|An illustration of the Berg aircraft carrier next to a conventional|
aircraft carrier of WW II
During his lifetime he was most famous for his idea to build huge ships of ice and wood during World War II. The British title for the book is Churchill’s
Pyke’s idea had germinated from his efforts at considering snow in Norway as a weapon against the Germans. Instead of an obstacle Pyke asked how could snow be used to the Allies advantage.
As he turned his mind to the Battle of the Atlantic he considered the major problem faced by the Allies in 1942 that they did not have land based aircraft with enough range to cover an area in the middle of the Atlantic. Airplanes that could be launched off aircraft carriers could not effectively attack the submarines. German U-boats feasted on Allied shipping in this strip of ocean.
Pyke was aware an occasional aircraft had landed on an iceberg. What about a manmade form of iceberg to serve as an aircraft carrier for bombers?
Building a ship out of ice was possible. Melting could be greatly reduced by insulating with wood. However, ice is brittle and would break up under the pressure of powerful Atlantic swells.
After reading an article that frozen sand could be harder than rock and speaking to a professor who said wood pulp added to water made a layer of ice stronger Pyke had the insight that made the project possible. He asked scientists to mix water with sawdust or cork.
Some quick experiments determined that if wood pulp was mixed with water and frozen the reinforced ice was stronger “than many varieties of reinforced concrete”. Beyond being extremely strong it was inexpensive to produce.
Just when I think I have heard of all significant WW II stories that took place in Canada I am surprised. I was not aware that large scale experiments were carried out on lakes on the edge of the Canadian Rockies. Under great secrecy conscientious objectors, mainly young Mennonite and Doukhobor men, worked in winter weather on the experiments.
Pyke, in English winter clothes, traveled to Western Canada. He must have been a hardy soul to survive out here in such winter wear.
Those working on the project that Pyke should be honoured and called the reinforced ice Pykrete using a variation of concrete.
Pykrete, just like icebergs, would not shatter but absorbed shells fired. It meant ships of Pykrete would be almost unsinkable.
The design berg ships would be twice the length and width of the Queen Mary. They would be long enough that full bombers could take off and land on them.
The inventors worked out the ships would be encased in wood that could easily be repaired. Interior pipes attached to refrigeration units would keep the ice from melting.
While Churchill wanted his berg ships immediately and Mountbatten was equally enthusiastic military bureaucracies were less excited and development did not proceed as quickly as Pyke and his supporters wanted.
When other advances closed off the strip in the Atlantic and the Battle of the Atlantic shifted to the Allied advantage there was no longer the same impetus for berg ships.
The vast ships of ice and wood were never built but they remain feasible should the cost of steel rise high.
There was one of Pyke’s innovative ideas that was specifically used in the war. Codenamed “Pluto” it was the underwater pipeline to deliver oil from England to France after D-Day in 1944.
It would have been amazing to see giant berg ships crossing the oceans of the world.
The Ingenious My Pyke by Henry Hemming