Categories
Uncategorized

IceCraft Carrier

The content below is from Season 2 Episode 27 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.

Recommendation Segment

  • This episode features another recommendation from my Fiancée Shannon. Tune in to the audio podcast to hear what she decided to recommend.

NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT

  • Well who’d a Thunkers, I hope you like history because I have yet another World War 2 episode for you!
    • Today we talk about the story behind the Project Habakkuk. That’s when a Brit named Geoffrey Pyke thought it would be a good idea for the British navy to make an Aircraft Carrier out of ice.
      • Sounds crazy I know.
    • But That was the level of desperation that people were dealing with during WW2. Technology was taking off yet they were faced with the largest scale war that mankind had ever seen.
      • The world atmosphere during WW2 was nuts and that’s why there are so many unbelievable stories to come out of it.
      • A few episodes back I talked about how the American Military was funding the psychologist BF Skinner to train pigeons on how to guide missiles.
      • WW2 is so insane that one time my buddies and I were playing BattleField V (a WW2) game. My one friend made a comment on how the Nazis were so successful in their Blitzkrieg across Europe because they were all given Meth. That’s why their attacks were so fast and how they could fight for 48 hours straight with no sleep.
        • Another friend of mine laughed hysterically and thought he was just joking… But we all assured him that it is a fact. The Nazis weren’t prescribed meth… they were given it like you would give a co-worker a cup of coffee.
        • THAT is how crazy World War 2 was.
    • Now this Aircraft Carrier made of Ice sounds crazy to us now, but at the time it made more sense.
  • Britain is on an island roughly the size of the State of Michigan.
    • Being an island country came with both benefits and draw backs during WW 2.
      • They avoided a land invasion from Germany in 1940 because they are an island nation.
      • But that also means their imported goods all need to come by sea.
    • So Hitler thought if he couldn’t invade them outright that he would cut off their supplies from the outside world.
      • The Nazis had 1,162 submarines (or U-Boats as they were called). They targeted allied supply ships.
      • They used what was called the Wolfpack strategy and it was very effective.
      • The Brits weren’t able to deploy their anti-submarine aircraft because the U-Boats were smart enough to only engage far out at sea… too far for the aircraft of that day to reach.
    • Aircraft Carriers were a good defense against U-Boats. They could transport the anti-submarine planes to where the subs were hiding.
      • Unfortunately with the mass production of tanks, planes, and hand held weapons there wasn’t enough steel to just make more Aircraft Carriers back in Britain.
  • Introducing Geoffrey Pyke
    • Pyke was an orthodox Jew studying law at Pembroke College when WW1 started.
      • But he gave up his studies to become a War Correspondent. He convinced the editor of the Daily Chronicle news to fund a trip to Deutschland in the year 1914. He wanted to get a better understanding of the German people at the time as they prepared for war with Russia.
      • He travelled to Berlin with an American Passport, But it only took 6 days for his suspicious behavior to land him in prison. There he suffered harsh conditions for 13 weeks until he was able to escape.
      • He was able to make it back to Britain and his tale of an escaped prisoner of war became popular among the British people.
    • Leading up to WW2, Pyke was involved in a few projects against the Nazi party.
      • He sent journalist spies to cities across Germany to interview citizens on how they felt about all the antisemitism. He was able to conduct a decent sized poll and gather some significant data. But Pyke was never given the chance to present his findings to Hitler himself… Hitler was too busy invading Norway.
    • Once WW2 was well underway, Pyke set his sights on transporting troops in cold conditions.
      • He was put on a team of scientists and engineers to design a reliable vehicle for transporting troops through snow. It was dubbed operation Plough.
      • Pyke helped design the M29 Weasel that was manufactured by the hundreds in America.
  • So when Britain was faced with this U-Boat problem, Geoffrey Pyke was a likely candidate to find an out-of-the-box solution.
