Merrick began to cram aboard every last item
remaining on the docks at Port Hueneme, Acting Secretary of State Dean
Acheson telephoned Briggs to ask if he foresaw any "political difficulties"
in the "Byrd expedition". According to the Secretary, President Truman's
naval aide, Admiral Leahy, had expressed concern that it might be too bad to
have the Chileans, "now so full of good will, acquire hurt feelings". Briggs
attempted to put his President at ease, saying that both Chile and Argentina
had expressed "some interest" in Highjump, however "I did not believe that
relations with either country would be affected in any substantial or
noticeable way by the expedition". Perhaps Secretary Acheson was put at ease,
but the same can not be said of the President. At the very last moment,
probably December 1 or 2, President Harry Truman tried to stop Operation
Highjump. Briggs was told that "the navy" had suddenly been called into the
Oval Office and told to cancel the expedition. When "the Navy Department
remonstrated, pointing out that if the expedition did not sail now the
opportunity would be lost, the President is supposed to have relented and
allowed the expedition to proceed". Who the President addressed that day is
unclear, but it was possibly Nimitz, or more probably James Forrestal. In any
event, neither Byrd, Cruzen or the thousands of other men under their command
were aware of how close they had come to missing their "trip of a lifetime".
By December 3, 1946, most of the ships were at sea; all the rest, but for the
Burton Island, were about to depart. Operation Highjump was underway.

Aloha, He'Ping,
Om, Shalom, Salaam.
Em Hotep, Peace Be,
All My Relations.
Omnia Bona Bonis,
Adieu, Adios, Aloha.
Roads End

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