Operation Highjump

Last updated
USS Sennet (SS-408) (right), a Balao-class submarine, participating in Operation Highjump USS Sennet (SS-408) in Antartica 1947.jpg
USS Sennet (SS-408) (right), a Balao-class submarine, participating in Operation Highjump

Operation HIGHJUMP, officially titled The United States Navy Antarctic Developments Program, 1946–1947, (also called Task Force 68), was a United States Navy (USN) operation to establish the Antarctic research base Little America IV. [1] [2] The operation was organized by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr., USN (Ret), Officer in Charge, Task Force 68, and led by Rear Admiral Ethan Erik Larson, 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 33 aircraft.


HIGHJUMP's objectives, according to the U.S. Navy report of the operation, were: [3]

  1. Training personnel and testing equipment in frigid conditions;
  2. Consolidating and extending the United States' sovereignty over the largest practicable area of the Antarctic continent (publicly denied as a goal before the expedition ended); [3]
  3. Determining the feasibility of establishing, maintaining, and utilizing bases in the Antarctic and investigating possible base sites;
  4. 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;
  5. Amplifying existing stores of knowledge of electromagnetic, geological, geographic, hydrographic, and meteorological propagation conditions in the area;
  6. Supplementary objectives of the Nanook expedition (a smaller equivalent conducted off eastern Greenland). [2]


The Western Group of ships reached the Marquesas Islands on December 12, 1946, whereupon the USS Henderson and USS Cacapon set up weather monitoring stations. By December 24, the USS Currituck had begun launching aircraft on reconnaissance missions.

The Eastern Group of ships reached Peter I Island in late December 1946.

On December 30, 1946, the Martin PBM-5 George 1 crashed on Thurston Island killing Ensign Maxwell A. Lopez, ARM1 Wendell K. Henderson, and ARM1 Frederick W. Williams. The other 6 crew members were rescued 13 days later. These and Vance N. Woodall, who died on January 21, 1947, were the only fatalities during Operation HIGHJUMP.

On January 1, 1947, Lieutenant Commander Thompson and Chief Petty Officer John Marion Dickison [4] utilized "Jack Browne" masks and DESCO oxygen rebreathers to log the first dive by Americans under the Antarctic. [5] Paul Siple was the senior U.S. War Department representative on the expedition. Siple was the same Eagle Scout who accompanied Byrd on the previous Byrd Antarctic expeditions. [6] [7]

The Central Group of ships reached the Bay of Whales on January 15, 1947, where they began construction of Little America IV. [8]

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 conditions. [9]

Byrd discussed the lessons learned from the operation in an interview with Lee van Atta of International News Service held aboard the expedition's command ship, the USS Mount Olympus. 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. [2] [10]

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 from 1947 to 1948. Finn Ronne also financed a private operation to the same territory until 1948. [11]

As with other U.S. Antarctic expeditions, interested persons were allowed to send letters with enclosed envelopes to the base, where commemorative cachets were added to their enclosures, which were then returned to the senders. These souvenir philatelic covers are readily available at low cost. It is estimated that at least 150,000 such envelopes were produced, though their final number may be considerably higher. [12]

Participating units

Sikorsky R-4 helicopter landing on icebreaker USCGC Northwind during Operation Highjump US Navy Antarctic Expedition Helicopter returns from survey of South Pole waters. The Coast Guard helicopter is shown... - NARA - 196475.jpg
Sikorsky R-4 helicopter landing on icebreaker USCGC Northwind during Operation Highjump
Task Force 68

Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, USN, Commanding

Eastern Group (Task Group 68.3) [1]

Capt. George J. Dufek, USN, Commanding

Western Group (Task Group 68.1)

Capt. Charles A. Bond, USN, Commanding

Central Group (Task Group 68.2)

Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, USN, Commanding Officer

Carrier Group (Task Group 68.4)

Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd, Jr. USN, (Ret), Officer in Charge

Base Group (Task Group 68.5)

