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



The Second Trip


The evacuation of the expedition was made necessary by the situation in Europe. World War II had started. It was decided not to relieve the personnel as originally planned. The USS BEAR sailed from Philadelphia, PA, on October 11, 1940. The USS NORTH STAR sailed from Seattle, WA, on December 11, 1940.

The USS NORTH STAR stopped at Pago Pago, (pronounced Pango Pango) Samoa on January 3, 1941 . . .

After departing from Samoa, the USS NORTH STAR continued south. It's next stop was Dunedin, N.Z., from where she departed on January 17, 1941.

This cover is something unusual . . .


Multiple stops of the USS NORTH STAR . . .

BARROW, ALASKA, between trips to the Antarctic, at PAGO PAGO, SAMOA, on the way back. Arrival at the Bay of Whales (Little America III).

The USMS (USS) NORTH STAR made her annual trip to Barrow, Alaska for the United States Department of the Interior, during the austral winter. She was between her two austral summer trips to the Antarctic. On the way back to Little America III (West Base) from her home port at Seattle, Washington, she stopped at Pago Pago, Samoa, January 3, 1941. The ship then departed for the Bay of Whales and Little America, arriving there on January 24, 1941 as shown in her single ring cachet. Two days later this cover was re-canceled on the U.S.S. Bear. The flap of the cover was annotated by a crewman with the dates of departure and arrival at Boston, Massachusetts.



The cover, with a Will Rogers and Wiley Post Memorial Expedition printed cachet from 1938, also shows a Barrow, Alaska cancel of August 26, 1940, when the USS NORTH STAR again made her annual trip to Alaska for the United States Department of the Interior. This was done between her two trips to Antarctica for the United States Antarctic Service. This is a souvenir cover of H. Sanwick, the Chief Engineer of the USMS (USS) NORTH STAR , who annotated with the dates of departure and return to Boston, Massachusetts.

Departure; November 15, 1939
Return; May 6, 1941


Both covers above also show the USS NORTH STAR single-ring cachet dated January 24, 1941, her arrival date at West Base (Little America III) and the USS BEAR cancel of January 26, 1941, the first date she canceled mail from the USS NORTH STAR during this second season.

There is a question raised by the USS NORTH STAR single-ring cachet on a 1940 cover . . .

The piece above shows "LITTLE AMERICA / JAN 12 1941," yet we know that she didn't arrive at Little America, this second season, until January 24. The dates in her round cachets are usually important dates in her movement. Is January 12, 1941 the date of arrival at Dunedin, N.Z.? The answer is indeed, "yes".

The twenty-six men who had wintered-over at East Base had only one airplane at their disposal -- a used and ex-Marine Corp Curtiss-Wright "Condor" biplane. As it turns out this craft was taxiing for a takeoff on January 19, 1941 in preparation for a flight to aid Finn Ronne and Carl Eklund, who were still on the trail with their dogs, and the aircraft dropped down into a crevice and badly damaged the prop and the left ski. Fortunately, substantial repairs were made and the plane was test flown in time for what turned out to be an 'emergency flight' evacuation of the base members.

Following the evacuation of the personnel at West Base at the Bay of Whales, the USS BEAR retired northward to the area of Scott Island and subsequently rendezvoused off Adelaide Island, near Marguerite Bay on February 24, 1941. Dense pack-ice prevented the ships from entering this area forcing the two ships northward again pending some favorable news from the people at East Base. On March 15, 1941 the USS BEAR again made an attempt to approach the station but could not find a safe passage which would bring them close enough to embark personnel. Despite this rebuffing, the USS BEAR applied the 'Antarctic Continent' cachet , dated March 15, 1941 . . .


"Standing Bear" cachet

Evacuation of West Base

On January 10, 1941 the USS BEAR entered the Bay of Whales to evacuate the expedition at West Base. On March 15, 1941 the USS BEAR again investigated the pack ice without finding a safe passage to Marguerite Bay to evacuate East Base. The USS NORTH STAR was dispatched to Magalines, Chile, to load supplies for another season in case the men and the ship became frozen in. The USS BEAR proceeded northwestward to Mikkelson Island, just north of the Antarctic Circle. A party was put ashore, and a landing field was prepared for the two emergency flights from East Base.




. . . to some mail bearing the January 10, 1941 USS BEAR cancellation. Later, apparently some other out-going mail received a postmark with this date and the very scarce wording "East Base / Antarctica" in the killer bars, even though the base was not within range of the vessels.

On March 15th, the USS NORTH STAR was ordered to head for Punta Arenas, Chile so that personnel aboard, from West Base, might be disembarked and additional supplies loaded in the event that the USS BEAR would not be able to reach the East Base personnel or, even worse, be frozen in for the winter. On this date, March 15, 1941, the USS NORTH STAR used a new version of her single-circle cachet which changed the center line to read 'Palmer Land', rather than 'Little America' . . .


Evacuation of East Base

USS NORTH STAR single ring cachet with PALMER LAND in the center. USS NORTH STAR departs Antarctica March 15, 1941 ... USS BEAR evacuates East Base March 22, 1941.

