Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Operation Highjump: Antarctic Exploration, Nazi's, And UFO's

Spoiler Alert: This story is quite long, but very interesting. The following story involves LCDR now CAPT Robert S. Quackenbush, USN, whom we have met before. CAPT Quackenbush had a pretty full career in the Navy. He was instrumental in introducing photo intelligence gathering during World War II in the Pacific, was a key element in photo and video recording the testing of the atomic bomb at Bikini Island, and Chief Of Staff on the USS Olympus on Operation Highjump.

Nineteen forty-six was an unusual time, both in the United States and abroad. Post World War II was a time of victory, a time of defeat and a time of recovery as the world would never be the same again. Former enemies became friends as former friends became bitter opponents. Difficult economic times of the Depression era, followed by a stifled economy during the war, had left the United States with an infrastructure much the same as it had been prior to those events. Nearly twenty years had passed since the Great Depression yet it still took a minimum of 14 hours to travel coast-to-coast by DC-3, DC-4 or by Martin 202. Our telecommunications network and transcontinental railway system had not materially changed since 1928, yet by mid-summer 1946 the country was busy building the foundation of a new America. Following the war, America was suddenly burdened with the responsibility of a Superpower, becoming a world leader in the political and economic arena nearly overnight. Americans from one end of the country to the other were becoming skeptical of their former ally, the Soviet Union. Soviet aggressiveness dominated events and discussions around the world as the cold war took root in that summer of 1946. The American people were tired after fifteen years of scarcity and sacrifice and anger swelled under fresh fears of further economic hardship. The administration in Washington was considered by many to be uncertain and fumbling. As a result, the frustration was summed up by the Republican Party with the catch phrase, "Had Enough?" The Republican Party took control of Congress in the off-year election that fall.

Meanwhile, the world's greatest navy was being taken apart, piece by piece. At the great naval bases in Norfolk, San Diego, Pearl Harbor, Yokosuka and Quonset Point -- wherever navy men gathered -- gloom and doom ran unchecked that summer of 1946. As worldwide tensions brewed in increasing fervor, a huge, battle-tested armada was being systematically decommissioned. Destroyers, battleships, aircraft carriers and dozens of other vessels were slipping into quiet backwaters alongside remote docks in uncaring ports. Surprisingly, most of the ships were less than ten years old, yet after a few short years of battle they were sentenced to a life of neglect and inactivity. The primarily civilian crews had no difficulty saying good-bye but the comparative handful of professional sailors worked feverishly to position themselves for the few choice service jobs remaining. By mid-1946 the United States Navy was rapidly becoming a shadow of its former self. To man the few remaining ships, the navy was forced to recruit young men all over again, just as it had done for the war. The young boys of 1942, now hardened veterans from fighting in North Africa, Guadalcanal, Sicily, Saipan, Normandy, Okinawa and Iwo Jima, were all too happy to remove their uniform and begin civilian life. The new crewmen were quickly trained in 1945 and 1946, while the navy wound down for an anticipated long period of inactivity.

Meanwhile, as sadness permeated the American naval bases, Admiral D. C. Ramsey, chief of naval operations, was in Washington signing his name to an astounding set of orders addressed to commanders in chief of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. These orders would establish the Antarctic Developments Project which would be carried out during the forthcoming Antarctic summer (December 1946 - March 1947). Chief of naval operations, Chester W. Nimitz, code named the project Operation Highjump. The U.S. Navy strongly emphasized that OPERATION HIGHJUMP was going to be a navy show, with naval interests predominating over scientific studies. Admiral Ramsey's preliminary orders of August 26, 1946, stated that "The Chief of Naval Operations only will deal with other governmental agencies" pertaining to OPERATION HIGHJUMP. "No diplomatic negotiations are required. No foreign observers will be accepted". Thus, it seemed there would be little room for civilian scientists and observers. Subsequently, the Chief of Naval Operations sent a letter around to several other governmental agencies and departments as an invitation to participate modestly in Highjump. According to the Army Observers Report, "The War Department responded willingly to a Navy invitation to send observers on this important expedition and increased its representation to sixteen, ten more than originally allotted by the Navy. The personnel included four men with prior Antarctic Service", including Paul Siple. Also invited to participate were observers from the army, Weather Bureau, Coast and Geodetic Survey, Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Recommended scientific studies included aerological measurements (synoptic observations, radar meteorology, intensity of solar radiation), terrestrial magnetic observations, aerial geological studies (including "Aerial Prospecting for Atomic Energy Source Materials" - LCDR Quackenbush), cosmic ray studies, etc. Notable scientists and researchers included Jack Hough, Bill Metcalf and David Barnes from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

