WW2: A battleship made out of ice?

A military buddy of mine tells me that they were serious pans by the British to build a massive ship out of ice. He says, in fact, that they actually started building it but abandoned the idea as too costly in 1942. Has anyone ever heard anything about this, or is he full of aak-aak?

No references handy, but apparently there was such a project. I don’t think it was to be a warship in the sense that we think of battleships and destroyers and the like, though–probably more for transport purposes, like a towed barge.

The ice used was to be mixed with sawdust, which would strengthen the ice, and the ship (or barge or whatever) was to be named, IIRC, Habakkuk.

Sorry I can’t recall more, but this will give you a little to go on. Perhaps some military historians here can help out.

I remember reading a Ripley’s Believe it or Not entry that sounded very similar, except it was the Americans planning to build an aircraft carrier from a special mix of ice and sawdust, which melted slowly enough to be useful.

  • but an aircraft carrier.

I don’t have any references here (posting from work), but it’s true enough.

The project was named “Habbakuk”, after the prophet. A Google-search for Habbakuk turned up this link, among others:


I hope you didn’t bet ?

S. Norman

Post-preview: You guys are too bloody quick! Grrrrrr!

The U.S. also built and sailed several ships made of concrete. One rests sunk off the New Jersey coastline. It was armed when it sailed. It hit a sandbar and cracked. It is visible above the water line.

I guess ice, like concrete, proved too risky because of an almost total lack of flexibility. The concrete ships were built, they sailed (briefly) and the plan was serious enough that guns found their way onto the decks.

Figured if the ice boat thing was cool, the concrete boat story would be hard to believe…but true.

The boat I’m speaking of rests in the shadows of Cape May and Cape May Point New Jersey, in the Deleware bay, not far from the Cape May Lighthouse.


Link to the concrete ship. Certainly, after seeing this, it’s easy to believe that ice could be used, especially as a barge or extra carrier runway.

No, I didn’t bet. OTOH, If I had I guess I could have nit-picked about the battleship thing.

Thanks for the links. Are they any modern uses for ice and sawdust blends apart from fraking out your cocktail party guests?

There was an article about the ice aircraft carriers made of “Pykrete” in an issue of Science Digest back in the 1950s. I don’t have the issue any more, so I can’t give you an exact cite, but it ought to be listed in the Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature.

Geoffrey Pyke, the inventor of Pykrete, failed to convince the British or American governments of the feasibility of building ships with his ice-sawdust “alloy”. It’s hard to say whether he was a misunderstood genius or a imaginative nut. Either way, the outcome was unhappy; depressed by his lack of success, Pyke killed himself.

Cool, this actually helped me out in a D&D campaign I am creating. I planned on the dwarves using stone ships, my wife said you couldn’t make a stone ship because stone doesn’t float, I pointed out we made ships out of metal, and she called me a smart-ass.

Yep, you’re right. As long as the volume of water displaced weighs more than the displacing object (ship), the object will float. Such ships are generally big and wide, because you’ll get a bigger volume-to-ship-material ratio. This means that there’ll be more air “inside” the ship, bringing down the average density of the ship.

Stability is utmost for these types of ships. Water getting in throws off the balance of the ship. If it does so much that one side dips below the surface, whoops! Now you’ve got a sinking rock, not a ship. :D:D

Concrete continues to be used as a viable source for hulls. They are nearly all on river barges that will not face the torsions of wave action on the open sea, but there are quite a few in use. (Not they will potentially overtake the use of steel or aluminum any time soon.)

There was a project (study?) in the 1960s to create ocean-going concrete hulls, but I do not know whether it actually was implemented.

Here is a companion piece to the link that Philster provided. It talks about the launching of another in the fleet of 38 (40 proposed) concrete ships of which Philster’s ATLANTUS was one.
Concrete Shipbuilding in San Diego, 1918-1920

An interesting side note on the Habbakuk project: according to Bill Waiser, in his excellent book Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western Canada’s National Parks, 1915-1946, the workers on the ice ship were “Conchies,” that is, conscientious objectors.

Waiser interviewed one of the workers for his book, and the worker recalled that he suspected that they were building some kind of barge (the COs were never told the true nature of the project). Waiser notes that the prototype remained solid through the summer of 1943 (remember that Patricia Lake is high in the Rocky Mountains, and is glacier-fed!)

Remains of Habbakuk may be visited by sports divers; such remains are protected as cultural artifacts under the National Parks Act.

This site has some more details, including the use of civilian internees in WWI to build roads in Jasper National Park, and the WWII internment of Japanese-Canadians.