Roald Amundsen

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Roald Amundsen (1920) Roald Amundsen Signature.svg

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (born July 16, 1872 in Borge , Norway , † probably June 18, 1928 near Bear Island ) was a Norwegian seaman and polar explorer .

In terms of the destinations reached on his expeditions, Amundsen is the most successful explorer in the Arctic and Antarctic . He was the first to cross the Northwest Passage , second after Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld also the Northeast Passage and on December 14, 1911, before his British rival Robert Falcon Scott , he was the first person to reach the geographic South Pole with four companions . As neither Robert Peary nor Frederick Cook and Richard Byrd could clearly prove their claims, Amundsen one possibly among the first people at the geographic North Pole , which he as head of a transarktischen flight in the airship Norge achieved along with 15 other members of the expedition on May 12, 1926th Amundsen died in 1928 on a rescue flight for the distressed Italian polar explorer Umberto Nobile .



Amundsen was the youngest of four sons of ship owner and captain Jens Ingebrigt Amundsen (1820-1886) and his wife Gustava (born Sahlquist 1837-1893). His father had made a considerable fortune through the Crimean War and transport trips by Chinese laborers to Central America in the 1860s. Gustava Amundsen, the daughter of an administrator, also lived in China. The first son of the two, Jens Ole Antonius, was born there in 1866. Only then did the couple return to Norway, where they moved into a house in Hvidsten, about 50 km south of Kristiania (now Oslo ). Two more sons, Gustav and Leon, followed in 1868 and 1870. The fourth son, Roald, was born in 1872. His name is old Norse and means something like "the glorious".

Youth and training

Shortly after Roald's birth, the family moved to Kristiania at Gustava Amundsen's urging. There his father took up a position in the Ministry of Commerce and the family moved into a stately villa just behind Kristiania Castle.

Even as a child, Roald Amundsen was interested in reports from polar travelers. He was particularly captivated by the books of John Franklin , a British polar explorer who died in 1847 while trying to discover the Northwest Passage . Due to his interest in these reports, Amundsen's school performance sank dramatically and even then he had the desire to become a polar explorer. From 1881 he went to the "Gymnasium Otto Andersen" in Kristiania. Five years later, in 1886, his father died on a trip to England. So his mother had to take care of the household and the family alone. Roald was, however, only slightly saddened by the death of his father. Due to his father's work in the Ministry of Commerce, he was very rarely at home, so that no close bond could have developed between the two.

Over time, Amundsen's interest in the polar regions continued to grow. He also tried to expose himself to the physical strains of polar travel. In the winter of 1889, the 16-year-old and three other schoolmates ventured on a multi-day hike through the mountains west of Kristiania. His academic achievements continued to suffer from his passion for polar research and in 1890 he passed his Abitur with a grade of 4.

Studies and first expeditions

Amundsen on the Belgica expedition (Photo: Frederick Cook)

His mother eyed the boy's interest with suspicion and was very critical of it. Amundsen therefore decided to initially only deal with this topic in his spare time and began studying medicine, but broke it off after a short time and turned to polar research.

His mother died on September 9, 1893. Amundsen later wrote about it: "I left the university shortly afterwards with great relief in order to plunge all my soul into the dream of my life." He hired on various ships as a sailor and traveled large parts of the world between 1894 and 1896. In 1895 he obtained his tax man's license in Kristiania . In addition, as long as he was in Norway, he traveled to most of Norway's innumerable glaciers .

From 1896 to 1899 Amundsen took part in the Belgica expedition to the Antarctic of the Belgian Adrien de Gerlache on the Belgica . It was his first expedition. Since Gerlache proved to be incapable, Amundsen, as second officer, was the de facto leader of the expedition, during which parts of the west Antarctic coast were surveyed and explored. Through this act, Fridtjof Nansen became aware of him and supported him in the following years. After returning to Norway, he went on a bicycle tour through Western Europe and did his military service. Among other things, he traveled to Hamburg to be instructed in geomagnetic measurement techniques by the respected physicist Georg von Neumayer .

