“Ice Wall” by CNaene at freedigitalphotos.net
Military history is filled with strange ideas, which are often created out of extreme necessity. Sometimes they work, such as Hannibal’s ruse of tying torches to the horns of cattle, in order to mislead the Roman army regarding the direction his forces were moving. More often they fail. Still, of all the strange, mad ideas in military history, none was ever so odd as Project Habbakuk. During World War Two, the survival of Britain depended upon victory in the Battle of the Atlantic. An island nation, Britain could not obtain the raw materials and food that it needed to survive if it could not defeat German submarines. As the sea battle moved to a moment of crisis, a strange man of questionable genius named Geoffrey Pyke conceived the idea of building warships out of ice. As bizarre as the idea sounded, a memo on the idea was brought to Churchill in December 1942. He loved the concept and and ordered that research on the project move forward.
It soon became clear that ice was an unsuitable building material. Fortunately, scientists soon learned that by mixing wood pulp with ice an incredibly strong material could be created, which would also resist melting. The plan was to create an immense aircraft carrier, many times larger than any other in existence, out of this new material. According to L.D. Cross (Code Name Habbakuk, p. 52) it would have reached two million tons, and have stretched more than the length of two football fields. Its sheer mass would have helped –at least in theory– to make the ship unsinkable. The work of of designing and building the ship was given to Canada, although Canadian Prime Minister McKenzie King thought, as revealed in his famous diaries, that this was “another of those mad, wild schemes (that started) with a couple of crazy men in England” (L.D. Cross, Code Name Habbakuk, 63). Nonetheless, the government decided to build a small prototype on Patricia Lake in Alberta, Canada. Of course, in practice the idea was impossibly complex, and by 1943 Britain had nearly won the Battle of the Atlantic. The project was finally abandoned in December 1943.