The Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition (1947-48), led
by Finn Ronne, was the last privately sponsored U.S. expedition. Using
Byrd's old base, East Base, on
Ronne closed the unexplored gap at the head of the Weddell Sea.
The expedition explored a 1/4 of a million square miles
of territory and mapped a further 450,0000 square miles of newly
Capt. James W. Lassiter, U.S.A.F., Pilot (Jim or Jimmy)
Lieut. Charles J. Adams, U.S.A.F., Pilot (Chuck)
Harry Darlington, Pilot (Harry)
Jennie (Mrs. Harry) Darlington
James B. Robertson, Aviation Mechanic (Jimmy)
Charles Hassage, Ship’s Chief Engineer (Chuck)
William R. Latady, Photographer (Bill)
C. O. Fiske, Climatologist, (Larry)
Walter Smith, Ship’s Mate, Navigator and Trail Man (Smitty)
Nelson McClary, Ship’s Mate (Mac)
Sigmund Gutenko, Chief Commissary Steward, U.S.N., on furlough with
Lawrence Kelsey, Radio Operator (Kelsey)
Robert H. T. Dodson, Asst. Geologist, Surveyor amd Trail Man (Bob)
Donald McLean, Medical Officer (Don)
Ernest A. Wood, Ship’s Engineer (Woody)
Arthur Owen, Boy Scout and Trail Man (Art)
Jorge de Giorgio Valdes, Mess Cook (Chilean) (George)
Many more photos coming in future months.
On January 25, 1947,
Edith “Jackie” Ronne
re-christened ATA-215 the Port of Beaumont, thousands of well-wishers
cheered “bon voyage,” and the ship departed the Port of Beaumont on a
course to Antarctica.
Commander Finn Ronne, led this group of explorers on the last private
expedition from the United States to Antarctica. All expedition
participants were volunteers, including Beaumont’s own Arthur Owen, an
Eagle Scout from Troop 222 and Post 3, who was selected as the second
Eagle Scout to go to the South Pole. The first was Paul Siple, who went
with Commander Byrd on August 28, 1928. Commander Finn was also part of
the Byrd Expedition. and his experience with Siple made him decide to
have a Scout accompany his expedition as well.
1200-ton, wooden hulled ship carried 21 explorers, plus Beaumont Eagle
Scout Charlie Landry, who traveled with the expedition as far as Panama,
and then flew back to Beaumont, 21 crew members, scientific equipment,
three airplanes, 30 tons of coal, a hundred 55-gallon drums of gasoline,
dogs, food for two years, and innumerable other supplies.The 16,000-mile
voyage began in Beaumont and ended in New York City, where New York
Scouts were on hand to greet Arthur Owen on his return.
• January 3,
1947, the Post Office decided not to issue a stamp to commemorate the
expedition since it was not an official government venture, although
it had the sanction and support of some government agencies.
• January 5,
1947, Finn Ronne arrived in Beaumont to supervise preparations for
trip, to raise money, and to lecture. He stayed at Hotel Beaumont.
• YMBL donated
$500 to Ronne Expedition.
Shipyards donated $1000 to the expedition.
• Chamber of
Commerce donated $1000 to the expedition.
• Port Neches
Elementary grade students gave $15.86 in nickels, dimes, and pennies
to the expedition fund.
• The Neches
Boat Club donated $50 and formed an escort for the ship out of the
from the Antarctic base were datelined “the Port of Beaumont, Texas.”
• Those who
made donations to the Expedition were awarded scrolls naming them
honorary members of the Expedition.
requirements for Boy Scouts who wanted to apply for Ronne Expedition
• An Eagle
Scout who was at least 18 years old.
and active in Scouting in Beaumont.
Recommended by their Scout leaders.
• Had the
consent of their parents to make the trip.
• The local
council narrowed a field of about twenty Beaumont Scouts to two
finalists: Arthur Owen and Charles Landry.
• Charles E.
