HUGE VESSELS, BUILT OF ICE PLANNED FOR INVASION USE
Project Habbakuk Would Have Created Floating Airports — Model Built Here
Ottawa, 1 March 1946 — (CP) — One of the war’s most fantastic undertakings — “Habbakuk” project — has come to light with the disclosure that the Allies planned to build in Canada great 2,200,000 ton vessels of reinforced ice to serve as floating airfields during the assault on Continental Europe.
A report on the work done in Canada, Britain and the United States and the reasons for abandonment of the weird project were released simultaneously in Ottawa, London and Washington last night.
Satisfactory results with a 1,000, ton model in Lake Patricia, near Jasper, Alta., actually were obtained before the project was shelved after it became evident it would not be completed in time for the invasion and it was decided Pacific theatre conditions were not suitable, for its employment.
The Canadian Government had agreed to build one of the grotesque artificial icebergs during 1943-44. It would have been 2,000 feet long, 300 feet wide and 200 feet deep, with runways, internal storage space for aircraft and refrigeration equipment to keep the craft from melting away.
Cost Said Low
The report said cost was estimated at approximately $70,000,000—"comparatively low ... considering the size of the vessel compared with battleships or normal aircraft carriers."
The original idea came in September, 1942, from the mind of Geoffrey Pyke, director of programs at combined operations headquarters in Britain.
The proposal was discussed with the Admiralty and with Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister, who gave his stamp of approval to the idea. He wrote: "The advantages of a floating island, or islands, if only used as refuelling depots for aircraft, are so dazzling that they do not at the moment need to be discussed. There would be no difficulty in finding a place to put such a stepping-stone in any of the plans of war now under consideration. The scheme is only- possible if we let nature do nearly all the work for us and use as raw material, sea water and low temperature. The scheme will be destroyed if it involves the movement of very large numbers of men and heavy tonnage of steel or concrete to the remote recesses of the Arctic night.”
Work went ahead in Britain, at the Brooklyn polytechnic in the United States and in Canada at the National Research Council and various university laboratories.
Results of Experiments
Experiments proved the best results were obtained with a four to 14 per cent, mixture of wood pulp in water frozen into beams for use in constructing the proposed huge seagoing aerodrome. The solid was named "Pykrete" in honour of the originator.
It became evident that large- scale tests could be carried out only in Canada. Research on the Strength of various types of 40-foot beams went forward at Lake Louise, Alta., and a “block model” was built at Patricia Lake.
The model had an insulating skin and refrigerating engines in the hold which circulated cold air through a series of sheet iron pipes. The report said that after a few initial difficulties, refrigeration “worked well” and the model was "kept in a frozen condition until near the end of the ensuing summer."
"This showed that insulation and refrigeration were feasible, for an ice ship," the report added.
Resistant to Bombs
“Pykrete” also was found to be amazingly resistant to projectiles, explosives and incendiary bombs.
"It was estimated that an ordinary torpedo exploding under water on a Pykrete surface would only have made a crater three feet in depth."
Speaking of the project in general, the report said it had been recognized as a "gamble," but such policies "appear fully justified in war."
Research work done might well "in the long run provide its own justification" as new light had been thrown on the properties of ice and effects of its reinforcement. "Material collected ... will provide an admirable basis for further ice engineering research, useful to all countries with severe winters."