A Philatelic Introduction to B.A.E. III: The Postal History
United States Antarctic Service Expedition 1939-41
Lynch, Jr., ASPP
PART II: USS BEAR
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
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 . . .
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. . .
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 . . .
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 . . .
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.
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