Landry was selected to travel with the expedition to Panama and then
returned to Beaumont by plane. This decision was made by local
Beaumont men and the YMBL, who also funded his air passage back to
Beaumont. Landry's credentials included:
• An Eagle
Scout with palms and 37 merit badges who resided at 2260 Avenue C
and was 18 years old in 1947.
Assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 11.
• Had held
all positions of leadership in Scouting.
employed at the Thompson Electric Company.
• Was a
Marine Corps Veteran.
• Was a
Texas A & M Student.
Expedition's three planes arrived at the mid-county airport and were
dismantled and towed to the Beaumont shipyards for hoisting aboard
movies made by Commander Ronne during his previous expedition were
shown and/or he visited these locations:
• City Hall
Arthur Rotary Club luncheon (Commander and Mrs. Ronne and Arthur
Owen were guests of honor)
• South Park
Neches High School (visited by Ronne)
Crockett Junior High School
• China High
• The meeting
at which Ronne selected the Boy Scout finalist was held at Chamber of
Commerce and attended by representatives of the Boy Scouts, the
Chamber of Commerce, and the YMBL.
• The official
flag of the Ronne Antarctic Research expedition was forgotten in the
rush to prepare the ship, therefore Beaumont locals sewed another one:
Bettersworth, of the Bettersworth-Bordages Display company blocked
out the flag.
• Mrs. M. E.
Mills and her mother Mrs. N. E. Newman of 1205 Filmore Street,
acquired the materials and sewed the flag.
• The combined
South Park and French High School Bands played at the departure
between 2,000 and 3,000 Beaumont spectators attended the Ronne
departure ceremony at the port docks.
• One of the
three Beechcraft planes prepared for the expedition was irreparably
damaged in a loading accident at the shipyard and a new one would be
received in Panama from the Army Air Force.
• Port of
Beaumont stopped in Port Arthur for fuel.
ANTARCTIC RESEARCH EXPEDITION, 1946-1948- By Commander Finn Ronne, U.S.N.R.
His accomplishments were greater than he expected. In a total flying time
of 346 hours, the three planes had covered 39,000 air miles of Antarctic
terrain. With no fewer than 86 landings made in the field, the planes had
made extensive reconnaissances, laid caches for aviation and dog team
parties, searched for the lost British fliers, transported personnel and
equipment to advanced field bases, and carried on geographical exploration
and trimetrogon mapping, discovering the last unknown coastline in the
world, now the Ronne Ice Shelf.
Commander (later Captain)
Finn Ronne, USNR, led the
Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition (RARE) of 1947-48. This was “the last large
private expedition to Antarctica. It explored both coasts of the Antarctic
Peninsula and the Weddell Sea’s southern coast, both on the ground and
with three ski-equipped aircraft loaned by the U.S. Army Air Force.” [Jeff
Rubin, “A Rare Reunion,” The Polar Times, vol. 3 no. 6, January 2005, p.
Finn was Norwegian-born and educated, and already a veteran of two
Antarctic expeditions, including the second Byrd expedition and the U.S.
Antarctic Service Expedition. He was the son of Martin Ronne who,
as a sail maker on the Fram, had accompanied Amundsen to Antarctica, and
served with him for twenty years. Martin also took part in Byrd Antarctic
Expedition I [1928-1930].
Finn was a remarkably self-disciplined
man, well known for his lifelong excellent physical condition, and who had
skied all over the Antarctic continent. Finn and
Jackie, a State
Department employee at the time, who graduated from George Washington
University in 1940, met in Washington, D.C. in 1942. They were married on
March 18, 1944.
as WWII ended, Finn began planning another expedition. Admiral Richard E.
Byrd, a friend of Finn’s at the time, who lived only a block away, urged
Finn to join forces with him, but Finn insisted on his own independent,
private operation. Although Finn and Byrd had served together on the
United States Antarctic Service Expedition, 1939-41, Byrd did his utmost
to torpedo Finn’s plans for his independent venture. Byrd even demanded
that Finn give him all of his detailed plans, which reluctantly Finn did.
