The Third Fram Expedition (1910-1914)

    Roald Amundsen was granted the use of the Fram for a new expedition that was planned to drift over the Arctic Ocean as Fridtjof Nansen’s expedition had done, but this time further north and maybe over the North Pole. When Amundsen heard in 1909 that Robert Peary and Frederick Cook both claimed to have reached the North Pole, he decided to try for the South Pole “on the way to” the North Pole. The South Pole expedition 1910-12 was completed successfully, with Amundsen and four companions reaching the Pole on 14 December 1911, a month before Robert Falcon Scott’s five-man group arrived there.
    The Third Fram Expedition (1910-1914)

    On her safe return from the Sverdrup expedition, the Fram was laid up at the naval base in Horten. It was doubted for a long time whether she would ever again be used for the purpose for which she had been built, and at one time there were even plans to convert the ship into a museum.

    Roald Amundsen had plans of a different kind, however. He was considering drifting across the Arctic Ocean as Nansen had done. He thought however, that if he were to sail through the Bering Strait, it would give him a better starting point and improve his chances of getting closer to the Pole. In the meantime, the American explorer Robert E. Peary´s claim to have reached the North Pole on 6 April 1909 was announced. This news fired Amundsen with a desire to make a bid for the South Pole as well, as he would in any case have to sail a long way south in order to round Cape Horn and then sail north to the Bering Strait. He took great pains to keep his decision a secret, even from his crew, which meant he had to do all the detailed planning himself.


    Preparations in Norway

    A little over midnight on 7 June Fram was sailed down the fjord to Horten where explosives and ammunition were loaded. They then set off on an oceanographic voyage to the north Atlantic Ocean. The voyage west from southern Ireland was cancelled when the new Swedish diesel engine developed problems. Fram was the first polar ship to fit such an engine, but they now had to go to Bergen to have it repaired. At the same time they could deliver the oceanographic samples they had managed to collect. Machinist Eliassen was discharged here and the engine firm in Sweden sent Knut Sundbeck to replace him. The next task was to load on to the Fram the 97 dogs, 400 bundles of dried fish, skis and sledge equipment and more in Kristiansand. Fram could now be said to be loaded to the gunwales!

    The preparations and choice of equipment were as usual carried out with Amundsen’s great attention to detail, and the chapter in his book entitled “Plan and Equipment” could be read as a recipe for others to follow with regard to a successful polar expedition: how to protect hands and feet from frostbite, what types of skis and ski bindings should be used, which cooking stoves would function best and why, all about dog harnesses and sledge driving, of spirit compasses which freeze in the cold, and so on. Even the smallest details were taken into account.

    Before start the captain and 2nd-in-command, Thorvald Nilsen, obviously had to be informed of the Fram’s first destination, and on leaving Kristiansand the mates Hjalmar Fredrik Gjertsen and Kristian Prestrud were also let into the secret.


    The voyage south

    The Fram left Kristiansand on her third and last voyage of exploration on 10 August 1910. On the way south Amundsen told the experienced dog-driver, Sverre Hassel, of the new destination as Hassel’s skills were crucial to the expedition to the South Pole. The Fram put in at Funchal on the island of Madeira on 6 September as the last stop before Antarctica. Just before leaving three days later, Amundsen informed the crew of the change in plan, a piece of news they received with enthusiasm as their diaries confirm. His brother Leon had met them in Funchal, and he now left for Norway with letters from the crew to their families, and from Amundsen to Fridtjof Nansen, King Haakon and the newspapers explaining the change in plans.

    The British explorer Robert Falcon Scott had put to sea with his ship the Terra Nova on 15 June 1910. He too was bound for the South Pole. When he arrived in Melbourne on 12 October, Scott found awaiting him a telegram that Leon Amundsen had sent from Kristiania on 3 October. It was brief and to the point: “Beg inform you Fram proceeding antarctic. Amundsen.”

