A Philatelic Introduction to B.A.E. III: The Postal History

United States Antarctic Service Expedition 1939-41


Joseph Lynch, Jr., ASPP
Murray Fishler, ASPP
Gary Pierson,ASPP




Type I Cancel

Type II Cancel



The First Trip

USS BEAR cancellations can be found documenting most of the important events and ports-of-call during her time with the U.S.A.S.E.

Once the USS BEAR cleared Panama in late 1939, she commenced using her post office, and her first cancels appeared on December 1, 1939 with the wording FIRST DAY / P.O. SERVICE between the killer bars. Listed below are examples of the different wording used in the cancellation . . .


Killer Bar Cancellation Types 1st Trip

On January 10, 1940, this cover was mailed from Glendale, CA to Dunedin, N.Z. where it missed the expedition and it was forwarded to Valparaiso, Chile, where the American Consulate backstamped it February 14, 1940. The U.S.M.S. North Star was scheduled to pick up supplies there to establish East Base. The North Star carried it to the U.S.S. Bear which it met near Horseshoe Island, on March 5, 1940. Having finished establishing West Base, the Bear carried this mail back to the USA at Philadelphia, PA for the Antarctic winter. On October 13, 1940 she sailed again for West Base and after several stops arrived there January 10, 1941, one full year to the day after the cover was mailed. Harold Gilmour, recorder for West Base, annotated that he received it January 28, 1941. It seems that the U.S.S. Bear only backstamped incoming mail when the addressee was not on board. She used her cancel without wording in the killer bars.


High Resolution Image

The day the U.S.S. Bear reached Philadelphia, PA



When the USS BEAR cleared the Virginia Capes on November 26, 1939, enroute to Antarctica, she carried aboard her a twin-motored Barkley-Grow seaplane. This aircraft was hoisted on and off the ship at various times to perform reconnaissance and exploratory flights . . .

(National Archives)

At least two of these flights are known to have been documented by covers prepared and signed by her flight crew. Other flights made by the East Base Condor aircraft are also known. All these covers appear to have been prepared by Marine Corps Technical Sergeant Zadik Collier as his signature is very prominent on all those seen by the writer. Since no flight covers are known to this writer documenting any of the Condor or Beechcraft operations at West Base (Little America), it can further be said that Sergeant Collier was the only person who could be responsible for producing these remarkable documentary covers, because all seem to emanate from his place of duty. Further, in most cases, the addressee is the Leatherneck Stamp Exchange Club in Washington, D.C., "Leatherneck" being a slang expression for Marine Corps personnel. From all appearances, it seems that one can safely say that Navymen Ashley C. Snow, Jr., and Earle B. Perce flew the Barkley-Grow seaplane until East Base was set up on Stonington Island. Thereafter, they flew the Condor until that base was evacuated in 1941. Sergeant Collier provided his machinist talents similarly. . .

Zadik Collier produced some magnificent postal history


Tech Sergeant Collier (National Archives)


A Navy Department press release, dated 21 November 1939, lists a roster of officers and enlisted men detailed to the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. Information concerning Sergeant Collier tells us that he "enlisted in the Marine Corps on January 16, 1926, and his service has largely been that of aviation machinist with various aviation units in the Marine Corps. Presently, he is on duty at the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia, PA, where the aircraft for the Antarctic Service are being overhauled and prepared for service in the polar regions."

Sergeant Collier retired from the Corps as a Lt. Colonel in January, 1955. The writer (Lynch) was fortunate enough to be put in contact with the colonel by the Public Affairs Office at Quantico, VA, about April of 1982. Unfortunately, before any productive letter writing could take place, something unforeseen happened to this 84 year-old ex-Marine, and our correspondence ended abruptly. Subsequent letters to his place of residence received no reply. Many questions concerning flight covers, known cachets and his connection with the Leatherneck Stamp Club which has been presented to this polar veteran remained unanswered.

Getting back to the covers themselves, we find illustrated below a Collier cover "carried on an exploratory flight over the snow-covered Antarctic" on January 14, 1940. . .

