Friday, January 13, 2023

"The Inside Story of the Nobile Tragedy"

A newspaper story on the "Nobile Tragedy.""It is too soon to state anything definite as regards imperialistic Italy's undertaking to acquire a halo of scientific ardor and exploring enterprise by sending a crowd of southerners, accustomed to sun and heat, up to the cold, ethereal tracts of storm, ice, fog, and snow." This is how Swedish journalist Knut Stubbendorff begins his "Inside Story" on the 1928 crash of the airship Italia as it returned south from the North Pole. Stubbendorff may say that it's too soon, but the disdain in his opener is clear. His is only one of many pieces on the disaster found in Umberto Nobile's papers here at Rauner Library.

Nobile (1885-1978) was an enthusiast of semi-rigid airships, which he both designed and piloted. In 1926, he flew the airship Norge, along with expedition leader Roald Amundsen and a small crew, successfully over the North Pole, possibly the first to do so. His next ship, Italia, was a different story.

Italia made three trips, with Nobile acting as expedition leader and pilot, exploring different parts of the Arctic in May of 1928. The third flight reached the Pole as planned early on May 24th, circled for a time, and then started back. Over the next several hours, bad weather and ensuing equipment problems made the ship's situation increasingly dire until a crash into the ice became inevitable. The impact killed one crew member instantly and tore the ship's gondola from its envelope. The envelope began to rise again at the loss of weight, carrying away six men who would never be found. The remaining nine, many injured, were trapped on the ice.

The rescue of the Italia survivors involved many efforts by multiple countries and there were more deaths to come, including that of one of the crash survivors and those of Roald Amundsen and a crew of five others trying to reach the stranded men by plane. It took until July 13th for all survivors to be retrieved, including various would-be rescuers who became stuck during their own missions. As Stubbeddorff's article may suggest, there was significant controversy over assigning blame for the tragedy and you can read all about it here.

If you're interested in trying to sort out the various accounts yourself, ask for the Umberto Nobile papers,Stef Mss-113.