HMS Habbakuk

Hard as it may be to visualize second world war planes landing on massive ice ships, aircraft carriers made of a substance called “Pykrete” raised Winston Churchill’s interest enough to be considered, Simple as adding wood chips or sawdust to water before making ice – Pykrete was “old ironsides” to regular ices “Con Tiki” .  Strong, shatter resistant, and slow melting, it seemed ideal for the north Atlantic. Incredibly heavy yet extremely buoyant, refrigeration units on board could make Pykrete slabs to repair damage. Ice forming on ships in the north Atlantic was a constant problem – a problem ice ships would laugh off. Better still, the plan was to “spray” enemy ships with super cooled water – coating them in ice and forcing  surrender. The concept was dubbed “Habbakuk” after the biblical quote “ totally amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if I told you” (Habakkuk 1:5)

The name Pykrete comes from combining the name of inventor Geoffrey Pyke with concrete. Geoffrey Pyke was a British citizen with a fascinating history – well worth a click on the link below. Unsubstantiated stories circulated of Pyke taking his idea to Chief of Command Operations, Lord Mountbatten who was so impressed he barged in on Churchill while was taking a bath – tossing a chunk of Pykrete into the bath water.

Plans for this massive iceberg eventually melted – not before a scale model was built at Patricia Lake, Alberta – measuring 60 by 30 feet the prototype seemed to live up to expectations. Canada had wood pulp , steel, timber, and fibreboard insulation ready for completion of the HMS Habbakuk in 1943. Further structural testing raised issues  forcing Canadians to revise projected completion until 1944. Quibbling over specifications set in and Habbukuk was scraped.

In 2009 the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters tested the Pykrete theory by building a small Pykrete boat in Alaska. They concluded Pykrete lived up to its billing – bulletproof, stronger than ice, and taking much longer to melt.

20 thoughts on “HMS Habbakuk

  1. It’s a stunning story which gives true meaning to the word ‘boffin’. Who but the English could concoct not just the notion of reinforced ice – but a two million ton aircraft carrier made of the stuff? There was a charmingly peculiar ‘Englishness’ about UK scientific thinking of the mid-twentieth century – everything was perfectly solid, scientifically, but inevitably presented in a kind of eccentric manner. I once read a wonderful tale about top British boffins, working secretly in Essex in 1939 to devise better radar, noticing that the sunset looked better if you hung your head down and looked at the sky backwards and upside down from between your knees. True story.

    Magnus Pyke – Geoffrey Pyke’s cousin – also a scientist, who presented a pop-sci show on TV which I remember enjoying as a kid. And appeared on Thomas Dolby’s ‘She Blinded Me With Science’. Thoroughly of the ‘eccentric’ vein.

  2. Nowadays we have so much material. Seems that in the old days they could do so much more with nature materials.. I never heard of this. But its interesting .
    Enjoy ur weekend

  3. Good story, I had heard of this but war history is a big deal with me. Winston Churchill in a bathtub would have been a sight.

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