May 16, 2022


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HMS Endurance: The Incredible Story Behind the Shackleton Shipwreck

HMS Endurance: The Incredible Story Behind the Shackleton Shipwreck

(CNN) – Shipwrecks sometimes contain sunken treasures, cargoes of gold, or jewels that entice bounty hunters to risk treacherous seas in pursuit of lucrative rewards. Other shipwrecks are in themselves a treasure – stories of their fateful voyages create a legend that makes them sparkle far more than any ingots or gems.

The wreck of HMS Endurance, finally located in the icy deep seas of Antarctica after being lost 107 years ago, is arguably the most expensive shipwreck ever searched. That’s because his discovery adds another exciting new chapter to an already poignant story of perseverance and survival that has resonated for decades and continues to inspire today.

The ship was incredibly well preserved at nearly two miles deep, not much changed from today in November 1914 when it finally sank under the ice.

Stamina became an integral part of the ice while crossing the Weddell Sea in Antarctica.

Royal Geographical Society/Royal Geographical Society/Royal Geographical Society via G

Submersible video filmed by Stamina 22a mission launched by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust to track the ship, shows painted timber, undamaged guardrail and the name “Endurance” written above the five-pointed symbol of the Polar Star.

Those on the voyage of discovery spoke of the emotional experience of tracing the lost ship through a dangerous ice floe and reconnecting with the ship that carried Anglo-Irish polar explorer Ernest Shackleton on the fateful voyage that he and his crew were on, against all odds as some of the 20th century’s greatest heroes .

“I tell you, you have to be made of stone so you don’t feel a little bit spongy when you see that star and the name above,” Minson Pound, a marine archaeologist on the expedition, He told the BBC. “You can see a skylight that is Shackleton’s cabin. At that moment, you really feel the breath of the great man on the back of your neck.”

big ambitions

Shackleton's leadership was decisive in getting his men out alive.

Shackleton’s leadership was decisive in getting his men out alive.

Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute/University. Cambridge/Getty Images

Why Shackleton persists as a “great man” at a time when other historical figures’ reputations are collapsing under scrutiny over their exploitative successes is clear when you consider what he achieved in the face of disaster and hardship during his 1914-16 expedition.

It can be said that the practical and humane application he demonstrated in the face of adversity is no different from that which Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy won universal praise in the wake of Russia’s invasion of his country.

Frank Hurley's amazing photographs of the expedition helped cement its legendary status.

Frank Hurley’s amazing photographs of the expedition helped cement its legendary status.

Frank Hurley/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

Prior to the Endurance Voyage, Shackleton had established himself as a polar explorer after working in the Merchant Navy. He had to leave an Antarctic expedition in 1906 due to ill health, but led another successful expedition south in 1908. His exploits earned him a knighthood, and he became Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1909.

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Shackleton’s last mission to the South Pole began with great ambitions. After enlisting 27 men, he hoped to lead some of them on the first full Antarctic crossing by road, just two years after Norwegian Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole.

Patience men.

Patience men.

Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

By December 1914, they were aboard the Endurance, a three-masted ship with a reinforced wooden hull and steam engine, on their way to the White Continent.

By all accounts, the snow was worse than usual that year. Although it was summer in the Antarctic, the Weddell Sea was still frozen from winter, and Endurance struggled to find strands of open water to sail to the point where Shackleton had hoped to begin his voyage. They chose pressure unwisely, and they became stuck.

Attempts were made to release the stamina as the weeks went on and the ice broke sometimes, but it remained somewhat frozen in place, but was moving the whole time as the ice bag drifted.

On February 24, 1915, as winter progressed, an expedition decided in hopes of breaking free when summer came again.

ice prison

After the ship was abandoned, the men emptied it as much as they could and founded a ship "dump camp."

After the ship was abandoned, the men emptied it as best they could and set up a “garbage camp”.

Frank Hurley/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

A “ground station” was established on the ice. The sled dogs were removed from the ship and placed in the snow-built “dogloos”. Seals and penguins were hunted to feed the crew and animals.

