Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

Author Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi

EA-Biography (William H. Hobbs)


Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi (1873-1933), Prince of Savoy, Duke of the Abruzzi — by which title he was generally referred to in English-speaking countries — Italian prince, Vice-Admiral, arctic explorer, and mountaineer, was born in Madrid, January 24, 1873, the third son of Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, fourteen days before his abdication of the throne of Spain. Luigi's mother was Maria Vittoria, Princess of Pozzo della Cisterna.
At the age of sixteen the young duke was graduated from the Italian Naval Academy, and thereafter he cruised on various naval vessels along the coasts of the Mediterranean, Africa, and America. While still a youth he had taken up mountaineering in the Mont Blanc and Pennine chains of the Alps.
While on a protracted naval cruise on the Cristoforo Columbo during 1894 to 1896, the Duke entered the lofty hinterland of Hindustan, and from Darjeeling had his first views of the high peaks. He planned ascents of them, but the out– break of a plague in the region compelled him to postpone this indefinitely.
Returned to Venice, the Duke planned an assault on the lofty Mount St. Elias in Alaska. The vicinity of this mountain had in 1890 been visited by the American geologist Israel C. Russell of the University of Michigan. In 1891 on a second expedition Russell had attempted the ascent, and had reached the altitude of 14,600 feet, with the summit at 19,500 feet according to his estimate. The Duke at once got in communication with Russell and obtained from him a map and instructions concerning the course which he had followed.

EA-Biography. Hobbs: Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi

In the summer of 1897 the Duke; anded his expedition at the mouth of the Osar meltwater river on Yakutat Bay. His route to the summit, like Russell's, was to be across the great ice plateau of the Malaspina Glacier, then up the Seward Glacier to Dome Pass, and up the Agassiz Glacier and over the three ice plateaus and cataracts of the Newton Glacier. Above was a col first discovered by Russell, to which the Duke was to give the name Russell Col, and there the steep ascent was to begin.
The Duke's party consisted of Lieutenant Umberto Cagni of the Royal Navy, Francesco Gonelli, the President of the Italian Alpine Club, Vittorio Sella, the very expert photographer, and the mountaineer and narrator, Filippo di Filippi. In addition there were two Alpine guides, and, for the lower stages of the ascent, a group of hardy American porters under the expert direction of Major Ingraham. Four rather primitive man-hauled sledges carried each a load of 750 pounds.
Fog with swarms of mosquitoes marked the earlier stages of the ascent, then heavy rains marked those up to the lowest plateau of the Newton Glacier (4,500 feet), with snow in the higher levels. The summit was reached by the Duke's entire party in beautifully clear weather on July 31, 1897. Owing to defects in the aneroid barometers carried, the Duke made no attempt to modify the altitude of 19,500 feet estimated by Russell.
This outstanding mountaineering success was followed in 1899 by the Duke's attempt to reach the North Pole by crossing the sea ice from the Franz Josef archi– pelago. As expedition ship, the strongly built steam whaler Jason of 570 tons was purchased, partly rebuilt and renamed Stella Polare (Polar Star). The sledges had been built in Norway under the expert supervision of Nansen. In Paris the Duke had experimented with small balloons which he planned to attach to the sleds to lift a part of their heavy loads, and several to apply this novel technique

EA-Biography. Hobbs: Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi

were taken, but never put to use.
The ship first encountered the pack ice at the border of the White Sea eight days after departure from Christiania (now Oslo), where 120 sled dogs had been taken on board. After various delays because of the pack ice, the Polar Star succeeded in making its way through Nightingale Strait and British Channel and along the eastern shore of Queen Victoria Sea to Cape Fligely, on Rudolf Island, the northernmost cape of the archipelago, near Latitude 82° N. A suitable winter base was sought by coasting the western side of the island. From the ship in clear weather it was possible to show that Petermann Land, King Oscar Land, and Sherard Osborn Cape, which had been described by earlier explorers, had no existence. This was to be further confirmed when the sledging expedition had been made.
When Teplitz Bay had been reached in Latitude 81° 47′ N., the ship was brought to anchor, stores were put on shore, and all plans made to spend the winter on board, though the bay was evidently much exposed to ice pressures.
On the night of September 12th, the Polar Star was under heavy ice pressure, and toward morning the ship was shaken and took on heavy lists, first to starboard and then to port, of as much as 20 degrees. Because of this list the starboard side of the ship became exposed and it could be seen that the planks near the bottom had been bulged inward. The rigging of the foremast had already come down in a heap. Fires were now lighted in the boilers and with the pump and a windmill a determined effort was made to keep the water, which was pouring into the hold, at a level below the furnaces. In spite of this it could be seen that the water level was steadily rising.
By strenuous efforts all the sledging equipment and sufficient provisions for a year were got on shore, after which the crew took some much needed rest, fully convinced that the Polar Star ^ Polar Star ^ would never again be of service.