Capt. Clifford M. Campbell, USN, Commanding


On December 30, 1946, aviation radiomen Wendell K. Henderson, Fredrick W. Williams, and Ensign Maxwell A. Lopez were killed when their Martin PBM Mariner George 1 crashed during a blizzard. The surviving six crew members were rescued 13 days later, including aviation radioman James H. Robbins and co-pilot William Kearns. A plaque honoring the three killed crewmen was later erected at the McMurdo Station research base, [13] and Mount Lopez on Thurston Island was named in honor of killed airman Maxwell A. Lopez. In December 2004, an attempt was made to locate the remains of the plane. [14] In 2007 a group called the George One Recovery Team was unsuccessful in trying to get direct military involvement and raise extensive funds from the United States Congress to try and find the bodies of the three men killed in the crash. [15]

On January 21, 1947, Vance N. Woodall died during a "ship unloading accident". [8] 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."

In media

The documentary about the expedition The Secret Land was filmed entirely by military photographers (both USN and US Army) and narrated by actors Robert Taylor, Robert Montgomery, and Van Heflin. [16] It features Chief of Naval Operations Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in a scene where he is discussing Operation HIGHJUMP with admirals Byrd and Cruzen. The film re-enacted scenes of critical events, such as shipboard damage control and Admiral Byrd throwing items out of an airplane to lighten it to avoid crashing into a mountain. It won the 1948 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard E. Byrd</span> American naval officer, explorer (1888–1957)

Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr. was an American naval officer and explorer. He was a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest honor for valor given by the United States, and was a pioneering American aviator, polar explorer, and organizer of polar logistics. Aircraft flights in which he served as a navigator and expedition leader crossed the Atlantic Ocean, a segment of the Arctic Ocean, and a segment of the Antarctic Plateau. Byrd claimed that his expeditions had been the first to reach both the North Pole and the South Pole by air. His claim to have reached the North Pole is disputed. He is also known for discovering Mount Sidley, the largest dormant volcano in Antarctica.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Amundsen Sea</span> Arm of the Southern Ocean

The Amundsen Sea, an arm of the Southern Ocean off Marie Byrd Land in western Antarctica, lies between Cape Flying Fish to the east and Cape Dart on Siple Island to the west. Cape Flying Fish marks the boundary between the Amundsen Sea and the Bellingshausen Sea. West of Cape Dart there is no named marginal sea of the Southern Ocean between the Amundsen and Ross Seas. The Norwegian expedition of 1928–1929 under Captain Nils Larsen named the body of water for the Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen while exploring this area in February 1929.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul Siple</span>

Paul Allman Siple was an American Antarctic explorer and geographer who took part in six Antarctic expeditions, including the two Byrd expeditions of 1928–1930 and 1933–1935, representing the Boy Scouts of America as an Eagle Scout. In addition to being an Eagle Scout, Siple was also a Sea Scout. His first and third books covered these adventures. With Charles F. Passel he developed the wind chill factor, and Siple coined the term.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">United States Antarctic Expedition Medal</span> Award

The United States Antarctic Expedition Medal is a combined military-civilian award that was authorized by the United States Congress on September 24, 1945 under Public Law 185 of the 79th Congress. The award recognizes members of the United States Antarctic Expedition of 1939–1941. There were gold, silver, and bronze versions. It is unclear if the gold version is considered a Congressional Gold Medal, as was the case with the 1st Byrd expedition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Little America (exploration base)</span> Antarctic camp

Little America was a series of Antarctic exploration bases from 1929 to 1958, located on the Ross Ice Shelf, south of the Bay of Whales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bear Peninsula</span>

Bear Peninsula is a peninsula about 80 km (50 mi) long and 40 km (25 mi) wide which is ice covered except for several isolated rock bluffs and outcrops along its margins, lying 48 km 30 mi) east of Martin Peninsula on Walgreen Coast, Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica.

