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Monday, 8 August 2011

Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen was born to a family of Norwegian shipowners and captains in Borge, between the towns Fredrikstad and Sarpsborg on July 16, 1872. Amundsen's father, Jens was a ship owner and many of his family were also ship owners and captains.

In 1897 Amundsen joined the crew of the Belgica as a member of the Belgian Antarctic expedition. They got themselves trapped in the Antarctica ice and thus inadvertently, they became the first people to winter in Antarctica.

Amundsen led the first expedition to successfully traverse the North West Passage. He set off in 1903 on a small sloop, the Gjoa with a crew of 7, and after three winters trapped in ice they finally reached the Pacific in their fishing smack.

When Amundsen left for the North West Passage in 1903 he'd built up massive debts and was being pursued for them.

Amundsen originally announced that he was heading for the North Pole and left in August 1910. No one apart from Amundsen's brother knew that he intended to turn south and beat the Englishman Robert Scott, to become to first man to reach the South Pole. (He'd changed his mind when he heard that Robert Peary had reached North Pole in 1909).

In 1911 at the Polar Plateau, en route to the South Pole, Amundsen ordered the shooting of the 24 weakest dogs to provide a source of fresh meat, to prevent scurvy. Apart from dog meat Amundsen and his men survived entirely on dried meat biscuits and chocolate powdered milk.

On December 14, 1911 Amundsen and his men arrived at the South Pole and planted the Norwegian flag beating Scott by 35 days.

Roald Amundsen and his crew looking at the Norwegian flag at the South Pole, 1911

Amundsen told the New York Times, that during his expedition to the South Pole, "washing was a luxury never indulged on the journey, nor was there any shaving; but as the beard had to be kept short to prevent ice accumulating from one’s breath, a beard cutting machine which we had taken proved invaluable."

Amundsen was the second person to navigate the North East Passage, reaching Nome, Alaska in July 1920.

In 1926 Amundsen, along with 15 other men including the Italian aeronautical engineer General Umberto Nubile, crossed in the airship Norge from Spitsbergen to Alaska, by flying over the North Pole. This flight of over 70 hours, meant they became the first people to cross from Europe to North America over the Arctic.

Amundsen died on June 18, 1928 when searching by seaplane for General Nobile and his wrecked airship, which was lost in the Arctic Ocean. Whilst Nobile was found and rescued, Amundsen's seaplane disappeared, presumably crashed in fog. Some remains of his plane were found near Tromso two months later.

Twenty one days before his death, Amundsen was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

Sources  Encarta Enyclopedia

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