Richard E. Byrd

Byrd Antarctic Expedition II



Many questions were left unanswered upon conclusion of Byrd's first Antarctic expedition and the Admiral was all too aware of the necessity for a quick return to the ice. Plans were soon made for a second expedition as many of the experienced men would still be available and polar interest in America was thriving. Despite declining interest in the region for many years, Americans were quick to resume that interest following the great successes of the First Byrd Expedition and the Wilkins-Hearst Expedition between 1928 and 1930. Daily newspaper and radio accounts, particularly of the South Polar flight and discovery of Marie Byrd Land, made Byrd's first expedition a topic of conversation throughout America. America was in the midst of a great economic depression in the early thirties, however the persuasions of the American public resulted in necessary resources and funding for a second assault on the ice. The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition was covered as thoroughly in the media as the first but it was the radio programs, broadcast by the men from Little America which spilled into the living rooms of America, that sustained and encouraged American presence in the Antarctic during this expedition and the others that followed.

A number of "firsts" were accomplished during the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition; it was the first time that automotive transportation proved to be a valuable asset. Results from the first seismic investigations in Antarctica provided the initial evidence of the extent to which the Ross Ice Shelf was aground or afloat. The first human voices were transmitted from Little America on February 1, 1934 and later a weekly broadcast was carried over the Columbia Broadcasting System in the United States. Additionally, this expedition marked the first time that cosmic ray and meteor observations were taken in such high southern latitudes. Although the First Byrd Antarctic Expedition was the beginning of the mechanical age in Antarctica, the Second Expedition took mechanical and electrical resources to a new level. Motor-driven generating plants provided Little America with electrical power, thereby allowing use of electrical power tools used in construction and maintenance of mechanical devices used at Little America as well as exercises in the field.

As with the first, the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition was organized and financed by Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd (USN, retired) with financial aid and supplies contributed by a number of private individuals, businesses, industrial firms, research institutes and government agencies. Byrd's original plans called for a departure in the fall of 1932, however lack of necessary funding and supplies required them to wait until the following year. Amazingly, $150,000 in cash was contributed while in the midst of the Great Depression. It came mostly with thousands of donors contributing small amounts but larger gifts were given by Edsel Ford, William Horlick, Thomas Watson, Col. Jacob Ruppert and the National Geographic Society. Additional funds were realized from the sale of newspaper rights, photographic privileges and advertising sold for the weekly radio broadcasts from Little America. Industrial and commercial firms donated all the fuel oil and gasoline and much of the equipment used on the expedition while nearly $100,000 worth of scientific instruments was lent by government agencies and universities. The flagship of the expedition was leased from the U.S. Shipping Board for one dollar a year. The 8257-ton steel cargo vessel PACIFIC FIR, used in the west coast lumber trade and then laid up at Staten Island with other surplus ships of World War I, was totally reconditioned and re-christened the JACOB RUPPERT. Needing a ship to ram through the ice pack, for a small sum Byrd was able to purchase the barkentine BEAR from the city of Oakland, California. The old wooden ship was built in Greenock, Scotland, in 1874. The ship was used for ten years as a whaler and was then purchased by the U.S. Coast Guard for use in the rescue of the U.S. Arctic Expedition led by Lt. A. W. Greely. The ship became the property of the city of Oakland in 1928 and after Byrd had the ship reconditioned in Boston, the vessel was re-christened the BEAR OF OAKLAND. The 703-ton BEAR OF OAKLAND was 200 feet long, had a beam of 32 feet and a draft of 17 feet, 2 inches. Using her auxiliary steam power, she was capable of nine knots.





Questionable in Byrd's mind was the condition of the two airplanes left at Little America in 1930 upon conclusion of his first expedition. Thus, a new Curtis-Wright Condor was secured. The twin-engine long-range biplane, named the WILLIAM HORLICK, was equipped with skis and floats and was powered by a pair of supercharged Wright Cyclone engines, each capable of 725 horsepower. Specially designed fuel tanks were installed giving the plane a range of approximately 1300 miles with a full load of 19,000 pounds. Two smaller single-engine monoplanes, a Fokker and a Pilgrim, were lent to the expedition. Additionally, a Kellett autogyro was lent for use in high altitude and short-range reconnaissance flights.