    • In 1942 he envisioned a large iceberg out at sea. He pictured the top of the iceberg cut on a level line for a runway and the middle hollowed out to store planes.
      • Pyke drew up a 232 page document to be sent in a diplomatic bag to the Combined Operation Headquarters. He gave specific instructions that only Lord MountBatten, Admiral of the Fleet should read its contents. Mountbatten (Member of the Royal Family and Royal Navy officer) must have been impressed with the plans because he immediately shared them with Winston Churchill (the acting Prime Minister of Britain at the time).
    • Now Icebergs aren’t Ideal for this.
      • At first, the ice berg AirCraft Carrier seemed like a lost cause. While ice was strong, it was also too brittle to hold up its own weight and easily lost shape under pressure. Ice also melts, which required Pyke to develop a complex cooling system that continuously pumped refrigerant throughout the carrier to keep it frozen.
      • So he and a team of scientist went to work combining wood chips and ice. The result was what they called Pykrete.
  • Pykrete is much less likely to sink than regular ice
    • It also melts at a higher temperature and is much more structurally strong.
    • Pyke had gotten the idea for Pykrete from an Austrian-American Chemist Herman Mark.
      • One of Pyke’s collaborators Max Perutz wrote “Blocks of ice containing as little as 4% wood pulp were weight for weight as strong as concrete. In honor of the originator of the project we called this reinforced ice Pykrete. When we fired a rifle bullet into an upright block of pure ice two feet square and 1 foot thick the block shattered. In Pykrete the bullet made a little crater and was embedded without doing any damage.”
      • As long as the Pykrete stayed frozen, it was as good as concrete.
    • The British Government was short on funds and resources thanks to the U-Boats so the thought was that it would be a lot cheaper to produce a Pykrete Ship than a steel ship.
      • 1 ton of ice take less than 1% of the energy to produce than 1 ton of steel.
      • Lord Mountbatten was sure the Pykrete idea would work. He presented the idea to generals, Ministers, and even President Roosevelt.
  • Project Habakkuk
    • Although it is my opinion that “IceCraft Carrier” would have been the best name for it… The official name was Project Habakkuk.
    • Churchill approved the idea, code-naming it Project Habakkuk, a reference to the biblical book of Habakkuk: “… be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5, NIV)
      • The ship was supposed to be 1.2 Kilometers long (that is over 13 football fields) and 180 meters across (that is almost 600 feet).
      • They decided to build a pykrete prototype in Patricia Lake, Alberta to test the effectiveness on a large scale model.
  • The prototype required a constant refrigeration system to keep cool. If the temperature of the ship rose above three degrees Fahrenheit, it would start to sag and lose shape. Although the pykrete mixture made the prototype stronger than ice, it also required much more insulation.
    • And negating the one major advantage of Project Habakkuk, Steel would still have to be used to insulate the carrier, which would have drained more resources and made it still more expensive. Plus, because the of the sheer size of this behemoth it would be slow and very hard to maneuver.
    • Even though I didn’t see it in any of my sources, I imagine they would only be able to use the craft in colder climates. I mean imagine trying to sale the IceCraft Carrier to the Bahamas!
    • Wood was also in short supply during the war, and building a pykrete aircraft carrier would have negatively impacted paper production. Which the British needed at the time. At the beginning of the war they were cranking out propaganda pamphlets and dropping them all over Europe.
    • Project Habakkuk was great in theory, but terrible in practice.
    • The British turned their attention to more practical projects. What remains of the prototype still lie at the bottom of Patricia Lake along with an informational plaque (thanks to the Alberta Diving Council).
  • The idea of an enormous IceCraft Carrier is really cool to think about, but terribly impractical.
    • And thank goodness they never went through with it. Could you imagine working in a place where it never got above 3 degrees Fahrenheit (that is -16 degrees Celsius)?
    • Thanks for listening Who’d a Thunkers! Until next week!