From 1903 to 1906 Amundsen explored the Northwest Passage with the help of the small sailing ship Gjøa , a Hardangerjakt only about 20 m long . For this he received the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Olav in 1906 . Norway had only recently gained independence, namely in 1905, and celebrated Amundsen as a national hero. Although the Northwest Passage was no longer as strategically important as it was in earlier centuries, the crossing testified to Amundsen's high performance as captain.

The conquest of the South Pole

Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oskar Wisting at the South Pole

In the following years Amundsen planned an expedition to the North Pole. However, his interest died after Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole. Finally, Amundsen decided to be the first to reach the South Pole. At the same time, however, the British Robert Falcon Scott tried this and a race between the two ensued.

Since Norway had not been independent for a long time and was not yet generally recognized in terms of foreign policy, Amundsen feared that he would get into trouble with the Norwegian government if his goal was announced, as it was on friendly terms with the British government. In order not to endanger his undertaking, he kept his destination - the South Pole - a secret and only informed the team about it on the way, allowing them to continue with him. However, everyone followed him.

Amundsen reached Antarctica in January 1911, but it wasn't until October 20 that his expedition to the South Pole started after a false start due to the cold weather. He arrived at the South Pole on December 14th, reaching his destination 35 days earlier than his rival Scott.

Time after the South Pole expedition to death

Amundsen (1913)

In the following years Amundsen was a sought-after man; he published his travelogues and gave lectures. On February 2, 1914 he spoke e.g. B. in the Great Imperial Hall in Frankfurt (Oder) . Hundreds of visitors flocked to the big event, the entrance fee was 1.05 to 3.15 marks . Amundsen spoke on the one hand in German, on the other hand he impressed with his amiable manner. He did not put himself in the foreground, but thought of his employees and helpers “in a touching way”. His lecture was a complete success. On the same day he traveled on to Warsaw .

Amundsen was also politically active during the First World War . He criticized the submarine warfare of the German Reich sharply and gave the German ambassador in Oslo personally an honor of the German Emperor back. He also invested his money in ship investments. In doing so, he showed a skilful hand and after two years had earned the sum of one million crowns, which was considerable for the time.

Between 1918 and 1920 Amundsen tried to drift through the Arctic in a ship. However, the expedition failed due to health problems and the Northeast Passage was crossed. In the years that followed, Amundsen explored parts of northern Canada and became intensely involved with aviation , which he saw as the "future of travel and exploration".

In 1925 Amundsen started his first flight expedition to the Arctic together with the American Lincoln Ellsworth . In the following years, Amundsen discovered the airplane as an instrument for polar research. With the Italian Umberto Nobile and Ellsworth, Amundsen dared to cross the Arctic in an airship in 1926 .

On June 18, 1928, he set out to head a rescue expedition for Umberto Nobile, whose airship had crashed in the Arctic, and was killed in the process. Neither the wreckage of Amundsen's plane nor his body were found.


Belgica expedition

In 1895 Amundsen met the Belgian Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery in Brussels . He had been planning an expedition to Antarctica for a long time and suggested that the young Amundsen take part in the expedition with the ship Belgica as second officer . Amundsen, who obtained his tax man's license in the same year, agreed. It was Amundsen's first polar expedition.

The Belgica during Amundsen's first polar expedition

However, the expedition was not a good star from the start, because de Gerlache proved to be overzealous and incompetent. The team was also put together shortly before departure. Amundsen often argued with de Gerlache about his lack of competence while driving. A sailor drowned on the way there.

In March 1898, the Belgica was caught by the pack ice. Only after a year and with great exertion did the expedition manage to reach open water again. During this time, the mood on board was dejected, and at the same time the health of the crew deteriorated day by day. The ship's doctor, Frederick Cook , prescribed a strict diet of penguin and seal meat for the crew to prevent deficiency diseases such as scurvy . Amundsen was the only one who had experience of killing seals at the time. Together with de Gerlache and Cook, he also managed to motivate the team and convince them not to give up hope yet. This was an even more difficult task after a member of the crew, the physicist Danco, died on June 5, 1898.

