Monday, March 26, 2018

Operation High Jump and the Very Cold War

By Rachel Dworkin, archivist
On August 26, 1946, Elmiran Richard A. Johnson sailed off to war. Again. Johnson had already fought in the Pacific with the Navy during World War II, but now he would be participating in the opening salvo of what would be a very cold war. 

Richard Johnson of Elmira

 Shortly after the end of World War II, the United State began to gear up for the very real possibility of an attack from the Soviet Union. Military strategists believed that the Soviets might attack via the North Pole region and the Navy put together a series of polar training operations in order to prepare. The first of these operations was Operation Frostbite, which took place on Greenland during the fall and winter of 1945-46. The second was Operation High Jump, which took place in Antarctica from August 1946 to March 1947. 
Operation High Jump was carried out by Task Force 68, under the dual command of Rear Admirals Richard H Cruzen and Richard E. Byrd. The task force consisted of 4,700 men, 13 ships, and 33 aircraft including our boy Richard A. Johnson, a radio operator aboard the task force’s flag ship U.S.S. Mt. Olympus. The task force’s mission goals were to: establish the research base Little America IV; train personnel and test equipment for cold weather conditions; consolidate and possibly expand US territorial claims on Antarctica; determine feasibility of permanent research bases and air strips; and expand knowledge of Antarctic geography and resources. It was these exploratory aspects which were played up for the public, both in the papers at the time, and in the documentary film The Secret Land, which won an Oscar in 1948 for best documentary film. 
Taking supplies to Little America IV by dog sled

The Russians weren’t buy it. In early December 1946, they dispatched their own mission to Antarctica, led by famous Russian explorer Vladimir Ivanovich Voronin. The Russian expedition consisted of ten whaling ships and one tanker. The two groups never interacted, but the Soviets had made their point.

Ice breaker on Whale Bay, Antarctica
In the end, Task Force 68 was chased out of Antarctica, not by the Soviets, but by encroaching ice. Despite having to leave a bit earlier than anticipated, they did achieve their mission goals. They built an ice air strip and took thousands of aerial photos. They used their submarine to explore the underside of the ice shelf. Thanks to a plane crash on
December 30th, they gained plenty of experience conducting cold weather search and rescue operations. Moreover, the press coverage and documentary helped to make the operation a real public relations victory. 
Letter from Richard Johnson to his mom, January 1947

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