The US Navy had explored the coast of Wilkes Land on three different expeditions, each contributing substantial and accurate detail of the coastal region of this portion of Antarctica. The first to explore this area was Charles Wilkes during the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-42. Wilkes, who led the expedition, visited and explored this coast in 1840. It would be another 106 years before the next visit, this time during OPERATION HIGHJUMP in the austral summer of 1946-47.

After the return of OPERATION HIGHJUMP to the United States, the third US Navy expedition to Antarctica, code-named OPERATION WINDMILL, was developed. The objectives put forth by the Chief of Naval Operations in establishing the project were to supplement those of OPERATION HIGHJUMP in the training of personnel, testing equipment and reaffirming American interests in Antarctica. Included in the testing was inspection of the equipment and station at Little America. The expedition was also instructed to investigate conditions of electromagnetic propagation and to collect geographic, hydrographic, oceanographic, geologic and meteorologic information in the areas explored. However, it was generally understood among "old Antarctic hands" that the primary purpose of the expedition was to get ground control for photographs taken during OPERATION HIGHJUMP . Although not specifically mentioned in its list of objectives, a "tentative concept of operations" directive stated that the vessels were to penetrate the pack ice, getting close to the shoreline, "for the purpose of conducting short-range exploration and producing coastal ground tie-ins for past air photography." It was determined that the 70,000 photographs taken during OPERATION HIGHJUMP were impossible to reconstruct in a useful manner since there had been no accurate ground control points.

Some 30 landmarks were selected as reference points and at the end of 1947, OPERATION WINDMILL was born. Task Force 39 consisted of two icebreakers, the USS EDISTO and USS BURTON ISLAND (flagship).The USS BURTON ISLAND carried one HO3S-1 Sikorsky helicopter and one HTL-1 Bell helicopter while the USS EDISTO carried one HO3S-1 helicopter and one J2F-6 Grumman amphibian airplane. Surface transportation was the responsibility of a US Marine transportation unit who were equipped with four Weasels (vehicle M29C). Each weasel pulled a one-ton sled and at least two of them were equipped with radio equipment at all times. These vehicles were expected to carry land parties to their respective operating stations but were rarely used since helicopter transportation was speedier and allowed accessibility to areas not serviceable by the Weasels. All three helicopters sustained damage during the expedition; the two Sikorsky helicopters were equipped with pontoons, the frames of which were broken during subsequent landings. The Bell helicopter crashed and was totally demolished during a white-out at the Bunger Hills.

The expedition consisted of 500 men headed by Commander Gerald L. Ketchum, Commander of Task Force 39. The captain of the USS BURTON ISLAND was Commander Edwin A. McDonald while captain of the USS EDISTO was Commander Edward C. Folger, Jr. Lieutenant Commander C. L. Browning was chief of staff officer. Among the members of the staff was Captain Vernon D. Boyd, USMC, transportation officer, who participated on the SECOND BYRD ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION, US ANTARCTIC SERVICE EXPEDITION 1939-41 and OPERATION HIGHJUMP. Three military officers and ten civilians from various branches of the armed services and civilian government agencies accompanied the expedition as observers and scientists.


The USS EDISTO departed Boston on November 1, 1947, and sailed for Norfolk, VA, subsequently departing Norfolk on November 6 for a rendezvous with the USS BURTON ISLAND at Tutuila, American Samoa. The ship arrived at Colon, Panama, and transited the canal on November 12. She took on stores at the US Navy Submarine Base, departing Balboa on November 15, and arrived at Tutuila on December 2, 1947. The USS BURTON ISLAND sailed from San Pedro, CA on November 20, arriving at Tutuila on December 3. Both ships departed the harbor at Pago Pago on December 5, and a course was set for Scott Island. The icebreakers of Task Force 39 encountered a light ice pack on December 15 and the following day abandoned plans to reach Scott Island due to impenetrable pack ice some 40 miles north of the island. The ships emerged from the pack ice on December 18 and thereafter followed the northern limits of the ice on a westward route to the proposed control points near the Shackleton Ice Shelf. Christmas greetings were shared with the crew of the British whaler SOUTHERN HARVEST when she was spotted on December 24. On Christmas Day, 1947, the ships headed south, breaking through the pack ice and into Davis Sea. Utilizing helicopters on reconnaissance flights, open water was found 12 miles to the south and was eventually reached a few minutes after midnight on December 27. The ships parted company to proceed to their assigned points. The USS BURTON ISLAND fought her way through the ice to the south of Drygalski Island, heading for Point 4 at the Haswell Islands. Meanwhile, the USS EDISTO went into the pack about 40 miles to the west.      

