In highly oriented polymers, stress can stabilize fibres against melting by favouring the low entropy fibrillar state against the high entropy melt. In this work we have investigated the thermal stability of gel-spun ultra-high modulus polyethylene subjected to tensile stress. The Daresbury X-ray synchrotron radiation source and optical microscopy have been utilized to follow dynamically the transformation, melting and recrystallization of fibres, under optimum conditions of controlled stress. The orthorhombic phase is stable up to 164°C, after which the crystals transform into a hexagonal phase which can be stable up to temperatures as high as 179°C. Whilst this is the greatest thermal stability reported for the orthorhombic phase, the question of the ultimate stability is still unanswered and is presently limited by the effectiveness of the stress transfer to the fibrils. © 1993.