EA-Biography. Hobbs; Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi

Two tents were set up on shore for officers and crew, and both were covered by what had been the deck-shelter. With the yards and sails of the ship a large third tent was erected over the others and within this the provisions were stored. This became the rather frail winter base of the expedition, and within the two inner tents the air temperature never descended below −6° F. With the use of a small boiler and pump it was found to be possible to dry the ship's interior, and such repairs as were practicable had been completed by November 15th.
In December preparations were begun for the great sledging expedition toward the Pole, which was to leave late in February. On short sledging expeditions the dogs were given training, and on one of these, two days before Christmas, the party got farther away than had been intended and on the return lost its way in the dark. Off the outward trail, the sledges of the Duke and Cagni went over a cliff seven or eight yards in height. A bank of snow broke the force of the fall, but before help had reached them both men had their fingers badly frozen. In the case of the leader some fingers required amputation which had not healed when the sledging party left. Very reluctantly the Duke was compelled to turn over to Commander Cagni its leadership while he remained at the base.
The main sledging expedition was to proceed over sea ice and so was provided with canoes for the crossing of any open leads. The reindeer-skin sleeping bags had each been made large enough for three men, since this afforded greater warmth while effecting a saving in weight of two pounds per man. The main basis of the food ration was pemmican and biscuit, but with butter, Liebig's extract, farinaceous and vegetable paste, coffee, tea, and sugar added. The entire ration weighed three and one-fourth pounds per man per day.
Sledge parties were organized in three groups, each with three men and four sledges, which at the start were loaded with 180 man and 1,150 dog rations. Supplies

EA-Biography. Hobbs: Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi

of the three groups were in containers marked by three different colors. Two of the groups were supporting parties to the third or main group. The first group was to supply food and fuel to the entire party for 15 days and then start back to the base. The second group was to furnish food and fuel for the next 15 days before starting back. By this procedure the leader's main group would be able to advance from a point 30 days out from the start and advance another 15 days, and turn back with sufficient food for the return journey. A third small sup– porting party was later arranged for to go out from the base for the first 2 days, and so add that number of days to the time of the advance.
The expedition actually got away under Cagni's leadership on February 12th, but encountered difficulties, and the leader's group returned 2 days later, leav– ing the others camped on the ice. Cagni was able to make a fresh start on the 21st and rejoined the other groups the same evening. As they now advanced they encountered open leads as well as areas of raftering ice under heavy pressure and in air temperatures as low as −52° F. They suffered seriously from frostbite, and this time the entire expedition returned to the base.
Profiting by this experience, changes were made in their outfit. The Jaeger underclothing was abandoned, since it had absorbed too much moisture. The number of pairs of boots taken was doubled. The supply of fuel was nearly doubled. The number of dogs was changed from 45 to 36, and the quantity of the dog rations correspondingly reduced, so that the sled loads were thus brought down from 510 pounds each to 460 pounds.
A third and final start was made on March 11th with the sledge groups led by Lieutenant Quirini, Dr. Cavalli Molinelli, and Commander Cagni, the expedition commander. On March 23rd the first supporting group went back in charge of Quirini with two men, the guide Ollier and the engine-driver Stökken. What befell them

EA-Biography. Hobbs: Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi

is not known, for they were never to be seen again. On March 31st the second group under Dr. Molinelli started back with two men. By April 25th Cagni with the main party had attained the high latitude of 86° 33′ N., a new "Farthest North," before starting back, and on May 23rd they reached the base, where Dr. Molinelli's party had arrived on April 18t . A fuller account of this sledge expedition is to be found under Cagni, Umberto.
At the base actual summer did not begin until the second half of July, after which the air temperature was throughout above zero. It also rained copiously with snow melting very rapidly, the process continuing throughout the entire 24 hours. Beginning in the spring, work had been done on repairs to the ship, and the snow and ice had been cleared away on the sides down to the water level. It was thus discovered that the ship's keel did not rest on the bottom, but on the fast ice of the shore. By June the hold of the ship with its machinery had been cleared of ice, and after the water had been pumped out, it was encouraging to find that neither the boiler nor the other machinery had suffered seriously from its long ice bath.
The ship was still leaning to the port side and was about 400 yards from open water. When in July the snow on the island was melting rapidly, the streams of meltwater were directed so as to flow along the ship's side to further melt and clear away the ice. Dynamite was now employed to assist in opening a way. On August 8th the ship responded to a mine-blast by suddenly righting itself. Easterly winds began moving the pack out, and on August 11th after a good deal of mining the ship was set free. After loading 30 tons of coal and eight months' provisions, the Polar Star departed for home on August 15th. On September 2nd the expedition arrived at Hammerfest in Norway, where the Duke was greatly shocked to learn of the assassination of his brother, King Umberto of Italy.