The USS EDISTO was the first to land a shore party. Reconnaissance flights were made to investigate the pack ice and to seek the location of Point 2. Three flights transported the field party and equipment to Point 2 and by 4 o'clock in the morning on December 28, the camp had been completed at the foot of a piedmont glacier, 25 miles west of Haswell Island. The shore party consisted of Glenn R. Krause of the Hydrographic Office; M.G. Snyder QM1, USN; Corporal D.L. Green, USMC; Lieutenant E. W. Midgeley (MC) USA; and T.E. Jones, photo interpreter. The USS EDISTO went on to work her way to within 35 miles of Point 1 before being stopped by the ice. By noon, on December 28, three helicopter flights successfully transported a shore party consisting of Mr. E.L. Merritt of the Hydrographic Office; R. Snedeker QM1, USN; Sergeant L. Peterson, USMC; Major E.R. Ardery, USA; and R.R. Conger CPHOM, USN. Camp was set up between two highly crevassed glaciers some 12 miles east of Gaussberg.

After the USS EDISTO and the USS BURTON ISLAND had parted early on December 27 the latter headed south toward the Haswell Islands and Point 4. Pack ice continued to be a problem. Following leads observed by a helicopter, the ship was able to make her way to within 17 miles of the islands by the early morning of December 28. From here, two Weasels were sent out to transport the hydrographic party to Point 4. The party consisted of Captain Boyd, R.C. Holl, of the Hydrographic Office, Dr. Earl T. Apfel of the US Geological Survey and Syracuse University, John H. Roscoe of the Navy Photographic Center, Ensign R.O. Werlein, and J.J. O'Connor, PHOM 1. Camp was made on Haswell Island, the largest in the island group, and an astronomic station was set up; triangulation points were established and sun shots were obtained. Apfel and O'Conner were evacuated by helicopter on December 29 with the remaining personnel evacuated on December 31 in two Weasels. Ironically, one of the Weasels broke down on the way back to the ship so the party was forced to travel the rest of the way without it. Interestingly, the detailed survey of Haswell Island was directly responsible for the Russians selecting this site for its base, Mirnyy, for the IGY. Since IGY, Mirnyy has remained a major Russian establishment in Antarctica.

After the shore party and equipment were removed from Haswell Island, the USS BURTON ISLAND traveled eastward along the western edge of the Shackleton Ice Shelf. She approached Point 5 but could not locate it despite use of a helicopter for reconnaissance. As a result, she proceeded on to the Gillies Islands and the site of Point 6. On January 1, 1948, the ship dropped anchor near a large rock 1500 yards west of the ice shelf. (The rock, named Burton Island Rock at the time, was later renamed Bigelow Rock for Sergeant George H. Bigelow, USMC, a tractor driver on both Highjump and Windmill. The rock is 10 feet above water and covered with 6 feet of snow and ice). The Sikorsky helicopter was sent up and later located three large granite rocks protruding above the Shackleton Ice Shelf ... the Gillies Islands had been found. A second trip began ferrying the shore party up to them and as the helicopter landed, the framework of the helicopter pontoons was bent. No one was hurt, but the USS EDISTO had to be summoned to assist since the Bell helicopter was down for repairs. Commander Folger, aboard the USS EDISTO, dispatched Lieutenant Lloyd W. Tracy, USN, in the helicopter to the USS BURTON ISLAND and then set course to join the flagship. Lieutenant Tracy safely landed aboard the USS BURTON ISLAND and subsequently ferried flight personnel to the downed helicopter where repairs were made to fly it safely back to the ship. Meanwhile, the USS EDISTO reached the USS BURTON ISLAND after which she was ordered to complete work at Point 3. When Lt. Tracy was released from his duties, he returned to the USS EDISTO and immediately began ferrying the survey party to Point 3, including two men left at Point 2. When he finally returned to the ship at 11:39 p.m., January 2, Lt. Tracy had made 12 flights, with 16 hours and 15 minutes in the air over the 36-hour period.

Good weather on January 1 and 2 was used to advantage by the shore parties from the USS EDISTO. Two photographic flights of the J2F amphibian plane successfully tied in Points 1, 2, 3 and 4. Survey parties worked at Point 3 and by January 3, all observations had been completed. A snow storm developed which prohibited the men from returning to the USS EDISTO until January 5.

On the morning of January 6 the Task Force ships joined together north of Bigelow Rock and proceeded to round Shackleton Ice Shelf en route to the Bunger Hills. They continued eastward along the edge of the pack ice until early on January 8 when they turned south into the pack in about 102°E. Breaking a way through the ice proved very difficult ... not until January 12 did they finally enter a pool of open water northwest of Mill Island, 40 miles from Point 10 (later designated Point 5). The J2F amphibian plane ferried personnel and equipment between the two ships and was used for aerial photography. Using two Weasels, a small relay camp and gasoline cache was set up between the ships and the eventual shore camp in the Bunger Hills. Operations proceeded in a rapid pace with helicopters transferring equipment and personnel to the campsite. By the end of the day on January 12, Merritt and Krause of the Hydrographic Office were on the ground at Bunger Hills. During the early staging operations, the small Bell helicopter crashed in a white-out seven miles from the ship. Fortunately, no personnel were injured in the crash. They experienced reasonably good weather while conducting their scientific work and on the morning of January 15, all men were evacuated. (In 1957, the Soviet Union established its IGY base "Oazis" in the Bunger Hills. It was later transferred to Poland and in 1959 it was closed).

