In 1942 the situation on the western front for Britain was disastrous. The German Kriegsmarines inflicted substantial losses on the Royal Navy time after time. Germany’s strong industrial base allowed the country to quickly recoup its losses in equipment, while Great Britain, entering the war insufficiently prepared, considered any, even the craziest ideas that could help it stand up to the enemy.
One such idea was to build an aircraft carrier with ice as the building material, a temporary substitute for steel, the shortage of which was at its peak at the time. It is known that in 1942 the idea was discussed in the highest circles of the United Kingdom, including Winston Churchill himself, then acting Prime Minister.
Two approaches to the creation of an aircraft carrier made of ice were developed at once. The first – the cheapest one – was to saw off the top of a large iceberg and re-equip its surface for a runway. It was supposed that such ships, notable for their extreme cheapness, would be used for short-term air operations against strategic enemy objects. Such aircraft carrier iceberg was also to be equipped with defense systems, living quarters and engine with rudders. Usage time of such a ship would be limited by several months.
The second approach implied building an aircraft carrier from scratch out of pre-prepared ice blocks, with refrigeration tubes running between them, which would keep the ship from melting and perform its functions for a long time.
After much discussion, the British Ministry of Defense chose the second option as the most promising. Engineer Geoffrey Pike was appointed to lead the project. He experimentally proved that when water is mixed with cellulose, the resulting ice after freezing is much stronger and will not thaw for a long time. It was decided that the new material, which, as it turned out later, also had greater buoyancy, would be called “pykret”. The British project involved American and Canadian allies, and soon a test sample ship was built in just two months and launched in Canada, where tests began.
Creating an aircraft carrier out of ice – the process of laying the blocks of the Pikrete
By 1943, the 18-meter ship had been successfully tested in summer conditions, but the British Admiralty had several questions for the engineers: they asked for increased deck strength for landing heavy bombers and to equip the ship with additional protection against torpedoes from German submarines. For these improvements it was necessary to reinforce the metal frame of the ship, which resulted in additional monetary and, most importantly, time costs. The project no longer seemed a panacea for German naval supremacy, especially as by the end of 1943 the situation in the war had turned in favor of the Allies. Britain finally managed to overcome the steel deficit and set up production of cheap aircraft carriers. The unusual project was gradually forgotten and remained only in the form of drawings. The test ship soon melted away, leaving behind a metal skeleton frame.