Operation Deep Freeze IV

A guest article by Vincent,  whose father took part in the Operation Deep Freeze back in 1958-59 when he was 5 years old:

Operation Deep Freeze was a US Navy operation to build and support McMurdo Sound. My dad (a Seabee) was a member of the 1958-59 Deep Freeze IV team. He is right now one of only a few still living from that support group, maybe even the last.

While he was there we were able to talk to him via HAM radio once a month and for my mom and I that was a very big event. We sometimes could not hear to well with all the things that went into a call such as this. The phone operator would give us instructions on radio communications and we spoke through the phone as such, eg. roger, over.

While stationed there, Edmond Hillary was preparing to make his Trans-Antarctic crossing using motorized sled/tractor, we do have photos of his equipment.

The Navy flew personnel from Christchurch New Zealand on a Navy Constellation, C-121 and C-124 Globemaster. The US Navy as well as the Coast Guard had support ships there. Many photos of the ships and planes, some w/ a humorous twist.

I have many articles of clothing he wore, socks, fur hood, bunny boots, outer pants, heavy mittens, goggles as well as medals, awards, briefing papers, and many 35mm slides. I have at times debated whether to contact the Antarctic museum in Christchurch to see whether or not they would be interested in obtaining copies of his photos. I have given many presentations to school kids over the years to speak to them of the history and hardships of living in the Antarctic. When asked about it, my dad would say, nice place to visit but would never live there. The coldest temperature he saw was -98 °F (-72 °C), and that at McMurdo. Unlike today, they still used dogs and had many there.

As far as I am aware, only one person lost their life while he was there. He was driving a tractor hauling a sled from one of the transport ships when it broke through the ice taking him with it into the sea.

For me Antarctica has always been something of very high interest, and loved it when I could have my dad come to school and share his experiences, after all, how many kids could say their dad has been to Antarctica and lived there a whole year. I was a Navy brat until I was 12 years old and loved every minute. The following year I was off to Okinawa in a Super Connie and that was a real adventure.

My dad with Hillary Sno-Cat:

1958: Sir Edmund Hillary reaches the South Pole using Ferguson tractors and with only 91 litres of fuel remaining is the first overland journey to the pole since Scott, and Hillary has set up depots for Vivian Fuchs, leader of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition who is approaching from the Weddell Sea. Fuchs reaches the pole two weeks after Hillary, and continues to the Ross Sea to complete the first crossing of the continent.

I could not find much historical info on some aircraft pictured due to the lack of pictured serial numbers, eg. DH Beaver at this time. I was told the DH Beaver being loaded onto ship was headed for the Smithsonian Institute Washington D.C. This could be the aircraft which suffered major structural damage to frame and hence being sent back as museum piece. But this is only a guess as I have been unable to find any special flight information on this type of aircraft such as first to fly to geographic South Pole etc.


I found this picture on the internet a number of years ago and made a nice 8×10 for me. I thought this shows just what dangers lie just beneath your feet.

My dad in photo 083 in front of transport ship and him in the mask photo 126, which by the way I never liked that picture, looks like a bad Halloween costume. lol.

The ship w/ fuel lines extending to ice breaker is an oil tanker and was used as a storage ship for fuel. It and another next to it just sat there, a storage fuel depot.

Photo 018, not sure if the man here is dropping an explosive charge or a hydrometer but in any event he is out there where no man should venture. It was not uncommon to lay charges to blow holes into the ice to breakup flows or take samples.

My dad so you will know what he looked like then, he was 29 when he left for the ice and had been in the US Navy 11 years. His next assignment was as head of the moter pool NAS Naha Okinawa. As a military brat one probably does not have too many memories of their father as deployment even while deployed could send them to other countries. Long hours of work and few days off to enjoy. My years in Okinawa are filled with stories and some are hard to believe. Maybe, I will tell you a few sometime. It was a very different time in the world and to large extent a time I wish I could live over and over. The military for our family was a wonderful experience and when I was introduced to civilian life it was one which came as a shock. For many, it is very hard to adjust to and that was so with me. The culture is so different at least then.

Looking back on these photos brings many memories of not just Antarctica, but life in general during those years long ago. I often tell those who are younger, it was a time which saw many changes, and you younger folks have no idea how much life has changed. I can only wonder what lies ahead



This concludes my photo contribution, I hope you enjoyed the ice and that you will retain many if not all of the photographs for your collection. Should I find more in the hundreds of slides from my dad I will send you copies. I know there were a few more, but I have not seen them since bringing them home from college back in the 70’s. I have a degree in geography and gave a few presentations to classes in the department. It is possible my dad misplaced them in some other group of pictures those of which I am still going through as time permits.

It is always a pleasure to converse with someone who has an interest in polar exploration north or south and can identify with the beauty and dangers it holds.

If you need further information on the photos plz advise and I will do what I can. It is easier to to comment on a few rather then all. As stated my dad is getting up there and I might be able to get some information out of him if he sees a particular picture. The only problem, he is 8 hours away by car and my brother who lives nearby him knows nothing about this stuff. I hope to see him this summer, and maybe get info from him.

Keep in touch, and I will sure enjoy flying around Antarctica as you and the team contribute more of this fascinating region.

Sincerely Always,
Vincent Birkett»

Editor’s note: You will find below the links to the original photos and to the related comments. The photos can be viewed in detail and downloaded for a personal consultation. Any other use must have a specific authorization by the author Vincent Birkett via a personal message to Polar1955 in the forum of x-plane.org.