A Philatelic Introduction to OPERATION HIGHJUMP

by Joseph Lynch, Jr.


Philatelically, Operation Highjump has much to offer the serious polar enthusiast, despite the fact that one might easily gain the initial impression that a 10 January 1947 USS MOUNT OLYMPUS postmark on a HIGHJUMP cacheted envelope is all that exists in the way of philatelic documentation from this expedition. These 10 January covers are among the most common polar covers in existence today, with estimates of the number serviced ranging from 140,000 (Vogeley, 1947) upwards to a report of 650,000 covers made by the New York Times in a MOUNT OLYMPUS datelined dispatch of December 10, 1946 (Polar Times, 1946). This abundance of covers means that no polar collector should have much difficulty in locating at least one HIGHJUMP item for his Antarctic album.

However, a comprehensive showing of Operation HIGHJUMP covers would fill many album pages, as relevant postal marking, handstamps, cachets and printed envelopes are found in great variety. We shall attempt to show the wide range of items prepared by members of the expedition in the remainder of this section. That this compilation will be incomplete is a foregone conclusion, but it is hoped that readers having pertinent material not mentioned here will be encouraged to report it so that our philatelic record may be further expanded.

Aware of the potential good will to be engendered by handling philatelic mail, the Navy Department officially sanctioned the handling of philatelic requests as part of its overall public relations effort in conjunction with HIGHJUMP (ROH, Annex 16). All thirteen ships of Task Force 68 were provided with an official rubber stamp cachet for use on their mail during the expedition. Designed by James T. Rawls of the Design and Standards Office of the Publications Branch, Administrative Branch, Navy Department, this distinctive cachet depicts a vessel anchored to the ice shelf with a penguin hanging precariously on the anchor. Widely used on philatelic, personal and even official mail, this cachet appears on the great majority of envelopes from the expedition, generally in a magenta ink, but occasionally in various shades of purple, red, blue and black.

Eleven of the vessels assigned to the task force had their own post office on board while two, the USS SENNET and USS YANCEY, had no such formal facilities. There was no post office established at Little America IV during HIGHJUMP.

The first extensive publicity about HIGHJUMP was released to the press and radio by the Navy Department on November 12, 1946, followed a week later by publicity regarding philatelic accommodations for the public. Coordinating the philatelic aspects was the Flag Secretary of Task Force 68, CDR T.R. Vogeley, USN. Instructions to collectors were outlined in the official press release:

Immediate Release
Press and Radio

November 19, 1946


To commemorate the Navy's 1947 Antarctic Expedition, a distinctive cachet will be applied to letters mailed for the U.S.S. Mount Olympus, flagship of Task Force Sixty-Eight of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, which will be moored near the temporary base to be established in the vicinity of Little America.

Philatelists desiring to have covers mailed must forward self-addressed stamped envelopes to the U.S.S. Mount Olympus, Staff Secretary, Commander Task Force Sixty-Eight, c/o Fleet Post Office, New York, New York, by December 1. Collectors are required to limit their number to ten per individual. Each envelope will require three cents postage.

A clear space three inches to the left of the address must be allowed for the cachet. The canceled envelopes will be returned from Little America aboard ship and forwarded upon reaching a port of United States possession.

As a result of this publicity, 42 mailbags of philatelic requests were delivered to the MOUNT OLYMPUS prior to her departure from Norfolk on December 2. Covers were submitted for addresses in 125 different countries, including such places as North Borneo, Saudi Arabia and El Salvador (ROH, Annex 16). Assisted by PC2 D.M. Harris, and at least seven others, CDR Vogeley commenced the enormous task of opening and processing these requests shortly after MOUNT OLYMPUS headed south. CDR Vogeley states:

"Having started south through the ice pack of the Ross Sea on December 30, 1946, we felt quite confident that we would be at Little America by about January 5, so we postmarked all the covers January 10, 1947, with the regulation U.S.S. MOUNT OLYMPUS postmark." (Vogeley, 1947).

In fact, MOUNT OLYMPUS was still fighting her way through the heavy pack ice of the Ross Sea with the other ships of Central Group on January 10. She did not reach Little America until nearly a week later.

Actual application of postmarks and cachets commenced on January 3, but it was not until mid-month that the task was completed. Given the large volume of covers to be handled, it is surprising to note that the great majority have neatly applied postmarks and clear cachet impressions. That such service would be appreciated by philatelists was recognized by the Navy, and in the Public Affairs annex to Report of Operation Highjump this is made clear:

"Every effort was made to painstakingly apply the cachet to the envelopes and answer the hundreds of letters containing requests for autographs, or desiring miscellaneous information about the expedition." (ROH, Annex 16).

Upon completion of this substantial undertaking, the philatelic mail was transferred to the USCGC NORTHWIND which departed the Bay of Whales on January 20. NORTHWIND transferred the mail to the USS PHILIPPINE SEA which in turn carried the covers to the Canal Zone. There they were deposited at Balboa for onward transmission to their addresses on February 18.

