a look back at the Italia expedition
Thus ends hidden europe’s account of the journey of the Italia and what was surely the most elaborate rescue mission ever mounted in the history of polar exploration. For over four months, we have followed on a day-by-day basis the story of the Italia and its crew, from their optimistic pre-expedition meeting with the Pope on 15 March, to their journey to the North Pole, and, for the lucky ones, their eventual rescue.
The Italia’s commander, General Umberto Nobile, continued his research into airships, emigrating from Italy to the Soviet Union in 1931 to take a leading role in a Soviet military airship programme. He eventually returned to Italy where he died in 1978. Others among the crew went on to illustrious careers. One of them, the Czech physicist Frantisek Behounek, became an acclaimed writer of stories for children. And do you remember Titina, the little fox terrier that was on board the Italia? She survived the crash, as we noted above, and was rescued from the ice pack.
Amundsen was never found. Nor were any of the five aviators, some French, some Norwegian, who were with him when his plane took off from Tromsø in search of Nobile and his crew. And tragedy struck again. One of the planes involved in the search crashed on its way back home from King’s Bay. Major Pier Luigi Penzo and two other Italian crew members were killed in France.
It is to the nine brave aviators who died in June and July 1928, during and after the Italia rescue, that we dedicate this hidden europe account. To those nine, and to the eight Italia crew who died in and after the crash. One in particular among the Italia crew we wish to single out: Finn Malmgren, the promising young meteorologist, who died alone on the Arctic ice (see our entry for 15 June above). Whatever view you may have about the wisdom or folly of the Italia expedition, it was the curiosity of men like Finn Malmgren who helped us understand so very more about the Arctic. A statue of Malmgren now stands in a park in Uppsala in Sweden.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
19 July 2008
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