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


Killer Bars Cancellation Types the Second Trip

(For completeness, displayed below is an Annapolis, MD cancellation from October 12....the day before departing for the Antarctic)


The U.S.S. Bear arrives at Annapolis one day after leaving Philadelphia, PA

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After leaving the USA, the U.S.S. Bear made five stops on the way to evacuate the expedition. The first stop was at Balboa, Canal Zone . . .

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The second stop was at the Galapagos Islands . . .

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The third stop was at Pago Pago, Samoa . . .

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The U.S.S. Bear arrived at Suva, Fiji, about 9:00 a.m., Saturday, December 7, 1940. After a slow trip from Pago Pago, Samoa, she is expected to depart December 9 around noon for Dunedin, N.Z. and should arrive in about ten days . . .

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The last stop. however without the U.S.S. Bear canceler . . .

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The U.S.S. Bear arrives at Little America . . .

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With missing top killer . . .

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An evacuation flight . . .

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All the single and double-ring U.S.S. North Star cachets have dates of significant movement of the ship. This cachet shows January 28, 1941, a rarely seen date. Both ships sailed on January 1, 1941 from Little America (West Base) to evacuate East Base. This closed the expedition. .

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On the way home, arriving at Buenos Aires . . .

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And, the day of departure for Rio de Janeiro . . .

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NOTE: The Type 2 cancel used here had to be repaired by gluing on a piece of rubber.

Last stop on the way home at Rio de Janeiro . . .

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Arriving at Home Port, May 18, 1941 . . .

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The USS BEAR also used parcel post and registration cancels . . . the PAQUEBOT marking was found on covers bearing SUVA / FIJI IS. in the killer bars . . .

Parcel Post and Paquebot Markings

Only seen on mail canceled at Suva, Fiji . . .


The U.S.S. Bear, after leaving the Galapagos Islands on November 5, 1940, made her next stop at Pago Pago, Samoa. She arrived here on November 28. That same day, Tom Smith, a First Class Petty Officer on the U.S.S. Bear, mailed his Christmas cards from here. On December 2 the ship sailed for the Fiji Islands, which was her next stop on the way to Antarctica to evacuate the expedition.

The international situation had deteriorated to the point where it was considered advisable to evacuate the two bases rather than relieve the personnel with new men for another season at the two bases. The USS BEAR sailed from Philadelphia on October 13, 1940 and the USS NORTH STAR departed from Seattle on December 11. The USS BEAR stopped at Dunedin, New Zealand and arrived at West Base on January 11, 1941. The USS NORTH STAR arrived on January 24 at the Bay of Whales. West Base was evacuated and the two ships sailed from Little America on February 1, 1941. From the vicinity of Scott Island, the two ships sailed eastward toward Marguerite Bay. By February 24, both ships were stopped by heavy pack ice off Adelaide Island, just to the northwest of East Base. To save fuel the ships headed north where they rendezvoused and anchored in Andersen Harbor, in the Melchior Islands, in Dallmann Bay. The USS BEAR made a cruise in late February and again in mid-March to observe ice conditions in the vicinity of East Base. Each time they were turned back by heavy pack ice, making it impossible to enter Marguerite Bay. Rotten as the ice was, the prevailing winds came from the north which kept the ice jammed in the bay. But the season was becoming late, with new snow falling and fresh ice forming over pools of water in the bay. The USS NORTH STAR was ordered on March 15 to sail for Punta Arenas, Chile, where most of the men from West Base were to be dropped off and food and fuel loaded aboard for another season on the ice in case the men at East Base became impossible to evacuate.

Meanwhile, the USS BEAR put a party ashore on March 16 at Mikkelson Island, a low, snow-covered island in the Biscoe Islands. The shore party laid out a landing strip and arrangements were made by radio that evacuation would begin by airlift as soon as the weather improved. The first flight took off from the high field at East Base at 5:30 a.m. on March 22, 1941. In addition to Snow and Perce, 12 other men were aboard. A second flight was necessary and the remaining 12 men were flown out shortly after noon.

The cover illustrated below is truly a gem, but does not involve the Barkley-Grow seaplane. Rather, it was "carried on all flights made from East Base USAS, including emergency evacuation flights March 22, 1941." This would pertain to the twin-motor Curtiss-Wright Condor biplane aircraft which was at East Base . . .

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 but was not for exploration. 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 on January 15, 1941. It 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 plane was abandoned on Watson Island and the USS BEAR immediately sailed for Punta Arenas, Chile, arriving on March 29. The USS NORTH STAR arrived in Boston on May 5 and the U.S.S. Bear on May 18, 1941.

This cover was mailed from Washington, D.C. via airmail on March 10, 1941. It was sent to the United States Antarctic (Service) Expedition at Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), South America. It was to meet the U.S.S. Bear, which arrived April 22, 1941. It never reached the ship. It was returned to the USA, at New York City, November 17, nine months after it was mailed.

Felix L. Erranto was to be the radioman on the Snow Cruiser, which did not operate properly in the snow. He was added to the group at West Base (Little America III).

This cover was mailed by Tom Smith at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 22, 1941 . . . the final stop of the U.S.S. Bear before reaching Boston, MA.

Examples of additional covers and cachet types will be explored in the next section.