In March 1899, after more than four weeks of work, the team managed to cut a 600 m long fairway through the ice into the open sea and free the Belgica . In June 1899 she reached the port of Antwerp safely .

Passing through the Northwest Passage

Geographically possible routes for the Northwest Passage. Amundsen's travel route is closest to the southernmost, only that it circumnavigated King William Island to the east.

After returning to Norway, Amundsen did his military service and explored the Norwegian glacier world. Soon plans also matured to travel to the Canadian Arctic and to cross the still unbeaten Northwest Passage . As Amundsen was a participant in the successful Belgica expedition , it was not difficult for him to find sponsors. Above all, Fridtjof Nansen stood up for the young researcher and gave him his support.

Prepared in this way, Amundsen managed to cross the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific with his wooden ship Gjøa and a crew of six from 1903 to 1906 . However, the chosen route from Baffin Bay over Lancastersund and Peelsund and further through James Ross Strait and Simpson Strait was unsuitable for regular shipping, as the sea depth was less than one meter in places. However, this does not diminish the nautical and exploratory achievements of the six Norwegians and the Dane Godfred Hansen , to have conquered the Northwest Passage from east to west for the first time, which many expedition teams had tried for more than four centuries. Amundsen's expedition team found skeletal remains and equipment from John Franklin's missing expedition during their journey .

The expedition members spent two winters (1903 to 1905) on King William Island near an area where the Inuit settlement Gjoa Haven would later develop. Amundsen himself explored in this one and a half years, life habits and survival techniques of the resident Netsilik - Inuit . The Inuit taught him how to use dog sleds , for example , and he adopted their fur clothing to protect against the cold. During the time of their stay on the island, there were also closer contacts between the seafarers and female indigenous people, which is why there are not a few of today's settlement residents who are related to the Norwegians. Luke (Luck) Quadlooq, who died in Gjoa Haven in 1978, claimed to be a son of Amundsen shortly before his death.

On August 17, 1905, the ship had crossed the Arctic islands. Amundsen traveled half a mile overland to the Eagle settlement in Alaska to report his success by telegraph on December 5, 1905, back home. After another winter, the ship finally reached Nome in Alaska in 1906 .

South Pole Expedition

Roald Amundsen on skis during the preparations for the Fram expedition (1909)
Winter camp plan
The height of the sun near the south pole in December 1911

After the successful expedition in the Northwest Passage, Amundsen began his plans for an expedition to the North Pole , but abandoned them after hearing of the supposed successes of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary . But since he had a lot of debts, he needed a success that he could show, and he quickly made the decision to set off for Antarctica instead and try to be the first to reach the South Pole. On August 9, 1910, he set sail with the Fram , the ship of the polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen . On board were 97 Greenland sled dogs, the components for a hut and provisions for two years. No hut would actually have been needed for the North Pole voyage, but Amundsen claimed it was an observation hut to be set up on the pack ice. He announced later that it was to be used for wintering in the Antarctic. He only informed his brother Leon of his new plans, on the one hand because he wanted to avoid that Nansen could refuse him the ship again, and probably also in order not to inform his rival Robert Falcon Scott , who set out eight weeks before him with the same goal was. He announced the change of route to the ship's crew only at sea near Madeira , whereby all members accepted the plan. Leon Amundsen announced the destination of the trip to the press on October 2, 1910.

On January 14, 1911, the ship reached the Ross Ice Shelf on the Bay of Whales . This is where Amundsen set up his base camp, which he called Framheim . The position was about 111 kilometers closer to the pole than Scott's chosen station at McMurdo Sound . Choosing the Bay of Whales was a big risk, because the station itself was not on dry land, but on the edge of the ice. Ernest Shackleton had shied away from this risk on his Nimrod expedition because he feared that the station would break away from the ice edge. That Shackleton rightly considered this risk is proven by the fact that Amundsen's hut could not be found later. It is therefore believed that his station broke off the edge of the ice and drifted out to sea.

