Towards the Poles.

A fascinating harbinger of U.S. participation in the International Geophysical Year (1957-58). One could only wish, sixty years later, that the Navy had distributed this work widely among its officers and men to help them understand what they were dealing with. The work consists of a series of timelines of polar expeditions, including in addition to the introductory chronologies, other sections on the Franklin Search, the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage. Part II includes two chapters on Antarctica, the second another timeline. Appendices include an Arctic index, a select bibliography, and a glossary.


The Arctic is merciless. It does not treat men well, disposing of

them in its own harsh way. It is not a place for heroes, but for deter-

mined, ordinary, rugged men. “The human elements of patience,

endurance, and courage are the most important of all in polar work.”

“Physique is of significance, but temperament is more important.” (Peter Freuchen?)

In the story which follows, there are numerous recitals of the horrors and hardships of the arctic winter, with scant food, shelter, and clothing; of fine plans gone to smash when wind and ice and drifting snow took charge; of scurvy and frostbite; of ships beset for months and even years; of ice packs and ice fields of extent and mass so gigantic that no description can convey a just idea of their sizes; of land marches where exhausted human beings staggered on and on, leaving patterns of blood in the snow, and unburied dead men behind on the ice; of sledge journeys over the rugged polar pack ice and the inland ice of Greenland and Spitsbergen; of murders and suicides—tragedies shrouded in deep and unsolved mystery; of awful silence, continuous darkness, and monotonous surroundings that unbalanced the minds of strong men; of heroic defeats of the enemy elements; and of dazzling and unexplained arctic mirages.

The commanders of expeditions have emphasized the importance of

routine and regular work to prevent attacks of polar melancholia. A neat ship or camp along with adequate food, books, music, games, and entertainment was always conducive to discipline, then as now. It has always been a point of honor in the north to persist and get the job done.

p. 52-71. Chapter 3, contains a thorough timeline of Western exploration in the nineteenth century.

p. 72-99 . Similarly, Chapter 4 covers the first half of the twentieth century, lacking the covert British Operation Tabarin (1944-46).

p. 142-43, on Adolph Nordenskjold’s Northeast Passage expedition of 1873: “The leisure time of the crew was principally occupied with reading, but also with various games as draughts (checkers), chess, and dominoes…. Song, music, and sometimes dancing shorted many leisure hours for the men.

p. 204, describing the Operation Highjump expedition of the USS Yancey to Antarctica in 1946: The U. S. S. Yancey was loaded hurriedly in Norfolk with cargo and departed for the Canal Zone and California

on October 21, 1946. During the period from arrival at Port Hueneme (?) in early November to departure on December 2, the ship’s machinery and equipment were repaired and prepared for extended operations 8,000 miles from base. The personnel were given leave and liberty as practicable. The crew and stevedores loaded supplies, clothing, movies, recreation materials, and made provision for the health and comfort of the men, which is always done when putting to sea for a long cruise. Each person was given a dental and medical examination. The unfit were transferred. En route to Scott Island drills were held and schools conducted daily on safety, the geographic nature of Antarctica, and other subjects. Cold-weather clothing was fitted to each man. All hands were instructed in its proper use. There were happy hours, movies each night, and books, magazines, and other reading materials provided in great quantities. Contests of various character were held with prizes given to the winners. A regular Christmas dinner with turkey, ham, fruit cake, and all the usual delicacies was served on this Holy Day celebrated way down under at 60° S. latitude, in the same manner as the world around. …. Hobby crafts of various types—photography, wood work, leather work, etc.—were available. Over 5,000 photographs were printed on the ship, and each man was given a handful to take home to show the folks.