Operation Highjump (OpHjp), officially titled The United States Navy Antarctic Developments Program, 1946-1947, was a United States Navy operation organized by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd Jr., USN (Ret), Officer in Charge, Task Force 68, and led by Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, USN, Commanding Officer, Task Force 68. Operation Highjump commenced 26 August 1946 and ended in late February 1947. Task Force 68 included 4,700 men, 13 ships, and multiple aircraft. The primary mission of Operation Highjump was to establish the Antarctic research base Little America IV.12
Highjump’s objectives, according to the U.S. Navy report of the operation, were:citation needed
- training personnel and testing equipment in frigid conditions;
- consolidating and extending United States sovereignty over the largest practicable area of the Antarctic continent (This was publicly denied as a goal even before the expedition ended);
- determining the feasibility of establishing, maintaining and utilizing bases in the Antarctic and investigating possible base sites;
- developing techniques for establishing, maintaining and utilizing air bases on ice, with particular attention to later applicability of such techniques to operations in interior Greenland, where conditions are comparable to those in the Antarctic;
- amplifying existing stores of knowledge of hydrographic, geographic, geological, meteorological and electromagnetic propagation conditions in the area;
- supplementary objectives of the Nanook expedition. (The Nanook operation was a smaller equivalent conducted off eastern Greenland.)3
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The Western Group of ships reached the Marquesas Islands on December 12, 1946, whereupon the Henderson and Cacapon set up weather monitoring stations. By the 24th, the Currituck had begun launching aircraft on reconnaissance missions.
The Eastern Group of ships reached Peter I Island in late December 1946.
On January 1, 1947, LCDR Thompson and Chief Petty Officer Dixon utilized "Jack Browne" masks and DESCO Oxygen rebreathers to log the first dive by Americans under the Antarctic.4 Paul Allman Siple, Ph.D. was the senior U.S. War Department representative on the expedition. Dr. Siple was the same Eagle Scout who accompanied Admiral Byrd on the previous Byrd Antarctic expeditions.
On December 30, 1946, aviation radiomen Wendell K. Hendersin, Fredrick W. Williams, and Ensign Maxwell A. Lopez were killed when their PBM Mariner George 1 crashed during a blizzard. The surviving six crewmembers, including Aviation Radioman James H. Robbins and co-pilot William Kearns, were rescued 13 days later. A plaque was later erected at the McMurdo Station research base, honoring the three killed crewmen.
In December 2004, an attempt was made to locate the remains of the plane.5 There are ongoing efforts to repatriate the bodies of the three men killed in the crash.6 Killed airman Maxwell A. Lopez had a mountain named in his honor after his death, Mount Lopez on Thurston Island.
Additionally, Vance N. Woodall died during a "ship unloading accident" sometime after December 30, 1946. In a crew profile, deckman Edward Beardsley described his worst memory as "when Seaman Vance Woodall died on the Ross Ice Shelf under a piece of roller equipment designed to "pave" the ice to build an airstrip."
Naval ships and personnel were withdrawn back to the United States in late February 1947 and the expedition was terminated, due to the early approach of winter and worsening weather conditions7
Admiral Byrd in an interview with Lee van Atta of International News Service aboard the expeditions command ship, the USS Mount Olympus, discussed the lessons learned from the operation. The interview appeared in the Wednesday, March 5, 1947 edition of the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, and read in part as follows:
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. This statement was made as part of a recapitulation of his own polar experience, in an exclusive interview with International News Service. Talking about the recently completed expedition, Byrd said that the most important result of his observations and discoveries is the potential effect that they have in relation to the security of the United States. The fantastic speed with which the world is shrinking – recalled the admiral – is one of the most important lessons learned during his recent Antarctic exploration. I have to warn my compatriots that the time has ended when we were able to take refuge in our isolation and rely on the certainty that the distances, the oceans, and the poles were a guarantee of safety.89
After the operation ended, a follow-up Operation Windmill returned to the area, in order to provide ground-truthing to the aerial photography of Highjump. Finn Ronne also financed a private operation to the same territory, until 1948.
As with other U.S. Antarctic expeditions, interested persons were allowed to send letters with enclosed envelopes to the base. Here commemorative cachets were added to their enclosures which were then returned to the senders. These souvenir philatelic covers are readily available at low cost.