As soon as the ships returned from OPERATION NANOOK, on September 18, planning was intensified and an official sailing date of December 2 was announced. The operation was run by the United States Navy, organized by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr., USN (Ret), Officer in Charge, Task Force 68, and led by Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen, USN, Commanding Officer, Task Force 68. Operation Highjump commenced 26 August 1946, the year following the end of World War II, and ended in late February 1947. Task Force 68 included 4,700 men, 13 ships, and 33 aircraft.

Operation Highjump's primary mission was to establish the Antarctic research base Little America IV. Highjump’s objectives, according to the U.S. Navy report of the operation, were:

• Training personnel and testing equipment in frigid conditions;

• Consolidating and extending the United States' sovereignty over the largest practicable area of the Antarctic continent (publicly denied as a goal even before the expedition ended);

• Determining the feasibility of establishing, maintaining, and utilizing bases in the Antarctic and investigating possible base sites;

• Developing techniques for establishing, maintaining, and utilizing air bases on ice, with particular attention to later applicability of such techniques to operations in interior Greenland, where conditions are comparable to those in the Antarctic;

• Amplifying existing stores of knowledge of electromagnetic, geological, geographic, hydrographic, and meteorological propagation conditions in the area;

• Supplementary objectives of the Nanook expedition (a smaller equivalent conducted off eastern Greenland).

Sounds very legit with honest goals, right? This is where the whole thing starts to get weird. Apparently, this exploration of the South Pole was nothing more than a ruse to hide an invasion of Antarctica. Rumors began to circulate that even though Germany had been defeated, a selection of military personnel and scientists had fled the fatherland as Allied troops swept across mainland Europe and established themselves at a base on Antarctica from where they continued to develop advanced aircraft based on extraterrestrial technologies. It was rumored that the Nazi's goal was to regroup the Third Reich and produce high tech weaponry to use against the free world. The United States was already paranoid about the possibility of being attacked from over the northern polar region and set out grab as much of Antarctica as possible to establish bases in the event of another war. Admiral Byrd was associated with the operation in order to give the impression of legitimate exploration.

A hastily built fleet was put together comprised of the following assets:

Task Force Group 68 EAST GROUP (Task Group 68.3) - Captain George J. Dufek, USN

     • USS PINE ISLAND - Seaplane Tender

     • USS BROWNSON - Destroyer • USS CANISTEO - Tanker

WEST GROUP (Task Group 68.2) - Captain Charles A. Bond, USN

     • USS CURRITUCK - Seaplane Tender

     • USS HENDERSON - Destroyer

     • USS CACAPON - Tanker

CENTRAL GROUP (Task Group 68.1)

     • USS MOUNT OLYMPUS - Communications

     • USS YANCEY - Supply

     • USS MERRICK - Supply

     • USS SENNET - Submarine

     • USS BURTON ISLAND - Icebreaker

     • USCGC NORTHWIND - Icebreaker CARRIER GROUP (Task Group 68.4)

     • USS PHILIPPINE SEA - Aircraft Carrier

BASE GROUP (Task Group 68.5)

     • CDR Clifford M. Campbell, USN, Commander (Task Group 68.5, Little America IV)

Now, I don't know, but doesn't that seem like an awful lot of firepower for exploring? And, why would they need an aircraft carrier and a submarine?

