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HomeSpits­ber­gen infor­ma­ti­onHisto­ry → The race to the pole 3 …

The race to the pole 3: Ny-Ålesund

History of Spitsbergen - Amundsen and Nobile

Roald Amund­sen 1904

Roald Amundsen 1904

After Well­man, it remain­ed calm again for a cou­ple of years regar­ding attempts to reach the pole from Sval­bard.

The Zep­pe­lin-expe­di­ti­on, 1910

In the mean­ti­me, the expe­di­ti­on of the Ger­man count Zep­pe­lin show­ed in 1910, that impro­ved air­ships might inde­ed be useful in the arc­tic, alt­hough they didn’t have a ‘Zep­pe­lin’ (com­mon­ly used for ‘air­ship’ in Ger­man), ‘just’ the count with the same name. They sai­led most­ly in the Kongsfjord and Kross­fjord with their ship, the lar­ge crui­se ship Mainz, and a smal­ler expe­di­ti­on ship that could also enter smal­ler bays. Prin­ce Hein­rich of Prus­sia, brot­her of emper­or Wil­helm II., was one of the expe­di­ti­on mem­bers.

Roald Amund­sen

Roald Amund­sen was still busy with his Maud-expe­di­ti­on in the nor­the­ast pas­sa­ge, but he left the Maud when it he got a bit bored in the end – too much sci­ence, too few adven­tures. He rather focus­sed on rea­ching the pole by air, as more advan­ced air­craft beca­me available. The north pole had been his gre­at dream for the who­le of his life. He cho­se Ny-Åle­sund as a base for his expe­di­ti­ons, as this was loca­ted quite clo­se to the pole, it was easy to reach by ship and the workers of the coal mine could assist him, which meant that he could do with  redu­ced own labour force, which made the finan­cial side much easier.

Roald Amundsen’s 1925 North Pole expe­di­ti­on

For his first attempt, Amund­sen brought two Dor­nier-Wal-Sea­pla­nes, N-24 and N-25. They star­ted on 21st May 1925 and did not return, so ever­y­bo­dy thought they were lost for good. After a crash landing on the pack ice near 88°N, Amund­sen and his five men first had to build a run­way in the uneven ice to enable one of the two air­crafts to take off again. Nor­we­gi­an pilot Riiser-Lar­sen accom­plished a mas­ter­pie­ce when he star­ted the one remai­ning air­craft with two crews on board (six men altog­e­ther) from the short run­way on the ice. Lack of fuel forced them to land again near the nor­t­hern coast of Nord­aus­t­land, whe­re a Nor­we­gi­an seal­ing ship picked the expe­di­ti­on up and brought them back to Ny-Åle­sund.

Amund­sen – Ells­worth – Nobi­le expe­di­ti­on, 1926: the air­ship Nor­ge

Amund­sen did not hesi­ta­te and star­ted a second attempt in 1926. After the expe­ri­ence of 1925, he wan­ted to try an air­ship this time. Ita­li­an Umber­to Nobi­le con­s­truc­ted the air­ship Nor­ge for Amund­sen and navi­ga­ted it up to Spits­ber­gen. While the Nor­we­gi­ans tog­e­ther with Nobi­le and Amundsen’s Ame­ri­can spon­sor Lin­coln Ells­worth were still busy with pre­pa­ra­ti­ons, the Ame­ri­can Richard Byrd show­ed up with his Fok­ker-air­craft Jose­phi­ne Ford. Byrd star­ted 09th May 1926 and came back 15 hours later, clai­ming that he had rea­ched the pole. Nowa­days, most his­to­ri­ans agree that Byrd can not have rea­ched 90°N, but Amund­sen could not know that. He star­ted a few days later with Nobi­le and Lin­coln Ells­worth as well as an Ita­li­an crew on board the Nor­ge. The flew across the pole, drop­ped their count­ries natio­nal flaggs and rea­ched Alas­ka wit­hout dif­fi­cul­ty. The most dra­ma­tic part of this expe­di­ti­on came later, when Amund­sen and Nobi­le, the young nati­on of Nor­way and fascist Ita­ly, fought over the honour.

Nobi­le, 1928: the Ita­lia-cata­stro­phe

The result was that Nobi­le tried once more in 1928 to show ever­y­bo­dy that they could do it wit­hout Nor­we­gi­an con­tri­bu­ti­on. The result is one of the most well-known dra­mas in the histo­ry of the north pole. The Pole was rea­ched, but the Ita­lia cra­s­hed on the pack ice north of Nord­aus­t­land on the way back, some­whe­re near the litt­le island of Foynøya. A part of the air­ship dis­ap­peared tog­e­ther with 6 men who were never to be seen again. 9 men lan­ded on the ice, among­st them Nobi­le, who was serious­ly inju­red during the crash.

During the fol­lo­wing weeks more than 20 air­craft and 14 ships from 6 dif­fe­rent nati­ons tried to find the lost expe­di­ti­on. Among­st them was Amund­sen, who took off on 18 June in Trom­sø with the French sea­pla­ne Lat­ham. Lat­ham dis­ap­peared with her crew inclu­ding Amund­sen, she pro­ba­b­ly cra­s­hed some­whe­re near Bjørnøya (Bear Island). After a while, Nobile’s radio ope­ra­tor mana­ged to send an SOS with their posi­ti­on. Sub­se­quent­ly, Swe­dish pilot Ejnar Lund­borg mana­ged to land on the ice near Nobile’s camp and evacua­ted the most serious­ly inju­red man: Umber­to Nobi­le, tog­e­ther with his litt­le dog Titina (this did not make a good public impres­si­on). Unfort­u­na­te­ly, Lund­borg cra­s­hed his pla­ne on the second attempt to land and he was then stuck tog­e­ther with the remai­ning Ita­li­ans. All were later picked up by the Sov­jet ice­brea­k­er Kras­sin (Lund­borg was actual­ly picked up by ano­ther Swe­dish pla­ne short­ly befo­re the Kras­sin arri­ved).

In the mean­ti­me, a par­ty of three men had tried to walk over the ice wit­hout get­ting very far; one of them, the Swe­de Malm­gren (meteo­ro­lo­gist and the only non-Ita­li­an crew mem­ber of the Ita­lia) dis­ap­peared under uncer­tain cir­cum­s­tances, the two Ita­li­ans who were with him were also res­cued by the Kras­sin.

Mem­bers of the 1926 trans-polar flight in Seat­tle: Riiser-Lar­sen, Amund­sen, Ells­worth, Nobi­le (and his dog)

Members of the 1926 trans-polar flight in Seattle: Riiser-Larsen, Amundsen, Ellsworth, Nobile (and his dog!)

With the 1926 flight, both poles had defi­ni­te­ly been rea­ched, at least by air, and it was clear that no major islands remain­ed to be dis­co­ver­ed in the arc­tic. This was thus the end of the heroic age of arc­tic explo­ra­ti­on, which focus­sed on rea­ching even hig­her lati­tu­des and spec­ta­cu­lar dis­co­veries. Gra­du­al­ly, the »heroic age« gave way to sys­te­ma­tic sci­ence.



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last modification: 2019-04-14 · copyright: Rolf Stange