Motorized transportation was supplied by a Cletrac tractor, two Ford snowmobiles and three Citroëns originally designed for desert work. The 40 horsepower Citroëns had the front wheels replaced with skis. Since motorized transportation still had not proven itself in the Antarctic, 153 sledge dogs were collected from Alaska to Labrador and taken to the ice.

Dr. Thomas Poulter, physicist, was chief of the scientific staff and second in command of the expedition. William Haines, chief meteorologist, was third in command while Harold June, chief pilot, was chief of staff and George Noville executive officer. The wintering party of 1934 consisted of 56 men which included five pilots, three physicists, two geologists, a geophysicist, two meteorologists, three biologists, four radio operators, two navigators, an aerial photographer, a surveyor, a physician, two carpenters, an artist, a newspaper correspondent and two Paramount News cameramen. The rest were mechanics and dog / tractor drivers. A total of 45 officers and crew made the outbound voyage on the JACOB RUPPERT in 1933 and 33 assisted with the homeward voyage in 1935. Both voyages were under the direction of Commodore Hjalmar Fridtjof Gjertsen, an ice pilot with the Norwegian Navy. On the outbound voyage, the master of the JJACOB RUPPERT was Lt. (jg) W.F. Verleger, USNR. He was replaced on the homeward voyage by S.D. Rose, who had served as first officer on the BEAR OF OAKLAND. The BEAR OF OAKLAND was under the command of Lt. (jg) Robert A. English, USN, with Bendik Johansen as sailing master and ice pilot. Of all the men involved with Byrd II, 18 had participated in the First Byrd Antarctic Expedition.

There were four primary objectives concerning geographical exploration: the delineation of as much as possible of the coastline of Marie Byrd Land; additional research in the Ford Ranges; determination of an ice-filled strait connecting the Ross Sea with the Weddell Sea; determination of the extent of the Queen Maud Mountains beyond the Ross Ice Shelf. Meteorological observation was also an important part of the expedition with Byrd proposing the construction of a weather station as far inland as possible which would be maintained throughout the long winter night. The scientific program included proposals to measure the thickness of the Ross Ice Shelf and polar plateau, extensive biological investigation ranging from plankton to the seals in the Bay of Whales and surveying of the front of the Ross Ice Shelf to determine what changes had transpired since the last survey made by the TERRA NOVA EXPEDITION in 1911.

The BEAR OF OAKLAND embarked from Boston on September 25, 1933 since she was the slower of the two vessels. Unfortunately, the ship ran into a hurricane off the North Carolina coast and was damaged to an extent which required her to enter dry dock at Newport News. The JACOB RUPPERT left Boston on October 11, stopped at Newport News, and left for the Panama Canal eleven days later. Meanwhile, the BEAR OF OAKLAND finished her repairs and sailed south on November 1. After passing through the Panama Canal, the JACOB RUPPERT called at Easter Island on November 16 and reached Wellington, New Zealand on December 5. The ship's engines were overhauled and the WILLIAM HORLICK readied for flight. Another eighteen men were added to the crew before she set sail on December 12, 1933. Additionally, three stowaways were soon discovered. The ship reached the ice pack on December 20 and proceeded along the edge for the next three weeks. On December 21, at 10:53 a.m., Admiral Byrd, Harold June (pilot), William Bowlin (co-pilot), Carl Petersen (radio operator) and Joseph Pelter (aerial photographer) lifted off in the WILLIAM HORLICK on a successful four-hour preliminary test flight. Further flights and reconnaissance took place until eventually entering the Bay of Whales, where she was moored on January 17, 1934. The BEAR OF OAKLAND passed through the Panama Canal on November 17 and stopped for coal reserves at Tahiti on December 12. She arrived in Wellington on January 6, took on additional supplies, and then sailed for Dunedin where more stores were taken aboard. The BEAR OF OAKLAND sailed for Antarctica on January 19 and moored in the Bay of Whales at 10:30 p.m., January 30.

