A group of American pilots and scientists flew over Antarctica in 1946-47 to study the region’s geography, climate, and wildlife. The expedition took place as part of Operation Highjump — an effort led by Admiral Richard Byrd that was intended to find a possible route for transatlantic air service between Europe and America.
The “the missing diary of admiral richard byrd pdf” is a non-fiction book that was written in 1946-47. It documents the expedition to explore Antarctica from the air.
The United States Navy used ships, aircraft, and helicopters to explore and chart Antarctica’s icy regions shortly after World War II.
The post-World War II festivities had hardly finished when the Cold War between the Western Allies and their erstwhile Soviet ally began. The conclusion of the war also marked the beginning of the atomic age, and the winning countries’ determination to secure supplies of uranium and other natural resources. Antarctica was seen as a viable prospective storehouse of such critical resources because of its enormous mineral reserves in mostly unknown area. As a result, the US wanted to establish a foothold in Antarctica and use naval and aviation assets to explore the icy continent.
Admiral Chester Nimitz, the head of naval operations for the United States, stated on August 26, 1946 that a major joint military expedition called Operation Highjump would be launched into Antarctica in December, during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer. Thirteen ships, almost 4,700 troops, and a variety of aircraft, including freshly acquired helicopters, were engaged in the operation. Rear Adm. Richard H. Cruzen led the naval contingent, known as Task Force 68, while Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd led the scientific and research components, with six Douglas R4D-5L aircraft (Navy C-47As) at his disposal.
During the mission, Rear Admirals Richard H. Cruzen (left) and Richard E. Byrd, the expedition commanders, boarded a Douglas R4D-5. (Navy of the United States of America)
During the three-month mission, planes would photograph as much of Antarctica’s land surface as possible after Admiral Byrd and his crew built the Little America IV station near where three previous outposts had been located. Six Martin PBM-5 Mariner flying boats were to photograph the east and west coastlines from the seaplane tenders Pine Island and Currituck, while the R4Ds investigated the interior.
During a news conference on November 12, Admiral Byrd said that Operation Highjump “was mainly a military mission to train navy troops, test ships, aircraft, and the new helicopters in freezing zone circumstances.” Develop methods for setting up and sustaining air bases in the Antarctic. A secondary goal was to get a better understanding of the area’s hydrographic, topographical, meteorological, geological, and electromagnetic characteristics. The PBMs and R4Ds would play a significant role in achieving the goals.” A second, unspoken goal was to demonstrate Navy capabilities to President Harry Truman, who was looking for ways to cut the military budget in the postwar years.
The Soviets were wary of the news of Operation Highjump. “US measures in Antarctica indicate that American military circles are trying to submit the polar areas to their authority and establish military bases,” one of their navy publications said.
The operation required extensive preparation and equipment, including everything from gloves, jackets, and food to small snow boots to protect the feet of sled dogs, as well as a Christmas tree and Santa Claus costume, since the ships would be at sea on December 25. Thousands of bamboo pieces were cut and fitted with orange flags to serve as route and landing zone markers.
The task force’s maritime lanes were cleared by the Coast Guard cutter Northwind, which did a fantastic job. (From the National Archives)
Task Force 68 was made up of three different naval units, each with its own purpose. The Eastern Group was led by Captain George J. Dufek, and Pine Island was carrying three PBM Mariners. Currituck was part of the Western Group, which was led by Captain Charles A. Bond and comprised the other three Mariners. The task force was completed by Admiral Cruzen’s Central Group and the aircraft carrier Philippine Sea, which was commanded by Byrd.
With just a month to prepare for the mission, the PBM flight crews were all novice volunteers. “No weather stations, unnatural terrain, conventional navigation aids worthless, maps restricted, knowing that the flight would not be safe,” one crew member said. You were confined in an airplane for five hours in weather zones that varied minute by minute.”
Several Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopters were also engaged in the operation, which have a 360-mile range and can carry a pilot, three passengers, and cargo. The smaller Sikorsky HNS-1 had a range of 130 miles and could carry a pilot and one passenger. One of the most important aspects of the preparations was the building of specific platforms for the helicopters aboard the ships, as well as hours and hours of practice takeoffs and landings.
The helicopters acted as the fleet’s eyes, flying out ahead of the icebreakers to look for open routes through the ice. Each of the icebreakers received one helicopter, while the carrier Philippine Sea received one. Each was big enough to perform rescue operations in addition to reconnaissance. During Operation Highjump, two helicopters would be lost.
The operation’s command center was the Central Group. The Coast Guard cutter Northwind and the new Navy cutter Burton Island, which joined the operation later, helped the ships break through the ice. Because the thick ice might break apart a thin-skinned spacecraft like a can opener, Northwind was crucial to the operation. The ice was the thickest in more than 40 years, according to Norwegian trawlers in the region.
The light planes, ice vehicles, food, tents, and sled dogs would be disgorged once the Central Group ships arrived at the Ross Ice Shelf. The soldiers would then proceed inland to construct Little America IV, Byrd’s and his six R4Ds’ headquarters.