These were then presented as Byrd’s own plans for his own expedition;
not even the wording of the proposal was changed. It seemed clear that Finn’s erstwhile friend, Admiral Byrd, had
Despite Byrd’s strong opposition, there were still
many offers of help to Finn, including Sir George Hubert Wilkins, General
Curtis LeMay, Ed Sweeney, a long-time friend, the Office of Naval
Research, and Allen Scaife, of the wealthy Mellon family of Pittsburgh.
Although Byrd’s fierce opposition failed to stop Finn’s expedition, it did
succeed in limiting necessary funding. Less than $50,000 was raised, and
many participants were unpaid volunteers. Thanks to General LeMay, several
military personnel were “seconded” to the expedition, including the two
principal pilots. The Air Force also donated three planes, equipment,
spare parts, and clothing. As Finn worked constantly on planning his
expedition, Jackie’s initial role was to edit and type all of his
correspondence. At this same time, at the end of 1946, as he was
presenting his proposal, Finn also served on the Task Force that created
the Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, and he assisted Thor Heyerdahl in
planning his trip across the Pacific on a balsam raft.
The Ronne Antarctic
Research Expedition (RARE) departed for Antarctica from Beaumont, Texas,
on January 27, 1947. Among the key personnel were the pilots Harry
Darlington, Jimmy Lassiter and Lieutenant Chuck Adams, and the aerial
photographer, Bill Latady, who used a trimetrigon camera to capture a
horizon-to-horizon scan. There were three planes – a twin engine C-45
Beech, a Noordwyn C-64 Norseman, and a Stinson L-5. When one of the planes
was damaged beyond repair while loading, General LeMay found them an exact
As she has recounted in her diary, which she kept every day of the
trip, Jackie originally had no intention of going to Antarctica with the
Expedition. Only the extreme persuasive powers of her husband, Finn,
ultimately persuaded her to go. Since his native language was Norwegian,
he needed her to write English-language articles for the North American
Newspaper Alliance. These were written under Finn’s name, and for a long
time the press was unaware that both she and her friend, Jenny Darlington,
were along. Both women faced strong opposition from their own family
members (Harry Darlington, the pilot, at first was adamant that his wife
should not go) and from some male crew members, who said they wanted no
women onboard. Ultimately most of the men were supportive. One original
doubter, Chuck Hassage, became Jackie’s life long friend.
decision for the women to continue on to Antarctica was made in
Valparaiso, Chile, where they purchased some essential clothing items
including boots. A total stranger gave Jackie knitting needles that she
used frequently; in fact, some of her knitting made with those needles is
on display in the Naval Museum. The last port of call was Punta Arenas
where the sea proved to be surprisingly calm even as they crossed Drake
Lake. Walter Smith was the navigator, and always did an excellent job.
The ship anchored alongside the Antarctic (Palmer) Peninsula
right in front of the British base built there during the war.
initial awkward interactions, the British soon became good friends, and
the British commander, Ken Butler, spent many congenial evenings in the Ronne’s hut. Other prominent British participants were Kevin Walton,
Charles Swithenbank, and Bernard Stonehouse. The latter was one of three
British men rescued by pilots Lassiter and Adams after their plane, a
small Auster, crashed on the Weddell Sea coast.
The role of the airplanes
was of the utmost important to the Expedition. Unfortunately the weather
was usually difficult or unpredictable. During the whole time the flying
season took place, there were only eight good flying days. Peterson and
Bob Dodson traveled by dog team to the upper plateau to establish a
weather station to support the planes. While there, Peterson fell in a
crevasse, but Dodson was able to ski back to the base for help. A search
party was organized immediately in the dark. The British doctor, Budson,
not only volunteered to go, but later was lowered into the crevasse to
rescue Peterson who, incredibly, was still alive. He had been lodged
upside down in the crevasse for twelve hours. His recovery was complete,
but Finn was furious with both men since their disregard for rules of
safety had led to this costly misfortune. The men were not roped properly,
their sleeping bags were soaked, and Peterson stepped on the radio key and
broke it. Both were largely confined to the island base for the remainder
of the Expedition.
