United States Antarctic Service Expedition

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The USS Bear , one of the expedition's two ships

The United States Antarctic Service Expedition was an expedition to Antarctica that ran from 1939 to 1941 . It was the third expedition of the US polar explorer Richard Evelyn Byrd and the first to be funded by the US government since the United States Exploring Expedition (1838–1842) . The goals of this research trip were the establishment of permanently operated research stations , the mapping of the coastline between 72nd and 148th degrees west longitude ( Ellsworthland and Marie-Byrd-Land ) as well as that of the Weddell Sea (Ellsworthland and Queen Elizabeth Land ) and the implementation of air-supported ones and other research in the target areas. This included studies on the aurora borealis and cosmic rays as well as bacteriological , botanical , glaciological, geomagnetic , medical , meteorological , micropaleontological , ornithological , petrographic , petrological , physiographic , physiological , seismological , structural geological and zoological research work.


Richard E. Byrd (1929), leader of the expedition

Richard Evelyn Byrd , Finn Ronne and Richard Blackburn Black had each planned individual expeditions before convincing US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to join forces in a joint venture. With the establishment of the United States Antarctic Service , the US Congress created the organization responsible for carrying out the expedition on June 30, 1939. 125 men took part in the research trip, including 21 scientists such as Paul Siple and Carl Eklund , 59 of whom were working at two research stations in 1940. The rest of the crew stayed on the two ships, the USMS North Star and the USS Bear . The latter had already served Byrd on his second Antarctic expedition (1933-1935) under the name Bear of Oakland as a transport ship. In addition, 160 sled dogs and four airplanes were available to the expedition participants  . Specifically, these were a Barkley-Grow T8P-1 converted into a seaplane , two Curtiss T-32 Condor IIs and a Beechcraft D17A . Two tracked vehicles of the United States Army , two light artillery tractors and the Snow Cruiser , a snowmobile of enormous size developed by Thomas Poulter , were planned for overland routes .


Arrival in the target areas

The East Base on Stonington Island

The USMS  North Star left Boston on November 15, 1939 and drove first to Philadelphia , where two of the aircraft were taken on board. On November 21st, she set course for the Panama Canal . The USS  Bear followed on November 22nd, three days later to pick up the other two machines in Norfolk . Byrd stayed in Washington for the rest of the preparatory work and joined the team on the USMS  North Star on November 30th in Balboa, Panama . The ship set course for New Zealand with stops on Pitcairn between December 13th and 14th and on Rapa Iti on December 17th; she finally arrived in Wellington on December 27, 1939 . On January 3, 1940, the USMS  North Star set off to continue to Antarctica, where on January 14, 1940, work began on building the so-called West Base in the Bay of Whales on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf . On December 6, 1939, the USS  Bear took a direct course from the Panama Canal to the Bay of Whales, which it reached on January 14, 1940. From there, the USMS  North Star set course for the Chilean port city of Valparaíso on January 24 , where further equipment and supplies were taken on board. Meanwhile, Byrd went with the USS  Bear in search of a suitable location for the so-called East Base . It took a reconnaissance flight on March 8, 1940 to finally find it on Stonington Island in Marguerite Bay on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula . After her second stop in the Bay of Whales, the USMS  North Star had followed the USS  Bear to Stonington Island, where the unloading of both ships was completed on March 20. While the USS  Bear then returned to Boston with a stopover in Punta Arenas , the USMS North Star drove  to Seattle with the same stopover to take up its regular service as a cruise ship in Alaska .

Use of the snow cruiser

The Derelict Snow Cruiser (December 22, 1940)

The snow cruiser unloaded in the Bay of Whales , the use of which Byrd had high expectations, turned out to be unsuitable. Before starting the first trips, Byrd had hoped that the 30-  ton vehicle would be able to reach the geographic South Pole via a route southeast of the Queen Maud Mountains . But even during unloading, there was an almost catastrophe when the ramp broke under the weight of the vehicle, threatened to tip over and Thomas Poulter only managed to get the snowmobile onto the ice shelf with great difficulty . The large, but treadless tires developed too little traction on the ice, the electric motors for the drive were designed too weakly for higher speeds as well as for driving on inclines and the high weight let the Snow Cruiser sink deeply into soft snow cover. After more than a week of great effort, the vehicle finally reached West Base , where it was decommissioned under blocks of ice and tarpaulin.

