Preliminary Reconnaissance for Operation Deepfreeze

The icebreaker USS ATKA departed Boston, MA on December 1, 1954, proceeding for Antarctica.

She arrived at the Bay of Whales and site of the former Little America bases on January 14, 1955. At this time it was discovered that the Bay of Whales no longer existed. Only sheer cliffs of ice appeared where the Barrier had come together.

A large portion of the "tent" city of Little America IV (OPERATION HIGHJUMP / 1946-47) had calved off and floated out to sea. A suitable site for Little America V (to be built during OPERATION DEEPFREEZE I) was determined at Kainan Bay, about twenty miles east of the earlier locations.

The arrival of the USS ATKA at this point on the map was commemorated with a wide assortment of cacheted mail...

Operation Deepfreeze 1955-1998

Deepfreeze II: Byrd (L); Siple (Next to Byrd)

OPERATION DEEPFREEZE was planned in two stages. OPERATION DEEPFREEZE I, in 1955-56 was designed to build an airfield at McMurdo Sound. Another base was to be built near Little America in the Bay of Whales. Seven ships and 1800 men participated in the first year.

OPERATION DEEPFREEZE II, in 1956-57, was intended to build a permanent station at the South Pole along with establishment of three other IGY stations...Byrd station in Marie Byrd Land, Wilkes station in Vincennes Bay and Ellsworth station on the Filchner Ice Shelf.

Even though Byrd was in command of the operation, effective control of the operations were under Rear Admiral George Dufek. Deepfreeze I was a resounding success and with twelve ships and the assistance of 3400 men, Deepfreeze II succeeded in the establishment at the South Pole.

Initially, a support base was built near the Beardmore Glacier where supply planes returning from the pole could stop and refuel. The base could also serve as an emergency rescue site.

At the pole, the construction team built shelters, a power station and workshops. Plane after plane dropped hundreds of tons of supplies and equipment to make the base self sufficient.

Once completed, the construction team was flown out and the scientific team flown in to be the first humans to spend winter at the South Pole. The station was completed in March 1947 and 18 men remained for the long winter.

Chief of the scientific staff at the South Pole was Paul Siple, who was 19 years old when he accompanied Byrd on his first expedition in 1928. On September 18, 1957 the temperature reached a record -107°F.

After 43 years, the Navy officially withdrew from operations in Antarctica on February 20, 1998. Over the past three decades, most American operations in Antarctica have been under the authority of the National Science Foundation, although the Navy ran station kitchens, stores, security and transportation.

The science foundation has contracted these functions to a commercial organization, Antarctic Support Associates, based in Denver, CO.

At a special ceremony on February 20, 1998 in Christchurch, New Zealand, responsibility was reassigned from the US Navy to the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard.

This unit, based in Scotia, New York, has regularly flown logistical support missions for military and scientific research facilities at the North Pole and on the Greenland ice sheet.

The National Science Foundation's US Antarctic Program currently maintains the McMurdo Station facility and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The use of special ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes by the 109th has allowed the foundation to conduct research to a greater extent than any other nation at sites across the Antarctic continent in fields including glaciology, earth science, biology, oceanography, meteorology and astrophysics.