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 Combined Operations - 170 webpages, 2,000 photos, 250,000 visits and 7 million hits each year. The definitive Combined Ops website.

Please 'like' the Combined Operations Command memorial on Facebook in appreciation of  Allied veterans of WW2.  News and Information at the bottom of this and every webpage including Walcheren 70th anniversary commemorative events.

 

~ 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 Habbakuk! 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 re-occupation of Europe, and Winston Churchill favoured 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 presented to him by Lord Louis Mountbatten, 

Mountbatten was Chief of Combined Operations, an organisation responsible to the Chiefs of Staff for the development of equipment and special craft for offensive operations. One of his scientific advisers, Geoffrey Pyke, presented the idea of constructing "berg-ships" - up to 4,000 feet long, 600 feet wide and 130 feet in depth – that could be made cheaply, and in great numbers, from ice. The ships would be insulated and cooled, made practically invulnerable to bombs or 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. 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 "Habbakuk" would run into supply and technical problems, not to mention the high costs ($100 million for the first ship), it was Mountbatten’s aim to get the Americans to take over the project. What better way than to set up a live demonstration! It is reported 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 a lake in the Canadian Rocky Mountains - Patricia Lake in Jasper, Alberta.

The structure was of wood frame construction with 3 inch x 6 inch studs and 3 inch x 8 inch floor joists and was filled with ice cut from the lake. The structure was insulated and included 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 determine problems of construction and thermal behaviour of ice in summer.

A further experiment was conducted simultaneously in front of the Chateau Lake Louise, near Banff, Alberta. The requirement of 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.

By this time the Battle of the Atlantic had been virtually won and new aircraft carrier construction was promising to further strengthen defences. Reluctantly the project was shelved.

The floating structure in Patricia Lake in Jasper was abandoned at the end of August 1943. After removing all machinery, and left to sink in place. In the 1970’s scuba divers discovered the remains and they were subsequently studied by the Archaeology Department of the University of Calgary. (Photos left; Work in progress on Patricia Lake, Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Circa 1943  courtesy of the National Research Council of Canada.)

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 above right July 2001)

Further Reading

There are over 200 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 to add to this page please contact us.

 

News & Information

Battle of the Scheldt / Operation Infatuate / Walcheren.

70th Anniversary Commemorative Events - 2014

The Zealand Liberation Museum in Nieuwdorp, South Beveland is organising remembrance events for 2014. They are pleased to publish preliminary information of planned remembrance events for veterans involved in this important battle and their families and friends. Revisions to the plans will be posted here when received from the organisers. 25th October (English). 25th October (Dutch). 1st November (English). 1st November (Dutch).

Please 'like' the Combined Operations Command memorial  Facebook page in appreciation of our WW2 veterans. See the 'slide shows' of the dedication ceremony and the construction of the memorial plus the 'On this day in 194?' feature where major events are featured on their anniversary dates. 

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.

Legion d’Honneur Applications. In conjunction with events to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy landings, the Government of France has advised the Ministry of Defence that it wishes to award the Legion d’Honneur to all surviving veterans; not only of the landings, but also the wider Battle for Normandy; the Invasion of Provence (Operation Dragoon); the Liberation of Paris and the Liberation of France.

Any veterans, not only troops that landed, but also Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel who operated in support of the landings may apply. Click here for application form and further information from the MOD.

 

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.

 

Newsletter. The latest occasional newsletter can now be read here.

Free WW1 Teaching Resource. Newspaper cuttings in the form of a 13 page booklet (26 sides) with published accounts of aspects of the war during 1914 to 1919. Available to schools, universities, libraries and accredited education establishments.  Pdf version or
www.historic-newspapers.co.uk/ for printed version.

Follow in the footsteps of the Commandos. Exclusive guided tour of the places in Tunisia with advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Steve Hamilton of Western Desert Battlefield Tours.

 

 

Thames River Cruiser FARMAR. Do you know what this craft did in WW2? If so you may have information to help a restoration project. More information on our Notice Board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

New to Combined Ops? Visit Combined Operations Explained for an easy introduction to the subject.

 

 

Remember a Veteran. Add names to our Roll of Honour and They Also Served pages and read the Combined Operations prayer.

 

 

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