Operation Highjump

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USS Sennet (SS-408) participating in Operation Highjump

Operation Highjump, 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 33 aircraft. Operation Highjump's primary mission was to establish the Antarctic research base Little America IV.[1][2]

Highjump’s objectives, according to the U.S. Navy report of the operation, were:[citation needed]

  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 even before the expedition ended);[citation needed]
  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).[3]


The Western Group of ships reached the Marquesas Islands on December 12, 1946, whereupon the Henderson and Cacapon set up weather monitoring stations. By December 24, 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, Lieutenant Commander 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.[5][6]

Human losses[edit]

On December 30, 1946, aviation radiomen Wendell K. Hendersin, 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,[citation needed] 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.[7] There are ongoing efforts to repatriate the bodies of the three men killed in the crash.[8]

Some time after December 30, 1946, Vance N. Woodall died during a "ship unloading accident". 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."[citation needed]


Father William Menster served as chaplain during the expedition, and in a service in 1947 he consecrated Antarctica.[citation needed]

The Central Group of ships reached the Bay of Whales on January 15, 1947, where they constructed temporary runways along the glaciers in a base dubbed Little America IV.

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.[2]

Admiral 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.[9][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 1947-1948. Finn Ronne also financed a private operation to the same territory until 1948.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Participating units[edit]

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)[11]

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

In media[edit]

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.[12] 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 has 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.[13]

As of 2015 Christopher Brand has a film in development of Operation Highjump entitled "Highjump".[citation needed]

In the fictional Area 51 books, the operation was cover for retrieving buried alien ships at the North Pole.

A Russian made documentary[14] claims that the units of Operation Highjump were attacked by flying saucers, operated by a secret nazi-base on Antartica, constructed before and during WWII through various nazi-expeditions (including those of the Swabenland)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ a b Summerhayes, C. & Beeching, P. "Hitler's Antarctic base: the myth and the reality". Polar Record 43 (224): 15–16.  doi:10.1017/S003224740600578X
  3. ^ Summerhayes, C. & Beeching, P. "Hitler's Antarctic base: the myth and the reality". Polar Record 43 (224): 14.  doi:10.1017/S003224740600578X
  4. ^ 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. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  5. ^ "Paul A. Siple". South-Pole.com. Retrieved 2015-06-26. Paul Allman Siple saw the first light of day on December 18, 1908, in Montpelier, Ohio. ... 
  6. ^ Dubill, Andy (December 2008). "Paul Siple". International Scouting Collector's Association Journal. International Scouting Collector's Association. 8 (4): 45–46. 
  7. ^ "News Archives from Antarctica". Antarctic Connection. 2004. 
  8. ^ "Operation Highjump Crew Recovery". George1Recovery.org. 
  9. ^ "A bordo del Monte Olimpo en Alta Mar". El Mercurio (in Spanish). Santiago. March 5, 1947. 
  10. ^ Summerhayes, C. & Beeching, P. "Hitler's Antarctic base: the myth and the reality". Polar Record 43 (224): 17.  doi:10.1017/S003224740600578X
  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 2011-04-07. 
  12. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040767/
  13. ^ http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070442544?ref_=ttpl_rls_3
  14. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dD_bhycpCk

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


  • Colin, Summerhayes; Beeching, Peter (2007). "Hitler's Antarctic base: the myth and the reality". Polar Record (full text). 43 (1): 1. doi:10.1017/S003224740600578X. 

Further reading[edit]

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