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In the summer of 1922, the last of the German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers who had been in Russian captivity after the First World War were shipped home across the Baltic. Altogether, over 400,000 prisoners were exchanged in less than two years. The credit for this was given mainly to Fridtjof Nansen.
That autumn he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nansen did his country great service as a politician and diplomat, but he acquired his international renown primarily as a scientist, polar exploration hero, and the altruistic champion of people in times of distress.
In July 1895, the Sixth International Geographical Congress was held in London. One of the objectives was to rekindle interest in Antarctic exploration. Little of consequence had been achieved in the past 50 years, and the Congress passed a resolution, stating that “further exploration of the Antarctic regions should be undertaken before the close of the century”.
Those who attended the congress were probably unaware that preparations for just such an expedition were already under way. The man who intended to lead this voyage of discovery was a 29-year-old lieutenant in the Belgian Navy, Adrien Victor Joseph de Gerlache.
Three years earlier he had volunteered to join a Swedish expedition that was being formed, but the expedition was abandoned before it set sail.
The spray was dashing over the ship, and the wind came in gusts, howling through the rigging, but we struggled and toiled and got the sails set. Then we commenced a method of sailing not one of us is ever likely to forget even should he attain the age of Methusaleh.
- Roald Amundsen
From Dalrymple Rock the Gjøa headed into Lancaster Sound and on August 22 reached Beechey Island, the last safe winter harbour of the Franklin expedition.
Amundsen spent two days on this island taking magnetic observations which indicated that the Magnetic Pole lay to the southward somewhere near the position determined by Ross in 1831.
This result pleased him, for he had long believed that the best route for the Northwest Passage must lie to the south and close to the coast of North America. If the Magnetic Pole was close to this route, much time and effort would be saved in performing the dual roles of scientist and explorer.
"Victory awaits him, who has everything in order - luck we call it. Defeat is definitely due for him, who has neglected to take the necessary precautions - bad luck we call it"