Did you know that Norway was involved in arranging the first international expedition to Antarctica?

The Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic expedition of 1949-52 was the first truly international expedition to Antarctica.
Improvisert amputering av øye, Antarktis, 1951The right eye is amputated to retain use of the left eye. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

The expedition team consisted of researchers from Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, Canada and Australia. Professor H. U. Sverdrup was chairman of the project and John Giæver from the Norwegian Polar Institute was expedition leader. The expedition introduced new methods that have since become standard practice, as well as achieving many notable results.

The expedition team and their equipment were transported to Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica aboard the sealing vessel Norsel. The vessel anchored in Norselbukta (Norsel Bay) and Maudheim station was set up on the ice shelf. During the first winter, the team collected meteorological, glaciological and seismic data continuously, and planned research excursions that were to be made by dogsled the following spring and summer. The dogs were put in training; depots were established and several trips were made farther inland. Such trips used both dogsleds and tracked vehicles.

Norsel returned with additional supplies after one year, and Maudheim was prepared for another overwintering season, but this winter would be dramatic in several ways. On 24 February 1951, four expedition members set off for Norselbukta in a tracked vehicle. Several hundred metres of the ice shelf broke off and the vehicle fell into the ocean and three expedition members drowned. Stig Hallgren managed to climb up on an ice floe and was rescued after 13 hours. These events put a damper on the expedition, but additional tribulations were in store. Just a few months later, a shard of rock pierced the eye of geologist Alan Reece and towards the end of July, Dr. Wilson, assisted by five men amputated the eye. Despite being highly improvised, the operation was successful and Alan Reece retained use of his other eye.

On 22 December, Norsel was back in Norselbukta to take the winterers home. On 15 January 1952, Norsel set sail for home. Maudheim was visited by a Norwegian Antarctic expedition in 1960 and by then only the top 2 metres of the 10-metre meteorological mast still stuck up above the ice.