In contrast to Amundsen, Scott had chosen a route already explored by Shackleton over the Beardmore Glacier into the Antarctic Plateau . Amundsen had to find a way through the Transantarctic Mountains . Amundsen used the months after his arrival in Antarctica to set up several camps for the trip, to get used to the conditions and to improve the equipment, especially the dog sleds.

The departure for the South Pole took place on October 20, 1911 together with Olav Bjaaland , Helmer Hanssen , Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting after a previous false start due to temperatures that were too low. On December 7th, they reached 88 ° 23 ′ south latitude, Shackleton's previous record of January 9th, 1909. Amundsen was aware of the performance of his predecessor, whose attack on the South Pole had only just failed. They reached the pole on December 14, 1911. The discovery, however, was not announced until March 7, 1912. The group came 35 days before the rivals from the UK . Amundsen set up camp at the Pole and called it " Polheim " . All Scott found when he arrived was the tent and a letter from Amundsen to King Håkon . While Scott and his companions lost their lives on the way back, the Amundsen expedition was a success thanks to better planning and the use of dog sleds. Amundsen described his journey in the book The Conquest of the South Pole, 1910–1912 .

Amundsen relied on measurements with the sextant.

Amundsen carried out measurements at different times for three days, because at high latitudes the distance to the pole can best be demonstrated using the so-called meridian deviation. At midnight the sun points to the south pole and the difference between declination (mean sun height) and sun height corresponds to the distance to the pole. The following applies not only at the pole: noon and midnight do not exactly coincide with the highest and lowest levels of the sun, but with the correspondence of the slope of the curve of declination and sun height (here 8 "/ h; in spring and autumn 60" / h), there their difference reaches a maximum at this point. In Amundsen's book "The Conquest of the South Pole" there is an appendix in which his measurement results have been scientifically recalculated and evaluated. After that, there is some evidence that Olav Bjaaland and Helmer Hansen passed the South Pole a few hundred meters away. Amundsen himself is likely to have come close to the South Pole up to a distance of one to two kilometers. To make sure that the South Pole had actually been crossed, Amundsen ordered that his comrades should march in three directions in the shape of a cross and mark the endpoints with flags. He wanted to make sure that he had fully reached the South Pole area anyway.

After Amundsen returned from the South Pole, he was received with great cheers in his Norwegian homeland. While the international press respected Amundsen's performance, his success was overshadowed by the death of his rival Robert Falcon Scott. The British press in particular accused Amundsen of being responsible for Scott's death. It came to a head when at the banquet of the Royal Geographic Society the honorary president Lord Curzon made his toast not to the guest Amundsen, but to his sled dogs: I therefore propose three cheers for the dogs .

Passing through the Northeast Passage

Expedition through the Northeast Passage

Immediately after his return from the South Pole expedition, Amundsen planned an expedition that would take him to the Arctic . However, instead of traveling by ship, Amundsen wanted to use a plane this time. Airplanes were quite new at the time, but Amundsen was fascinated by the idea of ​​reaching the North Pole in such a vehicle. On June 11, 1914, he acquired the first license issued in Norway for a civilian.

But just two months later, the First World War began . Amundsen had to bury his plans for the time being. However, he decided to dare a “classic” expedition by ship through the Arctic . His plan was to penetrate the ice somewhere in the eastern Arctic and drift through the ice for four to five years. For this he commissioned the construction of a ship, the Maud , which he financed with a grant from the Norwegian Parliament.

On June 16, 1918, the ship ran out of Tromsø, Norway . However, the team had to deal with surprisingly strong drift ice right from the start. This led Amundsen to decide on September 18 to hibernate on the north Siberian coast .

However, the problems didn't stop there. Amundsen suffered a splinter fracture on his left shoulder in late September after falling badly. Shortly after this fracture was healed, he was attacked by a polar bear on November 8th and suffered four deep back injuries.

On December 10th, Amundsen poisoned himself with carbon monoxide while doing scientific work . He himself claimed that after a few hours he was completely healthy again. His longtime companion Oscar Wisting, who was responsible for the medical care of the companions on Amundsen's expeditions, saw it differently: "That was a bad story, and his heart never recovered from it."