The USS NORTH STAR round cachet with PALMER LAND in the center is dated March 15, 1941. On this date the two ships were trying to reach Marguerite Bay to evacuate the men from East Base, but were unable to, due to heavy ice. The USS NORTH STAR was ordered to Punta Arenas, Chile where she would disembark the men from West Base and load food and fuel for another year in case the ships or men were to become stranded. Two emergency evacuation flights were made on March 22, 1941. The USS BEAR also sailed for Punta Arenas.



This is a very scarce impression and is highly sought after by collectors of Byrd III. On March 16 the USS BEAR reached the small island known as Mikkelson Island, located about 25 miles northeast of Adelaide Island, and put a party ashore which laid out a rough landing strip to receive flights from East Base. The first flight took off from East Base at 0530 hours on March 22 with Ashley C. Snow and Earl B. Perce at the controls and 12 other base members on board. Mikkelson was reached at 0715 hours after a flight of 112 miles. The air crew then had to return to East Base to pick up the remaining base members. A bit of trouble with soft snow caused some worry until the weight of the airplane was reduced somewhat by the removal of certain cargo. The second take-off was successful at 1215 hours and ended at Mikkelson Island about an hour and forty minutes later. A few actual flight covers were serviced, despite the critical situation, and signed by Snow, Perce and the mechanic, Zadik Collier . . .


USASE ..... some flights of the Curtiss-Wright Condor biplane from East Base. Autographed by Ashley C. Snow, pilot; Earle B. Perce, co-pilot; Zadik Collier, airplane mechanic.

A number of conditions made the flights especially difficult at East Base. Strong winds swept over the area and the high field was not level and it was crevassed and limited in size. Having only one plane at East Base made operations precarious.

The first flight of the plane was on May 20, 1940. The first exploratory flight was finally made on September 21, 1940. The sixth and final flight was made on December 30, 1940. The plane was damaged on a local flight, January 15, 1941 but was repaired in time for the two emergency flights made on March 22, 1941, when the ships could not reach the base due to bad ice conditions.

This cover was carried on all the exploratory and evacuation flights.



The USS BEAR now changed to a cancellation bearing the March 22, 1941 date but with the wording 'Evacuation / East Base' and a few covers received the 'Antarctic Continent' cachet with the same date. These latter covers are rather uncommon, however, are quite attractive.

On a sad note, where the evacuation of this station is concerned, was the necessary 'orders' to destroy the dogs that had to remain behind. Delayed explosive charges were set to go off after a certain element of time had transpired whereby the animals would be destroyed to prevent them from suffering a slow death due to starvation. This, of course, had an immense disheartening mental effect on the members who had come to know these creatures who had served so wonderfully the sledging parties. But, in disregard to strict orders, six pups were brought out by the departing base members within an attaché case. This lightened the hearts of those involved although not ever compensating for the demise of so many faithful partners in the success of the expedition at this tiny point of civilization. The 'Condor' was abandoned on the ice and the USS BEAR, with the evacuees, departed the area and immediately set sail for Punta Arenas, Chile to meet the USS NORTH STAR.

At the end of the Expedition . . . Captain Isak Lystad on the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Stationary. . .


When the USS NORTH STAR departed Antarctica she intended to return to her home port at Seattle, WA. However, when she reached the Canal Zone, she was ordered to go to Boston, MA as the war in Europe was getting to a point where we might be drawn into the war.


Catching up with the USS NORTH STAR . . .

Mailed to George Weed, c/o Motorship North Star, from Seattle, WA on January 14, 1941 and backstamped American Consulate, Valparaiso, Chile January 22, 1941.

The USS NORTH STAR sailed from Seattle on December 11, 1940, arriving at the Ross Sea on January 24, 1941. West Base was evacuated and both USS BEAR and USS NORTH STAR departed for East Base on February 1. On February 24, both ships were encountering a dense ice pack off Adelaide Island, northwest of East Base. In order to save fuel, the ships sailed north and anchored in Andersen Harbor in the Melchior Islands. As it was becoming late in the season, USS BEAR proceeded to evacuate East Base and USS NORTH STAR was ordered to sail for Punta Arenas, Chile (March 15, 1941). Upon reaching Punta Arenas, ost of the men were disembarked. However, the ship took aboard fuel and food for another year in case the USS BEAR could not break through the ice to evacuate the expedition on Stonington Island.

The USS BEAR was successful in evacuating the base and the ship joined the USS NORTH STAR at Punta Arenas on March 29. There are no transit markings on this exceptional piece to indicate that the cover was forwarded to Punta Arenas. To the best of this writer's knowledge, the USS NORTH STAR did not make a stop at Valparaiso on its return to Boston. If any reader can provide additional details on this piece, please contact the webmaster.

(Cover courtesy of Larry Weirather)


No Airmail Service?

This cover was backstamped at Santiago, Chile on April 3, 1941. Was there no airmail from Punta Arenas, Chile in 1941 to Santiago since it took eight days to get there? There are no other transit markings on this cover. Both ships met at Punta Arenas to swap members going to different home ports. Little did they know that by the time they reached the Canal Zone, BOTH ships were ordered to Boston due to the deteriorating wartime conditions in Europe.

Next we will cover the USS BEAR.