As the Battle of the Atlantic began to intensify during World War II, Winston Churchill - an ardent supporter of unique technological innovations - approved Operation Habakkuk - the plan to create a fleet of massive aircraft carriers made from ice.
Churchill was in no mood to see the war in the Atlantic slip even further out of control.
Throughout its history, the island nation had recognized the importance of sea power, and World War II was proving no different.
Britain required more than a million tons of imported material each week in order to be able to survive and fight the Germans.
But by that stage in the war, the country's inhabitants were already on food rations.
Churchill was genuinely concerned that mass starvations were right around the corner. Moreover, if a second European front was ever going to happen, the sea lanes had to be free from marauding U-boats.
Churchill later wrote, "The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air depended ultimately on its outcome."
After the war, he admitted that the German U-boats were the only thing that truly terrified him during the struggle.
Thus, to Churchill's surprise, a potential solution came in the form a unique material consisting primarily of ice.
While taking a bath one day at his home at Chequers in late 1942, an excited Lord Louis Mountbatten - the British military Chief of Combined Operations - stormed in and dropped a chunk of ice between Churchill's legs. During the course of the next several minutes, the two watched in amazement as the ice refused to melt in the warm water.
It was called pykrete, the invention of Geoffrey Pyke, an eccentric scientist who was working for Combined Operations.
Earlier that year, Pyke was struck with the idea of creating floating islands made from carefully sculpted icebergs. He eventually realized, however, that his vision was unworkable. Standard ice was simply too weak. He needed something considerably more durable.
No doubt, ice is not a great material to work with. Under normal conditions, ice that has been moulded into a beam will fracture at loads anywhere from five kilograms per square centimeter (70 pounds per square inch) to 35 kilograms per square centimeter (500 pounds per square inch). Moreover, because it fails at unpredictable loads, it's not an ideal medium for construction.
Undaunted, Pyke figured he could find a way to reinforce ice, so he began to experiment with various concoctions.
After a process of trial-and-error, he threw some wood pulp into the mix - and the ensuing difference in strength was dramatic.
The new material, dubbed pykrete, increased the strength of regular ice to 70 kilograms per square centimeter (1,000 pounds per square inch) - enough to deflect a bullet shot at close range (as proven later in this story).
It also had tremendous crush resistance; a one-inch column would be able to support an entire automobile. Further, pykrete took a lot longer to melt than regular ice.
This was the wonder material that Pyke was looking for - what would form the basic building block of his giant floating island made from ice. He presented his findings to Mountbatten, who in turn brought the plan to Churchill's attention.
Churchill then displayed a tremendous willingness to entertain unconventional ideas.
Indeed, during the course of the war the Allies employed unorthodox tactics like dropping streams of tinfoil from planes to confuse enemy radar (dubbed "Window" - and an idea the Nazis later stole when bombing London in 1944), the development of miniature submarines, the construction of artificial harbors (called mulberries - an idea that Churchill first sketched out in 1917!), and dam busting bouncing bombs.
Pykrete, thought Mountbatten, could be another unconventional innovation.
He told Churchill that it would last indefinitely and be self-healing against bullets, bombs and torpedoes. Ice was inherently unsinkable, and any holes could quickly be patched up with quickly freezing water.
The ice-carriers would also reduce Britain's dependency on steel.
Churchill, who used to worked for the First Lord of the Admiralty and was an inventor in his own right, immediately seized upon the idea.
Operation Habakkuk was officially underway. Once developed, Churchill planned to deploy the ice-carriers off the coast of France and in the Indian Ocean where they would primarily serve as refuelling stations for the RAF.
The plans called for an entire fleet, with each carrier measuring 2,000 feet long, 300 feet wide, and with walls forty feet thick.
The entire structure would displace two million tonnes of water and be stitched together using 40 foot blocks of pykrete. Had it been constructed, it would have been the largest floating structure ever built.
Each carrier would be capable of carrying over 300 aircraft of all sorts, including bombers and fighters (like Spitfires and Hurricanes, which did not have folding wings). (ANI)