- Eastern Group (Task Group 68.3)10
Capt. George J. Dufek, USN, Commanding
- Seaplane Tender USS Pine Island. Capt. Henry H. Caldwell, USN, Commanding
- Destroyer USS Brownson. Cdr. H.M.S. Gimber, USN, Commanding
- Tanker USS Canisteo. Capt. Edward K. Walker, USN, Commanding
- Western Group (Task Group 68.1)
Capt. Charles A. Bond, USN, Commanding
- Seaplane Tender USS Currituck. Capt. John E. Clark, USN, Commanding
- Destroyer USS Henderson. Capt. C.F. Bailey, USN, Commanding
- Tanker USS Cacapon. Capt. R.A. Mitchell, USN, Commanding
- Central Group (Task Group 68.2)
Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, USN , Commanding Officer
- Communications and Flaship USS Mount Olympus. Capt. R. R. Moore, USN, Commanding
- Supplyship USS Yancey. Capt. J.E. Cohn, USN, Commanding
- Supplyship USS Merrick. Capt. John J. Hourihan, USN, Commanding
- Submarine USS Sennet. Cdr. Joseph B. Icenhower, USN, Commanding
- Icebreaker USS Burton Island. CDR Gerald L. Ketchum, USN, Commanding
- Icebreaker USCGC Northwind. Capt. Charles W. Thomas, USCG, Commanding
- Carrier Group (Task Group 68.4)
Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd Jr. USN, (Ret), Officer in Charge
- Aircraft carrier and Flagship USS Philippine Sea. Capt. Delbert S. Cornwell, USN, Commanding
- Base Group (Task Group 68.5)
Capt. Clifford M. Campbell, USN, Commanding
- Base Little America IV
In the Area 51 novels Operation Highjump was said to be cover for an expedition to excavate flying saucers buried under Antarctica's ice shelf by long-ago extraterrestrial visitors.
A highly controversial German documentary, UFO — Technology Secrets and the Third Reich. suggests at the end of the hour-long film, that the real reason for the expedition was to seek out a secret German UFO station still operating in the Antarctic.11
- Kearns, David A. (2005). "Operation Highjump: Task Force 68". Where Hell Freezes Over: A Story of Amazing Bravery and Survival. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 304. ISBN 0-312-34205-5. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
- Summerhayes & Beeching 2007, pp. 15 and 16
- Summerhayes, C. & Beeching, P. "Hitler’s Antarctic base: the myth and the reality", Polar Record 43 (224):1–21 (2007) doi:10.1017/S003224740600578X, p.14
- Lang, Michael A and Robbins Ron (2009). "Scientific Diving Under Ice: A 40-Year Bipolar Research Tool.". In: Krupnik, I; Lang, MA; Miller, SE (eds). 2009. Smithsonian at the Poles: contributions to international Polar Year science.: 241–52. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
- News Archives from Antarctica - An at www.antarcticconnection.com
- George One Operation Highjump Crew Recovery
- Summerhayes & Beeching, 2007, p. 15-16)
- "A bordo del Monte Olimpo en Alta Mar". El Mercurio (in Spanish) (Santiago). March 5, 1947.
- Summerhayes & Beeching 2007, p.17
- Kearns, David A. (2005). "Operation Highjump: Task Force 68". Where Hell Freezes Over: A Story of Amazing Bravery and Survival. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 304. ISBN 0-312-34205-5. Retrieved 2011-04-07.
- UFO - Technology Secrets and the Third Reich
- Navy Proudly Ends Its Antarctic Mission; Air National Guard Assumes 160-Year Task. Chicago Tribune; February 22, 1998.
- Antarctic Mayday: The Crash of the George One Read the story of one of the survivors - James Haskin(Robbie) Robbins
- Operation Highjump: A Tragedy on Ice
- Where Hell Freezes Over by David A. Kearns (son of one of the survivors of the George One crash); Published 2005
- Operation Highjump photographic analysis
- Article discussing enigma of operation highjump
- Photos from Operation Highjump
- George One Recovery Information
- Families Urge Navy to Bring Sailors Home
- Should Navy Recover Bodies of Sailors
- Ship cover site with good history
- Colin, Summerhayes; Beeching, Peter (2007). "Hitler's Antarctic base: the myth and the reality". Polar Record (full textdoi:10.1017/S003224740600578X.) 43 (1): 1.