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Antarctica: Operation Deep Freeze I: 1955-56

Background Information

The Artists:

Operation Deep Freeze I garnered significant national attention, with Commander Dufek holding news conferences in several states and delivering briefings to news organizations in Washington, DC and in New Zealand. Admiral Byrd held a press conference on board U.S.S. Glacier before departing for the Antarctic. The expedition also carried 2500 pounds of mail from eager philatelists who wanted to receive a postmark from Antarctica.

Given the historic nature of Operation Deep Freeze I, the Navy saw the importance of inviting representatives from newspapers, radio, magazines and television to accompany the expedition. But space was limited. Initially only one artist was invited to portray this faraway country for the American people. Commander Standish Backus had gained renown as a combat artist in World War II and was selected to fill the artist billet. Civilian artist Robert Charles Haun also volunteered his services in October 1955, but Captain Dufek wrote that he should try again the following year. When the ships sailed in November, however, Haun was aboard as a Staff Artist, having clearly pulled the necessary strings. A long-time resident of Rhode Island, Haun had garnered favor with the Seabees by painting murals at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Quonset Point.

Backus did not do any oil painting while in Antarctica. He found it impractical to attempt such a medium under the harsh, frigid conditions. Instead, he took photographs and made sketches with a liquid lead pencil that prevented smudging and resisted freezing. His oil paintings were done from this reference material in the months following his return to the United States. Haun did some oil painting on paper while in Antarctica but created mostly pencil sketches. He used these as studies for oil paintings after his return.

Haun's works were later exhibited in the Central Library, Wellington, New Zealand and at the Victorian Art Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. Ten of his paintings were also displayed in Peoria, Illinois, home of the Caterpillar corporation, in September 1956 as part of a larger exhibition including Deep Freeze equipment, clothing, trail tent, and photographs. Both artists exhibited together at the Overseas Press Club in New York City. Backus' works were exhibited in New York City, Detroit, Santa Barbara and as part of Operation Palette, a tour of Navy art that traveled across America in the 1950s and 60s. All of the works are part of the permanent collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command's Art Collection.




The Personnel of Task Force 43:

Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd was President Eisenhower's logical choice to serve as Officer in Charge of Operation Deep Freeze I.

Captain (later Admiral) George J. Dufek postponed retirement and was named Commander of Task Force 43 and Commander, U.S. Naval Support Forces, Antarctica.

There would be four groups of men working together:

Surface units
Air Development Squadron (VX-6) (commissioned at NAS, Patuxent River)
Mobile Construction Battalion (Special) (commissioned at Davisville, Rhode Island); the CBs or Seabees
Support staff

The Ships:

Ice breakers:
U.S.S. Edisto (AGB-2)
U.S.S. Glacier (AGB-4) (doubled as a carrier)
U.S.C.G.C. Eastwind (Coast Guard) (WAGB-279)

Attack cargo ships:
U.S.S. Arneb (flagship) (AKA-56)
U.S.S. Wyandot (AKA-92)

Gasoline tanker:
U.S.S. Nespelen (AOG-55)

Gasoline barges:

Cargo ship:
U.S.N.S. Greenville Victory (TAK-239)

The Planes:

(2) R5D-3 "Skymaster" (wheels): for long-range reconnaissance and photo missions
(3) HO4S-3 Helicopter (wheels)
(2) UF-1 "Albatross" (ski-wheels, boat hull): triphibian rescue plane
(2) R4D-5/6 "Dakota" (ski-wheels)
(4) UC-1 "Otter" (ski-wheels): Canadian snow-designed utility plane
(2) P2V-2N "Neptune" (ski-wheels): for fast long-range missions

The Machines:

For service, maintenance and operations:
(34) 20-ton cargo sleds
(10) low ground pressure Caterpillar D8 tractors
(3) low ground pressure D2 tractors
(1) semi-low ground pressure Caterpillar D4 tractor w/ fork and bucket attachments
(2) Pettibone-Mulliken carrylifts
(5) M29C Cargo Carriers (Weasels)
(2) Tucker Snow-Cats
(1) Jeep
Several 1-ton M1 and "go-devil" bobsleds


National Science Foundation website,

U.S. Geological Survey website,

Sea World website,

Theatre on the Square website,

Caterpillar Inc. Corporate Archives, Peoria, Illinois.

Operation Deep Freeze First Phase: 1955-56, Narrative by Joseph E. Oglesby, JOC, USN, under supervision of CDR Robin M. Hartmann, USN, Task Force Public Information Officer. The Dorville Corporation, 1956, Paoli, PA.

Operation Deep Freeze, by RADM George J. Dufek, 1957, Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York, NY.

Interview with Jim Bergstrom, 14 January 2003 at the Navy Art Collection.



Published: Fri May 24 06:37:25 EDT 2019