Operation Highjump

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USS Sennet (SS-408) participating in Operation Highjump

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.[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 United States sovereignty over the largest practicable area of the Antarctic continent (This was publicly denied as a goal even before the expedition ended);
  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 hydrographic, geographic, geological, meteorological and electromagnetic propagation conditions in the area;
  6. supplementary objectives of the Nanook expedition. (The Nanook operation was 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 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.

Human losses[edit]

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."


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

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[7]

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.[8][9]

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.

Participating units[edit]

Helicopter landing on icebreaker USCGC Northwind during Operation Highjump
Eastern Group (Task Group 68.3)[10]

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

Popular culture[edit]


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.

Adherents to the Hollow Earth hypothesis believe that Admiral Byrd flew over the North Pole and into the hollow earth in February 1947 and that he kept a secret diary of the incident. This belief was first published in 1957 in F. Amadeo Giannini's book The Worlds Beyond the Poles. Giannini writes that Byrd encountered a humanoid being from another "world" who warned humanity to pursue peace and not war. He also reported that Byrd spotted a living wooly mammoth near the North Pole.

One major problem with Giannini's account is that in February 1947, Byrd was leading Operation Highjump in Antarctica and was, consequently, nowhere near the North Pole. Another problem is that in February the Arctic is in winter and sunlight does not reach the North Pole so that it would have been impossible for Byrd to see something, like a wooly mammoth, from the air. Furthermore, Giannini quotes directly from the 1937 movie Lost Horizon [29] in the dialog of the humanoid Byrd allegedly encountered. Some Hollow Earth theorists believe that The Worlds Beyond the Poles was published by "controllers" in order to discredit the Hollow Earth theory.

Another theory is that Operation Highjump was an expedition to find Nazis who had fled to Antarctica at the end of World War II and had established a secret base with submarines, aircraft and flying saucers. The main source for this was a Soviet film pretending to be a documentary. The film is available on youtube but the U.S. ships it mentions do not correspond with the facts. Neither the USS Casablanca, which was already decommisioned at the time nor the USS Murdoch, allegedly sunk by a flying saucer, are listed among the naval ships participating. The allegation that 100 German U-boats also disappered right before the end of the war is also unsubstantiated. No credible evidence has ever been found to support this theory.


Nazi protectorate New Swabia.

U.F.O. Secrets of the Third Reich[edit]

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]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


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

  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. ^ Summerhayes & Beeching 2007, pp. 15 and 16
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ News Archives from Antarctica - An at www.antarcticconnection.com
  6. ^ George One Operation Highjump Crew Recovery
  7. ^ Summerhayes & Beeching, 2007, p. 15-16)
  8. ^ "A bordo del Monte Olimpo en Alta Mar". El Mercurio (in Spanish) (Santiago). March 5, 1947. 
  9. ^ Summerhayes & Beeching 2007, p.17
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ UFO - Technology Secrets and the Third Reich