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Roald Amundsen: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Roald Amundsen

EA -Biography
( [: ] )
(Harald U/ Sverdrup)

ROALD AMUNDSEN

Roald Engebregt ch Gravning Amundsen (1872-1928), was the first navigator
of the Northwest Passage, first to reach the South Pole, navigator of the
Northeast Passage, made the first flight to Latitude 88° N., and the first
flight across the Polar Sea.
Early Life
Amundsen was born on July 16, 1872, on a small farm near the town of Sarps–
borg in southeastern Norway. For five generations his ancestors had been farm–
ers and sailors. Roald Amundsen's father, Jens Amundsen, sought the sea and
worked his way ahead until he captained his own ship. With his two brothers
and a brother-in-law he developed a flourishing shipping business that operated
up to 22 sailing vessels.
When Roald was only a few months old, his father moved to Oslo (at that
time Christiania) where he bought a property on the outskirts of the city. Here
Roald and his three older brothers grew up, taking full advantage of the winter
possibilities for skiing and skating, and spending their summers sailing and
fishing. Their father was a powerful man of the stern old school who claimed
full authority in his home and gave his boys some sound advice: "I had never a
chance to get an education and have often felt my handicap. It is not enough to
have the will to work, one must also have knowledge. I want you boys to learn
more than I did." Or: "I don't want you to get into any fights. But if you have

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

to fight, deal the first blow and see to it that one blow is enough."
Roald may have followed the latter advice, but not eh former. He did manage
to get admitted to the University when he was eighteen, but was at the bottom
of his class. He was a quiet boy who evidently considered the school as a nec–
essary evil and who from the age of fifteen had made up his mind about his own
future. He wanted to explore the polar regions, and his first goal would be to
navigate the Northwest Passage. He had come across the accounts of the Franklin
expedition and had read every book he could find about the search parties which
for 20 years tried to learn the fate of Sir John Franklin and his men. The
search had led to the discovery of the Northwest Passage, but no navigator had
succeeded in sailing a ship through the ice-filked and treacherous waters. Here
was a task that appealed to Roal's imagination, a task surpassing Nansen's cross–
ing of Greenland which had set him afire. Neglecting his homework he read and
re-read the great travel books from the Arctic.
He wanted to prepare himself thoroughly for his career and would have pre–
ferred to go to sea in order to obtain his master's papers, because he wanted
to be captain on board his own ship. However, his older brothers were already
sailors, and his mother, now a widow, wanted her youngest son to stay away from
the sea and study medicine.
Amundsen felt it his duty to follow his mother's wish, but he spent little
time studying and much more time in hardening himself and developing a magnifi–
cent physique. When his mother died in 1893, Amundsen sold his few medical books
and got a berth as ordinary seaman on board the sealer Magdalena , the ship which
later, renamed Danmark , was used by Mylius-Erichsen on his East Greenland expedi–
tion of 1906-08. During the next following years Amundsen advanced through the
grades, and in 1895 he obtained his papers as mate, and in 1900 he got his master's

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

license. In later years the only title he liked to have applied to him was that
of "Captain."
He gained his first extensive experience in the polar regions in 1897 to
1899 when he took part as mate in de Gerlache's Antarctic expedition with the
Belgica and spent a year drifting with the ice off the Antarctic Continent, be–
tween Longitudes 70° and 100° W. The western part of that region is now called
Amundsen Sea. Dr. Frederick A. Cook was physician on board the Belgica . Amund–
sen admired Cook's ability and initiative, and the friendship which grew up be–
tween the two men lasted through life in spite of the differ e nt fates of the two.
The Northwest Passage
Upon his return from the Belgica expedition, Amundsen considered himself
experienced enough to start preparations for realizing his boyhood dream, but
first he had to get the approval of his hero, Fridtjof Nansen. Nansen not only
approved the plans, but in years to come he gave advice freely whenever Amundsen
asked for it and repeatedly helped to straighten out Amundsen's tangled finances.
Nansen's eminent scientific ability and his enthusiasm for expanding out
scientific knowledge of Arctic must have exercised a considerable influence
on Amundsen's thinking and must have strengthened his wish to get acquainted with
different methods of observation so that he, though no scientist himself, could
collect accurate data for others to analyze.
One important problem presented itself: relocation of the North Magnetic
Pole which first had been visited in 1830 by James Clark Ross. In order to make
himself familiar with magnetic measurements, Amundsen went to Hamburg where he
presented his plans to Dr. G. von Neymayer, at that time the greatest expert in
the field of terrestrial magnetism, and asked advice regarding instruments and

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

methods of observation. Neymayer received Amundsen most cordially, encouraged
him, and, during several months, instructed him in all details as to precise
observations.
The next step was to search for a suitable ship. It had to be small, sturdy,
and inexpensive because he hoped to finance his expedition himself and had only
a small inheritance at his disposal. After thorough examination, Amundsen bought
the small sloop Gjøa , only 46 tons, which had been built in 1872, the year Amund–
sen himself was born, and still as sound as he. The next summer, the summer of
1901, he took the Gjøa for a cruise to the East Greenland waters, partly to get
acquainted with the handling of the ship, partly to undertake oceanographic ob–
servations in which Nansen was particularly interested.
The next two years were spent in careful selecting and testing of equipment
and provisions and in the selection of the small party that could be accommodated
on board the ship. It soon turned out that Amundsen's own funds were quite insuf–
ficient to cover all expenses, and much against his wishes he had to ask for sup–
port from various sources. He did s o reluctantly because he hated to talk about
plans and preferred to keep away from any publicity until he had reached his goal.
He retained this characteristic through life, but in later years he became too
much of a public figure to stay out of the limelight. There is, however, no
doubt that his reluctance to discuss plans, which was often considered a special
form of conceit, had deep roots and that by inclination he was a lonely man who
preferred action to words.
The financial support which Amundsen was able to obtain for his first ex–
pedition was, however, inadequate, and in June 1903, when ready to sail, he found
himself considerably in debt. He himself tells that when one of his creditors
threatened to place Gjøa under lien until payment was made, he decided to sneak

