Wilkins George Hubert


Australian-American polar explorer, pilot.

Born in Mount Bryan East, South Australia in the family of a farmer.

He received an engineering education in the Adelaide Mining School, which trained specialists in the field of engineering, mining, agriculture and other industries.

While still a student, he became interested in photography and cinema, to which he devoted several of the subsequent years of his life. For a year he worked as a mobile cinema operator in Sydney, and in 1908 he went to England, where he began working as an operator at the film company Gaumont. After some time, in parallel with the main work, he became a reporter for the London branch of the Daily Chronicle, on whose instructions he visited different countries, covering foreign news.

In 1910, under the leadership of Claude Graham-White, he learned to fly on an airplane, and also became one of the pioneers in the art of aerial photography. In 1912, on the instructions of the newspaper, he covered the events of the First Balkan War, and the newsreel he filmed directly from the front line between the Bulgarians and the Turks became the first video witness of military history.

In the years 1913-1917 Wilkins participated as a photographer on the Canadian Arctic Expedition of explorer V. Stefanson. He became part of the northern party that was heading to the place of commencement of work on the ship “Karluk”. Through the Bering Strait they entered the Arctic Ocean, heading for the Beaufort Sea to explore its islands.

On September 20, 1913, after the ship was frozen into ice near the northern coast of Alaska, Wilkins, among six people (including the head), went hunting. Suddenly played out after their departure, the storm sent "Karluk" to drift to the shores of Siberia. Stefansson, who was left without a ship and expedition cargo, nevertheless, decided not to curtail the previously planned research program, and Hubert over the next three years became his deputy. He participated in many auxiliary campaigns of the chief on the polar seas, islands and the coast of North America. and at the same time comprehended all the wisdom of survival in the Arctic.

On his return to Australia, on May 1, 1917 Wilkins, with the rank of second lieutenant, was enlisted in the Australian imperial forces and, as part of the Australian air corps, sent to Europe on the battlefields of the First World War. Due to his color blindness, he was not allowed to take off for combat missions and was transferred to the 1st Australian and New Zealand Army Corps on the Australian sector of the Western Front, where he was taking pictures of battles as a military photojournalist.

At the end of the war, Wilkins during 1920–1925 took part in research expeditions in Antarctica and Australia, and in 1926 - 1927 together with the Alaskan pilot C. Eielson began a series of experimental flights from Cape Barrow in Alaska to the Central Arctic.

In 1926 Wilkins and Eielson made the first successful flight in Alaska, during which they flew along the Brooks Range, as well as 150 miles deep inside the unexplored territory of the Arctic Ocean. Landing on Cape Barrow, despite the beginning of a blizzard, passed safely.

A few more technical flights were made between Cape Barrow and Fairbanks. During the first, Wilkins broke his arm in two places. During the return flight, he broke it again. Subsequent flights were also not perfect. In total for 1926 more than 6000 miles were overcome by air, a significant part of them over previously unexplored territories.

In 1927, due to a motor malfunction, they had to make an emergency landing on pack ice at 77° 45'N and 175°W, where they conducted oceanographic research. At 75 miles from the ground, the motor finally "died", and, having planned from a height of 1,500 meters, the airmen made an emergency landing. The plane received irreparable damage, but the pilots themselves were not injured. They had nothing left but to try to get to Cape Barrow on foot. Fully thanks to the survival skills in the Arctic, received by Wilkins on the expedition of Stefansson, for the next eighteen days (of which the first five they waited the storm), they managed to safely reach the mainland.

On April 16, 1928 with his pilot-companion, he made the first trans-Arctic flight from Cape Barrow across the northern coastal waters of Greenland to Svalbard, having covered 2500 miles in 20.5 hours. For this outstanding achievement, which brought him worldwide fame, Wilkins was awarded orders and medals of several countries and knighted.

1928 - 1930 Wilkins devoted to participation in flights over Antarctica as part of the American and British expeditions.

In 1931, Wilkins was able to begin the implementation of a long-hatched plan of sailing on a submarine under the Arctic ice. A key factor to start the project was Wilkins' acquaintance with the American millionaire Lincoln Ellsworth.

In June, after a series of tests on the Hudson River, the submarine, dubbed the "Nautilus", was declared ready to sail. During the transition across the North Atlantic, both engines failed, which were repaired in Devonport for a whole month. Only on August 1 - in fact, by the beginning of the end of polar navigation, the submarine arrived in Norwegian Bergen, where Dr. Harald Sverdrup climbed aboard - a renowned polar explorer, and this time the head of the scientific staff. From Bergen, the Nautilus, following along the northern coast of Norway, safely reached Spitsbergen, where the preliminary tests of the boat began. On August 22, the first subglacial immersion began, which ended in a complete fiasco. As the diver, who was lowered overboard, found out, the boat had no depth rudders. They could not just be lost. The situation with the rudders, as well as the failure of the engine earlier, Wilkins explained sabotage by someone from the crew. In spite of everything, he made a decision

Do not interrupt at least a scientific program. In the surface position, despite the end of navigation, the submarine managed to reach the extreme northern point of 81° 59'N at 17°30'E, after which the ship returned to Bergen, where, in agreement with the US Government, it was flooded in November. Scientifically, for the first time, the expedition was able to conduct under-ice photography and filming, obtain the first samples of seabed soil in this area of the ocean, and outline the contours of the submarine ridge north of Spitsbergen.

This expedition was the last in which Hubert Wilkins was the leader.

Wilkins returned to the Arctic in 1937–1938. He participated in the search in the Central Arctic of the crew of the Soviet polar pilot S.А. Levanevskiy. Together with Kenyon he performed eight high-altitude flights in the flying boat “Consolidated”, reaching the highest latitude - 87° 45'N. However, their efforts, like the flights of many other pilots, were in vain.

Later, the researcher did a great job as a consultant and geographer for the US Army services. The last scientific contribution of Wilkins was the participation at the age of 70 in the International Geophysical Year in Antarctica in 1957.


Submarine "Skate". August 1958


Wilkins died from a heart attack in a hotel room in Framingham, Massachusetts. His body was cremated. Wilkins’s ashes were, according to his wishes, the Skate submarine delivered to the North Pole and dispersed on March 27, 1959 after ascent.

Strait in the Canadian Arctic archipelago between the Borden Islands and Mackenzie King.

The westernmost bay on the north shore of Isiord,  West Svalbard Island. Wilkins and Eielson landed there on April 16, 1928 after a trans-arctic flight from Cape Barrow, Alaska.


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