Watkins Henry George "Gino"

(29.01.1907 20.08.1932)

British polar explorer - the head of three Arctic expeditions, the first of which was headed at the age of only nineteen years. The most famous for the results of the expedition to Eastern Greenland in 1931-1932, which was recognized as the most successful British Arctic mission in the past fifty years.

Born in London in the family of Colonel Coldstream-Gards (the oldest division of the regular army of England) Henry George Watkins and his wife Jenny Helen - the daughter of a prominent British politician Bolton Moncell.

He received his primary education at Lansingv Sussex College, and then studied at Trinity College (Cambridge) as an engineer, but he never received a degree.

In 1923 the Watkins family traveled to Chamonix, where Gino discovered his passion for mountaineering. Subsequent school holidays he spent in the Lake District, and also spent one summer season in Switzerland, where he made a number of ascents, giving the right to membership in the Alpine Club. With the same enthusiasm and thoroughness while studying in Cambridge, he learned to ski. At the end of 1925 Watkins first joined the Cambridge School of Flight Training.

While studying at the first two courses at Trinity College, Watkins attended a series of lectures by Raymond Priestley (a member of the Shackleton and Scott expeditions), after which he became interested in the subject of polar research. Priestley introduced him to James Wordie, who promised him a place on the planned expedition to East Greenland in 1927, but it did not take place for a number of reasons. Then, Watkins in the shortest possible time organized his own expedition to Edge Island - the third largest island of the Spitsbergen archipelago, on which only the Russian-Swedish expedition of "degree measurement" of 1899-1901 had worked before. and about which nothing was known, except for the outlines of its coastline.

The expedition received the support of the Royal Geographical Society, which provided a grant of £ 100, as well as a university fund, which allocated another £ 150. The participants included surveyor Henry Moshed (a veteran of British expeditions to Everest 1921 and 1922 and others), geologist N. Falcon, Dr. Hugh Woodman, biologist E. Lowndes, physicist Richard Woolley, V. Forbes, ornithologist K.T. Delgeti and biologist / botanist E. G. Michelmore. The expedition spent only four weeks on the island, of which good weather lasted only for five days, but despite the fact that many of the planned works could not be carried out due to the weather, the overall results achieved were good and were published in the Geographic Journal ( in particular, an excellent Edge map was made). The most amazing aspect of the expedition was that it was organized and headed by a student who was not even twenty years old, despite the fact that some of its famous participants were twice his age.

The following year, Watkins embarked on an expedition to the southern part of the Labrador Peninsula to define the southern territorial borders between Canada and Newfoundland. From July 1928 to May 1929 together with James Scott, he was engaged in mapping the unexplored areas of the vast Hamilton River Basin, making several long journeys by kayak and sleigh rides. A detailed report on the River Exploration in Labrador expedition by Canoe and Dog Sledge was published in February 1930 by the Royal Geographical Society.

Watkins' next goal was an expedition to Greenland, during which, apart from a number of other studies, including mapping the coastline of the east coast north of Angmagssalik, it was planned to study the weather conditions on the Greenland ice sheet to determine the possibility of organizing transatlantic flights from England to the United States and Canada via the shortest route (via the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Baffin Land and Hudson Bay). Despite his youth, Watkins was able to get financial support for his initiative, called the British expedition to study the Arctic air route. In addition to the "standard" set for polar voyages, two DH.60 Moth biplanes were taken with them - even while traveling around Svalbard and Labrador, Watkins came to the conclusion that aviation is important for Arctic exploration. The expedition consisted of 14 people, including meteorologist Quintin Riley, surveyors Lawrence Wager and Alfred Stephenson, Martin Lindsay, John Raymill and Freddie Chapman. The average age of participants was 25 years old, and only Watkins, Augustin Curto and James Scott had experience in the field.

Gino Watkins was remembered not only by the results of his expeditions, but above all by his leadership qualities and the inspiration with which he infected his followers. His youth, behavior, unconventional leadership, unique endurance and psychological and physical qualities made him not only an outstanding commander, but a true friend of all who worked with him. By his example, he showed that the best leader of a scientific party does not have to be an expert himself, that in fact a person inspired by a common idea can better coordinate the work of specialists and get the most out of them.