Operation Deep Freeze is codename for a series of United States missions to Antarctica, beginning with "Operation Deep Freeze I" in 1955–56, followed by "Operation Deep Freeze II", "Operation Deep Freeze III", and so on.. Given the continuing and constant US presence in Antarctica since that date, "Operation Deep Freeze" has come to be used as a general term for US operations in that continent, and in particular for the regular missions to resupply US Antarctic bases, coordinated by the United States military. Task Force 199 was involved.

USS <i>Bear</i> Dual steam-powered and sailing ship

USS Bear was a dual steam-powered and sailing ship built with six-inch (15.2 cm)-thick sides which had a long life in various cold-water and ice-filled environs. She was a forerunner of modern icebreakers and had a diverse service life. According to the United States Coast Guard official website, Bear is described as "probably the most famous ship in the history of the Coast Guard."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Operation Windmill</span> US Navy Antarctica expedition

Operation Windmill (OpWml) was the United States Navy's Second Antarctica Developments Project, an exploration and training mission to Antarctica in 1947–1948. This operation was a follow-up to the First Antarctica Development Project known as Operation Highjump. The expedition was commanded by Commander Gerald L. Ketchum, USN, and the flagship of Task Force 39 was the icebreaker USS Burton Island.

The United States Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–1941), often referred to as Byrd’s Third Antarctic Expedition, was an expedition jointly sponsored by the United States Navy, State Department, Department of the Interior and The Treasury. Although a U.S.-government sponsored expedition, additional support came from donations and gifts by private citizens, corporations and institutions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gerald Ketchum</span>

Rear Admiral Gerald L. Ketchum was a career officer in the United States Navy. He served during World War II and the Korean War. He was a recipient of the Silver Star and also participated in four expeditions to Antarctica.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Isaac Schlossbach</span>

Isaac "Ike" Schlossbach was an American polar explorer, submariner and aviation pioneer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George J. Dufek</span>

George John Dufek was an American naval officer, naval aviator, and polar expert. He served in World War II and the Korean War and in the 1940s and 1950s spent much of his career in the Antarctic, first with Admiral Byrd and later as supervisor of U.S. programs in the South Polar regions. Rear Admiral Dufek was the director of the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia after his retirement from the Navy in 1959.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clark Peninsula</span> Peninsula of Antarctica

Clark Peninsula is a rocky peninsula, about 3 km (2 mi) long and wide, lying 5 km (3 mi) north-east of Australia's Casey Station at the north side of Newcomb Bay on the Budd Coast of Wilkes Land in Antarctica.

<i>The Secret Land</i> 1948 film

The Secret Land is a feature-length 1948 documentary film about a United States Navy expedition code-named "Operation Highjump" to explore Antarctica and to evaluate its potential for military operations in 1946. It won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Mullins Valley is a four mile long valley located at 5,400 ft elevation in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. It is one of the few dry valleys in the world to contain rock glaciers. US Antarctic Program (USAP) research has dated the subsurface ice in Mullins Valley at 4 million years old making it among the oldest ice on earth. United States Antarctic Program (USAP) research has also shown the rock glaciers in the valley to be analogous to the Arsia Mons region on Mars. Named for Jerry L. Mullins, Physical Scientist, Director, Polar Programs, Antarctic and Arctic Program for United States Geological Survey (USGS), National Science Foundation Antarctic geophysical research, and U.S Scientific Committee (SCAR) delegate to SCAR SCAGI committee. Appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, Polar Research Board. His was responsible for Antarctic field research in the Transantarctic Mountains, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Shackleton Mountains, Beardmore Mountains, Antarctic Peninsula, Mount Siple, Amundsen-Scott South Pole station and at deep field research locations in West Antarctica. His program conducted research in the disciplines of global positioning systems, geodesy, crustal motion, glacial geophysics, airborne geospatial systems, airborne geophysics, seismology, light radar (lidar), topographic mapping and he managed the USGS South Pole winter-over program from 1989 to 1994. He was appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, Polar Research Board as a US delegate to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research Geosciences Standing Scientific Group from 1995–July 2012 and was appointed as a member of the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names in 1994. Mullins Valley appears in the Antarctic research literature, on the maps from the British expedition of Captain Scott and in aerial photographs from the United States expedition Operation Highjump by Admiral Byrd. Mullins Valley, Mullins Lake, Mullins Glacier, and Mullins Geodetic Station, Antarctica are named for United States polar explorer and researcher Jerry L. Mullins.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal</span> Award

The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal was established by Act of Congress in 1936 to commemorate the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard H. Cruzen</span> United States Navy Vice admiral and Antarctic explorer

Richard Harold Cruzen was a decorated United States Navy officer with the rank of Vice Admiral. A veteran of both World Wars, he is best known for his participation and leadership in Antarctic expeditions.