Admiral Byrd led a landing party to the site of Little America I on January 17 where they found the camp buried under a deep blanket of snow with only the radio towers, stove pipes and a few other protruding objects visible. The communication and lighting systems were still functioning and the stored food was still in preserved condition. Through great difficulties, the old camp was reestablished as Little America II. By the time the BEAR OF OAKLAND arrived on January 30, tremendous amounts of equipment, supplies and stores had been relayed inland. Sixteen teams of nine dogs each, along with the Citroën and Cletrac, ferried several hundred tons of supplies to Little America II. The Pilgrim monoplane hauled 24 tons of goods before she was grounded due to the landing gear exhibiting signs of strain. When the BEAR OF OAKLAND arrived, the third Citroën was quickly put to use. By February 4 both ships were unloaded. At 10:10 p.m. the next day, the JACOB RUPPERT left for Port Chalmers, New Zealand, where she arrived on February 18. On the evening of February 6, the BEAR OF OAKLAND sailed out of the Bay of Whales with Lt. English setting a course for Cape Colbeck where an investigation for the possible existence of an archipelago would be attempted. Heavy pack ice had prohibited such exploration on Byrd's previous expedition in 1929.

Up to that time only two ships had penetrated the ice beyond Cape Colbeck, which had originally been discovered during Robert Falcon Scott's 1902 DISCOVERY EXPEDITION. In 1912, Lt. Nobu Shirase sailed the KAINAN MARU to 76°07'S, 151°20'W. It was a successful trip for Byrd as they passed the easting of both prior efforts. At 1:30 a.m., on February 9, they made their farthest easting at 75°06'S, 148°08'W, from where the northwesternmost peaks of the Ford Ranges were dimly visible to the southeast. Evidence was gathered to support the existence of a submarine ridge extending northwestward from Edward VII Peninsula. The BEAR OF OAKLAND arrived back at the Bay of Whales on February 15. A rendezvous was made with the DISCOVERY II on February 21 to receive another 21 tons of supplies and a replacement physician, Dr. Louis H. Potaka. She arrived back at the Bay of Whales on February 25 and the next day, at 8:35 a.m., the BEAR OF OAKLAND departed Antarctica, leaving behind a winter party of 56 men. The ship arrived in Dunedin on the afternoon of March 12, 1934 after a very difficult voyage.

Admiral Byrd became alarmed by a series of cracks developing in the vicinity of Little America II so an emergency cache of food, gasoline, tents and supplies were established on higher ground, named Retreat Camp, about a mile southeast of base camp. Over the course of the next few weeks, depots every 25 geographical miles were layed in preparation for the field season the following spring. Intense blizzards were fought until the final depot, 155-mile depot, was established on March 14. One of the objectives of the expedition was to establish an advanced weather base where three men would spend the Antarctic winter making daily meteorological observations. Originally, intentions were to establish the base on the Polar plateau or the foot of the Queen Maud Mountains. However, do to the difficult, prolonged unloading of stores and establishment of the base camp, time constraints required the Bolling Advance Base to be built at 100-mile depot. Tractors, sledges and aviation were all used as the men struggled to establish the base. The Pilgrim monoplane made three flights but the Fokker, BLUE BLADE, crashed on take-off and the weather closed in before the WILLIAM HORLICK could be made ready. Construction of the hut began on the morning of March 22 and at 11:55 a.m. Admiral Byrd was flown in by Bowlin and Bailey aboard the Pilgrim monoplane. Work on the site was under horrible conditions as temperatures plummeted to -60°F. Throughout the trips to and from Little America, the tractor party was plagued by water condensing and freezing in the fuel lines. They frequently stopped to disconnect the lines and blow the ice out. Fingers and hands suffered from the bitter cold with intense pain experienced by all. The dog teams left Advance Base for Little America II on March 25 and on March 28 the tractors departed, leaving Admiral Byrd alone to man the meteorological station for the winter. The prefabricated hut measured 9 feet by 13 feet and was 8 feet high. The structure was completely buried in snow by the time the tractor party pulled out. Only the bamboo poles used to support the radio antennae, the 12-foot anemometer pole and the instrument shelter protruded through the snow. Advance Base was located at 80°08'S, 163°57'W, 123 statute miles from Little America II.