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

away after having informed his crew of his plans. According to another source,
Nansen took upon himself the responsibility for the departure by promising Amund–
sen that he would see to it that the creditors were satisfied. Be that as it may,
the Gjøa left Oslo about midnight on June 16, 1903 — and the creditors were paid
when the Northwest Passage had been conquered.
After having studied all available accounts of earlier expeditions, Amundsen
had decided to try the straits between the American mainland and the southern
islands of the Canadian Archipelago. With this in mind he had selected a ship of
very shallow draft, because these waters are full of shoals, The Gjoøa first call–
ed at Godhavn, Greenland, to take 20 dogs on board, and next at Dalrymple Rock
to obtain supplementary provisions and fuel oil from Scottish whalers. From Dal–
rymple Rock, Amundsen continued past Beechey Island and turned south into Peel
Strait, reaching waters where no ships had ever sailed.
Storm, fire in the engine room, and near shipwreck on a submerged rock
threatened to bring an early end to the journey, but by superb seamanship and
quick action a disaster was avoided on each occasion.
It seems possible that the Gjoøa could have sailed through the Northwest
Passage in one season, because Simpson Strait was free from ice when the eastern
entrance was reached on September 9. However, the navigation of the Northwest
Passage was only part of the program; the relocation of the North Magnetic Pole,
and continuous recordings of the magnetic elements during at least one full year
were equally important. Since the recordings preferably should be made at a
distance of about 100 miles from the Magnetic Pole, Amundsen was, on approaching
King William Island, on the lookout for a suitable wintering place and was delighted
at the discovery of the nearly closed and completely sheltered little bay which
now on all charts carries the name Gjoøa Harbor. After a careful survey of the

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

bay, the Gjøa sailed into it, anchored, and stayed there for two years.
Besides Amundsen the party consisted of the following six men: Godfred
Hansen, lieutenant in the Danish Navy, second in command, navigator, geologist
and astronomer; Anton Lund, first mate, with much experience in navigating
through ice; Peter Ristvedt, meteorologist and engineer; Helmer Hansen, second
mate and also an experienced sealer; Gustav Juel Wiik, magnetician who, with
Amundsen, would be responsible for the magnetic observations; and Adolf Henrik
Lindstrøm, "the polar cook," who had been the cook on the second Fram expedition
from 1898 to 1902 and now served on the Gjøa in the same capacity.
It was not economy alone which was responsible for Amundsen's selection
of his small ship which could not accommodate a large party. The choice of
vessel was also based on the one principal thesis to which Amundsen subscribed on
this and every one of his subsequent expeditions: A party should be the smallest
possible needed to accomplish the purpose of the enterprise. Only by adhering
to this rule would it be possible to keep each man fully occupied and to make
him feel that his personal effort was all-important to the success of the expedi–
tion. Amundsen considered it his duty as the leader to see to it that each man
always was so fully employed that no one ever had an opportunity toloaf or be–
come demoralized because he felt that he wasted his time on useless assignments.
On the Gjøa expedition Amundsen had little difficulty in discharging the duties
of the leader because the party was so very small and was composed in such a
manner that each man had to be given one or more tasks for which he must be re–
sponsible.
Wiik and Ristvedt built their magnetic observatory ashore and added a shack
where they lived for nearly two years, collecting a wealth of data which later
the Norwegian Government took over and distributed to specialists for discussion

EA-Biography. Sverdrup" Roald Amundsen

and publication. The continuous meteorological observations at Gjøa Harbor
added much to the knowledge of the climatology of that part of the Arctic. After
two shorter trips in March 1904 for the purpose of establishing caches, Amundsen
and Ristvedt started on April 6 on a sled journey to Boothia Felix Peninsula in
order to take observations close to the Magnetic Pole. A series of stations was
occupied, showing that the Pole in 1904 was located near the place at which James
Clark Ross first found it 74 years earlier.
In the spring of 1905, from April 2 to June 25, Lieutenant Godfred Hansen,
also accompanied by Ristvedt, explored the east coast of Victoria Island between
Latitudes 70° and 72° N. and mapped the previously unknown coast line.
There were no Eskimos at Gjøa Harbor when the winter quarters were established,
but in November the first visitors arrived, and from then on the contact was per–
manent and evidently mutually beneficial. Amundsen and his party obtained pre–
pared reindeer skins as well as complete outfits of clothing and learned how to
build snowhouses. On subsequent expeditions Amundsen used the Eskimo-type cloth–
ing and footgear, with some minor modifications, but neither he nor any of his
companions became such experts in building snowhouses that they discarded their
tents. The Eskimos, on the other hand, received needles, knives, empty tin cans,
and many other useful articles from the visitors. The different groups which
visited the Gjøa had all had very little contact with western civilization; they
were practically lacking iron and steel and had little knowledge of firearms.
Amundsen made extensive notes of their customs and brought back a large collec–
tion of their various implements. Amundsen's views on cold weather clothing are
stated or implied in a number of places. The essence is found in the chapter
"Towards the Magnetic Pole," which is the fifth chapter of Volume I in the English–
language translation of The Northwest Passage .