A check of the deck-log of the USS BEAR for that date indicates that shortly after the vessel moored at the Bay of Whales, the Barkley-Grow aircraft was hoisted out and after a flight over the sea, made a forced landing on the ice. Several hours later it was safely hoisted aboard. The writer believes it can safely be said that this cover documents "the first flight" made over the continent during the U.S.A.S.E., based on the deck-log of the USS BEAR.

The eastern exploratory cruise taken by the USS BEAR departed the base at Little America on January 19, 1940, which was just five days after this ship's arrival at the Bay of Whales and had unloaded the necessary supplies to establish West Base. This was the first of three exploratory cruises during the expedition. Admiral R. E. Byrd, the commanding officer, had been prevented from reaching his proposed goal by heavy pack-ice and unfavorable flight conditions on his two previous expeditions. Now he was on board the USS BEAR once again to make another attempt when the ship sailed from the Bay of Whales. The primary purpose of the eastern exploratory cruise was to determine the delineation of the unexplored coastline east of the 148th meridian and subsequently four flights were made in this unknown area.

The first exploratory flight was made on January 22, 1940 followed by the second flight on January 23rd. Bad weather then prevented air operations until the 26th on which two more flights were made. Covers from these flights are not known at this time but there are some covers / mail known that relate to this period. A letter from Fred Dustin . . .

. . . dated January 18 and originating at Little America, said in part, "...In a few days I leave with Admiral Byrd for an eastern trip to make two or three exploratory flights. There is no way I can describe this trip to you at this time as we do not know what we will get into. I was as far east as Cape Colbeck on the last expedition. However, we hope to get beyond that." This letter is on 'special' Department of the Interior stationery printed for the USAS and is signed by F. G. Dustin, fuel engineer. The January 19 cancel at Little America is the last Bear cancel until her return to the Bay of Whales on January 30, 1940.

The USS BEAR, while away from Little America III, had 'Antarctic / Continent' added to the killer bars in her cancellation . . .

On January 27, 1940 the U.S.S. Bear was exploring northeast of the Ruppert Coast, about 300 miles from Little America. The wording in the killer bars of her cancel was changed from "Little America" to "Antarctic Continent".

Another cover documents one of the better-known exploratory flights made on February 27, 1940, as the USS BEAR sailed along the coastline. The documentation places the ship (and flight) at 70°10' S, 94°49' W, just off Thurston Island and the Eights Coast . . .

Zadik Collier was one of the airplane mechanics and a Technical Sergeant of the US Marine Corps. He came to Antarctica on the U.S.M.S. North Star. This cover was carried on the three hour exploratory flight, February 27, 1940. The flight of the Barkley-Grow from the U.S.S. Bear was along the coast from 90°W to 100°W; it was on this flight that the Thurston Peninsula was determined to actually be an island. Admiral Richard E. Byrd was on this flight as an observer. The printed portion of these covers, created by Zadik Collier, was incorrect in having the wrong name of the expedition. He typed over "Byrd Antarctic Expedition III" and the wording "Snow Cruiser". He then typed in "U.S. ANTARCTIC SERVICE", which was also not quite correct, along with "BARKLEY-GROW PLANE".


Following the last flight on February 27, the USS BEAR pushed eastward to a rendezvous with the USS NORTH STAR in Marguerite Bay. A suitable site for a base was not discovered until a reconnaissance flight in the afternoon of March 8 by Admiral Byrd, Richard B. Black, chief pilot Ashley C. Snow and co-pilot and radioman Earl B. Perce. Two islands were discovered on the north side of Neny Bay and a subsequent landing by boat on the most northerly of the two, later named Stonington Island, confirmed its suitability as a base of operations. Due to poor weather, unloading was postponed until March 11. With all men helping from sunrise to sunset (12 hours this time of the year), unloading was completed by the evening of March 20. The next day the two ships sailed from East Base for the United States. Both ships called at Punta Arenas, Chile. The USS BEAR then sailed for Boston while the USS NORTH STAR headed for Seattle.