Pykrete Bridge, Pykretc
SIR CHARLES GOODEVE, F.R.S.
ONCE during the war an inventor brought forward the novel idea of a searchlight that would itself bring down any aircraft caught in its beam.
The idea was to provide the searchlight with a button which when pressed would solidify the beam.
By rapidly turning the searchlight downwards, one could 'wang' the aircraft on the ground.
The incidental details as to how to solidify the beam were, according to the inventor, "merely matters of research and development easily solvable by anyone who really believed in the idea".
Many inventions of varying degrees of absurdity, as well as some useful ones were put forward during the war, but none produced a dislocation of the Allied effort to a fraction of the extent achieved by 'Habakkuk', a proposal put forward by Geoffrey Pyke.
He himself named this grandiose scheme after the prophet who said: "I will work a work in your days which ye will not believe, though it be told you."
Wars had for long been fought with steel and explosives, and more recently with aluminium and electrons. To these was now to be added a new element of war, ICE.
"Ice," it was pointed out, "was plentiful and didn't sink. Let us build large unsinkable aircraft carriers of ice and thus provide air cover for an attack on a remote and unprotected part of France. Steel limits the size of our carriers to tens of thousands of tons; with ice we can throw off our shackles and build carriers of millions of tons each.
"Ice is plentiful! Ice is unsinkable! Ice is hard! The enemy will never suspect it! Ice will win the war!"
At first the scientists and engineers working on their radar, their jet-propulsion, their tank-landing craft and the thousand and one other developments which were to be put in the hands of our fighting men, laughed. Ice may be hard, but it had no strength.
Their laughter turned to alarm when they learned of the long-haired scientists, the admirals and generals who had been swayed by the magnetic personality of the inventor.
Here was no ordinary man; this was no ordinary way to win a war.
One scientist showed that the wave-functions of the hydrogen atoms in ice bore a close relation to those in concrete, and therefore it should be possible to make ice as strong as concrete (forgetting, of course, that concrete has little strength other than that of its steel reinforcement). An engineer who had already built an air-raid shelter offered to build the first Habakkuk.
Have you no imagination?
Ice is the new element of war.
All would have been well if it hadn't happened that at this moment one of the many parties detailed off for research into the problems of Habakkuk discovered that ice could be given some strength by incorporating a large amount of paper-making pulp in the water before freezing.
The frozen block did not yield easily to the hatchet, and a bullet fired at it went in so smoothly that the ice reformed behind it. The followers were elated and called this material Pykrete in honour of their leader.
""Pykrete," they said, "is not only unsinkable, but it is self-healing against bullets, bombs and torpedoes! Never mind if we have to reduce all the allied newspapers to letter size.
We've proved that research will solve all our problems if the obstructors can only be got out of the way."
Designs and plans for construction were rushed ahead.
Each Habakkuk required 40,000 tons of cork insulation, some thousands of miles of steel tubing for brine circulation and reinforcement, four power stations, and endless additional complications, especially in the building stage, even before you started making it into an aircraft carrier.
At that, the maximum Speed would only be six knots.
(By leaving the ice out and converting the tubing to ship's plates the whole would have been able to go four times as fast.) .
But there was one obstacle that even research and faith could not overcome.. Great Britain hadn't the resources to build even one Habakkuk.
However, armed with blocks of Pykretc, a revolver and plenty of rounds of ammunition, and wave-mechanical equations of hydrogen atoms, the team descended on the Quebec Conference, held to decide on the plan of attack on the European continent.
Fortunately, a decision was made not to wait for Habakkuk, but to rely on the daring, but sound, scheme which became known as the Mulberry Harbour.
Nevertheless, this conference of the heads of the three great States, U.K., U.S.A. and Canada, together with their Chiefs of Staff, decided that a Habakkuk should be built under the supervision of an Anglo-American-Canadian committee with a secretariat in the U.S. Navy offices in Washington.
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