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

"We were ready to leave on the first of March. The thermometer showed
−53° C (−63° F.) But through the month of February we had become so accustomed
to the cold that it did not bother us much. We were also very well dressed.
Some of us wore complete Eskimo costume, others partly civilized clothing. My
experience is that in these parts in winter the Eskimo dress is far superior to
our European clothes. But one must either use it alone or not at all. Any
combination is bad. Wool underwear gathers all perspiration and will soon make
the outside clothing wet. Dressed entirely in reindeer skin, like the Eskimos,
and with the clothing loose enough on the body to let the air circulate between
the leayers, one will, as a rule, keep the clothing dry. And, if one is working
so hard that the clothing becomes damp in spite of everything, skin dries much
easier than wool. Also wool clothing becomes dirty easily and looses its warmth.
Skin clothing keeps nearly as well without washing. A further great advantage
of skin is that you feel warm and comfortable the moment you put it on. In woolen
things you have to jump and dance like crazy before you get warm. Finally, skins
are absolutely wind-proof, which, of course, is a very important point."
In the summer of 1905 the Gjøa was made ready for continuing her journey
and, if possible, completing the Northwest Passage. On the 13th of August she
left the now ice-free Gjøa Harbor and set her course toward the unknown west.
Ice, fog, and shoals endangered the progress, the sounding lead had to be used
continually, and again and again there was hardly a foot of water under the keel.
However, the Gjøa advanced, and on August 17 she dropped anchor at Cape Colborne,
the easternmost point that had been reached in those waters by any ship that had
entered from Bering Strait. The Northwest Passage was completed. A few days
later, on August 26, the first ship was sighted, the Charles Hansson of San Fran–
cisco, commanded by Captain J. McKenna, who was the first to congratulate Amundsen

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

on his success.
Amundsen, of course, hoped to reach Bering Strait and civilization that year,
but the ice conditions were bad. As early as on September 2 progress was stopped
at King Point, near Herschel Island, and within a week it was evident that an–
other winter had to be spent in the Arctic. During this winter the Gjøa had
company in the neighborhood because no less than 12 ships had been caught at
Herschel Island.
The magnetic recordings were continued at King Point and during the winter
Amundsen traveled to Eagle City, in the Yukon Valley, in order to send telegrams
from the expedition to the outside world. He made the trip in company with the
skipper of the shipwrecked Bonanza , Captain Mogg, about whose accomplishments
as a traveler by dogteam Amundsen had a very low opinion. On his return to King
Point, Amundsen was met with the sad news that Wiik had taken ill and died.
By the middle of August 1906 the Gjøa could resume her journey. She reached
Nome on August 31, where she was given a reception worthy of the adventurous
and boisterous gold seekers who at that time were making Nome's name famous. From
Nome on, the rest of the trip back to Norway was a triumphant journey that brought
Amundsen full compensation for his worries and difficulties during the trying
years of preparation. The Gjøa was, however, not returned to Norway. She was
presented to the city of San Francisco and was in 1909 placed in Golden Gate Park.
She deteriorated badly, but was restored in 1948.
Plans for Crossing the Polar Sea
During two years following the return of the Gjøa , Amundsen was engaged in
writing and lecturing in order to bring his shaky finances into shape. But he
hated the lecture trips on which he had to place himself in the hands of a manager

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

and sell his freedom of action to a person whose publicity schemes he disliked
but could not suppress. Little wonder that he soon played with a new plan,
which he presented to the Norwegian Geographic Society in the fall of 1908. He
proposed to use Fridtjof Nansen's ship, the Fram , in order to repeat Nansen's
famous drift across the Polar Sea. The main purpose should be the repetition of
the oceanographic work of Nansen, using better equipment and new and greatly im–
proved instruments. Nansen had not been prepared to find the great depths which
he discovered and was, therefore, not equipped with adequate sounding lines. Make–
shift lines were spliced together during the expedition, but these were so awkward
in use that the deep-sea oceanographic work was greatly handicapped. Furthermore,
the available deep-sea thermometers and other instruments were inaccurate. By
his ingenious interpretation of the imperfect observations, Nansen had been able
to recognize the main features of the oceanography of the Polar Basin, but in
spite of his brilliant analysis several points remained in doubt because of the
deficiencies of the data. In the years after the return of the first Fram expedi–
tion Nansen had himself contributed much to the improvement of instruments and
methods, and by using the new technique Amundsen hoped to expand and confirm
Nansen's results. Nansen was much interested in Amundsen's new plans and gave
them his wholehearted support. Private and public funds were obtained and the
outlook for the expedition was bright. A great deal of the public interest in
the expedition was based on the assumption that Amundsen would make a dash for the
North Pole, and on the confident expectation that he would succeed, thus becoming
the first man to reach that coveted spot. There is no doubt that Amundsen wanted
to have a try at reaching the Pole, although he never said so directly.
The fact that the public was more interested in the spectacular aspects of
the expedition than in its laborious scientific work became evident in the early

