The WWII plan to make aircraft carriers from ice

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It was 1942, and, among many other challenges, wartime Great Britain had a big problem: Nazi U-boats. These German submarines destroyed U.K.-bound merchant ships laden with much-needed food and supplies, and the attacks became so frequent that from March to September of that year they sank close to 100 merchant ships a month. Airplanes at the time couldn’t fly far enough from land-based airstrips to protect these ships in the ocean, and this aviation limitation left a 300-mile lane of unprotected waters known as “the mid-Atlantic Gap.” Britain’s legendary prime minister, Winston Churchill, was desperate to close this gap by any means necessary, and dreamed of building floating islands where planes could refuel. Unfortunately, aircraft carriers were few and far between, and steel was hard to come by during the war effort, when it was needed for weapons, tanks, ships, and more.

One day, a potential solution arrived when Lord Louis Mountbatten, the head of Britain’s Combined Operations Command (and beloved uncle of the future Prince Philip), presented Churchill with a strange chunk of ice. This wasn’t any normal piece of ice, however: It was pykrete (named after its creator Geoffrey Pyke), which was a type of ice reinforced with wood pulp. The result was a material that melted very slowly, and for Churchill, a vision of a fleet of aircraft carriers made from pykrete came into focus. The proposed pykrete ship would’ve been the biggest “ship” ever constructed, displacing 26 times more water than the largest ship at the time and requiring 26 electric motors for propulsion. A 60-foot-long prototype was soon constructed in Alberta, Canada, that weighed as much as five blue whales. But by 1943, things had changed. Escort carriers had arrived in the Atlantic and long-range aircraft such as the B-24 Liberator had closed the gap for good. Despite pykrete’s amazing ability to hold its shape, the dream of an iceberg aircraft carrier soon melted away.

Media Release/InterestingFacts

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