What was Operation Highjump

Operation Highjump

Operation Highjump, officially The United States Navy Antarctic Developments Program, 1946-47, was a mission of the US Navy in the Antarctic, which started on December 2, 1946 in the US naval port of Norfolk and in the course of which the US base "Little America IV" was built on January 27, 1947 near the Ross Sea. Reconnaissance flights started from there, and two groups of ships followed the coast east and west. On March 3, 1947, Admiral Byrd's expedition was declared over. It was the largest military operation in this part of Antarctica and one of the largest expeditions to explore Antarctica.

Goals and Results

The official aim of the mission was the exploration of the southern continent and its surrounding waters. The most important result of Operation Highjump was the creation of almost 70,000 aerial photographs of the Antarctic coast and parts of the interior for the creation 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 made valuable experiences in the eternal ice as an Arctic and Antarctic researcher before the Second World War. Its fleet consisted of around 4,700 soldiers and scientists on the following ships:

  • the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea (CV-47)
  • two destroyers: the USS Brownson (DD-868) and the USS Henderson (DD-785)
  • two seaplane suppliers: the USS Pine Island (AV-12) and USS Currituck (AV-7)
  • two tankers: the USS Cacapon (AO-52) and USS Canisteo (AO-99)
  • two icebreakers: the USS Burton Island (AG-88) and USCGC Northwind (WAG-282)
  • two support ships: the USS Yancey (AKA-93) and USS Merrick (AKA-97)
  • the communications ship USS Mount Olympus (AGC-8)
  • the submarine USS Sennet (SS-408)
  • approx. 26 aircraft.
  • and about 30 helicopters

On December 30, 1946, the flying boat crashed George 1 on a patrol flight over a previously unexplored part of Antarctica after it collided with an iceberg while flying low. After almost two weeks, the survivors were discovered by a search plane, but three men of the original crew of nine had died as a result of the crash.[1] 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 prematurely.

On March 7, 1947, Byrds' lead ship, Mount Olympus, reached Wellington, 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 if there is a new war, the United States will be attacked by planes flying over one or both poles."[2] [...] “The fantastic rush with which the world is shrinking” - 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. " (Interview on discussion page).

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 building and using air bases in such extreme climatic conditions. The premature termination of Highjump was due to the fact that the meteorological conditions were constantly deteriorating, which is why ever greater material damage to the fleet was feared.

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

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ See the report of a survivor: James Haskin Robbins: Antartic Mayday. www.southpole.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" D.H. Haarmann, 104 pages, 1983, HUGIN, 5802 Wetter 4, P.O. Box 13