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

summer of 1909 when the news spread, first that Frederick A. Cook and then that
Robert E. Peary had reached the North Pole. It is well known that the controversy
that arose lasted for many years in spite of the fact that Cook's fraud soon was
exposed. Let us digress a moment. Amundsen and Cook were, as already mentioned,
shipmates on de Gerlache's Antarctic expedition with the Belgica in 1897-1899,
and during this expedition Amundsen had formed a very high opinion of Cook's
ability and energy. Amundsen, therefore, believed in Cook when he announced that
he had reached the North Pole, and it was difficult for Amundsen to admit that
his old friend had committed a flagrant fraud. Even after this had been proved,
Amundsen stuck to his personal friendship, and as late as in the early spring of
1926 he visited Cook at Fort Leavenworth, where Cook served time for his manipula–
tions with oil stock. The visit caused a great deal of criticism and was inter–
preted as proof that Amundsen still recognized Cook as the first to reach the
North Pole. Amundsen was so aggrieved by the reporters' interpretation that he
refused to make any statement, but shortly afterward, when he and Byrd both were
preparing to start from Kings Bay, Spitsbergen, Byrd by plane and Amundsen by
dirigible, Amundsen declared that he did not care to start first in order to
reach the Pole before Byrd, because "Peary was there first."
The South Pole
Peary's attainment of the North Pole on April 6, 1909, led to a complete
change in Amundsen's plans for his contemplated drift across the Polar Sea. The
interest in his expedition dropped off, the contributions ceased, and it appeared
hopeless to equip the Fram for five years. Also, he felt that to maintain his
name as explorer he had to accomplish a sensational feat. Without informing more
than three of his closest [: ] associates, he decided to try to reach the

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roal Amundsen

South Pole. When the Fram left Norway in June 1910 the official plan was that
s he should sail around Cape Horn, continue north through the Pacific and enter
the Polar Sea through Bering Strait in the summer of 1911, but from Funchal,
Madeira, Amundsen announced that he was instead heading for the Bay of Whales
in the Ross Sea in order to try for the South Pole.
Amundsen's message reached Captain Robert Scott as he was ready to leave
New Zealand in order to establish a base in McMurdo Sound, about 350 miles to
the west of the Bay of Whales and to attempt the attainment of the South Pole
from there. Severe criticism was directed against Amundsen on the basis that
he entered a race against Scott, but it has gradually been admitted that Amund–
sen could not be blamed for attempting to reach the South Pole by a different
route than that selected by Scott and using a different technique. Amundsen, with
four companions, reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911, Scott on January
18, 1912, but Scott and his brave comrades succumbed on the return journey.
The Northeast Passage
As soon as Amundsen was back in civilization, he resumed his plans for
the drift expedition across the Polar Sea. The Fram which took him and his
party on board again in 1912, went first to Hobart, Tasmania, from where
Amundsen sent his first brief report. From Hobart the ship continued to
Buenos Ai r es for overhaul and for supplementing her equipment in order to
return to the Pacific and sail north to Bering Strait. In 1913, when Amundsen
was lecturing in the United States, it was suggested to him that the Fram
might be permitted to go as the first ship through the Panama Canal, and
Amundsen, who was anxious to take advantage of this opportunity, ordered
the Fram to Colon. She arrived there on October 4, 1913, but after having

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

waited in vain for two and a half months, she had to be directed back to
Buenos Aires in order to go around Cape Horn and proceed to San Francisco.
The bottom of the ship had, however, become so badly fouled by marine growth
that the trip to Buenos Aires took far too long a time to make it possible for
the Fram to reach San Francisco early enough in 1914 in order to continue to
Bering Strait that summer. Instead Amundsen decided to let the Fram return
to Norway and start from there in 1915, following the north coast of Siberia
to the east, as Nansen had done in 1893. The Fram arrived at Horten, Norway,
on July 16, 1914, only two weeks before the outbreak of World War I, which
temporarily upset Amundsen's plans. These plans were still more upset by the
fact that during the stay in the tropics the hull of the Fram had become so
infected with dry rot that it was damaged beyond repair.
At this point it is worth while observing that Amundsen had long contem–
plated the use of airplanes in arctic exploration, thus pioneering a develop–
ment which later on revolutionized arctic work. Already in 1909, when he was
making his first preparations for the drift expedition, he had negotiated with
one of the early aviators about participation in the enterprise, and in 1914 he had
brought a Farman plane in the United States and shipped it to Norway where he
himself obtained a certificate as pilot and where at the outbreak of the war he
gave it to the Norwegian Government.
The world war and the hopeless condition of the Fram led to a new post–
ponement of Amundsen's plans, but not to abandonment. Amundsen invested his
accumulated funds in shipping stock, doubled his capital, and had, in 1916,
enough money to contract for the building of a new ship and to finance the
long-postponed drift expedition. His new ship was launched on June 7, 1917,
and was named the Maud after the Queen of Norway. The Maud was designed by

