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Project Habbakuk

From Academic Kids

Project Habbakuk was a plan by the British in World War II to construct an "unsinkable" aircraft carrier out of ice, for use against German U-boats in the mid-Atlantic, which was out of range of land-based planes.

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Pycrete_bouthouse.jpg
Boathouse made of Pykrete in Alberta
The Habbakuk, as proposed to Winston Churchill by Lord Mountbatten and Geoffrey Pyke, was to be approximately 2,000 feet long (600 m) and have a displacement of an amazing 2,000,000 tons or more, constructed in Canada from 280,000 blocks of ice (later changed to a mixture of ice and wood pulp known as Pykrete after Pyke, who proposed the Habbakuk project -- The material was invented by others). The ship's deep draft would have kept it out of most harbours. Inside the vessel, protected by 50-foot-thick walls, a refrigeration plant would maintain the structure against melting. The ship would have extremely limited maneuverability, but was expected to be capable of up to 10 knots (18 km/h) using 26 electric drive motors mounted in separate external nacelles. Its armaments would have included 40 dual-barrelled 4.5" DP (dual-purpose) turrets and numerous light anti-aircraft guns, and it would have housed an airstrip and up to 150 twin-engined bombers or fighters.

The Habbakuk would have been virtually impossible to sink, as it would have effectively been a streamlined iceberg kept afloat by the buoyancy of its construction materials. However, it was projected to take $70 million and 8000 people working for 8 months to construct, an expenditure which the British were unwilling to make at the time on such an experimental craft. Experiments on ice and pykrete as construction materials were carried out at Lake Louise, Alberta and a small prototype was constructed at Patricia Lake, Alberta, measuring only 60 feet by 30 feet (18 by 9 m), but Habbakuk itself was never begun.

The name Habbakuk was an Admiralty clerk's misspelling of the biblical name Habakkuk. The choice of this name is said to be a reference to the project's ambitious goal: "... 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 is a fairly popular subject in alternative history fiction.

References

  • Perutz, M. F. (1948). A Description of the Iceberg Aircraft Carrier and the Bearing of the Mechanical Properties of Frozen Wood Pulp upon Some Problems of Glacier Flow. The Journal of Glaciology, 1 (3), 95–104

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