Yet, the task of handling philatelic requests resulting from the November news release was not over for MOUNT OLYMPUS. Due to the short notice prior to the December 1 deadline date, many requests arrived after MOUNT OLYMPUS' departure from the States. CDR Vogeley was advised by radio message on December 17 that a "heavy volume" of philatelic mail had continued to accumulate in New York and that it would be sent south when the PHILIPPINE SEA departed the States in early January. In order to be prepared for this further deluge, Vogeley immediately requisitioned an additional half dozen HIGHJUMP cachet rubber stamps and an equal number of MOUNT OLYMPUS postmarks. These were carried south by PHILIPPINE SEA in January along with the mail, were transferred to NORTHWIND, and finally delivered to MOUNT OLYMPUS at Little America on January 30 (Vogeley, 1947).

The "heavy volume" of mail turned out to be a relatively minuscule 10,000 covers, and these were immediately processed with the new Type 3 postmarks dated February 1 and 2. Judging from arrival postmarks on these covers, they were carried back to the States on board MOUNT OLYMPUS and deposited at Washington, D.C., for onward transmission on April 14, 1947.

While estimates of the total number of philatelic covers serviced by MOUNT OLYMPUS during HIGHJUMP vary considerably, the most reliable estimate is a total of approximately 150,000 -- the majority of this (140,000) being serviced with the 10 January 1947 Type I postmark and most of the remainder with the Type 3 postmark dated February 1 or 2 (ROH, Annex 16). This ranks MOUNT OLYMPUS covers from the expedition as perhaps the second most common polar cover in existence (the all-time champ being the December 15, 1956, Pole Station, Antarctica "first day covers").

What of the other ships assigned to Task Force 68? Although no official philatelic service was provided by the Navy Department, some alert collectors took the initiative to submit covers directly to each of the remaining HIGHJUMP participants. As a result of their efforts, as well as those of members of these ships' crews, philatelic documentation is extant from each participating vessel. However, it should be noted that HIGHJUMP mail from ships other than MOUNT OLYMPUS is relatively scarce and, in the case of certain ships, extremely elusive. Additionally, philatelic mail from many of these ships is most often found with March and April dates in the postmark, long after they departed Antarctic waters.

Mail service to and from the vessels participating in HIGHJUMP was very limited during the time spent in the Antarctic. Both the Eastern and Western Groups had the opportunity to dispatch and receive only one mail while they were operating in Antarctica, and the Central and Base Groups received only two mails, with one outbound dispatch during this period.

USS PHILIPPINE SEA departed Norfolk on January 2, 1947, and brought with her all the mail which had accumulated at the New York Fleet Post Office for ships assigned to Task Force 68. This mail was transferred on January 25 in the vicinity of Scott Island. NORTHWIND carried the mail destined for the Central and Base Groups back to the Bay of Whales. USS CACAPON picked up mail for the Western Group, and USS BROWNSON took on board mailbags for the Eastern Group. SENNET, stationed in the vicinity of Scott Island at the time, received her mail directly from PHILIPPINE SEA.

At the same time, outbound mail was transferred from all groups to the PHILIPPINE SEA, and this was the sole dispatch of mail from any of the HIGHJUMP ships during their sojourn in Antarctic waters. This mail was carried to the Canal Zone by the Carrier and deposited there for onward transmission on February 18. Subsequent dispatches of mail were not made by any HIGHJUMP vessels until their initial port calls en route back from Antarctica in March, 1947.

The Central and Base Groups received one additional mail delivery prior to their departure from Antarctic waters via the icebreaker USS BURTON ISLAND. Departing San Diego a mere two weeks after PHILIPPINE SEA had departed the east coast, the BURTON ISLAND had only a small amount of mail with her, but the mail was warmly welcomed by those individuals fortunate enough to receive letters in this delivery.

After-action reports submitted by Commanding Officers of HIGHJUMP vessels contain comments on the mail service during the expedition as a morale factor. While the CO of SENNET stated, "Mail was a big factor in keeping up morale," his counterpart on USS HENDERSON commented,"Mail service was greatly missed." BROWNSON's commander neatly sidestepped the issue in his commentary:

Beneficial influences on morale ---- Mail.

Detrimental factors affecting morale --- Lack of mail.

(ROH, Annex 23)

Nevertheless, the lack of frequent mail service was recognized by Admiral Cruzen as a potential contributor to poor morale on future Antarctic expeditions, and, in his after-action report, he recommended that "arrangements be made to provide mail service to and from the participating units as frequently as possible." (ROH, Annex 23).

In order to systematically examine the markings used by all the ships in Task Force 68, we shall take each vessel individually, starting with the flagship, MOUNT OLYMPUS, and continuing with the other ships. Since covers are found bearing the HIGHJUMP cachet from December 1946 until long after the expedition had ended, we shall attempt to give a brief listing of dates and itineraries for each vessel to assist readers in determining the legitimacy of any HIGHJUMP covers they might encounter.

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