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

the yachet-builder Chr. Jensen and was built along lines similar to those
of the Fram , but was even more bowl-shaped. She had an over-all length of
120 feet and a beam of 40 feet, and in any vertical section, lengthwise or
athwart ship, the shape of the hull was part of a circle. From the outer
side of the ironwood ice-sheating to the inner side of the inner sheating
the sides were nearly three feet thick. Inside the hull was strengthened
with vertical and inclined staunchions, tied together and tied to the deck
beams with naturally grown knees of oak. Her shape made her an excellent
ship when jammed by the ice and subjected to heavy pressure, but in the open
sea she rolled like a wash basin.
During the winter 1917 to 1918, Amundsen equipped the Maud for a five
years' journey, obtaining provisions from the United States by special license.
On July 18, 1918, the Maud sailed from Vardö, Norway, carrying a party of nine.
The number was increased to ten when a Russian-Norwegian engineer was added
during the Maud's stay at Khabarovo. The party included Helmer Hansen (captain)
who had been with Amundsen through the Northwest Passage, Oscar Wisting (first
mate) who also had been to the South Pole, and among the three tenderfeet was
Dr. H. U. Sverdrup, in charge of scientific work.
The Maud expedition met with many difficulties. In September 1918 pro–
gress was stopped some 10 miles to the east of Cape Chelyuskin, where the Maud
stayed one full year. The year was used for carrying out scientific observa–
tions and for charting the most northern peninsula of the continent.
In the summer of 1919 the ice did not break up around the Maud , and only
on September 12, after blasting and advancing foot by foot, did the ship suc–
ceed in reaching open water, in which she could continue to the east. Two men
were left behind, Tessem and Knudsen. These two had volunteered to return to

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

Port Dickson with the records of the winter's work. They retained a number
of dogs and provisions for a year and could themselves decide whether they
wanted to start their travel in the fall or wait until next spring. They
decided to leave in the fall, but failed to reach their destination.
The Maud proceeded to the east, but the season was too late to penetrate
to the north and start the drift. An attempt at turning away from the coast
to the east of the Now Siberian Islands failed, and, on September 21, 1919, all
progress along the coast was again stopped. A second winter quarters had to
be established on the open coast of Ayon Island, about 600 miles to the west
of Bering Strait. During the winter Sverdrup left the ship and stayed for
eight months among the reindeer Chukchi.
In July 1920 the Maud continued toward the east and reached Nome on July
28. Thus, Amundsen completed the Northeast Passage, which for the first time
had been navigated by A. E. Nordenskiöld on the Vega in 1878 to 1879 and for
the second time, in 1914-15, by the two Russian icebreakers, Taimyr and Vaigatch ,
the latter sailing from east to west.
In Nome Amundsen announced that all his companions could consider them–
selves free to leave the expedition, which already had been two years in the
Arctic without having started its actual task, the drift. Four of the remain–
ing eight in the party decided to return to Norway, and, since no new men could
be found in Nome, the Maud left Nome withonly four men on board, including Amund–
sen. His plan now was to return to the Siberian coast, take some natives on
board and, if possible, start the drift; but the ice conditions were worse than
ever, and after a hopeless struggle in which the propeller shaft of the Maud was
damaged, it became necessary again to establish winter quarters, this time only
25 miles from the place where the Vega stayed in 1878-79.

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

During the winter Amundsen decided that next year he would leave it to
Wisting and Sverdrup to have another try at the drift if they were willing,
and that he himself would return to his old plans for the use of airplanes
in the Arctic. Consequently, in the summer of 1921, the Maud was sailed to
Seattle for repairs and left again for the Arctic in June 1922 with a crew of
eight, including a native boy from Siberia. This time the Maud finally suc–
ceeded in getting away from the coast. The ice closed around her to the east
of Wrangel Island, but she was not carried across the Polar Sea as had been
hoped. After two years she got out of the ice to the north of the New Siberian
Islands and, according to Amundsen's directions, she tried to return to Bering
Strait, but had to spend one more winter on the coast near the Bear Islands
off the mouth of the Kolyma River. She and her crew finally returned to Seattle
in October 1925, with a wealth of observations which made the expedition a
scientific success.
Difficulties
During the years 1922-25, Amundsen had carried on and had experienced
the bitterest disappointments, but also the most spectacular triumph of his
varied life. In 1922 he had bought a Junker plane which the Maud took to Point
Hope, Alaska, where it was transferred to the Holmes which unloaded it at Wain–
wright. Amundsen,with Oscar Omdal as his aviator, hoped to fly from Wainwright
to Spitsbergen in the spring of 1923; but, when spring came, it was impossible
to get the plane off the ground with the necessary supply of gas, and the plan
had to be given up.
Returning to Norway in 1923, Amundsen found himself at the lowest possible
ebb in his career. He had hoped to raise funds for an airplane expedition to

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

start out from Spitsbergen, but found himself blocked in every direction.
From the public point of view the Maud expedition was a failure, and, further–
more, it was considered that Amundsen should have stayed with the ship instead
of trying ventures which were called stunts that were unworthy of being taken
seriously. All sorts of rumors were circulated reflecting not only upon Amund–
sen'[] intentions as a serious-minded explorer, but also upon his morals. On
top of all that Amundsen found his finances in a hopeless tangle. On previous
occasions he had often been close to bankruptcy, perhaps because he was so
engrossed in his undertakings that he always was convinced that somehow the
funds would be forthcoming. He had gotten away with his optimistic calcula–
tions because help had come when ot was most needed, but in 1923 there was no
help in sight. His debt had increased steadily, partly because some of his
trusted friends had been far too optimistic in their dispositions. His only
asset, the Maud , was drifting with the ice to the north of Siberia, and no one
knew if she would ever return. The most disgraceful blow was directed by his
own brother who had lent him money and who now feared that everything would be
lost. When the brother demanded payment, Amundsen had to let himself be de–
clared bankrupt. Amundsen might have been careless in financial matters but
to acknowledge bankruptcy was to him equivalent to admitting that he had been
guilty of criminal conduct. The bankruptcy was a blemish on his name which had
to be removed, and he would not rest until he had paid the last penny of his
debt.
The Flight to 88° North
In 1924, Amundsen again went lecturing to the United States, but there
the interest in his activity had also faded. Discouraged to the point of despair,