On January 29, 1947, an R4D carrying Admiral Byrd and his crew takes off jet-assisted from the carrier Philippine Sea and proceeds to Antarctica. (Getty Images/Popperfoto) )
The large Douglas birds had to be launched from the Philippine Sea since they lacked the range to fly from a terrestrial base. Aluminum skis were connected to the landing gear struts, with two inches of space between the skis and the carrier deck provided by the tires. Each R4D was equipped with four JATO (jet-assisted takeoff) bottles in order to take off. They could not land on the carrier and would be left behind after the operation was done, thus it was a one-way journey to Little America IV. Each plane’s tail, wings, and fuselage were painted with bright orange stripes to increase visibility if it crashed into the ice.
Ships from the Eastern, Western, and Central groups left at various times and from different ports on both coastlines. On December 2, Northwind departed Norfolk, Virginia, for Antarctica through the Panama Canal. The ships stationed in the Pacific departed the same day from San Diego, California. The Philippine Sea and the Central Group did not leave Norfolk until January 2, 1947. Due to the building of the base and airport, the carrier was the last to arrive.
The group’s Grumman J2F-6 Duck amphibians carried out reconnaissance, supply, and, if necessary, rescue and medical missions. When the expedition ships hit thick ice, the HNS-1 helicopter was used as a scout, flying at 600 feet and radioing where clear holes were. Ships wending their way through the ice at a modest pace were required for safe passage.
The cold temperatures made the air denser, which improved the efficiency of the helicopters. Despite this, 60 minutes of preparation time was needed before to a flight to heat the gasoline, lubricant, engine, and remove any ice from the rotor blades. An HO3S-1 carrying Captain Dufek flew to Scott Island on a reconnaissance mission from Pine Island. The helicopter’s rotor blades got so ice-coated on its return trip that it fell several feet short of the ship’s landing pad. Although the HO3S-1 was lost, Dufek and the pilot were rescued before drowning in the cold sea.
At the Little America IV base, R4Ds form a line on the ice. (National Naval Aviation Museum)
On January 17, the first Central Group ships arrived near the Ross Ice Shelf. The next two days were devoted looking for a suitable location for Little America IV. Then came the unloading of the tractors, jeeps, M29 Weasels, bulldozers, and other snow-track equipment. Large tents, weather equipment, Quonset buildings, three packed-snow runways, and one short runway constructed of steel matting were all part of the base. Lieutenant Jim Cornish had the privilege of being the first helicopter to land and take off from Little America IV. A dozen helo flights had been conducted to the base by the time Operation Highjump was concluded on March 1.
On January 22, a Philippine Sea HO3S-1 helicopter crashed into the sea after being trapped in high gusts on takeoff. The pilot was rescued, but the tragedy exemplified the difficult lessons pilots and crews faced in the early days of helicopters.
On January 29, the carrier approached Little America IV within 600 miles, near enough for the six R4Ds to prepare for takeoff. The flight deck was just 300 feet long, but with the JATO’s help, the first plane, with Byrd onboard, took off in less than 100 feet. A second plane took off, and both planes arrived safely in Little America IV. The other four R4Ds followed as the weather closed in the following day, arriving at the base with just an hour to spare before circumstances worsened. It was decided that after landing, the aircraft tires should be removed and only the skis should be used.
The six R4Ds performed 28 photography flights and collected over 21,000 pictures during Highjump. Photo missions were also flown by helicopters and PBMs around the coastlines. Approximately 70,000 pictures had been taken and over 1.5 million square kilometers of land had been surveyed by the end of the project. “Our goal is that now that we have all of the data, we will be able to create a comprehensive map of all of Antarctica,” Byrd said.
Because of the subzero temperatures, each aircraft’s oil had to be heated, special fuel had to be used, and the engines had to be warmed up for a lengthy period before departure. It was also crucial to ensure that all ice was removed from the propellers, wings, and tail surfaces.
Aside from picture gear, each plane was equipped with a variety of instruments for searching for mineral deposits and other geological characteristics. Magnetic sensor pods on one of Byrd’s flights discovered a large coal deposit. A PBM landed to collect water samples after a lake was found on a huge ice-free area of land.
Rescuers discovered the wreckage of the Martin PBM-5 George I two weeks after it crashed, along with a letter from the survivors informing them that three crew members had perished. (National Naval Aviation Museum)
The PBM-5 Mariner George 1’s experiences typified the challenges that pilots encountered during Operation Highjump. Fog, snow squalls, and rough seas had delayed the plane’s takeoff for days. Finally, on December 26, the weather cooperated and aerial charting of the east coast was possible. When the George 1 was dropped over the edge of Pine Island, one of the launch boats collided with a wing and destroyed a pontoon almost instantly. For repairs, the Mariner had to be hoisted back aboard the ship.
