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    Army operations in the Arctic began in the 1940s and continued into the early 1960s.  The Army had two main missions - one for research and testing and the other for protection from an atomic threat from the Soviet Union.

international tractor in snow This photo shows a TC-18A International crawler tractor climbing from lake to portage.  It was fully tracked and designed for heavy hauling or earth-moving operations.

The track plates oscillated independently.  The tractor was powered by a 6-cylinder diesel engine with a system for converting to all-weather starting on gasoline.

   The Transportation Corps tested many different vehicles - from tractors to rail cars. 

 collage of photos covering route

Arctic operations covered many miles of ice, from Alaska through Greenland.


   Testing began in ports where Transportation Terminal Units operated during World War II.  Units stationed in Churchill, Canada, and Thule, Greenland, examined equipment and maintenance under harsh conditions.

ice tunnel chapel, Camp Tuto, Greenland Left, the Ice Tunnel Chapel, located at the U.S. Army Polar Research and Development Center, Camp Tuto, Greenland.  The chapel was first used on May 27, 1962, when Chaplain (Captain) Joseph V. Coshan said mass for a small congregation. 

   The tunnel was used for Army Research and Development projects under supervision of the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories and the U.S. Army Engineering and Development Laboratories. 


   Transportation units were also actively supporting the establishment and operation of the US and Canadian Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. 

quonset hut on DEW line Quonset hut quarters and bunks within. bunk area inside quonset hut



Two members of the early Transportation Arctic Group.

 outside the quonset hut

card celebrating the anniversary ofthe Transportation Corps

Celebrating the anniversary of the Transportation Corps, 1953.



   The shortest distance for enemy bombers to get into America's industrial heart was across the Arctic through central Canada.  Because of this threat, a radar system was built across Alaska, Canada, Newfoundland, Labrador, Baffin Islands and Greenland.

the DEW line
using vessel as command center and home

This was the largest and longest lasting Arctic program.  The 373rd Transportation Port Command supported the operations in the eastern section.  Later re-designated as the 7278th Transportation Terminal Command, the men lived aboard their vessels, moving from place to place, and unloaded cargo across partially ice-bound beaches with LCUs and LCMs.

map of the area of operations


    The first over-the-beach operation in the Arctic was in 1951 with Operation Blue Jay.  Over 1/2 million tons of cargo were carried over the rugged beaches without benefit of port facilities.

   The supply line had many obstacles, the largest being that the Arctic coast was free of ice for only a few weeks in late summer which allowed ships to get in close enough to unload onto landing craft.  Even then, 'icebreaker' ships were often used to break up the icebergs.  Preparation and planning for supplies a year in advance was critical.

 LCM on Frobisher Bay, Baffin island, Canada, 1958

LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized) approaching the beach of Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island, 1958.

   There were two major ports of embarkation for the DEW Line - Seattle and Hampton Roads, with the latter supplying the area in Canada and the Baffin Islands.

   In 1959 alone, over 40 vessels (Coast Guard, NSTS and US Navy) moved 177,000 tons of dry cargo plus another 2,135,000 barrels of petroleum into the Arctic. 


    In early 1959, a four-man expedition called Operation Top Dog conducted a study covering 150 miles from Thule Air Base up the northwest coast of Greenland.

   It was a polar sea and ice navigation study conducted by the US Army Transportation Environmental Operations Group, headquartered at Fort Eustis, VA.

diagram map of area of operations for Top Dog and Lead Dog


   While being indoctrinated in Arctic survival, they ran tests such as thickness, physical and chemical properties of the ice, and tensile strength.  The H-19 helicopter was used to fly in supplies to the group each day.


   Operation Lead Dog, a continuation of Operation Top Dog, expanded to a 41-man team along the upper edge of Greenland and covered over 600 miles.  Its mission was to experiment with transportation equipment, map a safe route to the northernmost part of the world, and conduct weather studies.

   They tested surface conditions on the ice cap, some of which were up to 19,000 feet deep.  They also tested for movement of the ice caps and took radiation readings.

   The team was supplied by H-19 Chickasaw helicopters, which also carried scientists to various locations for experiments. 

   The explorers also used the 1/4 tracked Weasel as a scouting tool; it was small, compact and easy to transport.   Its 20-inch tracks gave it low ground pressure which made crossing mud, sand, marsh and snow easy.

ladder in lower left leading into crevasse The ladder descending into Crevasse at mile 8.5 on the Greenland Icecap.  Crevasses were usually hidden and had to be blown up in order to provide a safe route for the vehicles.


   The BARC (Barge, Amphibious, Resupply, Cargo) had its first operational mission in the Arctic.  It was tested at Frobisher Bay in the Baffin Islands in 1956 and proved successful by carrying 60 tons from ship to shore.

Discharging a tractor from a BARC at Saglek Bay


BARC discharging a tractor


   In 1956, the BARC worked the beaches at Sondrestom Air Base, Greenland, and four others were used at Thule, Greenland in 1958, moving over 4,000 tons of cargo.  Supplies were moved further inland by truck and air.

road to Thule Air Base

North Star Bay on the road to Thule Air Base, 1952.


    The Transportation Corps continued supporting the Arctic into the mid 1960s under the acronym SUNEC, Support of the North-East Command.


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