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

he figured out that at the rate he was going he would need 60 more years to
accumulate enough money to pay his debts and finance his new expedition. But
a miracle happened. Lincoln Ellsworth called him on the phone at his hotel,
introduced himself as a person Amundsen had met in France in 1917, told that
he was interested in arctic exploration, and offered to assist in financing a
flight from Spitsbergen. Amundsen accepted the offer with enthusiasm, and thus
an intimate cooperation and a warm friendship started.
Two Dornier-Wal flying boats, N-24 and N-25, were purchased and taken to
Spitsbergen, where they started from the fast ice in King's Bay in Latitude 79° N.
on May 21, 1925, each carrying three men. The plan was to fly to the vicinity
of the North Pole and return by a slightly different route in order to explore
geographically the region to the north of Spitsbergen. The chances were that one
would see nothing but ice, but ascertaining that no land existed would in itself
be a valuable contribution.
Before the planes reached the northern islands off Spitsbergen, the fog
shrouded the land, and for two hours the planes continued their course above the
fog banks. When the fog was left behind, nothing but the monotonous sea ice
could be seen. The first lanes were observed in the very early morning of the
22nd and shortly afterwards, as Amundsen's plane, N-25, was circling to look
for a place to go down for checking of position, one of the motors failed and
it became necessary to land. Both places were brought down, but N-24 was damaged
and had to be abandoned. The N-24, commanded by Ellsworth, went down less than
a quarter mile from the N-25, but the ice was so broken up and treacherous that
only on the fifth day did Ellsworth and his two companions, Dietrichson and Omdal,
reach the Amundsen party. When struggling over the ice with heavy loads both
Dietrichson and Omdal fell through, but were saved by Ellsworth's heroic effort.

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

The N-25 was still in great danger because the temperature was so low
that ice formed rapidly on the lanes and because the ice was in constant motion
and might at any time crush the frail craft. Combining their efforts, all six
men succeeded in hauling the N-25 to comparative safety on a thick ice floe.
Now they had the choice between trying to get the one plane in the air or aban–
doning it and attempting to work their way across the ice to the coast of Green–
land, 400 miles distant. Their chances of reaching Greenland were slim indeed,
for which reason Amundsen decided to make every possible effort to prepare a
runway on the ice and take off from that. For three weeks the men toiled on
short rations and with inadequate tools. Lanes opened and floes parted. Again
and again they had to save the plane from almost certain disaster and to see
their work ruined. Finally, on June 6, Riiser-Larsen and Omdal found a floe
large enough for the take-off and on the next day the weary men went to work
with new zeal. Clearing a runway by shoveling the soft snow away was a back–
breaking task, but Omdal had a bright idea: "Let us stamp the snow down." And
so the six men stamped up and down for four days. A frost on the 14th of June
helped to harden the surface, and on the next day the weather cleared and the
desparate attempt had to be made. All unnecessary gear was left behind, and
with the six men on board and fuel for an eight hours' flight Riiser-Larsen
gave the motors all they could take. The N-25 gained speed, rose, and some
eight hours later the pilot brought her safely down on the water off the north
coast of Spitsbergen. The men were soon picked up by a sealer, which took them
to King's Bay, where, to their amazement, they found a flotilla of small ships
and a couple of planes ready to start a large-scale search for them.
During the journey along the coast of Norway, Amundsen and his companions
were everywhere greeted by flying flags and cheering crowds, and the enthusiastic

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

receptions reached their climax when the men arrived in Oslo on July 5. The
city went wild. Amundsen had previously returned from expeditions which had
rendered far greater results, but never from one which had appealed to the
public in a greater measure. What a contrast to the sneers which met him only
a year earlier!
The First Flight Across the Polar Sea
Even now Amundsen did not intend to rest on his laurels. He had one more
task to accomplish: the crossing of the Polar Sea. The possibility of using a
dirigible had been discussed during the stay at King's Bay before the departure
on the flight of 1925, and on that occasion Riiser-Larsen had drawn Amundsen's
attention to the Italian airship N-1 which appeared particularly well suited.
In August 1925 the designer, Colonel Umberto Nobile, arrived in Oslo for a con–
ference with Amundsen and Riiser-Larsen, at which general agreement was reached
as to the purchase of the dirigible. Ellsworth helped in financing the enter–
prise, contracts were signed, and Nobile was engaged as captain of the airship.
Extensive preparations were made, including the building of mooring masts at
Oslo and Vardö and the construction of a large shed at King's Bay. All was
accomplished on schedule, and on May 7 the N-1, now named Norge , reached King's
Bay.
Byrd had already arrived in King's Bay in order to attempt a flight to the
North Pole in the Josephine Ford . Many persons wondered if there might develop
a race between the dirigible and the airplane and if Byrd and Amundsen would
both j ealously hasten their last preparations in order to get off first. Ac–
tually there was no rivalry, and Amundsen was happy because Byrd successfully
carried out the flight to the Pole on May 9, two days before the start of the