CREDIT

It may seem odd that I included this video, but without it this episode wouldn’t exist. I am obsessed with this guy’s ear cleaning videos and he compares a dense earwax material that is made denser by ear hair to Pykrete. One minute and 30 seconds in to the video he talks about Pykrete and Project Habakkuk and after hearing it I immediately started researching lol.
Categories
Uncategorized

Silent Winged Flying Coffins

Below are the notes to Season 2 Episode 12 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.

  • The Coolest Tourist Shack west of the Mississippi
    • I was a junior in college when my mom suggested she and I travel to see my Aunt (as well as my grandparents and cousins) in Las Vegas. Mom booked the flight over my winter break. While there my mom got the idea to drive to Phoenix Arizona to meet other friends and family.
    • So mom rented a car and we drove 5 hours through the desert together. Luckily I have a good relationship with my mom, because most guys wouldn’t be able to stand such a road trip.
There is a 2012 movie called The Guilt Trip starring Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand. The plot is all about the nightmare of being stuck in the car with your mom as an adult guy for a really long road trip.
  • But I had a lot of fun with my mom. I actually loved the desert landscape, the bizarre desert communities, and the hours of listening to each others’ music of choice.
    • But without a doubt the most memorable part of our trip was on our way back to Vegas.
    • Just north of Phoenix is a town called Peoria Arizona where, if they had their own newspaper, a tumbleweed might make the front page.
    • As mom and I were passing through we spotted a faint silver glint in the air with the backdrop of that pretty pale blue cloudless desert sky. I said “what is that? Is it a plane? It’s so small.”
    • Then my mom noted “but there is no sound, no engine noise.”
    • Five minutes later my mom spotted a big white makeshift sign made out of plywood. In big black lettering the sign said “GLIDER RIDES, NEXT RIGHT”
    • My mom has always been an advocate for new experiences so she decided right then and there: We were going to ride in a glider.
    • I vividly remember the the shack that the glider operation was run out of. Standing on the wind and sand worn floor boards under the ramshackle roof I felt like I was on the Australian outback. The friendliest employee was a big white cockatoo that stayed up in the rafters saying “hello!” every 60 seconds.
    • Mom and I waited for a few hours for each of our turns in the engineless flying vehicle, but it was worth it.
    • The glider we rode in was small, just meant for about 2 people. In the front was the pilot and in the passenger rode directly behind him. The glider was towed in to the air by a metal cable attached to a motorized airplane. Once at an acceptable altitude, the cable was detached. At which point the heavy-set glider pilot turned to look at me with a sinister grin and said “Alright! we are now hundreds of feet in the air with no engine. Better hope I don’t have a heart attack!”
    • I thoroughly enjoyed flying through the air with hardly any sound. and at one point the pilot let me experience 0 G… it made me want to throw up, but I’m glad I got to experience it.

Home – Pleasant Valley Airport – when I googled the glider ride place, this is the website it led me to, but I don’t think the glider place is open any longer.