    The Fram’s voyage south took four months, which the men used to prepare and adjust equipment and to get to know the dogs. The 97 original dogs had become 116 before they reached the Bay of Whales on 14 January 1911, and even the time in the tropical zone had not affected them unduly, a large sail having been stretched over the deck to give them shade. Thorvald Nilsen had estimated that the voyage south would be 16 000 km – it turned out to be 15 938. 

    While in the Bay of Whales the Fram reached latitude 78°41' S, the furthest south a ship had ever penetrated. She already held the record for sailing furthest north (85° 57' N in October 1895).



    By choosing to make his base by the Bay of Whales, Amundsen had a starting point that was 96 km nearer the Pole than Scott’s base at Ross Island, McMurdo Sound. The expedition was now divided into two groups. The one, comprising ten men under Captain Thorvald Nilsen, was charged with carrying out oceanographic studies in the Southern Ocean, while the other group was onshore. The shore group was, in addition to Amundsen, Lindstrøm the cook, Prestrud, Johansen, Helmer Hanssen, Bjaaland, Wisting, Stubberud and Hassel.

    A site for the base was found 4 km in from the landing place and the dogs were set to work to pull all the building materials, equipment and supplies to the site. This first dog-driving experience showed that the Alaska-type harnesses were not practical and Rønne sewed 46 new harnesses during the month before the Fram left. On 28 January the house was finished and 100 seal carcasses were stored nearby. The base was named Framheim (Fram Home) and gradually a small settlement grew up above and below the ice. Tents were erected for the dogs and for storage, and under the ice a series of rooms and connecting passages were dug out during the winter where the men had relatively comfortable conditions for their work at arranging, adjusting and packing equipment for the sledge trips.

    On 4 February the Fram had a surprise visit from Scott’s ship Terra Nova which, under the command of Captain Campbell, had been sent eastwards along the Barrier to investigate King Edward VII Land. Both groups thought this a very interesting and friendly meeting, and the Englishmen were impressed by the dog-driving they saw.

    A crucial part of Amundsen’s plan involved setting out depots along the proposed route to the Pole, and the first sledging expedition set off on 10 February to establish the first depot at 80°S. While they were away the Fram left for Buenos Aires and the oceanographic voyage in the Southern Ocean.

    Before the winter set in in the middle of April, a total of 3000 kg of supplies had been left in three depots at 80°, 81° and 82°S. All the depots were clearly marked with flags in the east-west direction and cairns of snow blocks north-south. The Framheim base was completed and c. 60 000 kg of seal meat were stored there as winter food for the nine men and 115 dogs.

    The winter passed quickly and easily with the continuing preparations to make the expedition equipment as optimal as possible. The sledges and equipment boxes were honed down to cut weight without compromising strength. The provisions were taken out of their cases and packed with great ingenuity to save space, sausage-shaped linen bags being sewn to pack milk powder in the holes between the round pemmican tins. Sunglasses, footwear and ski bindings were experimented on and individually chosen for greatest comfort and efficiency. The only shadow on the horizon was the worry in Amundsen’s mind that Scott might set off before him and perhaps gain greater distances with the motor sledges that he had brought along.


    The first start for the South Pole

    It was because of this worry that Amundsen decided to start for the Pole before the worst of the winter cold was over. The sun reappeared on 24 August for the first time in four months and when the temperature on 7 September had risen into the minus twenties, Amundsen decided to start the next day. All the men except Lindstrøm set off with seven sledges each pulled by 12 dogs. However it was cold. On the 11th they woke to -55°C – “It was wonderful weather – calm and clear” as Amundsen wrote in his book. In his diary he just wrote “Calm and clear”. The low temperature made the snow seem like sawdust under the sledge runners, the liquid in the compasses froze as did the two bottles of alcohol Amundsen had taken along. The dogs suffered severely and the men too began to suffer from frostbite. Hanssen and Stubberud had already frozen their heels, and Hassel and Prestrud were to freeze their feet before arriving back at Framheim.They reached the first depot at 80°S and unloaded the sledges there before starting the retreat back to Framheim. Amundsen – the only one without his own sledge – sat on Wisting’s sledge and together with Hassel they rushed back. They arrived at Framheim at 4 pm, the next at 6 pm and two more at 6:30. The last two, Johansen and Prestrud, did not get back until 0:30 in the morning with Amundsen remarking “Heaven knows what they had done on the way”.