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

Norge . This attitude of Amundsen is in part to be explained by the stand
he had taken on the old Peary-Cook controversy. As previously stated, Cook
had been the physician on board the Belgica in 1897-99, and on this expedi–
tion a warm friendship had developed between Amundsen and Cook. When Cook
in 1910 claimed that he had reached the North Pole, Amundsen immediately ac–
cepted Cook'r report and subsequently, when Peary had submitted his records
showing that he had reached the North Pole on April 9, 1909, and when Cook's
story had been shown to be false, Amundsen repeatedly avoided any expression
of opinion. In Seattle, in 1921, he was, for instance, asked at the Faculty
Club of the University of Washington if he thought that Peary or Cook had
reached the Pole. His reply wasL "That is a question I shall leave for his
countrymen to decide." In February 1926, Amundsen visited Cook at Fort Leaven–
worth when Cook was serving a term for mail fraud, and after the visit report–
ers again asked the old question, but got an evasive reply, which might be
interpreted as implying that Amundsen did not believe that either of them had
been at the Pole. In March 1926 the writer met Amundsen in New York. At that
time Byrd had announced his plan for a flight from Spitsbergen and had seen
Amundsen to ask his advice. In conversation with Amundsen the writer got the
definite impression that he would be happy if Byrd's flight could take place
before his own, because then the Peary-Cook controversy would be finally settled.
If Byrd reached the Pole first, no step would be taken to raise new doubts as
to the validity of the claim by his countrymen Peary, but should Amundsen pass
the Pole first, the question might again come up and Amundsen would have to
take a stand in the matter. Amundsen did not at all wish this to happen, and
there can be no doubt that he was sincere when on May 9 he congratulated Byrd
on his success.

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

On May 11 the Norge lifted her great bulk from the snow-covered slope at
King's Bay and set her course for Point Barrow, Alaska, by way of the North
Pole. The party on board number 16 men, and included Wisting, Amundsen's com–
panion from the journey to the South Pole and the Maud . In the early hours of
May 12 the Pole was reached, where flags of three nations were dropped, those
of Norway, the United States, and Italy.
Between the North Pole and Point Barrow the route cut the largest unexplored
region of the Arctic, passing over what Stefansson had called the "Pole of in–
accessibility," which Amundsen preferred to refer to as the "Ice Pole." In 1911
the expert on tides, Rollin A. Harris, of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey,
had advanced the hypothesis that large land masses should lie in that very region.
His conclusions based on an examination of the available tideal observations,
but during the Maud expedition, on which comprehensive records of tides and tidal
currents were obtained, it was found that Harris had reasoned from incomplete
data and that, contrary to his opinion, the character of the tide on the coasts
of Siberia and Alaska indicated waters of great depth within the unknown region.
During the flight of the Norge the latter conclusion was confirmed, al–
though the airship flew partly through fog and clouds and, therefore, did not
observe the ground continuously. The fog and clouds caused for some time so
much icing that the situation appeared critical, partly because of the added
weight and partly because of the danger of the hull of the airship being torn
to pieces by chunks of ice thrown off the propellers. Some holes were knocked
in the cover, but could be repaired, and the Norge got out of the fog without
having suffered serious damage.
In the morning of May 13, 46 hours after the start, land was sighted, which
turned out to lie just west of Point Barrow. The next 24 hours were the most
trying on the trip. The main purpose had been accomplished, and the exhaustion

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

and lack of sleep made itself fully felt. Still, it was necessary to reach
farther south, preferably to Nome, but navigation was difficult owing to poor
radio communications, reduced visibility, and, when the clouds broke, lack of
landmarks in the monotonous northern landscape. Repeatedly the course had to
be changed, but on May 14, 72 hours after the departure, the Norge landed safe–
ly at Teller, Alaska, about 60 miles from Nome.
On the return trip to Norway through the United States, Amundsen and his
companions were again hailed by thousands, and arriving in Oslo they were given
a cheering reception, equalling that in 1925. Amundsen had brought with him
the Norwegian glag that the Norge had flown across the Polar Sea. When he had
to speak to the thousands who were gathered to greet him, he said: "Many have
asked me what has spurred me to start out again and again." Unfolding the flag
he went on: "Here it is. This flag has always spurred me on." Everyone know–
ing Amundsen also knows that he did not use an idle phrase, and that love for
and pride of his country was part of his being.
After the flight with the Norge , Amundsen declared that he would no longer
take active part in exploration, but would always be at disposal to anyone who
might wish to benefit from his experiences. He wanted to live in private peace
at his beloved home outside of Oslo, the home which one of his friends and ad–
mirers had bought from his bankrupt estate and had placed at Amundsen's dis–
posal for life. However, he did not immediately find the peace he was looking
for. There arose an unfortunate conflict between him and Nobile, who consider–
ed himself co-leader of the Norge expedition, whereas according to contracts
he had been the paid captain of the airship. In his autobiography Amundsen de–
nounced Nobile's attitude and took opportunity to give vent to some of his
bitterness against other persons who had hurt him or whose opinions he was
violently opposed to.