The Nazi/UFO Connection.

It is interesting to note that at the end of the war the Allies determined that there were 250,000 Germans unaccounted for, even taking into account casualties and deaths. There were also over 40 submarines with advanced capabilities that disappeared and were never found. This would be quite a population for a base or fledgling colony, and provides the essential degree of skill, expertise, and pure manpower for an industrial base of any sort, let alone the production of, even by today’s standards, extremely high technology.

It was rumored that the Task Force was actually headed to Antarctica to locate an immense underground base constructed by the Germans, before, during and immediately after the Second World War, with the aid of Alien Entities, which were described as “Aryans”. An important point to note is that it has been less than one year since the alleged Rosswell UFO incident. This base was allegedly located in Neuschwabenland, an area of Antarctica which Germany explored, and claimed, before the outbreak of the Second World War... In fact, Germany had done a very detailed study of Antarctic and were alleged to have built a small underground base there before the War. At this point, one must ask why, exactly, the United States, and, in fact, her allies, suspected that German activity at the pole was continuing, after the conclusion of the Second World War... The answer, quite honestly, has nothing at all to do with UFO's... That part of the story came to light from a completely different set of sources... The fact is that there was plenty of evidence, at the time, to indicate that as late as 1947, elements of the Kriegsmarine, or German Navy, were still very much active in the South Atlantic, operating either out of South America, or some base, previously unsuspected, in the Antarctic. Many stories were circulating at the time... One of which even has a German U-boat stopping an Icelandic whaler named Juliana in Antarctic waters, in 1947 and insisting that its captain, named Hekla, sell the U-boat crew supplies from her available stores. In exchange for the supplies (which had been paid for in U.S. dollars, along with a ten dollar bonus to each member of Juliana’s crew... ) the Uboat commander told the whaler where a large school of whales were to be found. Hekla and his crew later found the whales in the exact position claimed by the U-boat commander. The presence of such boats, all late construction Type XXI and Type XXIII U-Boats, with the “snorkel” that allowed them to make the entire passage from Germany submerged... was no secret.

According to the official Navy account, normal difficulties you would expect in a hostile environment were encountered (high winds, fog, and high seas). However, the Navy was able to achieve most of its goals. Many mapping flights were taken over most of the land and ice mass with some flights to the south pole. Some exploration was accomplished.

There was loss of life as the GEORGE ONE (Eastern Group) flew southwest at four hundred feet above the ice, the weather "looked anything but promising", as Kearn's later wrote. The plane flew for three hours before picking up the coastline of Thurston Island (then called the Thurston Peninsula). Co-pilot Kearns took over the controls from a very tired LeBlanc and took the plane up to 1,000 feet in altitude. Unfortunately, the plane began picking up a great deal of ice. The bow station Plexiglas froze over and the cockpit windows frosted over despite all efforts with on-board de-icing equipment. The plane suddenly entered an "ice blink", streams of sunshine trapped beneath the clouds, bouncing off the snow "in a million directions, as if each ice fragment were a tiny mirror". To make matters worse, a fine, driving snow obstructed the surface below. Puzzled in their predicament, the altimeters began giving different readings and as the wings began to ice up, Kearns turned to LeBlanc and said, "I don't like the looks of this. Let's get the hell out of here!" LeBlanc nodded in agreement and as Kearns gently banked the plane, all on board felt a "crunching shock" that "reverberated all along the hull". The plane had obviously grazed something so Kearns immediately applied full throttle as LeBlanc gave full low pitch to the propellers to aid pulling power. Both men pulled back hard on the yoke and GEORGE ONE began to rise steeply. Then the "flying boat" blew up.

