The Habakkuk Project – Focus Magazine Italy

This is an illustration we recently finished for an Italian Science Magazine on a World War 2 concept to turn iceburgs into giant floating carriers. It was known as Project Habakkuk. Project Habakkuk or Habbakuk (spelling varies; see below) was a plan by the British during the Second World War to construct an aircraft carrier out of pykrete (a mixture of wood pulp and ice) for use against German U-boats in the mid-Atlantic, which were beyond the flight range of land-based planes at that time. The idea came from Geoffrey Pyke, who worked for Combined Operations Headquarters. After promising scale tests and the creation of a prototype on a lake in AlbertaCanada, the project was shelved due to rising costs, added requirements, and the availability of longer-range aircraft and escort carriers which closed the Mid-Atlantic gap the project was intended to address.

Geoffrey Pyke was an old friend of J.D. Bernal and had been recommended to Lord Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, by the Cabinet minister Leopold Amery. Pyke worked at Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ) alongside Bernal and was regarded as a genius by Mountbatten.[1]

Pyke conceived the idea of Habbakuk while he was in the United States organising the production of M29 Weasels for Project Plough, a scheme to assemble an elite unit for winter operations in Norway, Romania and the Italian Alps.[1] He had been considering the problem of how to protect seaborne landings and Atlantic convoys out of reach of aircraft cover. The problem was that steel and aluminium were in short supply, and were required for other purposes. Pyke realized that the answer was ice, which could be manufactured for only 1 percent of the energy needed to make an equivalent mass of steel. He proposed that an iceberg, natural or artificial, be levelled to provide a runway and hollowed out to shelter aircraft.

From New York Pyke sent the proposal via diplomatic bag to COHQ, with a label forbidding anyone apart from Mountbatten from opening the package. Mountbatten in turn passed Pyke’s proposal on to Churchill, who was enthusiastic about it.[2]

Pyke was not the first to suggest a floating mid-ocean stopping point for aircraft, nor even the first to suggest that such a floating island could be made of ice. A German scientist, Dr Gerke von Waldenburg, had proposed the idea and carried out some preliminary experiments on Lake Zurich in 1930.[3] The idea was a recurring one: in 1940 an idea for an ice island was circulated around the Admiralty, but was treated as a joke by officers, including Nevil Shute, who circulated a memorandum that gathered ever more caustic comments. The document had to be retrieved just before it reached the First Sea Lord‘s inbox.[4]

Interestingly enough…. the concept is not that far off from taking large celestial bodies and hollowing them out to create space faring craft… using natural objects as your structural foundation…..