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The Arctic Dive

The Nautilus in choppy waters.
Wilkins 33-11-27.

Picture from under the ice.
Wilkins OV-16.

On August 23, 1931, the submarine Nautilus arrived in Arctic waters, only 600 miles from the Pole.  At last, this was what Hubert Wilkins and the crew had been working for, traveling some 5000 miles to get there.  After a harrowing several months of travel in the refurbished 0-12 submarine, requiring numerous repairs along the way, the weather conditions were now favorable for diving. But when Commander Danenhower ordered a check of the equipment, the unthinkable was discovered. The diving planes were missing. This was a crushing blow and the most recent in a long chain of mechanical problems with the Nautilus. Although he carefully avoided saying so specifically, Wilkins believed that crew members had sabotaged the submarine.   

In spite of these problems, Wilkins was determined to continue with the scientific experiments.  Chief scientist Harold Sverdrup was able to work in the diving chamber without difficulty and proceeded to take core samples, as well as record bathymetric data and gravity measurements.  Scientists determined the temperature and salinity of the water at various levels, and collected plankton. On August 31, Captain Danenhower came up with a technique to take the sub under the ice. He trimmed the sub two degrees down at the bow and proceeded under a three foot thick ice floe.  Wilkins later wrote, “The noise of the ice scraping along the top of the vessel was terrifying.  It sounded as though the whole superstructure was being demolished.”  (Wilkins 15/28 p.70). When an inside inspection revealed no damage, Danenhower trimmed down further and continued under the ice.  An attempt was made to use the large ice drill, but the shaft failed. Danenhower had to back the sub out from under the ice. 

The Nautilus submerging.
Wilkins 33-13-12.


A member of the expedition taking sound pictures as two men of the crew make final examinations of the ship before the dive. Wilkins 33-12-22.

It was important to document the expedition on
film in order to fulfill the agreement Wilkins
had with Hearst Enterprises. Wilkins 37-5.

Wilkins and Ray E. Myers, radio expert of
the expedition working on the emergency
radio set. Wilkins 33-12-25

Captain Sloan Danenhower opening the conning tower hatch following a dive. A huge
cake of ice can be seen jammed on the main
ice drill. Wilkins 33-13-1.

Frank Crilley, diver of the expedition, being
lowered into the icy water to inspect the hull of
the Nautilus after it had been damaged by ice.
Wilkins 33-11-16.

Members of the crew stretching their
legs on an ice floe during a pause
in the trip, a welcome respite from the
cramped quarters of the submarine.
Wilkins 33-11-26.

Idea | Purpose | Crew | Submarine | Journey | Arctic Dive | Hero or Fool | Afterwards

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