NAVY SECOND ANTARCTIC DEVELOPMENTS PROJECT
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.
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 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).
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.