A Postal History Gallery of Related Events

Presented by George Hall . . .

The Search for the ITALIA

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General Umberto Nobile
Commander of the Dirigible ITALIA


     Dirigibles became the newest hope for long range aviation after the success of the NORGE flight to the North Pole in 1926. However, Umberto Nobile, who served as pilot on that flight, became frantic in efforts to make an all-Italian flight to the Pole. He planned to fly east from Spitzbergen to chart the lands north of Russia, as well as mooring the airship at the Pole for three weeks while a party of six made observations on the ice. He also planned a study of the islands of the Canadian Archipelago. A hangar at Kings Bay on Spitzbergen and the steamer CITTA DI MILANO acted as support units. On May 15, the first part of the program was carried out, but weather conditions grew worse. Icing conditions slowed the ITALIA and forced it to fly low through the fog to determine their speed and drift. Finally, they stopped the engines and the ship rose above the clouds where they found they were 180 miles from Spitzbergen. When they descended again, on May 25, the icing created new problems. The ship acted erratic, finally settling at the tail and the ITALIA struck the ice, ripping the side of the pilot cabin and dumping the crew and contents onto the ice. The rest of the dirigible rose into the sky and nothing more was heard of the six men in the gondola. A remarkably complete set of equipment was spread on the ice, even a radio was saved.

The world was unable to interpret the radio distress calls, and the worst was expected. The message from the ice party broadcast a daily message. Over and over again they sent:


Foyn Island, northwest of Spitzbergen, was ignored until a peasant near Archangel deciphered the message and the search was focused on this spot. Parties from five nations became involved, but the Russian government sent two ice breakers and aircraft to become the most involved.

This is a display of the communications working papers of the Russian Rescue Expedition of 1928.



Picture side of the postcard

The flight of the dirigible ITALIA was highly publicized by the Italian Government and the event attracted collectors to seek philatelic mail. This card was mailed from the Base Ship CITTA DI MILANO while it was anchored in Spitzbergen on April 5, 1928, more than a month before the emergency was declared.


The dirigible ITALIA crashed after reaching the Pole in 1928. An international rescue operation lasting three months involved ten ships and twenty fliers. A Russian ice breaker picked up the survivors.

Official mail was canceled on the base ship CITTA DI MILANO while incoming mail carried a two line cachet . . .



Cover dated June 12, 1928 addressed to Professor Wiese, Director of the rescue expedition, in care of the Murmansk Sea Agency and the Military Depot No. 17, located in Leningrad.

A marking on the right side of the envelope was apparently clipped to remove some secret marking required to insure the secrecy of the activity. The shipment contained parachutes for the pilots and oil for the planes.


Two waybills for the cargo of the Rescue Expedition were enclosed in a cover addressed to Professor Wiese on June 12, 1928. The delivery of material was sent to Murmansk for the expedition to rescue the Airship ITALIA.