Admiral Robert Byrd’s first expedition, where he flew to the South Pole and back and established the Little America Research base on the Ross Ice Shelf, ended in 1930. 4 years later Byrd spent five winter months alone operating a meteorological station 123 miles inland from the Little America Research Center called Advance Base, where he almost died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heater. He was rescued after his colleagues back at Little America noticed something wrong with his radio messages and made the treacherous trek across the frozen wasteland.
In late 1938, Byrd visited Hamburg and was invited to participate in the 1938/1939 German "Neuschwabenland" Antarctic Expedition, but declined. In 1939, a large research vehicle (a behemoth) called the Snow Cruiser was built in three months by the Research Foundation of Armour Institute of Technology. It was an ungainly beast with huge balloon tires, (built by Goodyear) built to withstand the harsh environment of Antarctica. It weighed 75,000 pounds, was more than 55 feet long, 20 feet wide and was 16 feet tall. It was designed for a range of 5,000 miles and could support five people with supplies for a year. It carried a reconnaissance aircraft on top of the cruiser for aerial photography.
Its construction, costing $150,000, was financed by friends of the Institute and 80 manufacturers. Principal units in its makeup include a special alloy steel body built by the Pullman company, two six-cylinder 672 cubic inch, 150 hp Cummings Diesel engines, General Electric generators and. motors, and controls for steering, braking and jacking, by Hydraulic Controls Inc. The airplane is a specially designed Beechcraft with a 350 hp Wright Whirlwind engine.
The Snow Cruiser, the world's newest and largest automobile in 1939, had almost nothing in common with conventional cars except that it ran on four pneumatic tires, but even this comparison is not exact because the tires were so large and soft that a spring suspension was unnecessary. Unlike an ordinary car, it had two engines instead of one, four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering by two levers instead of a steering wheel, two accelerator pedals, two brake pedals, a built-in hydraulic jack on each wheel, enough Diesel fuel for a 5000-mile run (2500 gallons), 1000 gallons of airplane gasoline, bunks for four men and food for a year.
The immediate purpose of the Snow Cruiser, was, as part of the U. S. Antarctic Service under Admiral Byrd's command, to speed up exploration work and scientific investigation as well as to claim the continent as a United States possession by maintaining colonies there for three years as required by international agreement.
Assisted by the airplane, it was believed that the Snow Cruiser would add as much to the knowledge of the South Polar regions in two or three months as all previous expeditions combined. The plane, along with others, was expected to map most of the South Polar Continent by means of aerial cameras.
The plan was for the Cruiser to go with Admiral Byrd on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition, which being an officially sanctioned government effort, was the title of the Expedition--yet most all of the newspapers of the day headlined it as Byrd's Third Antarctic Expedition, often seen shortened to BAE III. It is easy to see the confusion, as Byrd was the Commanding Officer of the expedition, having sold his ship, The Bear of Oakland, to the government for $1.00 so it could be used for the voyage. Byrd and his supporters had also contributed a large amount of financial support to the costs of the expedition.
The Antarctic Snow Cruiser on its trip from Chicago to Boston for its journey to the Antarctic was driven there on the regular highways! While enroute, it was under the captaincy of its designer, Dr. Thomas C. Poulter, who was the Scientific Director of the Armour Institute, and had been second in command and chief scientist, on the previous Byrd expedition where several tractors were used with some success. Some were of American manufacture with metal belts and others were French Citroens with metal belts in the rear and two wheels in front with pneumatic tires. The latter design had been used for some years in the Sahara Desert.
The cruiser was intended to be loaded aboard the motor ship S.S. North Star and then transported to Antarctica, but defense plans halted Byrd's Third Antarctic Expedition which certainly serves to fuel much speculation currently in vogue as to a conspiracy to cover up what Byrd really saw there and later in Operation Highjump. (aka "Admiral Byrd" conspiracy).
There has been much speculation over the years that Admiral Byrd was actually in the Antarctic for reasons that went beyond the U.S. claim of "routine" polar exploration.
The Nazis were supposedly establishing (or in fact, already had, established) a strong presence there and the theory is that Byrd (who better than Byrd?) was sent to do some reconnaissance, or perhaps even try to eliminate the threat, or??
Maybe someday the records will be declassified and we can finally know for sure - but a possible cover-up, and the discovery of a supposed secret diary kept by Byrd, suggests an ulterior motive for the expedition. Like it would be the first time the government ever launched a cover-up?
If it were truly a scientific venture, Byrd must have been instructed by his superiors to keep his eyes open, and to call anything in that they saw out of the ordinary, as flash traffic! In addition to being the great explorer, he was also a sailor's sailor... he would have understood the need to be vigilant!
