Antarctica: Antarctic Expedition 1939-1941 US Antarctic Service; 3rd Byrd Expedition




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Published on Sep 28, 2014

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Great color film of polar exploration. 'On Admiral Byrd's Antarctic expedition, 1939-1941.

Reel 1, a snowmobile [the Antarctic Snow Cruiser] is loaded on the North Star at Boston. Men are initiated at the Equator. The ship anchors at Pitcairn Island, natives row to the ship with fresh food, and a party visits the island. The ship sails past volcanic peaks on the island.

Reel 2, the Bear passes through ice floes. Shows whales, seals, and penguins. A snowmobile, a Condor seaplane, and other supplies are unloaded at Little America.

Reel 3, the Bear moves past icebergs off Palmer Peninsula. A Barkley-Grow seaplane is unloaded and takes off. Penguins play on the ice. Seals and penguins are captured and taken aboard.

Reel 4, the Bear rounds Cape Horn. Shows men chopping seal meat, feeding dogs, and making skis and sleds. A Condor seaplane takes off. Seals, penguins, and snow petrels are shown. Shows panoramic shots of a camp near the Rockefeller Mountains.

Reel 5, supplies, including a Barkley-Grow seaplane, are loaded on the North Star. A seal is lassoed and penguins are fed.'


Public domain film from the US National Archives, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).


The United States Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–1941), often referred to as Byrd’s third Antarctic Expedition, was an expedition jointly sponsored by the United States Navy, State Department, Department of the Interior and The Treasury. Although a US Government sponsored expedition, additional support came from donations and gifts by private citizens, corporations and institutions...

Description of expedition
Background, orders and goals

Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd donated many of the supplies which he had gathered for his own expedition, the largest item being the Bear of Oakland, commissioned the USS Bear. A second ship, the USMS North Star, a 1434-ton wooden ice ship built for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was supplied by the Department of the Interior.

A total of 125 men departed from the United States in the two ships of the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. Most of the men who made up the expedition were solicited from the military ranks, civilian agencies of government and from scientific institutions. A few volunteers were employed by the Department of the Interior for $10 per month, food and clothing included. A total of 59 men, divided initially into three groups, wintered in Antarctica.

The objectives of the Expedition were outlined in an order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt dated November 25, 1939. The President wanted two bases to be established: East Base, in the vicinity of Charcot Island or Alexander I Land, or on Marguerite Bay if no accessible site could be found on either of the specified islands; and West Base, in the vicinity of King Edward VII Land, but if this proved impossible, a site on the Bay of Whales at or near Little America was to be investigated, and delineation of the continental coast line between the meridians 72 degrees W., and 148 degrees W. In view of the broad scope of the objectives and the unpredictable circumstances that always arise in Antarctica, it is remarkable that most of the objectives set for them were met.

Accomplishments and noteworthy events

The visionary but ill fated Antarctic Snow Cruiser, a vehicle having several innovative features, was used by the expedition but it generally failed to operate as hoped under the difficult conditions, and was eventually abandoned in Antarctica. It was rediscovered in 1958 but has since been presumed to have been lost due it the breaking off, and eventual melting, of the ice flow it was on.

Observations were conducted in every conceivable area: seismic, cosmic ray, auroral, biological, tidal, magnetic and physiological to name a few. All in all, it was an extremely successful expedition.

Mission termination and aftermath

With international tensions on the rise, it was considered wise to evacuate the two bases rather than relieve the present personnel with new men who would continue to occupy the bases. It was hoped that one day this base would be reoccupied so much of the equipment and supplies were left behind as the two ships sailed from West Base on February 1. The evacuation of East Base was concluded on March 22 and both ships sailed immediately. The USMS North Star arrived in Boston on May 5 and the USS Bear on May 18...


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