The Cruzen Range is a mountain range that rises to 1600 m in Vashka Crag and extends west to east for 10 nautical miles (19 km) between Salyer Ledge and Nickell Peak in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Victoria Land. The range is bounded to north, east, south and west by the Clare Range, Victoria Valley, Barwick Valley, and the Webb Glacier. Named by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names in 2005 after Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, commander of Task Force 68 during the U.S. Navy Antarctic Developments Project, 1946-47.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antarctica during World War II</span>

International competition extended to the continent of Antarctica during the World War II era, though the region saw no combat. During the prelude to war, Nazi Germany organized the 1938 Third German Antarctic Expedition to preempt Norway's claim to Queen Maud Land. The expedition served as the basis for a new German claim, called New Swabia. A year later, the United States Antarctic Service Expedition established two bases, which operated for two years before being abandoned. Responding to these encroachments, and taking advantage of Europe's wartime turmoil, the nearby nations of Chile and Argentina made their own claims. In 1940 Chile proclaimed the Chilean Antarctic Territory in areas already claimed by Britain, while Argentina proclaimed Argentine Antarctica in 1943 in an overlapping area.


  1. 1 2 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. ISBN   0-312-34205-5.
  2. 1 2 3 Summerhayes, C. & Beeching, P. (2007). "Hitler's Antarctic base: the myth and the reality". Polar Record . 43 (224): 1–21. doi:10.1017/S003224740600578X. S2CID   27749390.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. 1 2 Bertrand, Kenneth John (1971). Americans in Antarctica 1775–1948. New York: American Geographical Society. p. 485.
  4. Diving Under Antarctic Ice: A History Peter Brueggeman
  5. Lang, Michael A. & 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. Archived from the original on 2012-09-28. Retrieved 2011-01-01.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link) CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. "Paul A. Siple". South-Pole.com. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved June 26, 2015. Paul Allman Siple saw the first light of day on December 18, 1908, in Montpelier, Ohio. ...
  7. Dubill, Andy (December 2008). "Paul Siple". International Scouting Collector's Association Journal. International Scouting Collector's Association. 8 (4): 45–46.
  8. 1 2 "Operation Highjump: The Great Antarctic Expedition". South-Pole. Archived from the original on 16 March 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  9. Summerhayes, Colin; Beeching, Peter (2007). "Hitler's Antarctic base: The myth and the reality". Polar Record. 43: 1–21. doi:10.1017/S003224740600578X. S2CID   27749390.
  10. "A bordo del Monte Olimpo en Alta Mar". El Mercurio (in Spanish). Santiago. March 5, 1947.
  11. "Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition". Ronne Antarctic Explorers. Archived from the original on 25 February 2017. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  12. "Operation Highjump: A Philatelic Introduction". South Pole. Archived from the original on 20 May 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  13. "The Byrd Memorial at McMurdo". South Pole Station. Archived from the original on 17 October 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  14. "News Archives from Antarctica". Antarctic Connection. 2004. Archived from the original on 2006-01-12.
  15. "Operation Highjump Crew Recovery". George1Recovery.org. Archived from the original on 2008-01-23. Retrieved 2007-10-27.
  16. "The Secret Land". Archived from the original on 2016-01-25. Retrieved 2015-10-28 via www.imdb.com.
  17. "Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature". IMDb. Archived from the original on 2020-09-18. Retrieved 2019-02-10.

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Coast Guard .


Further reading