Another potential disaster was narrowly averted
when McClary fell off a 150 foot ice cliff, and through thin ice into the
water. Had it been totally frozen or liquid water, he would have
been killed. Fortunately, help was nearby and he was pulled to safety. Later he
suffered a broken collarbone in a sledding accident.
Jackie spent most of her time in the 12 square
foot hut she shared with Finn, although she usually ate her meals with the
group. There were no private toilet facilities for women. All had to visit
the “little house on the hill” no matter what the weather. All of the men
acted always as “perfect gentlemen” in the presence of Jackie and Jenny
Darlington. She experienced a great deal of tension as “everything that
happened worried me.”
Over time, tension developed between
Finn and Harry Darlington. Harry was third in command behind Finn and Ike Schlossback. Initially a close personal friend, Harry reportedly was
undermining Finn behind his back. On several occasions Harry entered
Finn’s tent “screaming” about the dangers of the flights he had been
assigned. Finally, Finn could tolerate no more such insubordination, and
dismissed him. Lassiter and Adams took over Darlington’s assignments. The
two pilots never had any accidents or trouble, scouted unknown territory,
and earned commendations from the Air Force. Ike Schlossback also wanted
to fly. He was a trained pilot who had commanded surface vessels,
underwater vessels, and a flight squadron, and was the only person in the
Navy at the time who had done all three. But he only had one eye, and Finn
never allowed him to take a plane up.
Harry was never reinstated despite
pleas from certain friends, and later complained to Finn about the several
short flights that Jackie made as a passenger. Jenny tried unsuccessfully
to smooth things over with Finn and Harry. After the weather station had
been established on the other side of the 6,000 foot-high plateau, an
advance base at Cape Keeler was created. It was mainly an underground
base, covered by snow, and connected by tunnels, but there was a command
tent on the surface. There were caves going out from tent where people
could stay with sleeping bags.
Two planes, the Norseman and the Beechcraft,
departed south from Cape Keeler on exploring missions in the rare
intervals of good flying weather. On one such flight Finn discovered
Berkner Island, in the middle of the later-named Ronne Ice Shelf.
(Finn initially named the entire area after Jackie's real name, Edith
Ronne Land. Years later when it was determined that part of the
territory was the world's second largest ice shelf, it was named Edith
Ronne Ice Shelf, but Jackie asked the U.S. Board on Geographic names to
remove her first name, so that it corresponded to the largest ice shelf,
the Ross Ice Shelf. So, the Ronne Ice Shelf is named for Jackie, by
her husband, Finn.)
teams were never flown into the field, although occasionally a sick dog
was flown back to base. The Chief Geologist, Bob Nichols, led a
fifteen-dog team that gathered rocks, did glaciology, measured solar
radiation and atmospheric refraction, and operated a cosmic ray machine.
His party spent 105 days in the field. This broke the previous record of
84 days for a sledging trip set by Finn and Carl Eklund seven years
earlier. Finn became irritated when Nichol’s party did not keep regular
Jackie developed a personal interest in science, and she
worked as an assistant to Andy Thompson, a seismologist, who measured the
first earthquake recorded in Antarctica, and recorded tides.
1948, as warmer weather returned to Antarctica, and the sea ice began to
melt, preparations for departure from Stonington Island were made.
Gasoline supplies were low, and the flying program was over. The year in
Antarctica had come to an end. An icebreaker cleared a path to the open
sea. Rough seas hampered the trip northward, and food was running low. It
was necessary to make an unscheduled stop in Punta Arenas. Here Jackie
enjoyed her first fresh salads and vegetables in some months.
