The Norge Expedition
It was the year 1926. The year when, for the first time, the Arctic Ocean was to be crossed by the first transpolar flight! Continue to read our article and discover the fascinating story of the first explorers to have reached the North Pole! And, best of all, see with your own eyes a veritable piece of this adventure if you decide to visit me here in Vadsø!
Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, well-known at that time for having crossed the Northwest Passage and for having successfully reached the South Pole a few years earlier, still had a dream – to conquer the great North Pole!
He did not want to give up his lifetime dream so, in May 1925, he had a first attempt to reach the pole from Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard, by using two seaplanes N-24 and N-25. After a first crash landing, and then due to lack of fuel, Amundsen needed to wait a bit more in order to accomplish his dream.
Without hesitation, he started planning his second attempt for reaching the North Pole. This time he decided to use an airship instead of a plane, the main reason being that if a problem occurred in an engine, a plane needed an emergency landing, while an airship could have its engine repaired while still flying! He telegraphed Umberto Nobile – an Italian aeronautical engineer – in which he requested to meet him in Norway in order to propose an airship trip through the Great Arctic! Nobile’s N-1 semi-rigid airship was thus to be modified for cold conditions. And because the Aero Club of Norway was to be the formal owner of the airship, the N-1 was rebaptized ‘Norge‘ (‘Norge’ means ‘Norway’ in Norwegian).
Concerning the financing of the expedition, Lincoln Ellsworth, an American wealthy adventurer, contributed 100.000 dollars and everything over was to be covered by the Aero Club of Norway. The costs included, among others, the buying of the airship, its modifications and also the erection of mooring masts in strategic places where Norge was to pass from Italy to its final point.
Vadsø was chosen as one of this strategic places, thus our small town played an important role in Amundsen’s Arctic adventure! It was the last mainland port for Norge. The airship mast that was constructed here, still stands even today, and its imposing view can be admired on the Vadsøya island from the mainland or during a pleasant walk through the island’s Culture Park.
March 29, 1926 was the day when Norge‘s polar story began, during a ceremony in Ciampino, Italy, when the dirigeable was handed over to the Aero Club of Norway. Lots of people were present, including Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth, other expedition participants and even Benito Mussolini – the Italian prime minister – himself!
The flight towards the Great North was initially scheduled to depart on April 6, but, due to strong winds, was delayed to April 10. At 9:25, the magic started! The airship flew to England, where it made its first landing in the Pulham Airship Station, at 15:20.
Bad weather incurred another delay, and Amundsen needed to wait one more day before departing England. On April 12 at 11:45, Norge began its flight towards Oslo, reaching Norway a few hours later.
On April 15 at 01:00, the airship left Oslo and flew to Leningrad in Russia, during an adventurous 17-hour flight through dense fog. In Russia, the Norge needed some maintenance work done and the addition of safety rubber boats, should an emergency occur. The airship remained thus in the shed for more than a week. This time was extended even more because of the weather and also because the airship mast in Ny-Ålesund had not yet been finished, also due to harsh weather conditions in the Arctic at the time.
After a long wait, on May 5 at 09:40, Norge finally left Russia and was directed towards Vadsø in Northern Norway! Here in Vadsø, the mast that was used almost 100 years ago for Norge, is still standing today as a historical monument, and you can see it during a nice, relaxing walk on the town’s island of Vadsøya!
The expedition continued from Vadsø, crossed the Barents Sea and reached Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard on May 7 at 06:15.
A few days later, on May 11 at 09:55, the airship left Svalbard to finally reach the North Pole on May 12 at 01:25. This moment, the Norwegian, Italian and American flags were dropped from the dirigible onto the ice.
From here, because of the extreme cold, icy formations grew on the airship’s propellers, and even if pieces would break and fly off, Norge did manage to reach Alaska on May 14, on the other side of the Arctic Ocean, where it was landed.
There are a few claims to have arrived at the North Pole in 1908, 1909 and in 1926 (only a few days before the Norge), but all of these claims are disputed for being inaccurate or even fraudulent. The crew of Norge is thus considered to be the first verified explorers team to have reached the North Pole!
And speaking about Norge‘s crew, it included 16 men, among which there was Roald Amundsen as the expedition leader, Umberto Nobile as the airship’s designer and pilot, and Lincoln Ellsworth. Nobile even brought his little dog Titina, as the expedition’s mascot!
Stay tuned on the Aurora Labs blog to discover the story of a second expedition to the North Pole which passed through Vadsø two years later, but which contains an unexpected turnaround…