The expedition left London on July 6, 1930 aboard the fishing vessel "Quest" - the ship of Shackleton's last expedition. On July 24 "Quest" reached the eastern shores of Greenland and an expedition base was deployed 40 miles west of Angmagssalika. By September 8, a weather station was organized on the glacial cap of the island 180 miles from the base at an altitude of 2500 meters (67° 05'N,   41° 48'W), where continuous observations began. At the same time, Stephenson’s geodetic survey on Quest successfully mapped the 200-mile coastline north to the Kangerdlugssuak fjord, with Quest becoming the first ship to go deep into it. From there, Watkins carried out aerial prospecting, during which a mountain range was discovered, the height of the mountains of which, according to Gino's estimates, could reach 4,500 meters above sea level (later the ridge received the name of the discoverer).


Watkins Mountains


The main dramatic events of the expedition turned around a meteorological station in the depths of the island, which was a small double-layer tent dug into the snow and measuring instruments installed next to it. It was assumed that it will work in shifts of two people for six weeks. The first pair - Lindsay and Riley worked from August 30 to October 2 the second pair were Dr. Bingham (W. Bingham) and Lieutenant Diet (NH D'Aeth) - they have been working since October. On October 26, they were replaced by a party led by Freddie Chapman, but she faced harsh weather conditions on the way, because of which she had to drop some cargo along the way, and even in the “lightweight version” she was able to overcome 180 miles to only 3 December Chapman's party was unable to deliver food and enough fuel to work at the weather station until the spring of two people, but Augustin Curto volunteered to spend the winter alone. As a result, he spent at the station for five months, of which the last six weeks were in a snow captivity — the blizzard that broke out on March 22 took Kurt to his shelter. During the winter, attempts were made to deliver Kurto's supplies by plane, in April, Scott’s rescue party from the third attempt reached the vicinity of the station buried under the snow, but could not find it and returned to the base on April 17. And only on May 5, 1931 the rescue party under the leadership of Watkins managed to find the place of the former weather station by barely protruding above the snow surface of the tip of the Union Jack and the ventilation pipe and save Augustine from imprisonment. By this time he was completely out of fuel and food. The course of this rescue epic was closely watched in the homeland of polar explorers.

After rescuing Kurto, the expedition made several long-haul trips to the inner regions of Greenland, while Wager and Stephenson attempted to climb Trout, the second highest mountain in the island. They managed to reach a height of 3,316 meters (the maximum at that time). And finally, Gino Watkins, along with Kurto and Pirsi Lemon, made a 600-mile journey on two open motoboots along the east coast of Greenland from Angmagssalik to Julianhaab on its western shore.

This expedition was recognized as the most successful British Arctic expedition in more than fifty years, and its leader, who demonstrated the ability to successfully combine the methods of earlier researchers with the innovative use of modern technologies, was ranked with the venerable researchers of the past. All members of the expedition were awarded the Polar Medal with the “Arctic” plate (for the first time in half a century). The 24-year-old Watkins himself, upon returning home, was introduced to His Majesty at Buckingham Palace and honored by the audience of the Prince of Wales and Stanley Baldwin.

Watkins' initial idea about the future expedition was to go around the globe in the northern polar circle, but it did not find support in a geographic society. Then, Watkins seriously began the preparation of the second British Trans-Antarctic Expedition (at the intersection of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea - to complete the task, which was not implemented by Shackleton in 1914). In addition to crossing the continent, the implementation of an extensive scientific program was supposed to take place, but the global economic crisis wiped out all plans. As a result, Watkins decided to return to the east coast of Greenland - Pan American World Airways agreed to finance the continuation of the research begun during the previous expedition.

On August 1, 1932 Watkins, accompanied by John Raimilla, Quintin Riley and Freddie Chapman, arrived in Angmagssalik. The head of the Lake Fjord was chosen as the new base. On August 20, Watkins went kayaking on a seal hunt in the northern part of the fjord to the tongue of a glacier that flowed into the bay, from which it never returned. A few days later, Watkins’s companions found only his kayak, paddle and trousers. The leader of the expedition was declared dead, but despite this, she continued her work.

Mountain range in East Greenland.

The mountain in the north of the Burmeisterfiel massif in the west of the Edge Island in the Svalbard archipelago. The coordinates are 77º 47'N   21º 30'E.


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