Disaster at the Pole: The Crash of the Airship Italia

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Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen. The great twentieth-century polar explorers. But others, too, were engaged in scrambles to the poles. One of the most bizarre and unfortunate involved that enormous and impressive spectacle of aviation's early days: the airship.
In 1926, against the backdrop of Mussolini's rising power, General Umberto Nobile, one of Italy's premier aeronautical engineers, gained acclaim by crossing the Pole in a dirigible, accompanied by the famous Norwegian ...
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Overview


Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen. The great twentieth-century polar explorers. But others, too, were engaged in scrambles to the poles. One of the most bizarre and unfortunate involved that enormous and impressive spectacle of aviation's early days: the airship.
In 1926, against the backdrop of Mussolini's rising power, General Umberto Nobile, one of Italy's premier aeronautical engineers, gained acclaim by crossing the Pole in a dirigible, accompanied by the famous Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. It was an unprecedented achievement for a lighter-than-air craft, and it would have gone down in history as the first flight over the Pole had Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett not accomplished that feat in an airplane only three days before. Encouraged by his success, Nobile decided in 1928 to take a newly designed dirigible to the North Pole, land men who could conduct scientific explorations, and then fly them safely back to base. But on the Italia's return flight, disaster struck. The ship crashed down on the ice pack hundreds of miles from help. The survivors, including the injured Nobile, were stranded on an unstable ice floe, desperately trying to make radio contact with the outside world. Their disappearance inspired one of the most far-reaching rescue missions ever undertaken. Seven nations and hundreds of men in air, sea, and land reconnaissance engaged in a needle-in-a-haystack search over the arctic wastes. Many of the would-be rescuers were injured or killed - the most famous being Roald Amundsen, who lost his life in a plane crash.
Drawing on interviews he conducted with Umberto Nobile and other survivors in the 1950s, Wilbur Cross resurrects a stunning tale that hasbeen long overlooked by history. He brings to life the struggles of the survivors throughout nearly two months on the ice, including the fate of three men who set off on a doomed trek to reach help. Disaster at the Pole also reveals the truths of the controversy surrounding Nobile, who was rescued first and was accused of cowardice and desertion by Italy's fascist government. Filled with political intrigue, heroics, and cruel twists of fate, the story of the Italia is one of the most fascinating among polar tragedies.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is an intriguing, at times even heart-stopping, account of an almost-forgotten aviation disaster: a race to fly a dirigible to the North Pole, land the airship and then return to civilization. Led by Umberto Nobile, the Italian aeronautic engineer and airship designer who had crossed the North Pole in a dirigible just two years earlier, the crew of the airship Italia suddenly crashed and was stranded in the frozen north as an international team of rescuers tried, initially unsuccessfully, to save the few survivors. Cross, a former editor at Life magazine, spent more than 30 years researching the crash and its aftermath (interviewing the few living survivors, including Nobile, who had kept copious records, even while fighting against starvation at the North Pole); however, the detail never overwhelms an exciting, well-wrought story. What makes this work stand out among other tales of harrowing heroism is its political intrigue and Cross's deft handling of this added complexity. His presentation of Nobile's overtly unwilling participation in the Fascist reign of Benito Mussolini, as well as the power struggles among the Fascisti for control of what was seen as the next great aviation powerhouse, adds a sad depth and pertinent humanity to Nobile's personal and professional ordeal. His "very real human flaws were greatly accentuated by the circumstances" of living in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1925, the renowned Italian aeronautical engineer and explorer Umberto Nobile flew over the North Pole in a dirigible, at the time a considerable feat both of engineering and scientific inquiry. All went well, and in 1928 Nobile attempted to repeat the feat, this time planning on stopping at the pole and landing parties. Unfortunately, Nobile was no longer in favor with the increasingly strident Fascist government and faced many political and physical obstacles. However, he managed to get the expedition airborne and reached the pole safely. On the return leg, the airship foundered in foul weather, stranding the survivors on the icecap. A bizarre tragedy ensued, with searchers from many nations looking for Nobile while the Italian support ship conspicuously failed to participate. A nearly forgotten episode comes to life in this popular history by Cross, a prolific author and former editor at Life. Interesting but probably not vital to public library collections.--Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Booknews
In 1926, General Umberto Nobile gained acclaim by crossing the Pole in a dirigible, and in 1926 took a dirigible to the North Pole to land a scientific research team. The ship crashed on the return flight, hundreds of miles from help. This account tells of the crash and the international efforts to rescue the explorers, bringing to life the struggles of the survivors, the heroism and tragedy of rescuers, and political intrigue surrounding the adventure. Cross, a former editor at , runs an editorial consulting and writing firm. The book is not indexed. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585740499
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/1/2000
  • Edition description: First
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.95 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2002

    Dirigibles and Ice Floes

    If you're into polar exploration or survival stories, Disaster at the Pole is right up your alley. It was originally released back in 1960 under the title Ghost Ship of the Pole, and while this newer version has been unfortunately pared down a little bit, it contains a completely different set of photos from the original and some brief additions from interviews with Nobile in the 60s. Cross gives us more than just an epic of survival, however, also drawing back the curtain of Fascist political machinations. They did make a movie about the Italia disaster, The Red Tent, in which Sean Connery played Roald Amundsen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2000

    'A Classic Adventure Tale that Deserves to Rank with the Very Best'

    Those were the words of longtime book reviewer and former managing editor of McCall's, Don McKinney, who also called it 'a truly remarkable story.' A very lengthy Boson Globe review was equally favorable, concluding hat it was 'a gripping story' and 'one might expect the story of the Italia to be a movie.'

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