On Saturday July 8th, 1939 Americans across the country opened their morning newspaper to a front-page story not unlike the one from The New York Times Quoted below.
President Directs Speed on Byrd Trip
WASHINGTON, July 7 --- President Roosevelt moved today to prevent possible extension of Germany’s claims to Antarctic areas into the Western Hemisphere by directing Real Admiral Richard E. Byrd to leave in October to territory within the sphere of influence of the Monroe Doctrine … it [is] apparent that this government was prepared to take the position, if necessary, that any attempts by foreign powers to establish bases west of the 180th meridian in the Antarctic would be considered an unfriendly act …
If the $340,000 appropriated by Congress for the expedition permitted, Admiral Byrd said, he would outfit three ships. His own ship would be The Bear of Oakland, which is undergoing a careful inspection at Boston. He said he would lend it to the government after a new engine had been installed…
As we can see from the above a major confrontation between American and German forces seemed to be a very real and present danger in Antarctica in 1939. However, in retrospect we find that, though the German presence in the “land of everlasting mystery” was the publicized reason for Admiral Byrd’s hurry-up expedition, at no time did Admiral Byrd or those under his command make any attempt to observe what the German expedition was up to.
Neither in the 1938 - 39 nor the subsequent 1947 and 1955 expeditions to Antarctica did the Americans come anywhere close to the lands claimed by the Germans.
Could the stated reason for the 1939 expedition, as is often the case in military operations, only a cover for a more “important” secret mission for Admiral Byrd and his fellow members of the 1939 expedition.
The following small article hidden away on a back page of the November 30th, 1939 issue of The New York Times highlights that possibility.
Secret Orders Taken by Byrd on Polar Trip
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 (AP) - Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd joined the vanguard of his South Pole expedition at the Panama Canal today with confidential orders from the White House. Officials say the Orders were a State Department secret … Even the existence of the orders, authorities said, had been kept secret … Admiral Byrd received them, informants say, on a hurried trip to Washington last week before departing for Panama.
Is it possible that these “secret orders” contained the real reason for Admiral Byrd’s expedition?
And was the fact that the Germans were also conducting a “secret” expedition in Antarctica make the Admiral’s real reason for putting together the American expedition a matter of up-most importance? Could both expeditions have been carrying secret orders to explore unknown “lands beyond the pole?” Were the Americans and Germans involved, in 1939, in a race to be the first to gain entrance, and explore the legendary lands inside our earth?
A race not unlike the ‘space race’ between America and Russia several decades later.
When the Cruiser eventually made it to Antarctica in 1949, it was said to have been a lemon. Peter Muller, writing in Popular Mechanics in 1993, said that when it (finally) arrived, "The huge tires spun helplessly much of the time, sinking as much as three feet into the snow. Furthermore, the big vehicle was seriously underpowered. The motors overheated after it had gone only a few hundred yards."
The Snow Cruiser was abandoned there at Little America, and the ice shelf on which it was left has long since caved off and the cruiser is presumed to have sunk, and is resting at an unknown location on the Antarctic shelf sea floor. A much better story, however, and one which is purely speculation - is that the Soviets took it. Without any proof, it is just a story, but it adds to the intrigue of the whole affair.
Why was Admiral Byrd at the Japanese Surrender Ceremonies.....?
There was an article in Ice Cap News in 1978, verified by naval records, that the USS Mount Olympus, a vessel later to become famous as the flagship of Operation Highjump was at Toyko Bay.
It was then the flagship for the Commander III Amphibious Forces with Admiral T.S. Wilkinson on board. The Mount Olympus was in Toyko Bay on September 2, 1945 as they landed the occupation forces of the First Cavalry Division. Admiral Wilkinson was unable to attend the ceremony on board the USS Missouri (BB-63). The kicker is that he sent a representative on his behalf, none other than Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd!!
Given the possible Nazi connection alluded to in several conspiracy theories, it makes for interesting fodder for thought. Was Byrd given a chance to see some of the fruits of his labor? All the time he had spent in Antarctica before the end of the war ostensibly keeping an eye out for the Nazis, and then he gets to attend the surrender ceremony of Nazi ally, Japan? Interesting at the least. Coincidence or not?
And then of course, just a bit over a year later, Operation Highjump and all the conspiracy theories involved with that operation make the whole connection very interesting.
Admiral Byrd was not actually placed in charge of the overall operation, Admiral Cruzan was. Byrd was left in charge of the "ice" part, but destroyers, submarines and armed resupply vessels were part of the contingent, a fact which is intriguing. Who were they going after? Nazi remnants perhaps?