A planned expedition was out of the question. The ship was only able to leave again on January 18, 1919. But progress was slow in the months that followed. On September 23 of the same year, Amundsen had to hibernate again on the north Siberian coast. Plans to reach the North Pole by sledge came to nothing. During the second hibernation, Amundsen made the decision to take the ship to Alaska and not allow himself to drift in the pack ice . Parts of the crew visited and researched the indigenous population of the north Siberian coast and went on their own journeys. The Maud was not able to start again until early March 1920 . In the meantime, the motivation of all those involved had also reached a low point. On July 20, 1920, the ship reached the port of Nome , Alaska.

The Maud was sold to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1925 and used under the name Baymaud as a supply ship for the outpost of the trading company in the Canadian Arctic. In 1926 the ship got into permanent pack ice in Cambridge Bay and sank near the coast in 1930. The wreck protruding from the water has been a tourist attraction ever since. The Norwegian municipality of Asker , where the Maud was built in 1917, bought the remains in 1990 for a symbolic price of one dollar . However, the wreck remained in place for more than 20 years. It was not until 2012 that the Canadian authorities granted approval for his transfer to Norway, which should be completed in 2015.

More expeditions

Amundsen's Dornier N-25 Do J in Ny-Ålesund ( Spitzbergen ) before departure for the North Pole on May 21, 1925

In 1925, Amundsen tried to be the first to reach the North Pole by plane. Together with his sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth , the pilots Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen and Leif Dietrichson as well as two mechanics, he started in Ny-Ålesund with two flying boats of the type Dornier Wal . They landed on May 21 at the position of 87 ° 43 'north latitude and 10 ° 20' 1 "west longitude, the position closest to the North Pole that had been reached by airplane. It turned out to be impossible to get both machines afloat again. It took Amundsen and his crew more than three weeks to build a runway for one of the aircraft. With around 400 grams of food per day, they cleared over 600 tons of ice and snow. The six of them boarded the remaining plane and returned home, where they had already been believed to be lost.

In the following year, Amundsen and Ellsworth made the first crossing of the Arctic in the 106 m long airship Norge , together with its builder Umberto Nobile . They took off from Spitzbergen on May 11, 1926 and landed in Alaska three days later. They were probably also the first to reach the North Pole by air on May 12th, as there are well-founded doubts about Richard Byrd's success three days earlier.


Amundsen is believed to have died when his plane , a Latham 47 flying boat with 1,000 horsepower, was lost in the Arctic near Bear Island . He set out on June 18, 1928 to save Umberto Nobile, whose airship Italia had crashed on an ice floe. This happened exactly 25 years to the day after he started working as a polar explorer on Gjøa . Amundsen's aircraft, on loan from France, has not yet been found. However, one of the aircraft's petrol tanks was found with traces of processing and can now be viewed in the Polar Museum in Tromsø. Amundsen and his companions had probably tried to save themselves with it.

On August 24, 2009, a large-scale search for the aircraft wreck and the remains of Amundsen began. The Norwegian Navy provided two ships for this purpose, with which the aircraft wreck in the Barents Sea was to be located with the aid of modern sonar systems and diving robots. The search was stopped on September 5, 2009 without the wreckage of the aircraft or other traces of Amundsen having been found.


Amundsen as namesake


Astronomy and space travel:



Amundsen's birthplace outside Fredrikstad is now a memorial and museum and is managed by a non-profit foundation .


In 1918 he was accepted as a corresponding member of the Académie des Sciences in Paris.


Literature cited

Double title page on Roald Amundsen: Reached the South Pole , with pictures by Ernst Liebenauer, Vienna and Leipzig 1929
  • Roald Amundsen: The South Pole . Vol. I and Vol. II , John Murray, London 1912 (retrieved from the Internet Archive on September 11, 2009).
  • Roald Amundsen: Reached the South Pole , with pictures by Ernst Liebenauer , Vienna and Leipzig 1929
  • Beau Riffenburgh: Nimrod . (Translated by Sebastian Vogel). Berlin Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-8270-0530-2 .


