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Pictorial History of Operation Highjump Task Force Sixty-Eight United States Atlantic Fleet 1946-1947. Richard E. Byrd U.S. Navy (Retired).

Folio, large photograph album, measuring 17 ¼ x 15 ¼ inches, 541 black and white photographs mounted on 137 blue paper leaves, the images are high quality black and white silver prints measuring between 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 inches. They are bound in a heavy blue cloth backed board binder, boards somewhat rubbed, few leaves loose, title printed in black on gray cloth front board with mounted photograph (see image above), images in very good, clean, sharp condition. This is Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd’s copy, the commander of the expedition.

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Very Rare Photograph Album documenting every aspect of Operation Highjump a United States Navy operation organized by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Officer in Charge, Task Force 68, and led by Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, USN, Commanding Officer, Task Force 68. Operation Highjump began 26 August 1946 and ended in late February 1947. Task Force 68 included 4,700 men, 13 ships, and 33 aircraft. Operation Highjump’s objectives, according to the U.S. Navy report of the operation, were:

   

     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);

     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).

 

Tentative plans for Operation Highjump were to navigate the ice pack and to establish an American base on the Ross Ice Shelf in the vicinity of Byrd’s 1940-41 Little America III Camp. During and after the establishment of “Little America IV,” a “systematic outward radial expansion of air exploration” would take place with ship based planes operating around the Antarctic perimeter and land-based aircraft operating out of Little America once the base was completed. A central objective of Operation Highjump was the systematic aerial mapping of as much of Antarctica, particularly the continental rim as possible. The mapping was done for the purpose of laying claim to as much of Antarctica as possible for the United States.

Operation Highjump was to be – and remains to this day – the largest Antarctic expedition ever organized, and its basic objectives were military, not diplomatic, scientific, or economic. The U.S. Navy rushed men and ships south in 1946-47 as part of a general military exercise that at once reflected and was in reaction to the coming cold war with the Soviet Union.

 

Much of Operation Highjump’s exploration was to be accomplished by air. Admiral Byrd was able to accomplish this due to the long range planes (R4D’s) developed during World War II and he also had experienced combat pilots from the recently concluded conflict to fly them. During a period of 144 hours, pilots, planes and their crews, supported by diligent and competent ground personnel, worked to the edge of exhaustion and beyond to accumulate over 200 hours of flight time and an impressive list of discoveries, confirmed by an exhaustive photographic record. All of which was accomplished under extremely harsh weather and climactic conditions. The territory covered by Byrd and his men had never been seen before. The eastern curve of the Ross Ice Shelf had been photomapped. The ‘west coast” ranges of Victoria Land and the Queen Maud escarpment had been traced and with sufficient thoroughness that complete knowledge of the limit and depth of this entire formation was now within grasp. Above all, the first comprehensive proof had been obtained from thousands of interconnected, wide-angled photographs, many in color, showed that a single “transantarctic mountain range” did exist, bending around from Victoria Land to the Horlick Mountains and on eastward to the Thiel Mountains.

The images in the album document all aspects of the expedition, embarking and loading the ships, transiting the Panama Canal, ship-board activities, life and operations while traveling to Antarctica. The images document the expedition’s arrival in Antarctic waters, traveling through the pack ice broken through by the expedition’s ice-breakers. The arrival of Task Force 68 at the Bay of Whales, mooring operations, construction of Little America IV, and the airfield on the ice. The life of the men in base camp is also thoroughly documented and shows the crew members engaged in their daily duties both shipboard and in camp once Antarctica is reached. Transportation and vehicle maintenance, half-tracks, boats, airplanes and helicopters are also recorded. Communications and meteorological work, as well as underwater demolition activities are documented. The album also has photographs documenting the search and rescue operation after one of the expeditions aircraft crashed, killing three crewmembers, the crash survivors spent 13 days on the ice. The expedition’s photographers both still and motion picture cameramen are also documented. The album also contains aerial views of portions of Antarctica seen for the first time by the expedition. These photographs were taken during the expeditions aerial mapping operations.

      Finally, departure from Antarctica and arrival in the United States are documented at the end of the album.

The album is not located in OCLC. We can find no copies amongst the papers of other expedition officers and commanders, per their online finding aids, etc. The album was Admiral Byrd’s own, and was formerly in the possession of Admiral Byrd’s family and was recently sold at auction along with many items associated with Byrd’s long and momentous career as a naval aviator, officer and polar explorer1.

 

     References:

American National Biography, vol. 4, pp., 133-135

 

Rose, Lisle A., Assault on Eternity Richard E. Byrd and the Exploration of Antarctica, 1946-47, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1980)

 

1. Mohawk Arms, Inc. Militaria Auction Catalog 81, June 29, 2019. Including items from the Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd Collection, items S-1 - S-31 (item # S-21).