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Chief of Naval Operations Oceanographer of the Navy Records on Operation Deep Freeze


Dates: 1954-1998

Collection Number: AR/339 (Formerly COLL/451)

Finding aid (Word)

Historical Note

From Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd's flight across the South Pole to the disbanding of the Naval Support Force, Antarctica, the U.S. Navy has had a long tradition of involvement in the Antarctic.

In 1954, the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) was initiated. Captain George Dufek represented the Department of Defense. Dufek worked hard to get the Navy a strong role in USAP. In 1956, the Navy began its role as the support force to the National Science Foundation for USAP. This support role was called Operation Deep Freeze.

Operation Deep Freeze involved maintaining a Navy staff to operate the American facility at McMurdo on the Ross Ice Shelf, as well as providing aerial support and sea borne supplies. The operation was run by the Commander, Naval Support Force, Antarctica, nominally based out of Port Hueneme, but usually situated at McMurdo. The aerial support unit, Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6), was based out of Port Hueneme, CA and used LC-130 supply aircraft and UH-1N Hueys. The Military Sea Transport System, now Military Sealift Command (MSC), was tasked to provide ice-strengthened ships for an annual resupply mission, spearheaded by two Coast Guard icebreakers.

In the 1970s, relations between the NSF, the Navy, and the Coast Guard began to deteriorate. The NSF wanted more control over the Antarctic program, and took over the funding for USAP. The Navy often strained relations with NSF by demanding higher costs than NSF thought necessary or making demands NSF felt were unacceptable. Neither NSF nor the Navy could ever decide who really ran McMurdo. In addition, the Coast Guard and the Navy bitterly fought the NSF's decision to use only one icebreaker for the annual resupply mission to the McMurdo in 1988.

By 1990, the Navy was ready to pull out of the Antarctic Program. The 109th Air Wing, New York Air National Guard, was the only other outfit using LC-130s, and in the rush for a role after the Cold War, offered to take over the aerial supply mission. Encouraged, the Navy began transitioning out of USAP. The NSF replaced many of the Navy positions with contractors, while the ANG slowly phased out VXE-6. In March 1999, Navy involvement in USAP ended. Except for the MSC ships, the Navy has no active role in Antarctica.

Scope and Content Note

The collection is arranged in five series. Series I contains analyses, press releases, and talking point papers concerning the U.S. Antarctic Program, particularly the Navy's involvement.

Series II consists of slides that were used to brief various personnel about the Navy's Antarctic support mission, including the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Engineering and Systems and the Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

Series III holds correspondence concerning the program. Series IV is collected message traffic relating to Antarctica and the Navy. Series V is a set of photographs taken during 1977-1978.

Although the collection is split into five series, many of the same subjects are covered in each series.

  • "Accidents and Mishaps" deal primarily with aircraft crashes and diving mishaps in the U.S. Antarctic Program, though the famous crash of the Air New Zealand DC-10 into Mount Erebus is also discussed.
  • "Antarctic Policy" relates chiefly to American and Naval policy regarding Antarctica, but also sometimes American policy regarding other nations and the Antarctic.
  • "Antarctic Treaty" is similar, but concentrates on American relations with other countries in regard to the Antarctic Treaty.
  • "Environmental Issues" shows the growing concern of the United States towards environmental protection and conservation of Antarctica towards the end of the 20th century.
  • "Icebreakers" details the long and bitter argument between the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the National Science Foundation regarding the need for icebreakers to resupply McMurdo, as well as the growing American predicament with the continually dwindling number of Coast Guard icebreakers.
  • "Logistics" involves plans and budgets concerning the resupply and costs of maintaining the Antarctic program and the U.S. base in McMurdo.
  • "Navy and NSF" narrates the usually acerbic relations between the Navy and the National Science Foundation regarding logistical, personnel, administrative, and operational matters.
  • "Transfer of Navy Antarctic Authority" shows the myriad changes in responsibility for the Antarctic Program within the structure of the Navy bureaucracy.
  • "Withdrawal from USAP" describes the Navy's decision to pull out of the Antarctic program and turn over its air transportation responsibilities to the 109th Air National Guard.


Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Records of the Chief of Naval Operations, Oceanographer of the Navy on Operation Deep Freeze, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.



Published: Fri Sep 10 12:41:40 EDT 2021