Results of the expedition

Despite these initial difficulties, the expedition members of both bases, which were about 2600 km apart by air and about 3500 km by sea, managed to complete the research program. In particular, with the help of the aircraft, new stretches of coast such as the Hobbs Coast , the Walgreen Coast , Thurston Island (which was only identified as an island in 1960) and the Eights Coast, as well as in the region around the Weddell Sea between the Eielson Peninsula and the Luitpold coast developed. In the Ross Dependency , the gap between the Beardmore and Liv glaciers and thus between the mapping by Ernest Shackleton during the Nimrod expedition (1907–1909) and that by Roald Amundsen during the Fram expedition (1910–1912) was mapped. accomplished. Further reconnaissance flights from East Base provided new insights into the coastline beyond the 85th parallel west, including the discovery of the Bryan Coast and Carroll Inlet . Aerial photos were taken from the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula from Trail Inlet and the Three-Slice Nunatak to beyond the Nantucket Inlet . East Base sled teams explored the area from Trail Inlet to south of Hilton Inlet and mapped 58 peaks around the Dyer Plateau . The East Base team also built the first high-altitude weather station in Antarctica on Beacon Hill , which operated between November and December 1940. West Base sled teams conducted geological and biological studies in the Fosdick Mountains . However, a significant part of the results obtained has remained unpublished to this day.


The gold medal awarded by the US Congress on the occasion of the expedition

Due to the increasing international tensions in the course of the Second World War and a lack of financial resources, the expedition committee decided to evacuate the research stations instead of replacing the personnel. The USS  Bear left Philadelphia on October 13, 1940, the USMS  North Star on December 11 of the same year Seattle. Both ships arrived on January 11 and 24, 1941 in the Bay of Whales. Much of the equipment and supplies were left on the West Base on February 1, in the hope of being able to operate the station again later. Thick pack ice prevented the Adelaide Island from continuing to the East Base on Stonington Island on February 24 . To save fuel, both ships anchored in Andersen Harbor in the Melchior Islands group . After the ice had not broken by mid-March, the decision was made to evacuate by air. First, however, the USMS North Star drove  to Punta Arenas on March 15, 1941, to take supplies for the East Base in the event of a failure of the evacuation. The USS  Bear , however, set course for the Mikkelsen Islands the following day to act as a stopover for the evacuation. For this, the Curtiss T-32 Condor II located on Stonington Island was repaired, which had lost one of its landing skids in an accident on January 19, 1941 . The expedition began on March 22nd at 5:30 am; twelve men reached the USS  Bear with their records, collected samples, and emergency equipment. The other twelve expedition participants reached the USS  Bear on the second evacuation flight. The aircraft was abandoned, the USS  Bear arrived in Punta Arenas on March 29, 1941. The expedition ended for those on the USMS  North Star in Boston on May 5, 1941, for those on the USS  Bear there 13 days later.


The East Base on Stonington Island , which consisted of six prefabricated buildings, was the first research station in Antarctica that was designed for multi-year year-round operation. Finn Ronne used it on his expedition (1947–1948) under the name Port of Beaumont, Texas, Base as winter quarters. When he reached it in 1947, he found that other expeditions, namely Operation Tabarin (1943–1946) and the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey , had nearly devastated it. After 1948 it was no longer used.

The West Base in the Bay of Whales , also known as Little America III , was about 11 km northeast of its two predecessor stations, which Byrd had used on his first (1928-1930) and second Antarctic expedition (1933-1935). It consisted of three buildings under one roof, which were connected by tunnels. The station was lost in 1963 due to the glacier motility of the Ross Ice Shelf in the Ross Sea .


  • F. Acton Wade et al. (1945): Reports on Scientific Results of the United States Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939-1941. In: Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 89 (1), 398 pages (English)
  • Frank Debenham (1946): Reports on Scientific Results of the United States Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939–1941: A Review. In: Geographical Review, 36 (3), pp. 483–485 (English)
  • Noel D. Broadbent, Lisle Rose (2002): Historical Archeology and the Byrd Legacy: The United States Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939–41. In: The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 110 (2), pp. 237-258 (English)
  • John Stewart (2011): Antarctica - An Encyclopedia . Vol. 2, McFarland & Co., Jefferson and London, ISBN 978-0-7864-3590-6 , pp. 1612–1615 (English)

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ John Stewart: Antarctica - An Encyclopedia . Vol. 2, McFarland & Co., Jefferson and London 2011, ISBN 978-0-7864-3590-6 , p. 1615 (English).
  2. ^ John Stewart: Antarctica - An Encyclopedia . Vol. 1, McFarland & Co., Jefferson and London 2011, ISBN 978-0-7864-3590-6 , p. 473 (English).
  3. ^ John Stewart: Antarctica - An Encyclopedia . Vol. 2, McFarland & Co., Jefferson and London 2011, ISBN 978-0-7864-3590-6 , p. 940 (English).
  4. ^ Antarctica's Little America Floating Away on Iceberg. In: Eugene Register-Guard, June 8, 1963. Retrieved from Google News on December 18, 2018.