Little America settled into a routine program as the sun set for the last time on April 19. Meteor observations, under Dr. Poulter, were conducted during the four months of darkness; the biologists, Dr. Perkins, Paul Siple, Alton Lindsey and J. M. Sterrett carried out their investigations of plankton, bacteria and the Weddell seals in the Bay of Whales; preparations were made for the spring campaign in the field. Meanwhile, Admiral Byrd took meteorological observations twice daily at Advance Base and maintained a radio schedule with Little America II three times a week. Once the sun set in April, Byrd also maintained a regular schedule of auroral observations. Unfortunately, Byrd was unaware of his impending carbon monoxide poisoning. Although aware of water condensing and freezing in the ventilator pipe, stovepipe and exhaust pipe of the engine which drove the radio generator, Byrd's precautions failed to maintain proper ventilation within the hut and he gradually became more ill until finally collapsing during the radio schedule on May 31. He remained critically ill for more than a month as his recovery was impaired by the inability to keep himself warm and properly cared for. In spite of his weakness and subsequent relapses, meteorological observations were continually recorded. Although he tried to hide it, Byrd's health was obviously deteriorating. The unusual radio transmissions alerted the men back at base camp so an unscheduled journey to Advance Base was soon in the works. The first two attempts to reach Byrd ended in failure as darkness, snow and mechanical difficulties overcame them. Finally, Dr. Poulter, E. J. Demas and Amory Waite, aboard tractor No. 3, reached Advance Base just before midnight on August 10. Byrd's physical condition was too poor for the return journey. The men remained, making regular observations, until October 12 when Bowlin flew out in the Pilgrim and picked up Byrd and Poulter while the others returned in the tractor.

A number of geological and biological scientific programs were accomplished during the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition. On September 27, Harold June, Ken Rawson, J. H. Von der Wall and Carl Peterson set out on tractor No. 1 pulling two sledges with 7600 pounds of cargo. On October 11 they sighted McKinley Peak and the Haines Mountains to the north. The next day the men climbed to the summit of McKinley Peak and determined, after making sun and star observations, that the mountain was approximately 37 miles west of its previously estimated position. The party arrived back at Little America on October 18 after completing a round trip of 525 statute miles. This had been the first time that exploration had been carried on to such an extent in Antarctica by means of mechanized land transport.

On October 14, the Marie Byrd Land party, made up of Paul Siple (biologist and leader), F. Alton Wade (geologist), Stevenson Corey and Olin Stancliff (dog drivers), set out from Little America II following the path of the previous tractor party. Six days were spent on McKinley Peak, under cruel weather conditions, examining the geology of the mountain. Additionally, magnetic observations were made. They continued on to the Haines Mountains for more geological investigations and later crossed the Hammond Glacier and camped at the base of Mount Woodward. November 20 was spent investigating Mount Woodward, the southernmost mountain in the Ford Ranges, where Siple found mosses. On November 21 they crossed the Boyd Glacier and camped at the foot of Mount Rea. The next day was spent studying the geology of Mount Rea and Mount Cooper. At this point the supply of dog food was running short so to cover as much ground as possible in a short period of time, the men split up into teams. On November 23, Siple and Corey left Mount Cooper, rounded Mount Rea and headed north to Saunders Mountain. By the end of the 24th, they were overlooking Crevasse Valley Glacier, a great outlet glacier. Inclement weather prohibited their crossing of the glacier until the 27th. They camped alongside the Chester Mountains and charted many of the surrounding mountains. On December 2 they reached their limit of the outward journey and abruptly turned around. While Siple and Corey were on their journey, Wade and Stancliff carried on geological observations in the vicinity of Saunders Mountain, Crevasse Valley Glacier and the Haines Mountains. The teams met up again at the Haines mountains and the Marie Byrd Land sledging party arrived back at Little America II at 3 p.m. on December 29 after 77 days of exploration covering 862 miles.

