Operation Highjump

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Aerial view of the station "Little America IV"

Operation Highjump , officially The United States Navy Antarctic Developments Program, 1946-47 , was a United States Navy operation in the Antarctic that began on December 3, 1946 at the US Naval Base in Norfolk and continued on January 27, 1947 at the base Little America IV was built near the Ross Sea . Reconnaissance flights started from there, and two groups of ships followed the coast east and west. On March 3, 1947, the expedition was declared over by its leader, Admiral Byrd . It was the largest military operation in this part of Antarctica and one of the largest expeditions to explore Antarctica.

Goals and Results

US Coast Guard icebreaker USCGC Northwind in the Antarctic pack ice

The official purpose of the company was the exploration of the southern continent and its surrounding waters. The most important result of the operation was the creation of almost 70,000 aerial photographs of the Antarctic coast and parts of the interior for the production of maps. A large part of the recordings was initially useless due to the lack of ground control points; this deficiency was remedied in the following summer by the much smaller expedition Operation Windmill .


Operation Highjump was carried out by the Fleet Association Task Force 68 , divided into five task forces. The commanding admiral was Richard E. Byrd, who had already gained valuable experience in the eternal ice as an Arctic and Antarctic researcher before the Second World War. Its fleet consisted of around 4700 soldiers and scientists on the following ships:

Submarine USS Sennet (SS-408) during Operation Highjump

On December 30, 1946, the flying boat George 1 crashed on a patrol flight over a previously unexplored part of Antarctica after colliding with an iceberg while flying low. After almost two weeks, the survivors were discovered by a search aircraft, but three men of the original crew of nine died as a result of the crash. Nine other planes had to be left defective. The submarine USS Sennet (SS-408) was badly damaged on the tower when it encountered ice floes and had to start its journey to New Zealand early.

On March 7, 1947, the lead ship Byrds, Mount Olympus , reached Wellington in New Zealand . On the way there, Admiral Byrd gave an accompanying journalist from the International News Service an exclusive interview, which was published on March 5, 1947 in the then largest daily newspaper in South America , El Mercurio , in Santiago de Chile . In it, Byrd pointed out the future strategic importance of the polar regions in terms of war strategy:

"I don't want to scare anyone, but the bitter reality is that in the event of another war, the United States will be attacked by flying objects that could fly from pole to pole at incredible speeds." [...] "The fantastic rush, with which is shrinking the world ”- explained the admiral -“ is one of the objective lessons we have learned in the Antarctic exploration that we are just finishing up. I can only warn my compatriots that the time is over when we could withdraw into complete isolation and relax in the confidence that the distances, the seas and the poles would offer us a guarantee of safety. "

In the original, from the interview with International News Service, March 1947:

“Admiral Richard E. Byrd warned today that the United States should adopt measures of protection against the possibility of an invasion of the country by hostile planes coming from the polar regions. The admiral explained that he was not trying to scare anyone, but the cruel reality is that in case of a new war, the United States could be attacked by planes flying over one or both poles. "

The aim of this expedition was to research the suitability of American military material in the enormous cold that it would have been exposed to in a possible war against the Soviet Union, as well as to determine the feasibility of the construction and use of air bases in such extreme climatic conditions. The premature termination of Highjump was due to the fact that the meteorological conditions were steadily deteriorating, which is why ever greater material damage to the fleet was feared.

While the military of the United States in the Antarctic after the Antarctic Treaty limited itself to supporting civilian expeditions, the following expansion of the Thule Air Base shows the strategic importance that was attached to the Arctic polar region for a long time afterwards.

Cinematic evaluation

MGM and the US Navy produced a documentary about the expedition in 1948. The Secret Land won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Film at the 1949 Academy Awards .

Operation Highjump II

In 1950, Operation Highjump II was prepared. Again under Admiral Byrd and as head of Operation George J. Dufek , who had led the Working Group East on the Highjump South Polar Expedition from 1946 to 47 with the seaplane carrier Pine Island as the lead ship, the destroyer Brownson and the tanker Canisteo . Dufek was now to lead the entire expedition under Byrd. Everything was fully planned, equipment, ships and crews were ready when the operation was canceled six weeks before the departure date, supposedly for cost reasons.

Web links

Commons : Operation Highjump  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. See the report of a survivor: James Haskin Robbins: Antarctic Mayday . www.south-pole.com, 1981
  2. A translation of the article by Lee van Atta in El Mercurio of March 5, 1947 can be found in the following book on page 17, an illustration of the article from the original on page 18: "Secret miracle weapons - caricature between deception and facts". DH Haarmann, 104 pages, 1983, HUGIN, 5802 Wetter 4, Postfach 13
  3. George F. Dufek: Company deep freezing. Verlag Eberhard Brockhaus, Wiesbaden 1958, pages 13, 23 and 26