    In fact Prestrud had been in such dire straits from the cold and exertion that he would have died had not Johansen stopped to help him along. This would of course have been a disaster for Amundsen as leader. Johansen confronted him at breakfast in the morning with a bitter accusation of a leader who had rushed off home in a panic retreat without concern for his men. The public accusation was more than Amundsen could tolerate, and he took the experienced Johansen off the South Pole group and sent him instead on an exploring trip under the leadership of Prestrud and with Stubberud to Edward VII Land while the remainder were off to the Pole.


    To the Pole

    The final start for the Pole was on 20 October, when Amundsen, Hanssen, Wisting, Hassel and Bjaaland set off with four sledges each pulled by 13 dogs. Amundsen had not had his own dog sledge since he had lost most of his dogs on the second, strenuous depot trip before the winter. Although the eight weeks it took them to get to the South Pole were not as easy as Amundsen perhaps portrays in his book, they did manage it without too much drama, thanks to the careful planning and preparations right from the Gjøa expedition when Amundsen and Hanssen had learned dog driving, igloo building, clothing and polar survival from the Inuit on King William Island.

    Amundsen and his four companions, with the 17 remaining dogs, reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911. They spent three days in the area, taking measurements and circling the Pole with ski trips in all directions to make sure that they had covered the invisible point. They started back on the 18th, leaving a small reserve tent that Rønne had sewn standing at the Pole, and inside was a letter to Scott asking him to deliver a second letter that Amundsen had written to King Haakon stating that they had reached the goal. The idea was that Scott could bring back the message if Amundsen and his men disappeared on the way back to the coast. Amundsen also left a few unneeded objects including a sextant and some reindeer skin boots and gloves.

    When Scott´s party of five reached the vicinity of the Pole on 17 January 1912, it was to find the Norwegian flag firmly planted in the snow. Scott and his companions perished on the return journey, dying of cold and starvation only a few miles from a depot – the so-called One-Ton-Camp – stocked with fuel and provisions.

    Amundsen and his men arrived back at Framheim on 26 January with two sledges and 11 dogs after a total absence of 99 days and a travelled distance of 3000 km. While they had been away Prestrud, Stubberud and Johansen had explored King Edward VII Land and the Fram had sailed from Buenos Aires on an oceanographic voyage across the southern Atlantic Ocean and back, collecting the first important data from this ocean area. In addition, the Japanese Antarctic Expedition with the Kainan Maru had visited the Bay of Whales.

    The Fram had arrived back at the Barrier on 9 January after a three-month voyage from Buenos Aires, but bad weather had sent them out again. She returned the day after the Pole party and on 30 January they all left. On this day Scott’s five-man group was 11 days out from the South Pole on their fatal return journey. The Fram reached Hobart in Tasmania on 7 March, remaining there until 20 March.

    Amundsen left the Fram in Australia and sailed to Buenos Aires and then to Norway by faster means. When the Fram reached Buenos Aires on 25 May, Amundsen was informed that there was a chance of her becoming one of the first ships to sail through the Panama Canal. Accordingly, orders were issued to proceed to Colón, where the ship arrived on 3 October 1913.

    In December as it was still not certain when the canal would be opened, the captain was ordered to set course for San Francisco round Cape Horn, it being Amundsen´s intention to continue northwards for the planned drift across the Arctic Ocean. However, one hundred days later, when they reached Buenos Aires, Amundsen countermanded his previous order and told Captain Nilsen to set course for home. The Fram returned to Horten on 16 July 1914.


    THE ROUTE OF THE FRAM 1910-14:

    7 JUNE 1910






    10 JULY


    9 AUGUST











    15 JANUARY 1911




    26 JANUARY 1912