  • The hunt for the North Pole traveldiary history, Hamburg / Norderstedt (SDS) 2007, ISBN 978-3-935959-01-8 .
  • The conquest of the South Pole . JF Lehmann, Munich 1912.
  • with Lincoln Ellsworth: Den første fluctuates over polhavet . 1926 (German: The first flight over the polar sea . Grethlein, Leipzig 1927)
  • Mitt liv som polarforsker . 1927 (German Mein Leben als Entdecker . EP Tal, Leipzig 1929)
  • The North West passage: being the record of a voyage of exploration of the ship "Gjöa" 1903-1907 . Vol I and Vol II . EP Dutton & Co, New York 1908 (accessed February 26, 2013).


In chronological order:

Television documentaries

  • Frozen Heart , Norwegian documentary from 1999 (ServusTV / January 6, 2013)
  • Legendary Northwest Passage in Alaska - Amundsen makes the breakthrough by Louise Osmond (Channel 4/2005)
  • Myth Amundsen (ZDF History, 2010)
  • The race to the South Pole (ZDF, December 13, 2011)
  • The Last Place on Earth , seven-part English-language biopic (1985 Central Independent Television Limited, also on DVD)

Web links

Commons : Roald Amundsen  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Roald Amundsen  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Jörg Kotterba: Polar explorers enthusiastic Frankfurters . In Märkischer Markt Frankfurt (Oder), 30./31. January 2019, pp. 1 and 3.
  2. Four Amundsens etterkommere. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on November 4, 2007 ; accessed on September 5, 2019 .
  3. Amundsen noted: “We do not exceed this point without expressing our greatest admiration for the man who - together with his knightly comrades - hoisted the flag of his country so infinitely closer to the goal than any of his predecessors. The name of Sir Ernest Shackleton is written in letters of fire forever in the annals of Antarctic exploration. "Amundsen, The South Pole , Vol. II, p. 114 .
  4. After Shackleton's return from the Nimrod expedition, Amundsen had already expressed his respect for Shackleton in a letter to the secretary of the Royal Geographical Society: “By Shackleton's deed in Antarctica exploration, the English nation won a victory that can never be surpassed. “Letter from Roald Amundsen to John Scott Keltie of March 25, 1909, SPRI MS 1456/16, quoted in Riffenburgh: Nimrod . P. 395.
  5. The photo “Taking an observation at the Pole” was taken by Olav Bjaaland with his camera (Amundsen's photos are lost because his camera was defective or his photos failed). It shows Amundsen on the left, who measures the height of the sun with a sextant. There is an artificial horizon on top of the box. This is a movable pane of glass or a solution of mercury that reflects the sun. His comrade (presumably Helmer Hanssen) is obviously bending over the artificial horizon to shield the wind. The measured angle is to be divided by two, since it has been doubled before by the reflection.
  6. This maximum can easily be measured, but not the point in time. Exactly 6 hours earlier and later, the declination and elevation of the sun are the same; this point in time can easily be measured. At a distance of 30 ″ (1 km) from the pole, the sun is at a constant altitude for 6 hours, then rises by 3 ′ in 18 hours and remains at this new altitude for 6 hours. At the South Pole, the slope of the sun's height is always the same as the slope of the declination: it is always noon and midnight.
  7. ^ Edward J. Larson : An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science . Yale University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-300-15408-5 , pp. 24 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  8. Amundsen's “Maud” is salvaged , of November 27, 2012 (accessed on November 27, 2012).
  9. Eventyrseilas tur-retur Canada , from June 25, 2014 (accessed July 3, 2014).
  10. Emma Hartley: Norwegians send robots to find Amundsen's plane wreck The Telegraph, August 31, 2009
  11. Ny etter Latham. Retrieved October 1, 2012 .
  12. ^ Search for Amundsen unsuccessful, September 6, 2009
  13. ^ List of members since 1666: Letter A. Académie des sciences, accessed on October 1, 2019 (French).
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on August 20, 2005 .