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The Voyage of the Nautilus

The journey of renowned Australian military photographer Sir Hubert Wilkins in a rusty WW1 submarine to the North Pole in 1931 truly is of the worlds greatest stories of adventure never told. It was an adventure that would be the crowning glory in an extraordinary life of exploration, science and discovery. Long before nuclear powered vessels would even contemplate such a voyage, Hubert Wilkins set out from New York aboard the outdated O-Class submarine Nautilus, of which he leased for a single dollar, towards the last unknown, the Arctic Ocean. The Nautilus expedition was a triumph of imagination and courage, decades ahead of its time. But it ended in mutiny and personal tragedy for Wilkins, destroying his reputation and sending him from the headlines to footnotes of history, his boat eventually scuttled off the coast of Norway. Only now, after two years of extensive research into a journey both amazing and tragic can the mysteries of the Nautilus expedition and Wilkins last great expedition finally be revealed. Complied from more than 20 hours of stunning archival footage, 250 still photographs and new footage filmed in the US, the North Pole, Norway, beneath the Arctic ice and in the Australian Outback, Voyage of the Nautilus is expertly narrated from Wilkins own personal journals by acclaimed actor Sam Neill to deliver a moving, inspirational and remarkable film experience.

Building a submarine called the Nautilus was Simon Lake’s lifelong dream, even though he had been building the reality of Jules Verne’s “dream”, for several decades. It is best to let Simon tell you about the the Nautilus in his own words by using an extract from SUBMARINE, The Autobiography Of Simon Lake:

“One day I read an interview with Sir Hubert Wilkins, who had just made his first flight across the Arctic:

"There were no suitable landing places," he said. "I think the Pole could most easily be reached by submarine."

I met him along with Captain Sloan Danenhower, who had at one time been in command of submarines in the United States Navy, and later had represented the Navy in charge of our builders' trials at Bridgeport during the testing of new submarines. “

Simon Lake's Nautilus

“The Lake-Danenhower Company was formed, the plan being to use the old Defender, built in 1907, but later we were able to borrow the 0-12 from the Navy. It was a much larger and more powerful vessel and was one of those scheduled for destruction under the Balfour agreement. We agreed to pay one dollar a year and, when we were through with her, return her to the Navy for destruction.”

The O-12 In Drydock

“I designed a new superstructure and put in a diving compartment which later enabled scientists to collect specimens of arctic marine life through an opened door. I understand that the craft itself functioned perfectly, but for various reasons Sir Hubert Wilkins and Captain Danenhower were so anxious to get away on the voyage that they took a chance, and sailed with engines and electric equipment in very bad condition.”

Nautilus Christening Day!

The Nautilus was christened at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in March 24, 1931. Left-to-right: Sir Hubert Wilkins, Lady Wilkins, & Jean Jules Verne - grandson to Jules Verne.

Sir Hubert Wilkins

“An engine cylinder was cracked, two of the pumps were not in condition, the ice drill and conning-tower were not functioning properly, and I have been told that one of the large yokes of the generator motor was loose in the rack. In marine engineering, and especially in submarine engineering, there is almost no such thing as a minor defect. A little trouble is apt to multiply into many big troubles.”

The Wilkins-Ellworh Polar Submarine Expition

The Expedition was a collaborative venture of the following people who were interested in polar exploration. Simon Lake's interest related to his contention of a viable polar submarine route beneficial for economical commercial shipping:

Simon Lake - Consulting Naval Architect

Lincoln Ellsworth - World Explorer/Aviator

Sir Hubert Wilkins - World Explorer and Aviator

Sloan Danenhower - Ex-Navy Submarine Commander employed by the Lake Co.

Dr. Harald Sverdrup - Professor & Research Scientist

Bernard Villinger - Scientist & Polar Expert

Floyd SouLe - Electrical Engineer

Therefore the Wilkins-Danenhower expedition failed of reaching its goal, but it did prove the practicability of traveling through and under heavy ice. It seems that much valuable data was accumulated in determining the contour of the arctic water bed, and I understand that Dr. Sverdrup, one of the scientists on the expedition who spent many hours in the diving compartment, is preparing a book describing this work.

Day AfterThe Nautilus Christening.

The Expedition was a success, as far as entering the polar region and navigating under ice. The Nautilus was riddled with mechanical problems, as Simon predicted, and the vessel had to be scuttled on November 20, 1931 in a Norwegian Fjord. In recent news of 2000, the Nautilus was finally was rediscovered by a Norwegian Dive Team.

Nautilus in the Polar Region

Nautilus in the Polar Region

One of these days some one, government, transportation company, or well-to-do individual, will build the right kind of a submarine for under-ice and commercial work, and overnight it will be accepted as other mechanical advances of the day have been. Such a submarine should be more rugged than the military type, and the propelling machinery should be designed for giving a powerful thrust at a slow speed rather than for fast going. The expensive installations required for armament and for quick submergence could be dispensed with and the cost reduced to about one-fourth of a military craft.

I'd like to make that trip over the bottom that Dr. Beebe talks about and, perhaps, drift the boat through the streets of Atlantis and peer in through the windows of the drowned palaces. Who knows?

Simon Lake in 1931

Posted by George Freund on January 2, 2016 at 9:51 AM 1952 Views