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

The Last Flight
Amundsen's autobiography whirled up some dust, and before this had set–
tled, Nobile had started an expedition of his own with a sister ship of the
Norge , the Italia . After a successful flight from Spitsbergen toward Northern
Land and back, the Italia started for a flight to the North Pole. The Pole
was reached on May 23, 1928, but on the return trip the Italia was forced down
and wrecked. No accurate information was available as to where the disaster
had happened, but rescus operations had to be started right away. Amundsen
placed himself at disposal, hoping to be given charge of the rescue operations
to be undertaken by the Norwegian Government, but airplanes had to be used, and
the only suitable planes in Norway belonged to the Norwegian Navy. It was con–
sidered that these could not be commanded by a civilian, and to Amundsen's great
disappointment Lieutenant Riiser-Larsen, his companion in 1925 and 1926, was
put in charge instead of himself. Amundsen was still eager to take part in the
search, and when asked he gladly agreed to go to Spitsbergen with a French plane
of the Latham type, flown by Gilbaud.
But Amundsen had one great worry left: as yet his debt from the unfortunate
years 1923-23 had not been paid in full. He had proposed to sell his many gold
medals in order to cover the last remaining amount, and before he left Oslo to
join the Latham, his last world to his attorney was: "Make me a free man." Be–
fore leaving Tromsö he got word that the Historical Museum of Oslo had been un
able to buy his collection for an amount which would barely cover the last sum
needed to give his creditors the remainder of their money. Amundsen was again
a free man.
Experts agreed that the Latham was not ideal for the purpose, but time was

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

short. Wisting and Dietrichson should both have gone with Amundsen, but there
was space for only one of them and the choice fell on the aviator, Dietrichson.
On June 18, the Latham left Tromsö. For a few hours the plane remained in radio
contact with Tronsö, but then silence followed. When the plane failed to reach
Spitsbergen at the calculated hour, it was feared that it had been forced down
at sea and that Amundsen and his companions were lost. Extensive search opera–
tions were undertaken, but only some wreckage of the plane was found. No one
knows exactly how Amundsen met death, but all that needs to be known is that he
closed his career in an attempt to rescue a fellow explorer.
Appraisal
Amundsen said of himself that he never became an arctic explorer, because
since he was fifteen years old all his thoughts and his energy had been directed
toward one goal - the expansion of our knowledge of the polar regions. Circum–
stances made it necessary for him to change plans and make detours, but after
he had sailed through the Northwest Passage, his one all-absorbing idea, from
1908 to 1926, was to cross the Polar Sea and reach the North Pole. The attain–
ment of the South Pole was incidental.
Amundsen was not a scientist and he never claimed to be one. He was in–
terested in securing accurate information wherever he traveled and in giving
specialists opportunities to carry out observations on his expeditions, but he
cared little for their conclusions and even less for their theories. When he
talked about men of science he had met, he would stress their personal character–
istics and not their scientific attainments.
Thoroughness in planning, meticulous attention to details, and nearly fussy
orderliness combined with bold initiative laid the foundations for Amundsen's
success. To this should be added his ability to select suitable companions and

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

to gain their unqualified confidence in his leadership. In selecting his men,
he apparently looked for one particular characteristic: resourcefulness. When
the preparations were still in progress, he might ask a question about a diffi–
cult task or give a man an impossible assignment. If he got the answer "It
can't be done," he was through with the man then and there, but if the man later
on returned to the matter and explained how he had tried to tackle the problem,
A undsen was satisfied even if the result was absolutely negative.
On his expeditions Amundsen required of his men a punctuality and order–
liness corresponding to his own. During the Maud expedition, he himself worked as
cook for two years with the members of the party alternating as mess boys. Never
was the galley more shining with a designated spot for every pot and spoon and
with every utensil in its proper place. He established a strict daily routine
broken by festive occasions during which he more than anyone else knew how to
create a congenial atmosphere. His men loved him.
Amundsen's trouble with his finances stood in sharp contrast to his meticu–
lous orderliness in all details, probably because to him money was a necessary
evil of no independent value. To this must be added that, like many other great
explorers, he believed in his own mission, and when funds were not forthcoming
from expected sources he was likely to ascribe this to lack of appreciation or
even to take it as a personal affront. His belief in himself was his greatest
strength without which he could not have attained his goals, but this belief com–
bined with his great sensitivity was also a weakness which in course of the years
made him a bitter and lonely man. Occasionally he was misused by publicity seek–
ers and such instances made him suspicious toward anyone who approached him. He
had to pay a high price for his success: his faith in human nature. Still, among
his few personal friends he was the most warm-hearted, hospitable, generous, and

EA-Biography. Sverdrup: Roald Amundsen

charming person.
Few men have during life followed a single line with greater perseverance
and greater success. The glory of his death together with the brilliancy of his
many achievements have forever placed Amundsen in the foremost rank of the great
explorers.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Amundsen, Roald My Life as an Explorer . New York, 1927.

----. The Northwest Passage : Being the Record of a voyage of
exploration in the ship "Gjøa." New York, 1908.

----. The South Pole : An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic
Expedition in the "Fram" 1910-12. London, 1913.

Amundsen, Roald & First Crossing of the Polar Sea , London & New York, 1927.
Ellsworth,Lincoln

----. Air Pioneering in the Arctic. The Two Polar Flights of
Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth
. New York, National
Americana Society, 1929.

----. Our Polar Flight . New York, 1925.

Arnesen, Odd Roald Amundsen som han var . Gyldendal Norsk Forlag. Oslo,
1929, pp. 1-213.

Amundsen, Roald Nordostpassagen . Byldendalske Bokhandel. Kristiania, 1921,
pp. 1-467.

Sverdrup, H. U. "Minnetale over Roald Amundsen." Videnskaps-Akademiets Arbok
1928. Oslo, 1929, pp. 125-129.

Turley, Charles Roald Amundsen Explorer . Methuen & Co., London, 1935, pp. 1-214.

Wisting, Oscar Seksten ar med Roald Amundsen . Byldendal Norsk Forlag, 1930.
pp. 1-206.

Zappfe, Fritz G. Roald Amundsen. H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, 1935. pp. 1-198.

Harald U. Sverdrup
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