The plane had literally blown apart. Three of the men were dead and the others crawled into what was left of the fuselage to lay stunned and bleeding for hours. The explosion had lifted co-pilot Kearns right out of his seat, whose seat belt was unfastened for the first time in all his years of flying. He flew right out the cockpit window, headed straight for the starboard propeller and somehow missed the blade and instead fell harmlessly into the drifting snow. Landing like a ski jumper, Kearns fell head-over-heels down a slope and when he awoke from his daze, "I was all in one piece -- just full of pain and nearly frozen". All but one of the crew had been blown clear of the wreck. Captain Caldwell had been riding in the nose of the plane when he was pitched out the window and into the snow. His wounds were relatively minor: a cut across the nose, several chipped and loosened teeth and a broken ankle. McCarty had a 9 ½" gash in his scalp which knocked him unconscious for about an hour. He woke up to extreme pain in his right hand caused by a dislocated thumb and when he went to stand up, he could not lift his leg. Warr had suffered only a small cut on his scalp and radioman Robbins came out of the ordeal with only post-crash shock. The other four men were not so lucky. LeBlanc was still in the shattered and burning cockpit, his body held in the grips of his seat belt. Flames from the burning aviation fuel were licking at LeBlanc's body as Kearns reached the wreckage first and rushed through the fire to undo the seat belt. As hard as he tried, Kearn's stiff shoulder wouldn't allow him to set LeBlanc free. Robbins rushed forward to assist and between them, LeBlanc was finally freed. Kearns, Robbins and Warr used their gloved hands to beat the fire out that was consuming LeBlanc's body. Kearns later recalled, "Frenchy's face, arms and legs were burned black and were already starting to swell. He was only half-conscious, writhing in pain and muttering unintelligibly". LeBlanc was covered with a parachute and the search resumed for the others. It was a gruesome find.
The official report states that Hendersin died instantly of "extreme multiple injuries" and that Williams went about 2 ½ hours later from the same trauma. Lopez was decapitated ("traumatic amputation of the head"). These were the first men to ever die on an Antarctic expedition connected in any way with Richard E. Byrd.

There was another weirdly interesting thing that was discovered during this exploration. On January 22 the swells at last moderated and the weather remained acceptable for additional flights. Over the next week, long and successful photomapping missions progressed to the west. Suddenly, on either January 30 or February 1 (the record is unclear), PBM pilot Lieutenant Commander David E. Bunger lifted from the bay and headed south for the continent some hundred miles distant. At this time the USS CURRITUCK was off the Shackleton Ice Shelf on the Queen Mary Coast of Wilkes Land. Reaching the coastline, Bunger flew west with cameras humming. Suddenly the men in the cockpit saw a dark spot come up over the barren white horizon and as they drew closer, they couldn't believe their eyes. Byrd later described it as a "land of blue and green lakes and brown hills in an otherwise limitless expanse of ice". Bunger and his men carefully inspected the region and then raced back to the ship to tell the others of their discovery. Several days later Bunger and his flight crew returned for another look, finding one of the lakes big enough to land on. Bunger carefully landed the "flying boat" and slowly came to a stop. The water was actually quite warm for Antarctica, about 30°, as the men dipped their hands in to the elbow. The lake was filled with red, blue and green algae which gave the lakes their distinctive color. The fly boys "seemed to have dropped out of the twentieth century into a landscape of thousands of years ago when land was just starting to emerge from one of the great ice ages", Byrd later wrote. Byrd called the discovery "by far the most important, so far as the public interest was concerned of the expedition". It is believed that this discovery gave birth to the Hollow Earth Theory of the 1950's.

Mount Quaclenbush
The greatest achievement of OPERATION HIGHJUMP was its acquisition of approximately 70,000 aerial photographs of the coast of Antarctic and selected inland areas. But what was expected to be a mapmaker's dream turned out to be a cartographic nightmare when a large percentage of the photographs were rendered useless due to lack of adequate ground control points. Fortunately, this matter was rectified the following year by a much smaller expedition, OPERATION WINDMILL, which succeeded in obtaining most of the needed ground control points. Thus, OPERATION HIGHJUMP was not denied its rightful place in the history books as one of the more productive Antarctic expeditions. CAPT Robert S. Quackenbush was honored for his work in this achievement by having Mount Quackenbush, Antarctica named after him.

