Operation Deep Freeze: 1955-56

Featuring works by: Standish Backus (1910-1989) and Robert Charles Haun (1903-1975)

Related Resource: Deep Freeze I, Summary of Operations

Operation Deep Freeze I was the codename for a series of scientific expeditions to Antarctica in 1955-56. The impetus behind these expeditions was the International Geophysical Year 1957-58. IGY, as it was known, was a collaboration effort between forty nations to carry out earth science studies from the North Pole to the South Pole and at points in between. The United States, along with Great Britain, France, Japan, Norway, Chile, Argentina, and the U.S.S.R agreed to go the South Pole--the least explored area on Earth. Their goal: to advance world knowledge of Antarctic hydrography and weather systems, glacial movements, and marine life. The U.S. Navy was charged with supporting the U.S. scientists for their portion of the IGY studies.

The U.S. Navy already had a record of earlier exploration in Antarctica. As early as 1839, Captain Charles Wilkes led the first U.S. Naval expedition into Antarctic waters. In 1929, Admiral Richard E. Byrd established a naval base at Little America I, led an expedition to explore further inland, and conducted the first flight over the South Pole. From 1934-35, the second Byrd Expedition explored much further inland and also "wintered over." The third Byrd Expedition in1940 charted the Ross Sea. After WWII, from 1946-47, Byrd was instrumental in the Navy's Operation Highjump that charted most of the Antarctic coastline. In 1948 Commander Finn Ronne led an expedition that photographed over 450,000 square miles by air. Then, in 1954-55, the icebreaker U.S.S. Atka (AGB-3) made a scouting expedition for future landing sites and bays.

Operation Deep Freeze I would prepare a permanent research station and pave the way for more exhaustive research in later Deep Freeze operations. The expedition transpired over the Antarctic summer of November 1955 to April 1956.

For more information see page 17.

Getting to Antarctica
Clothing in Antarctica
Icebreaking: The Way through the Bay
Offloading the Ships
Tractors Pull Through
Seabees at Work

 Two Tragedies
LCDR Jack Bursey Heads Trail Party
Life in Camp
Amazing Antarctica
Coming Home

Getting to Antarctica

Click the image for a larger view.

A Grumman Albatross
Robert Charles Haun #17
Pastel on board, 30 November 1955

Because of this triphibian plane's modifications, it had to fly shorter legs than the long-range Neptunes and R5D Skymasters. This Grumman Albatross started at Moffet Field, California, flew up to Adak, Alaska, hopped across several islands in the Pacific and arrived at the Wigram Air Force Base in Christchurch, New Zealand. Pictured are CDR Ebbe and LCDR Sparks.

The ships in Operation Deep Freeze left Boston and Norfolk on 14 November, traveled through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Port Lyttleton, New Zealand. They arrived 12 December. All ships left New Zealand and were underway for Antarctica on 16 December, two days ahead of schedule.


Sunday Afternoon Showing of Our Navy Planes
Robert Charles Haun #18
Pastel on board, 3 December 1955

Wigram Air Force Base, Christchurch, New Zealand

"Overwhelming!" was how Admiral Byrd described the response by the people of New Zealand to the Navy's stopover en route to Antarctica. The friendly New Zealanders hosted a parade with bagpipers and dances for their American visitors.

"New Zealanders came by bus, bicycle, baby carriage and on foot. Groups picnicked in the shadows beneath the huge planes and on the airfield. The crowds blazed in colors." - Robert Charles Haun

Severing the Tow Lines
Standish Backus #40
Japanese ink and watercolor on paper, 1956

"With continued emphasis on the engineering, mechanical and electronic accomplishments of today's Navy, one hears less and less of the workaday activities of the still very vital deck force. The art of seamanship as practiced by the Coast Guardsmen of the icebreaker U.S.C.G.S. Eastwind brought great credit to their service in the eyes of Navy men and demonstrated repeatedly the sterling qualities required of men engaging in this rugged business. One such incident is here presented as U.S.C.G.S. Eastwind's bos'ns mates brave the icy blasts and congealing seas sweeping over the fantail in the 'sixties' south of New Zealand. The Navy's U.S.S. YOG-34, a small harbor tanker, is being towed to Antarctica. In the heavy going the rope and cloth chafing gear protecting the tow cable where it passes through the stern eye must be replaced every few hours. Frequently the men performing this and similarly essential jobs were the truly unsung heroes of the expedition." - Commander Standish Backus

Emergency on the Flight Deck
Standish Backus #51
Japanese ink and watercolor on paper, 1956

"A scrambling, heroic effort had to be made on several occasions by the deck force of the icebreaker to save the helicopters, which were breaking loose from their mooring in the mountainous seas between New Zealand and Antarctica. These vital pieces of equipment built by Sikorsky weigh some four tons each and with the ship rolling upwards of fifty degrees had become almost unmanageable and a threat to the lives of all on deck who had to run great risk to secure them from crashing over the side." - Commander Standish Backus

U.S.S. Glacier Off Scott Island
Robert Charles Haun #74
Pastel on paper, December 1956

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Forward to next page

About Us | Privacy Policy | Webmaster | FOIA request | Navy.mil | This is a US Navy website