On December 29, the weather cleared again, and George 1 was lowered over the side and launched with a crew of nine, including Pine Island’s captain Captain Henry H. Caldwell, who was on board as an observer. Shortly later, the other two Mariners were launched. Each PBM was equipped with 100 days of food, skis, sleds, medication, warm clothing, and sleeping bags.
The weather began to deteriorate after they had been flying for three hours. To get above the snow and ice, George 1 ascended to 1,000 feet. Instead, it became engulfed in a “ice blink,” with streams of snow reflecting the light and making seeing difficult—similar to the reflections seen when driving a vehicle during a blizzard at night.
Pilot Ralph LeBlanc, unable to see the ground, collided with an item and attempted to lift up, but the fuel tank burst apart, causing the plane to crash in a blaze. When two crew members were catapulted into the propeller blades, they died immediately.
Weather circumstances precluded any effort to locate the downed PBM for 13 days. Finally, burnt debris and soldiers on the ground were discovered by a search aircraft. Three of the crewmen were dead, according to their signal, which was painted on the damaged Mariner’s wing. Because landing in the region was difficult, notes were dropped instructing the survivors to make their way to open sea 10 miles to the north. An airplane indicated the path with orange flags before dropping food, medicine, and other supplies by parachute.
The guys completed the journey, which was an accomplishment in in of itself, and were flown back to Pine Island by the rescue plane. Wendell Henderson, the radioman on the George 1, Frederick Williams, the flight engineer, and Maxwell Lopez, the navigator, had all been murdered. Both of Pilot LeBlanc’s severely burnt and frozen legs would be lost.
The harsh landscape of Antarctica is surveyed by a Navy Sikorsky HO3S-1 chopper. (National Naval Aviation Museum)
Another spectacular event occurred when an R4D carrying Admiral Byrd almost crashed on a four-plane trip to chart as far as the South Pole. Byrd’s team resumed their picture mission after lowering a United Nations flag above the South Pole. They started to lose altitude when one of the engines seized. Faced with an emergency landing and a difficult rescue, Byrd ordered that all items not fastened down be tossed out of the plane, save the photography equipment. The R4D gradually gained height, and in the spirit of the hardy Douglas planes, it returned to Little America IV and landed safely.
The weather worsened as winter approached, with just five days suitable for flying in February. Before the full weight of winter came in, the process of shutting down the business and leaving started.
Fuel, oil, and other fluids from the R4Ds were emptied. Tail portions were disassembled and stored in the hopes of reassembling and using the transporters on a future trip. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Little America IV was located on an ice shelf that had broken away and floated into open ocean by 1958. The six planes had vanished.
A PBM was driven overboard off Currituck in a severe ocean storm before to reaching the target and vanished in the strong seas, among other losses. The nose of a second Mariner was damaged.
The helicopters used by the fleet seemed to be the stars of Operation Highjump. Captain Charles W. Thomas, Northwind’s captain, said in his report, “Helicopter finest piece of equipment ever carried on ice boats.” “The commander of a well-organized ice convoy has to know what his ships will face within the following day,” he said. As a result, helicopter reconnaissance within a twenty-five-mile radius was critical…. Without helicopter surveillance, it would have been impossible to blast a route through 650 miles of ice in eighteen days. The Task Group would have arrived too late in the season to construct a base and subsequently undertake an aerophotographic investigation of a secret continent if it had pierced the pack without ‘eyes.’ In other words, before erecting Little America No. 4, the Central Group would have had to turn around and get out of the pack.”
Operation Highjump was documented in a video narrated by Hollywood actors Robert Taylor, Robert Montgomery, and Van Heflin, all of whom served in the Navy during WWII. It received the 1948 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature when it was shown in cinemas as The Secret Land.
Other missions followed, such as the United States Navy’s Operation Windmill in 1947-48, and treaties were ultimately negotiated by all parties concerned to guarantee that Antarctica remained a nonmilitary zone.
Jim Trautman is the author of Pan American Clippers: The Golden Age of Flying Boats and is presently writing on an airship history book for Firefly Books, which will be released next year. Additional reading includes the US Navy’s Report on Operation Highjump: U.S. Navy Antarctic Development Program 1947 and Richard J. Miller’s Operation Highjump: Diary of a Young Sailor.
This article first published in the September edition of Aviation History in 2021. Make sure you don’t miss an issue by subscribing!
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Operation Highjump was a 1946-47 expedition to explore Antarctica from the air. The operation began when Admiral Byrd led an armada of 34 ships, including aircraft carriers and cargo ships, on a mission to establish bases in Antarctica. Reference: operation highjump hyperborea.
Frequently Asked Questions
What did Richard E Byrd discover in Antarctica?
A: He discovered that it is in Antarctica.
What did Admiral Byrd do in Antarctica?
A: He led an expedition that explored the continent, photographed its features and made many discoveries. Among these finds were several fossils of extinct animals as well as artifacts left behind by ancient humans
What US explored Antarctica land and air?
A: I dont know.
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