Extensive additional scientific programs were conducted by other members of the base camp party. A geological party of three men and two dog teams was to explore the Queen Maud Mountains to the east of Supporting Party Mountain at 85°27'S, 147°33'W, the easternmost point reached by the geological party of the First Byrd Antarctic Expedition. A geophysical party of four men with four dog teams expected to climb the Scott Glacier and determine the thickness of the Polar plateau icecap. The combined parties left Little America II on October 16. The geophysical party reached Advance Base on October 22 and the geological party a day and a half later. By October 31 both parties were at the edge of a belt of crevasses at 81°10'S, 161°05'W. After considerable obstacles were overcome, significant magnetic, geologic, and seismic investigations had been completed. From the top of the Rockefeller Plateau, Morgan calculated the glacial ice to be 1000 to 2000 feet thick. Where the surface elevations vary from 2000 to 3000 feet above sea level it was obvious that the greater part of the height of the plateau in this sector was due to ice. Exploratory flights were conducted by Byrd and the aviation group. On November 15 Byrd, June, Bowlin, Bailey, Rawson and Pelter took off in the Condor WILLIAM HORLICK for an exploratory flight to the southeast in an attempt to close the gap of unexplored land between Supporting Party Mountain, at the base of the Queen Maud Mountains, and the eastern trail between Little America II and the Ford Ranges. Much new territory was photographed and on their way home, they flew over the Rockefeller Mountains where they spotted the wrecked Fokker plane abandoned in 1929. The flight lasted 6 hours and 43 minutes covering 777 miles. A number of other flights were made over the course of the next month and a half. As the exploratory flights were being made, Dr. Poulter carried on important scientific studies of the Ross Ice Shelf, a project which proved to be one of the major accomplishments of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition. A re-survey of the shelf (originally taken during the 1929 expedition) in the vicinity of the Bay of Whales showed that the portion of the ice shelf east of the bay was moving westward while the west of the bay was moving northward, the latter at a rate of 6.6 feet per day. Consequently, the bay has now been obliterated and replaced by a large bite in the ice shelf.

During the winter layover in New Zealand, both the BEAR OF OAKLAND and JACOB RUPPERT were reconditioned and loaded with coal. The BEAR OF OAKLAND left Dunedin on January 2; on board was Charles F. Anderson, U. S. Postal Inspector, to handle the cancellation of mail at Little America. On January 18 they entered Discovery Inlet and picked up the seismograph crew. The next morning they moored in the Bay of Whales. The JACOB RUPPERT left Port Chalmers on January 16 and arrived in the Bay of Whales on January 27. The men hustled to get the cargo loaded aboard but with the ice threatening the thin plates of the JACOB RUPPERT, ferrying was necessary between the two ships as the JACOB RUPPERT hove to out in the bay. This process continued until only the heavy tractors and planes remained at the edge of the bay. Too heavy for the BEAR OF OAKLAND, the JACOB RUPPERT slipped in long enough to haul aboard all but Citroën No.2, two snowmobiles and a small amount of various supplies. The two ships moved out of the Bay of Whales on the afternoon of February 5, 1935. On board, headed for the Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, was the FLOYD BENNETT. . .the plane in which Byrd had flown to the Pole in 1929. Both ships stopped in Discovery Inlet long enough to pick up some penguins destined for American zoos and then, on February 7, the two ships departed for Dunedin. The BEAR OF OAKLAND docked at Dunedin on February 20.