The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

2016 Edition
| Editors: Igor S. Zonn, Andrey G. Kostianoy, Aleksandr V. Semenov

Amundsen, Roald (Rual) Engelbregt Gravning (Amundsen Rual) (1872–1928)

Reference work entry

Amundsen, Roald (Rual) Engelbregt Gravning (Amundsen Rual) (1872–1928) – a Norwegian scientist, polar explorer and traveler, the first polar navigator to circumnavigate the world, the discoverer of the South Pole, and the first man to reach both Poles and to sail round all the Arctic Ocean shores. In 1890–1892 he studied medicine at the University of Kristiania (now Oslo, Norway). Beginning with 1894 he served as a seaman and a navigation officer on several ships. In 1897–1899, as a navigation officer on board the “Belgica” ship, he participated in the Belgian Antarctic Expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery who discovered a strait later named after him (de Gerlache Strait) and the Danco Coast. In 1901 Amundsen became a sea captain. In 1903–1906, accompanied by his fellow travelers on board the sail and motor yacht “Gjøa,” he successfully traversed the Northwest Passage from the east to the west via the straits of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago from Greenland to Alaska. The crew spent three winters in the sea. In 1907 Amundsen visited Russia, where he made a report at the meeting of the Russian Geographical Society commemorating his Northwest Passage expedition. Amundsen explored the shores of several islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. In 1909 he was preparing for a long drift on board Fridtjof Nansen’s ship “Fram” in the Polar Basin but later decided to reach the South Pole of which he informed his crew at sea only in January 1911. Having landed at the Bay of Whales (the Ross Ice Shelf), Amundsen and four of his fellows reached the South Pole in dog sledges and planted a Norwegian flag there 34 days ahead of the Englishman R. Scott and his crew.

On returning from the Antarctic, Amundsen planned to repeat the drift of another Norwegian polar explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, again on board the “Fram.” Nansen’s expedition lay through the Arctic Ocean and the Northern Sea Route along the Eurasian shores. In 1918 Amundsen’s expedition left Norway on a specially built ship named “Maud,” twice (in 1918 and 1919) stayed for winter at Cape Chelyuskin in the Laptev Sea and once (in 1919–1920) at Ayon Island in the East Siberian Sea. In 1920 the expedition reached the Bering Strait, thus having traversed the Northeast Passage in 3 years. This was the third successful passage in history. In course of the expedition in the Arctic Ocean much research was done. Amundsen did not study the collected materials himself but passed them to F. Nansen and other scientists.

He was one of the first to come up with an idea to use airplanes for the Arctic research and was the first in Norway to obtain a pilot license. In 1921–1924 Amundsen was raising money and preparing for flights to the North Pole. In 1925 he and his fellows set off from the Svalbard Archipelago in two planes. However, one of the planes crushed and the expedition returned. In 1926 Amundsen led the first transatlantic flight across the North Pole in the airship “Norge” heading from Spitsbergen to Alaska. Among the participants were the aeronautical engineer U. Nobile and the American millionaire L. Ellsworth. In 1927 Amundsen traversed Russia by means of the Trans-Siberian railway on his way back to Norway from Japan. In 1928 in an attempt to rescue U. Nobile’s expedition which crashed in the Arctic Ocean on board the airship “Italia,” Amundsen set off on the flying boat “Latham” and was killed in a crash with all his crew presumably in the Barents Sea. In Russia Amundsen was referred to as “a Viking of the twentieth century” and he called himself “a crusader of Arctic research”.

Amundsen Roald Engelbregt Gravning (Source:

Vadsø Island, Norway, preserves an exposition “Airships and Vessels” dedicated to the North Pole expeditions on the airships “Norge” and “Italia” (1926–1928). There is a mast for an airship mooring process preserved of the island.

There are monuments to R. Amundsen in Tromsø and in Oslo. Besides Umberto Nobile initiated the erection of a monument commemorating the deceased members of the expedition on board the airship “Italia” in 1928 and those who died rescuing the expedition. Among those killed in the crash on June 18, 1928 are Rual Amundsen, René Guilbaud, Leif Dietrichson, Albert Cavelier de Cuverville, Gilbert Brazy and Emile Valette) who lost their lives in the Barents Sea performing a self-sacrificing flight to rescue the survivors of the expedition on board the “Italia.”

In 1974 the garden near the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, saw the unveiling of Amundsen’s bust which is a gift of the Norwegian government in the memory of the explorer’s 100th anniversary).

The main books (translated into Russian) are “The First Flight Across the Polar Sea” (1927, joint authorship), “On board the “Maud,” Expedition along the Northern coast of Asia” (1929), “The South Pole” (1937), etc.

A sea, a bay, a mount, a glacier, and an American research station “Amundsen-Scott” in the Antarctic as well as a basin and a gulf in the Arctic Ocean and an icebreaker in the USA are called after Amundsen.

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