There is no evidence in any of the accounts by the Navy of a Nazi base or soldiers being discovered anywhere in Antarctica. Below, is the Official Film (Please remember that this film was created after the invasion as propaganda to justify the expense, the search for the Nazi base, and to put a lid on the UFO stories) released that covers the Navy's actions in Antarctica. CAPT Quackenbush appears early in the film as Chief Of Staff on the USS Olympia. But, hold on, this is where it gets weird again. In the end, the task force came steaming back to the United Sates with their data, which then, immediately became classified “top secret”.

Stories by members who actually participated in Operation Highjump tell of the loss of a destroyer, almost half of the aircraft, and the death of dozen of men due to an attack by UFO's. These facts do not appear in the official Navy version. Nor does the fact that the expedition was slated to run for six months and was terminated after only two.

• Several sailors returning from Antarctica told stories of encounters with and battles with UFO's. that Byrd and his forces encountered heavy resistance to their Antarctic venture from “flying saucers” and had to call off the invasion. This aspect of the story was pushed forward, again, a few years ago, when a retired Rear Admiral, allegedly living in Texas, who had been involved in the “invasion”, said he was “shocked” when he read material from a documentary, entitled "Fire from the Sky". He allegedly claimed that he knew there had been “a lot of aircraft and rocket shootdowns”, but did not realize the situation was as serious as the documentary presented it.

• On 5 March, 1947 the “El Mercurio” newspaper of Santiago, Chile, had a headline article “On Board the Mount Olympus on the High Seas” which quoted Byrd in an interview with Lee van Atta: “Adm. Byrd declared today that it was imperative for the United States to initiate immediate defense measures against hostile regions. Furthermore, Byrd stated that he “didn’t want to frighten anyone unduly” but that it was “a bitter reality that in case of a new war the continental United States would be attacked by flying objects which could fly from pole to pole at incredible speeds”. Interestingly, not long before he made these comments, the Admiral had recommended defense bases at the North Pole. These were not “isolated” remarks... Admiral Byrd later repeated the each of these points of view, resulting from he described as his “personal knowledge” gathered both at the north and south poles, before a news conference held for International News Service. He was hospitalized and was not allowed to hold any more press conferences. Still, in March 1955, he was placed in charge of Operation Deepfreeze which was part of the International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958, exploration of the Antarctic. He died, shortly thereafter... in 1957... many have suggested he was murdered...

• Secretary of the Navy (by this time, Secretary of Defense) James Forrestal retired... and started to “talk”.... not only about Highjump, but about other things, as well... He was put in Bethesda Naval Hospital psychiatric ward where he was prevented from seeing or talking to anyone, including his wife... and... after a short while, he was thrown out the window while trying to hang himself with a bed sheet. So the story goes... It was, of course, ruled a suicide, case closed.

However, some of what he knew... about Highjump... about Roswell... and other things... did manage to “leak”... How much is truth, how much is speculation is difficult to tell. However, in every “myth” there is a grain of truth... The above facts appeared to have validity due to a 2006 Russian documentary, recently translated, made public for the first time a 1947 secret Soviet intelligence report commissioned by Joseph Stalin of Task 68’s mission to Antarctica. The intelligence report, gathered from Soviet spies embedded in the US, revealed that the US Navy had sent the military expedition to find and destroy a hidden Nazi base. On the way, they encountered a mysterious UFO force that attacked the military expedition destroying several ships and a significant number of planes. Indeed, Operation Highjump had suffered “many casualties” as stated in initial press reports from Chile. So, how much of this story is actually true? We may never know. But we do know that the adventure stirs the imagination on many levels and adds a very interesting wrinkle to the Quackenbush history.

1 comment:

  1. Another odd thing I noticed about USS Olympus and Operation Highjump was a connection to a 1939 Marvel Comic.

    In Marvel Mystery Comics #22 (1939). The USS Olympus disappeared in Antarctica due to something (Nazis?).