  • The Combat Glider
    • I thought this glider technology was cool to experience, but I couldn’t think of a practical use for gliders past recreational fun.
    • Little did I know that aviary glider technology was used by the military for stealth operations. Using a glider meant No engine, no noise, and very little chance of the alerting the enemy.
    • Apparently during the invasion of Normandy, D-Day, there was a company of Glider men who launched a massive operation to deploy troops behind the enemy lines.
    • These crazy SOB’s flew over one of the largest and most dangerous military operations in human history in canvas covered engineless aircraft. The only sounds they must have heard were the engines of other aircraft, non stop gunfire, and hundreds of explosions going off beneath them. All this knowing they physically couldn’t just turn around and fly home. They were without any propulsion so they were on a 1 way ticket behind enemy lines.
    • The glider pilots had no weapons, no parachutes, and no second chances. They were behind the wheel of what would come to be known as the flying coffins of WW2
    • For the benefit of stealth, these specialty trained pilots and soldiers got in to notoriously dangerous and unreliable aircraft. To the axis anti-aircraft gunners on the ground they were especially easy targets as they couldn’t make quick maneuvers to evade fire.
    • These silent winged warriors were history’s first ever stealth air fighters. Although incredibly dangerous, the gliders were present for every major allied operation:
      • The Invasion of Sicily
      • The Liberation of France and Holland
      • The Battle of the Bulge
      • The Crossing of the Rhine River in to Germany
      • and they were present for many operations in the Pacific against the Japanese
    • Their jobs were so dangerous that Senior officers wrote off glider missions as dead the minute they took off.
  • The Tactics
    • When Aviation was first invented in the early 1900’s in North Carolina, the Wright Brothers used a glider to fly. When motorized flying was invented, gliding technology became less popular. It was mostly recreational sports that kept gliding going.
  • The first use of gliders in combat was thought up by Adolf Hitler himself during his siege of the Belgian Fort Eben Emael.
      • General Karl Student of the 3rd Reich led an elite force of Luftwaffe paratroopers to invade Fort Eben Emael in the experimental and untested combat glider. Hitler’s gamble payed off. 780 Belgian soldiers surrendered. Only 6 German soldiers were killed. And then Hitler had a straight shot to France with no opposition in his way.
      • Hitler knew the advantage glider technology had over paratroop tactics. Where paratroops dropped in a widespread area, taking time to regroup and be battle ready, gliders landed all vehicles, equipment, and troops in the same area. Glider missions could be carried out with much more speed and efficiency.
  • The allies primarily used the Waco CG 4A glider. It was a massive piece of machinery. They were nicknamed Silent Wing.
      • The Waco CG 4A glider could carry 13 fully equipped soldiers, a 4 man crewed jeep, or a 75mm howitzer with supplies and ammo.
      • The Waco’s were towed by Douglas C47 airplanes. They were towed by a cable that double as a communications wire between the airplane and glider before the glider detached.
      • Unlike motorized airplanes, gliders don’t really soar. Instead of a flight, it is more like a planned fall.
      • The Waco glider pilots were towed up to about 500 feet above their landing zone. After being detached from the airplane, pilots had about 20 seconds to decide where to land.
      • If WW2 airplanes were metal eagles, WW2 gliders were bricks with wings.
Imagine it: you are 500 feet up hurling through the air in a giant metal box with no engine. 13 smelly paratroopers are behind you putting their lives in your hands. You get a radio transmission from the pilot of the C47 plane that is towing you stating “alright, we are nearing the drop zone. Detaching tow cable now.” You feel the force of the plan leave your glider and the weightlessness of it all come through your feet. You have 20 seconds to pick a 400 foot field to land in. You took down for the controls you have at your disposal and see this….
  • I’m convinced the men who volunteered to get in to these gliders were nutcases. 6,000 allied troops were trained as glider pilots. They were given the possibility of an officer’s pay and the opportunity to fly. They were daredevils.
      • If the thought of “planned falling” in a giant metal “flying coffin” didn’t convince you how crazy combat gliders were, let me tell you about the Snatch Pick-Up tactic.
The C47 plane is flying with a tow pole and cable handing beneath it. On the ground is an undamaged glider. Just ahead of the glider are two tall stakes with the glider’s tow cable hung between them. The C47s pilots were so good they could get their tow cable in between those stakes and tow the undamaged glider (with passengers) to safety.
  • The C-47 planes would fly in to enemy territory with a tow pole hanging from the belly of their aircraft. They would look for undamaged gliders that set up their tow cables to be intercepted. Then the C47s would tow the Waco gliders (typically full of troops) back to safety, like a reverse glider take off. What a legendary maneuver that would be to see in real life.
  • For operation Overlord (that’s the D-Day invasion of Normandy) the glider pilots were up against their greatest threats. Normandy Beach was armed to the teeth with anti-aircraft guns and the fields, where it would have been most opportune for gliders to land, were full of traps.
    • They were known as Rommel Asparagus. The German army set thousands of 10 foot metal spikes in the ground that would impale the gliders and their passengers.
    • If that wasn’t enough, some of these spikes were strung up with wired explosives.
    • If you have watched any WW2 documentary or read in to the allied invasion of Normandy, you know secrecy was of the utmost importance. So radio silence was necessary. On June 6th 1944, 867 gliders carried nearly 4,000 allied troops (plus equipment) across the English channel to land in fields as small as 400 feet.
    • A heavily fortified Nazi gun nest was causing massive casualties on to the amphibias troops on the beach. So a Waco glider was tasked with transporting a light tank behind the gun nest’s position. Attesting to the efficiency of glider operations, the tank was able to take out the gun nest within 2 minutes of landing.
Glider pilots of Operation Overlord
  • The glider pilots that took part in the successful mission of D-Day got a special Air Medal with a big G in the middle.
    • The G officially stood for Glider, but the pilots went on to tell anyone who asked that it stood for “GUTS!”
  • The more I do this podcast and read up on history, the more I understand why it is cliche for old guys to be big history nerds. I’m quickly turning into a grandpa who sits on the couch and watches WW2 documentaries all day.
    • WW2 is the largest known war in human history. The amount of stories that come out of it are seemingly endless. Be prepared for more WW1 and WW2 episodes on this podcast.
    • Until next time Who’d a Thunkers!

CREDIT:

What it was like to land behind enemy lines in a glider on D-Day – We Are The Mighty

The 327th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) during WW II (ww2-airborne.us)

WACO CG-4A (airbum.com)

If you are like me and prefer to listen instead of read, then you are in luck. Everything above is read aloud by me for the Who’d a Thunk it? Podcast. By now the Who’d a Thunk It has reached people in 44 countries. It is hosted by Anchor.fm but you can also find Who’d a Thunk It on: