There have been many notable Arctic explorers who left their marks in the annals of polar exploration history. However, we are most concerned with the history of Atlantic Arctic exploration here, particularly that which concerns the Svalbard Archipelago.
One of the earliest and most important explorers of the region was Henry Hudson, a very capable navigator who made many important discoveries between 1607 and 1612. He is generally thought of as the greatest English maritime explorer before James Cook. Hudson was a mild and amiable man, but apparently had trouble maintaining discipline aboard his vessel. He believed he could reach the Far East by sailing directly north across the top of the world (there was a common belief that the Arctic ice was but a barrier protecting a calm and placid northern sea). At this time, no one knew whether a polar land existed, or if there was only an ocean. Hudson set sail to travel the Arctic in 1607 on board the HOPEWELL, sponsored by the British Muscovy Company, to search out a trade route to the Orient. He crossed the 80th parallel north of Svalbard, before being stopped by ice, and set a northern record which was to stand for 150 years. During this voyage he explored the eastern coastline of Greenland and went on to discover Jan Mayen Land (named for a later Dutch explorer). He returned with enthusiastic reports about potential whaling and fishing industries. In 1608, he sailed again, in the same ship, in search of a Northeast Passage, but was unsuccessful, and was forced to return earlier than planned by a mutiny. After two failures, the Muscovy Company did not immediately renew his contract. In 1609, he sailed for the Dutch East India Company in search once again for a Northeast Passage, by sailing around Novaya Zemlya. Well into the Barents Sea, the crew became mutinous and demanded to turn back, but he convinced them to first attempt a search for a Northwest Passage before returning home. He sailed farther to the south and entered a likelylooking river (which now has his name), but turned back at the level of modern Albany when he realized his mistake. The Dutch later founded New Amsterdam (New York) on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the river. He and his crew were forcibly restrained from returning to Holland after entering a British port, and he was again hired by the British to search for a Northwest Passage. He sailed again in 1610, aboard the DISCOVERY and discovered the huge bay later named for him, but the ship was caught by ice in the southwest corner and they were forced to spend the Winter there. When the ship floated free in June 1611, another mutiny occurred and Hudson, his young son, and five shipmates were abandoned in a small, open boat, without paddles, in the middle of the bay. They were never heard from again. The 13 mutineers headed back to England, but suffered great hardships along the way...four were killed by Inuit, the pilot died of starvation, and the rest barely made it, only to be sentenced to hang upon their return. The sentence was not carried out, and because of lack of evidence the men were pardoned (one of those pardoned was Robert Bylot who gained more respectable fame later as an Arctic explorer).
Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian, set off in the Summer of 1893 to deliberately freeze his ship, the FRAM (which means forward), in the pack ice and drift to a high latitude, maybe even to the pole. He benefited greatly from the knowledge acquired through the International Polar Year 10 years earlier and by now, everyone knew there was no polar continent. He based his ice drift idea on the fact that Siberian driftwood often washes up on the coast of Greenland. It seemed obvious to Nansen that a welldesigned ship could drift safely around the pole with the pack ice. Nansen and Captain Otto Sverdrup took the FRAM eastward from Norway to north of the Lena River delta and then ran her deep into the pack ice. The ship was designed to ride up on the ice if pressures became too great, which is just what happened. By March of 1895 it was obvious they would not drift over the pole, so Nansen and a companion, Hjalmar Johansen, left the ship with dogs, two sledges, two kayaks, and food for 100 days in an effort to reach the pole. The ice blocks and ridges made travel very difficult, and the Summer thaw forced them to turn back at 86° 14' N (224 miles from the pole). It was the farthest penetration of the 19th century. They eventually reached Franz Josef Land and decided to spend the Winter there. They lived in a stone hut for eight months, eating polar bear and walrus meat. Heading south the next Spring, they encountered the British JacksonHarmsworth Expedition which took them home. The FRAM broke out of the ice north of Svalbard the same day Nansen returned to Norway, and it returned to Tromso, Norway, after a voyage of 35 months with no loss of life. As Nansen predicted, no new land had been found in the far north. The FRAM had drifted from Siberia to 85° 55' N at its highest point and then emerged on the Atlantic side of the Arctic Basin. Nansen returned to the Arctic again in 1898, and became the first person to cross the great ice sheet of Greenland. The trip was begun on the remote eastern coast, so there would be no turning back, and took 43 days.
Salomon Andree', another Swede, planned a novel flight over the pole in the hotair balloon ORNEN (which means eagle) in 1897. He and his two companions took off from their base in Svalbard, but the balloon was damaged during takeoff and he lost much of the ability to steer the craft. He took homing pigeons with him with which to send back news of his progress, and one bird was retrieved with the message "All's well, at latitude 82", but no further messages were forthcoming. In fact, nothing was known of his fate for 33 years, until a Norwegian scientific expedition found their remains at White Island (between Franz Josef Land and Svalbard). From his diary they learned theORNEN was forced to land in dense fog just three days into the voyage, and the men tried to walk to Franz Josef Land where a supply depot had been left for just such an emergency. Unfortunately, the Arctic ice drift made them miss their planned destination and they ended up at White Island, instead. Apparently, they died from carbon monoxide poisoning (from a leaking cooker) inside their shelter, because they still had plenty of food with them and Andree's diary contained seemingly unconcerned and humorous entries up to the time of his death.
Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian, has been described as "dedicated and even ruthless, immensely capable, tough, shrewd, patient, and determined". A doctor by training, he gave up his fledging medical career to become a polar explorer. In 1903, when he was 30 years old, Amundsen set off on his first polar exploration, aboard the 150-ton GJOA in an attempt to sail the Northwest Passage. Although the ice conditions were favorable that year, he and his crew had considerable troubles making it to a safe anchorage at Gjoa Haven, south of the Boothia Peninsula. He spent two Winters here, during which time one of his crew members, Wiik, conducted an extended study of terrestrial magnetism, and Amundsen himself learned much about Inuit methods of survival (this proved immensely valuable during his later exploits in Antarctica). The GJOA sailed again in 1905 and cleared the archipelago, and with success almost within sight, he got caught in the ice near the Mackenzie River...and was forced to spend another Winter in the Arctic. Finally, in 1906, he completed his transit. Although Amundsen was the first to sail through the Northwest Passage, Robert McClure had made a transit through the passage 54 years earlier by way of three different ships and a sledge journey...during a search for the missing John Franklin party. In 1909, Amundsen was planning to return to the Arctic in Nansen's famous ship FRAM, from which he would use dog sledges to reach the North Pole. Just before his departure, he learned that Peary had already reached it. He immediately decided to sail for the Antarctic instead, and try to be the first to the South Pole. His plans were made swiftly and secretly, and after he was well under way he sent a short, terse message to Captain Robert F. Scott, who was in New Zealand preparing for a trek to the South Pole..."Heading south. Amundsen". Amundsen succeeded in getting to the South Pole first.
Lincoln Ellsworth was a young American millionaire and sportsman, who attempted to reach the North Pole with two sea planes in 1925. He set up a base of operations in Svalbard. The two planes flew off together, but had to set down in open water within 100 miles of the pole. One of the planes was wrecked in the process. It took four long weeks to successfully get the second plane back in the air with all the crew, and return to Svalbard. Three years later he returned to accompany Amundsen and Nobile on their polar crossing in the Italian airship NORGE. In 1935, Ellsworth became the first to fly across the Antarctic continent, but he was beaten in his flight to the South Pole by the same man who beat him to the North Pole...Admiral Byrd.
Umberto Nobile was an Italian who in 1926 piloted the famous polar explorer Roald Amundsen, and Lincoln Ellsworth, in the dirigible NORGE across the Arctic Ocean from King's Bay, Svalbard, to Nome, Alaska. Amazed Inuit likened it to a huge flying whale. The NORGE traveled more than 3,000 miles in just 72 hours. Two years later Nobile returned to Svalbard with another airship, the ITALIA, but this time he was sponsored by the Fascist government of Mussolini. The expedition was meant to bring great glory to Italy, but instead it turned into the worst disaster since that of Franklin. After departing Svalbard they initially did some aerial survey work along the Russian coast and then went on to reach the North Pole ahead of schedule because of favorable winds. Nobile circled around the pole in order to drop a wooden cross given to him by the Pope just for that purpose. On his return to Svalbard, the winds were contrary and the airship began to ice up. The added weight caused the ITALIA to crash and break up about 180 miles from their final destination. Nobile and nine others were thrown from the wrecked cabin, while six others were blown away aboard the ITALIA, never to be seen again. Fortunately, many of their supplies were dumped during the crash, including the infamous "Red Tent" (which was not really red). Three men (two Italians and a Swede) set out on foot in an attempt to reach land and arrange rescue, while the rest settled in on the drifting pack ice. The Arctic drift carried them at a rapid pace, and it was several days before radio calls giving their position were heard by the outside world. Russia, Sweden, France, and Finland all responded in the rescue search. Roald Amundsen joined in the search aboard a French sea plane, but the plane, Amundsen, and the French crew members were lost in the Barents Sea. After a monthlong search, Nobile's party was found by a Swedish pilot in a small, twoman plane. He landed and picked up the injured Nobile (and his dog), promising to return as soon as possible. On his return, the pilot wrecked his plane upon landing, and no other planes were able to rescue the others during the next several weeks. Their rescue finally came by way of a Russian ice breaker, led by Professor Rudolph Samoylovich. The ship had earlier picked up the two Italians from the group which had gone for help. The Swede had died somewhere along the way. Nobile was unfairly charged with cowardice for abandoning his men when they were first found...he and everyone else at the time had assumed total rescue was imminent. They had no reason to suspect the rest of his party would have to wait another month for rescue. He was made the scapegoat for the debacle, and was demoted and exiled to Russia. After Mussolini's fall, however, he returned to Rome where his rank, if not reputation, was restored.
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