Ham Radio QSL Card Confirming My 2-Way Radio Contact With Peter I Island

The ships met on January 16 and personnel and equipment were transferred back to the USS BURTON ISLAND.
Commander Ketchum led the ships southeastward toward Point 11 on the west side of Vincennes Bay and Point 13 on the east side. This 65-mile wide bay was discovered by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes in the VINCENNES in 1840. On January 18, the USS EDISTO headed for Point 11 and the USS BURTON ISLAND for Point 13. By noon on January 19, the landing party was back aboard the USS EDISTO, its mission completed. The USS BURTON ISLAND broke into open water off the Budd Coast and dropped anchor only 800 yards from Point 13, which is on one of a group of small rocky islands subsequently named the Windmill Islands (see left). These islands were subsequently selected by the US Committee for the IGY as the site of Wilkes Station. On the afternoon of January 19, the USS EDISTO anchored alongside the flagship and three men joined the USS BURTON ISLAND parties in completing the main control point and three subsidiary points. The J2F amphibian plane took photographs which tied in Points 11 and 13.

On January 20 the Task Force left Vincennes Bay and sailed eastward along latitude 64°S en route to the Ross Sea. On January 25, just north of the Balleny Islands, they met the Japanese whaler HASHEDATE MARU and several accompanying vessels. Three international observers aboard the whaler visited the USS BURTON ISLAND and some of the Task Force officers visited the whaler. The next day the ships turned southward into the Ross Sea. Only light pack ice was encountered and less than 24 hours were spent in McMurdo Sound. Several men went ashore and visited the historic British huts of Shackleton, at Cape Royds, and Scott at Hut Point and Cape Evans. The ships got underway that evening and headed for Little America. Upon arrival at the Bay of Whales, then only 100 yards wide, the ships moored against the bay ice and parties went ashore on January 31. The Weasels were hoisted out and for the next five days, Captain Boyd, USMC and Ensign Mallory directed studies of the structures and equipment left at the former bases, Little America III (1940) and IV (1947). The USS BURTON ISLAND called all parties back to the ship on February 5. On the previous day, Commander Ketchum transferred to the USS EDISTO and sailed for Cape Colbeck in search of a route through the pack ice toward the northeast. All previous attempts to leave the Ross Sea by this route had proved impossible and this time would be no different as air reconnaissance showed dense pack ice extending north and east of the Cape. Late on February 6 the USS BURTON ISLAND joined the USS EDISTO and together would patiently wait for improved weather in which to launch the J2F amphibian. Once weather conditions improved, air reconnaissance showed nothing but impenetrable pack ice to the south.

The Task Force returned to the outer limit of the pack ice and proceeded eastward towards Thurston Island. By February 14, all efforts to approach the island were abandoned as the ice was simply too thick to penetrate ... a new course was set for Peter I Island. The two ships anchored on the west side of the island and a party from the USS BURTON ISLAND went ashore to collect geological samples. On February 16, 1948, OPERATION WINDMILL wound down when a new course was laid for Marguerite Bay to help evacuate the members of the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition if frozen in. The ships of Task Force 39 arrived at Stonington Island in Marguerite Bay on February 19, 1948, and found Ronne's vessel, the PORT OF BEAUMONT, frozen in. The following day the USS BURTON ISLAND broke the ice surrounding the PORT OF BEAUMONT and towed Ronne's vessel further out into the bay. By late in the day, all three ships were moored together near some small rocky islets on the south side of Adelaide Island. Dr. Apfel went ashore on a geological mission while Lieutenant Smith's underwater demolition unit (UDT) planted a charge of 7750 pounds of TNT as part of a seismological test monitored by Dr. Robert L. Nichols of the Ronne Expedition. Following the explosion, Dr. Nichols was picked up by the USS BURTON ISLAND and all three ships sailed north. Ironically, the JOHN BISCOE, of the British Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, arrived just in time to utilize the path broken through the pack ice by the Task Force. The JOHN BISCOE successfully resupplied the British base on Stonington Island with stores and personnel, quickly leaving and joining the American ships before the ice set in. In hindsight, it is quite possible that the resupply mission of the British would not have been possible if not for the Task Force. Likewise, evacuation of the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedite would not have been possible without the assistance of Task Force 39.

On February 24, following repairs to the steering mechanism on the PORT OF BEAUMONT, the ships separated and the Task Force set a course for Callao, where it arrived on March 12, 1948. Following five days of shore leave, the USS EDISTO sailed for Norfolk, arriving on March 28. The USS BURTON ISLAND arrived at San Pedro on April 1.   



"Operation Deepfreeze", by Rear Admiral George J. Dufek

"The Crossing of Antarctica", by Sir Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary

"Americans in Antarctica 1775-1948", by Kenneth J. Bertrand


"Americans in Antarctica 1775-1948", by Kenneth J. Bertrand

"Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions and Related Historical Events", by Robert K. Headland

"Antarctica; the Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent", published by Reader's Digest, second edition.