EA-Biography. Hobbs: Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi

Besides reaching a new "Farthest North" which was to be first exceeded by Peary seven years later, the Duke's expedition had accomplished much in clear– ing up the then confused map of the Franz Josef archipelago. (As revised, this map is published in the German translation of the Duke's book as given below under references.) Meteorological, magnetic, gravity, and tidal observations had been regularly made at Teplitz Bay throughout the entire year. The geologi– cal observations had been quite extensive, and had shown that the rocks of the archipelago were of basalt, thus indicating a common volcanic origin throughout a belt extending eastward from Iceland through Svalbard and Jan Mayen islands. There were also zoological and botanical collections. The scientific work had been conducted by Commander Cagni and Dr. Molinelli, with exception of the geo– logical and mineralogical studies, which had been in the hands of Lieutenant Quirini.
After his return from the Arctic the Duke resumed his naval actitivies. From 1903 to 1905 he commanded the Liguria with the rank of Captain of Frigate, and in this naval vessel he cruised a distance of more than 15,000 miles and touched at no less than 140 ports.
In 1906 the Duke left Mombasa in East Africa with a large scientific expedi– tion to explore and scientifically study the "Mountains of the Moon" of the Ptol– emaic geography "near the sources of the Nile." They were known to be very lofty mountains lying close to the equator which had been glimpsed only a few times by travelers, but never climbed nor explored. The mountaincers of his party were Cagni, Molinelli, Sella, Ollier, Rockati, and the Duke's aide-de-camp, Edoardo Winapeare. As on earlier expeditions, he had with him also his favorite Alpine guides, and now a large party of native porters. The long trek of 600 miles was first made to Entebbe on Lake Victoria Nyanza, and then of 200 to the base of the

EA-Biography. Hobbs: Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi

mountains, which are now generally referred to by the native name of Ruwenzori.
The Duke's party thoroughly explored the mountain group and prepared a top– ographical and geological map of the area, which was of about 64 square miles, reproduced on a scale of one and a half inches to the mile. Twelve peaks over 16,000 feet in altitude were ascended and their twenty-one glaciers mapped. To some of the highest of the snow-covered peaks the Duke gave the names: Marguerita (16,815 feet), Alessandra (15,765 feet), Vittorio Emanuele (16,080 feet), Elena (16,388 feet), and Johnston (15,906 feet).
In 1909, after a visit to America, the Duke carried out a great expedition to the lofty hinterland of British India, with ascents in the Karakorum and west– ern Himalayas. He thus realized his dream when he had in early manhood looked out at them from Darjeeling. His mountaineering triumphs here culminated in his climb to a height of 24,600 feet on the slope of Bride's Peak, the highest ascent made in climbing up to that time. A photogrammetric map of the range was made by Sella, and the superb photographs on which it is based are reproduced in the book by Filippi.
On his return to Italy the Duke was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral. In 1912 he directed the Naval Arsenal at Venice. In World War I as Vice Admiral he commanded the Italian naval forces in the Adriatic Sea, but in 1917 he resigned his command and retired from the service because of disagreement with his Chief– of-Staff, Admiral Thaon di Revel. He later gave much strenuous effort to a col– onization scheme in Italian Somaliland.
The time spent in tropical Africa had been too much for him, and his health deteriorated rapidly. His life ended in his homeland on March 18, 1933, at the age of sixty years. The books describing his expeditions are largely printed in the English language in luxury editions seldom equalled.

EA-Biography. Hobbs: Luigi Amedeo Abruzzi - Bibliography


Sillani, T. Luigi di Savoia . Biography. Rome, 1929.

Vallanzi, G. Luigi Amedeo di Savoia (Memorial Discourse), 1933. E. Curi, II principi esploratore, Rovereto, 1935.

H.R.H. The Duke of the Abruzzi Farther Northn than Nansen. Being the Voyage of the Polar Star , London, Howard Wilford Bell, 1901, p. 97, illus.

----- Il Ruwenzori ; parte scientifica. Resultati della osser– vazioni e studi compiuti sul materiale raccolto della spedizioni, Milan, U. Hoepli, 1909, 2 vols. illus. plates and maps. Vol. I, Zoology and botany; Vol. II, Geology, petrography and mineralogy.

-----. On the "Polar Star" in the Arctic Sea ; with the statements of Commander U. Cagni upon the sledge expedition to 86° 34′ north, and of Dr. A. Cavalli Molinelli upon his return to the Bay of Teplitz. Translated by William de Queux. 2 vols. with 212 illus. in the text, 16 full-page photogravure plates, 2 panoramas and 5 maps. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1903, p. 346 and 702.

-----. Die Stella Polare im Eismeer , Erste italienische Nordpol– expedition 1899-1900, Leipzig, Brockhaus, 1903, p. 506 (With map of the Franz Josef Archipelago.)

-----. An account of the expedition of H.R.H. Prince Luigi Amedeo of Savov. Duke of the Abruzzi , 2nd impression, New York, Dutton, 1908, p. xvi and 407, illus.

Filippi, Filippo die The ascent of Mount St. Elias (Alaska) by H.R.H. Prince Luigi Amedeo de Savoia. Duke of the Ab h ruzzi , illus. by Vittorio Sella and translated by Signora Linda Villari. Westminster, A. Constable & Co., 1900, p. xvi and 240, illus. plates and maps.

-----. Karakoram and Western Himalaya , 1909, New York, Dutton, 1912, p. xvii and 469, many plates and with science appen– dices.

-----. Ruwenzori , an account of the expedition of H.R.H. Prince Luigi Amedeo of Savoy, Duke of the Abruzzi, with a preface by H.R.H. The Duke of the Abruzzi, New York, Dutton, 1908, p. xvi and 408, illus. maps.

William H. Hobbs