THE UNITED STATES NAVY ANTARCTIC DEVELOPMENTS PROJECT 1946-1947
RADM Richard E. Byrd (USN
Ret.) - Officer in Charge TASK FORCE 68
RADM Richard H. Cruzen, USN, Commander TASK FORCE 68
As an original member of the Greenland Expedition Society I've stepped forward to offer the experience and equipment used to recover Glacier Girl to the wonderful families and great people like Robbie Robbins, George Fabik, Gary Pierson, Garey Jones and so many others that have kept this mission alive through sheer love and determination. I've offered to reunite the ol' Greenland Expedition Society gang and have the equipment built once again in an effort to get the Navy to reconsider a mission to recover these men for their family and for their nation. The Greenland crew is on board, the equipment ready to be built, the Ground Penetrating Radar crew including a geophysicist are all on board. JPAC, NSF Polar Operations, USGS, the US Navy Casualty Office are all very cooperative and even seem to be rooting for us. We're all but ready to go - with or without the Navy. The last remaining part of the equation is to get the Navy back on board.
If you'd like
to help please contact me
and I'll send you a word document letter that you can personalize
and send to the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates and the Secretary
of Navy, the Honorable Donald Winters as well as your Senators and
District Congressional Representatives.
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.
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.
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 OPERATION 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 US ANTARCTIC SERVICE EXPEDITION 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 OPERATION 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 US 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.