Darlington was pregnant, and she and Harry flew home from there. The ship
proceeded up the west coast of South America, through the Panama Canal,
and on to New York. Here the American Geographical Society hosted by Sir
George Hubert Wilkins honored the party. Lincoln Ellsworth was also
present. It was a wonderful occasion, but even so Jackie said
emphatically, “I will never, never, never go back to the Antarctic.”
the lure proved irresistible, and she returned many times. She was a
passenger on the first tourist cruise ever to the Antarctic. The ship
visited Deception Island and an Argentine base. In 1971, Jackie and Finn
were flown to the South Pole in Navy planes. A base, including the South
Pole Dome, was under construction there, and Jackie and Finn made a radio
broadcast to Lowell Thomas directly from the pole. Finn was the
leader of the first Lindblad tourist cruises to Antarctica in the
For about seven years, Jackie lectured on the
Explorer and the Marco Polo. In 1995, as a lecturer on the Explorer,
she and her daughter, Karen, visited the old base from the RARE
expedition. Nothing was left. It was totally empty. Everything had
been stolen by various nationalities coming down. Even the 300-pound
cooking range was gone. “It was sad to see how the base had changed,
and how everything had been stolen from it.” Karen anchored in to
the interior walls three plaques that she had made:
one about her father's polar career, one about her mother being the first
woman to overwinter, and one about the overall Ronne expedition.
“The Ronne expedition achieved a great deal,
exploring more than 250,000 square miles of Antarctica. By overflying the
Antarctic continent’s, and the world’s, last major stretch of unexplored
coast, along the Weddell Sea from the Antarctic Peninsula to Coats Land,
the expedition determined that the Weddell and Ross Seas were not
connected. In 346 hours of flight time, including 86 landings in the
field, RARE took nearly 14,000 photographs covering 450,000 square miles.”
[Jeff Rubin, The Polar Times, vol. 3 no. 6, January 2005, p. 4.]
A feature length documentary, shot on digital video, describing the
Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition. In January 1947, this small,
impoverished scientific expedition sailed from Texas. Aboard their
183-foot tug christened Port of Beaumont were 40 dogs, 3 prop planes and
22 crew. Their mission was an ambitious one: map a quarter-million square
miles of territory from the air, determine if the Antarctic was one
contiguous continent and conduct an array of field work in meteorology,
geology and astrophysics. More remarkable than the difficulties they would
overcome or the knowledge they would bring home were the two women
numbered among their crew - the first such expedition ever to include
Edith Maslin "Jackie" Ronne was a 28 year-old
Baltimore native on leave from her job at the State Department. Two years
earlier, she had married Finn Ronne, a Navy captain 20 years her senior.
By 1947, Finn had successfully organized the third and last privately
funded expedition to Antarctica. Jackie accompanied him to Texas to bid
farewell. Jennie Darlington, 22, had married Harry Darlington, the chief
aviator, a few months earlier. Their time together in Texas was their
"honeymoon." Finn prevailed upon Jackie to sail with him as far as
Panama to assist with administrative work. Jackie asked Jennie to join her
so she wouldn't be the only woman aboard. Jackie's administrative tasks
multiplied and in Valparaiso Chile, Jackie agreed to accompany the
expedition the whole way. Over the unanimous objections of the crew,
Jackie and Jennie became the first women to winter in the Antarctic.
Jackie served as expedition secretary, filed stories under her husband's
byline for the North American Newspaper Alliance, and helped scientists
gather data. Jennie's accomplishments were more personal. She returned
bearing the first child conceived in the Antarctic.
Conquest of Antarctica was a risky enterprise
fueled by personal pride and nationalist fervor. The men attracted to
Polar exploration frequently had greater courage and curiosity than
commercial or government support. They were, by necessity, dogged and
egotistical. Finn Ronne was no exception. A Norwegian from a family of
seagoing men, his father had sailed with Amundsen on his conquest of the
South Pole and with Admiral Byrd. Finn sailed with Byrd's Second Antarctic
expedition (1933-35) and the U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition (1939-41).
For fourteen years, he nurtured the ambition to lead his own expedition.