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 300,000 annual visits & 7 million hits to 176  web pages & 3000 photos.  News and Information at the bottom of this and every web page.

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PYKRETE  ~

ICE SHIPS IN THE ROCKIES!

Pykrete? Ice ships in the Rockies? The improbable, but true, story of a top secret WW2 project to build ships from a mixture of ice and sawdust. Project Habakkuk! Behold ye among the heathen, and regard and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told to you. So reads a biblical quotation from the book of Habakkuk ... a name adopted by the top secret project to build ice ships.

Background The Trials Further Reading Acknowledgments

Background

In 1942, the Allies were already developing plans for the invasion of Europe, which included experimentation in the construction of large floating platforms to support the landings. In addition, the allies were suffering heavy merchant shipping losses from German U-boats, due, largely, to the limited range of patrolling aircraft and the resulting "mid Atlantic air gap." Churchill, therefore, welcomed the idea of building large ships made of ice, as explained to him by Lord Louis Mountbatten, 

Mountbatten was Chief of the Combined Operations Command working alongside the Chiefs of Staff on all matters concerning offensive joint operations against the enemy. These operations involved the three services in small amphibious raids on the coasts of enemy occupied territory as well as major landings, which culminated in D Day. Mountbatten's remit also included the development of equipment and special craft for these offensive operations.

One of his scientific advisers, Geoffrey Pyke, suggested constructing "berg-ships" up to 4,000 feet long, 600 feet wide and 130 feet in depth, that could, he thought, be made cheaply, in great numbers, from ice. The ships would be insulated and cooled and would be practically invulnerable to bombs and torpedoes. They could be used by aircraft to provide protection for shipping, particularly in the mid Atlantic and as a base for invasion. With Winston Churchill’s enthusiastic endorsement, the project got underway.

In early 1943, two American professors discovered that a very tough material could be produced by adding a small amount of wood pulp to water before freezing it. They called this material Pykrete, in honour of Geoffrey Pyke.

Lord Mountbatten had a block of Pykrete prepared by a Canadian engineering company and took it to the Quebec Conference in the fall of 1943. As it appeared that "Habakkuk" would run into supply, technical and financial problems ($100 million for the first ship), Mountbatten hoped the Americans might take over the project, if they could be convinced. What better way than to set up a live demonstration! The story goes that he took out his revolver and fired at a block of ordinary ice, which immediately shattered. He then fired at a similar block of Pykrete, which was so strong that the bullet ricocheted, narrowly missing Sir Charles Portal the, Chief of the Air Staff!

The Trials

Studies commenced into the two paradoxical elements of ice – plastic flow and brittleness. One such study involved the construction of a structure, 60 long by 30 feet wide and 19.5 feet high, on Patricia Lake, near Jasper in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

The structure comprised a wood frame with 3 inch x 6 inch studs and 3 inch x 8 inch floor joists. It was filled with ice cut from the lake, insulated and cooled by 3 Freon compressors driven by 10 hp electric motors. Cold air was distributed throughout the ice by a network of 6 inch galvanized-iron cooling pipes. This study was to identify problems in construction and to record the thermal behaviour of ice in the heat of summer. No Pykrete was used in these trials. [Photos above; work in progress on Patricia Lake, Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Circa 1943. Courtesy of the National Research Council of Canada].

A concurrent experiment was undertaken in front of the Chateau Lake Louise, near Banff, Alberta. This project was to determine ways to reinforce large ice units. The work at Lake Louise indicated that a hull at least 35 feet thick, would be needed to contain damage from bombs and torpedoes.

However, by this time the 'Battle of the Atlantic' was all but won and new conventional aircraft carrier construction was promising to further strengthen defences. With the change in circumstances, the project was shelved.

The floating structure in Patricia Lake was abandoned at the end of August 1943 after removing all machinery. It was left to sink. In the 1970s, scuba divers discovered the remains which were subsequently studied by the Archaeology Department of the University of Calgary.

In 1988, the Underwater Archaeological Society of Alberta marked the site with an underwater monument. The following year, with the assistance of the National Research Council and the National Parks branch, a plaque, commemorating these unusual wartime events, was erected on the shore of the lake. [Photo left July 2001].

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

Elsewhere on this site - Geoffrey Pyke 1894 - 1948

Find out about the properties of Pykrete including photographs of blocks subjected to gunfire.

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Walk, London - books available:-

The Past has Another Pattern memoirs by George W. Ball 1982 ISBN 0-393-01481-9

Pyke: the Unknown Genius David Lampe 1959 (no ISBN given?)

The Challenge of War: Scientific and Engineering Contributions to World War II  Guy Hartcup 1970 ISBN 0-7153-4789-6

"Scientists at War" Wilfred Eggleston 1950   (no ISBN given)

Canadian War Museum- books available:-

No Day Long Enough  George R. Lindsey. Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies 1997

Scientists at War  Wilfred Eggleston 1950.

I wish I'd made you angry earlier - Essays on Science and Scientists by Max Perutz. The essay that discusses the development of Pykrete is entitled 'Enemy Alien'. A fantastic read written by one of the greatest scientists ever. ISBN:0879696745.

Butter Side Up: Delights of Science by Magnus Pyke (ISBN: 0330253093 / 0-330-25309-3) This book was written by Geoffrey Pyke's first cousin and includes a chapter on Pykrete. Copies available on line through ABE Books - see book icon above.

Acknowledgments

Written by George H Pitt, Alberta, Canada.

If you have any information or book recommendations about Pykrete, please contact us with details.

 

News & Information

 

Memorial Maintenance

We have a small band of volunteers who take turns to visit the memorial each month, particularly during the growing season, to undertake routine maintenance such as weeding keeping the stones and slabs clear of bird dropping, lichen etc. and reporting on any issues. If you live near the National Memorial Arboretum and would like to find out more, please contact us.

Remember a Veteran

You can pay a personal tribute to veterans who served in, or alongside, the Combined Operations Command in WW2 by adding their details and optional photo to our Roll of Honour and They Also Served pages on this website.

Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Forthcoming Events

To organisers: Reach the people who will be interested to know about your Combined Operations or war related event by adding it to our forthcoming events page free of charge.

To everyone else; Visit our forthcoming events page for things to see and places to visit. If you know of an event of possible interest, that is not listed, please let us know.

To notify an event click here.

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See the 'slide shows' of the dedication ceremony and the construction of the memorial plus the 'On this day in 194?' feature where major Combined Ops events are highlighted on their anniversary dates with links to additional information.

You are welcome to add information, photos and comment or reply to messages posted by others.

Find Books of Interest 

Search for Books direct from our Books page. Don't have the name of a book in mind? Just type in a keyword to get a list of possibilities... and if you want to purchase you can do so on line through the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). 5% commission goes into the memorial fund.

WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

This handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

 

 

The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee is looking for veterans from any conflict who would like to have their stories filmed for posterity. Films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk

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