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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
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