The Ice Endurance Prison during these months will be the first of many major tests of Shackleton’s skills as a captain. Morale was challenged, but the “chief,” as the crew called him, kept his men busy with regular trips to the white landscape, football and hockey games, and other science and naval business. There were social events to celebrate important calendar days. Also, practical jokes.

These days, recorded in the diaries of several crew members – and later by Shackleton in his page-turning book”South! It has also been documented on film and in photographs by Frank Hurley, the official photographer for the expedition. Hurley’s eerily beautiful photographs of the trapped ship and stark icy landscape have played their part in building Shackleton’s legend over the years.
At some point the pressure of the ice pushed the boat and it began to soak up the water.

At some point the pressure of the ice pushed the boat and it began to soak up the water.

Frank Hurley/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

Despite various attempts to free her stamina, she remained trapped throughout the dark, storm-hit winter months. Then, in October, with the ice shifting and grinding around, the boat succumbed to the immense pressures of the frigid landscape and had to stand on its side, its hull damaged and taking the water. An order was given to abandon the ship.

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Here, according to those who have studied Shackleton’s achievements, he demonstrated his true strength as a leader, shifting his goals from walking across Antarctica to getting him and his men out alive.

Thousands of miles away from civilization, with no way to communicate with the outside world, only Shackleton and his crew could witness the ice slowly crushing the Endurance, eventually sinking it after several weeks. The ship’s captain, Frank Worsley, used his navigational skills to record Endurance’s final resting place – the coordinates that helped the 2022 mission successfully locate it.

floating snow cake

The Wreck of Stamina, October 28, 1919.

The Wreck of Stamina, October 28, 1919.

Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

Christmas came and went, the whole time the team was drifting on a shrinking piece of the raft, consuming what was left of the ship’s supplies supplemented by hunted penguins and seals. They had Endurance’s three small wooden lifeboats with them, but they had to wait until the ground was close enough to launch them.

There were disagreements. Not everyone agreed with the president’s decision to shoot some dogs and “Chippy” the ship’s cat to get rid of the burden of caring for them. But while they waited for the moment to get off shore, Shackleton was pulled from the grim moments by the steadfastness of his men.

wrote in “South!” “There were 28 men on our floating ice cake, which was steadily dwindling under the influence of wind, weather, flying deluge, and heavy swell.”

Dragging the lifeboats across the ice was an ordeal for the crew.

Dragging the lifeboats across the ice was an ordeal for the crew.

Frank Hurley/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

“I confess that I felt the burden of responsibility resting largely on my shoulders; but, on the other hand, I was moved by the attitude of men and cheered me on. Loneliness is the penalty for driving, but a man who must do helps greatly if decisions are made if he feels that there is no doubt in the minds of follows him, and that his orders will be carried out with confidence and anticipation of success.”

By April 11, 1916, when their ice floe broke, Shackleton and the endurance crew took the lifeboats, where they spent several days huddled together, battling seasickness, engulfed in freezing sea water and devastated by thirst. Progress has been slow, but on April 15 they celebrated happily after making landfall for the first time in 18 months on the deserted and uninhabited Elephant Island.

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A few days later, with the physical and mental health of his men deteriorating, Shackleton and four other men including endurance captain Worsley and carpenter Harry McNeish embarked on the most dangerous part of their journey – crossing 800 miles of rough seas out to sea. South Georgia Island, where a whaling station gave hope for rescue.

They spent 16 days at sea in their 22-foot lifeboat, often saving their lives when huge waves crashed over the boat, but when they finally reached shore, their ship was too small to go any further, they were on the wrong side from the ship. The island, an enormous mountain range between it and the whaling station.

However, Shackleton pressed, leaving two of the team ashore and crossing the uncharted interior with two more, Rusley and veteran Irish sailor Tom Crane.

right on time

One of the lifeboats on Elephant Island as Shackleton and four others prepare for the 800-mile voyage to Georgia.

One of the lifeboats on Elephant Island as Shackleton and four others prepare for the 800-mile voyage to Georgia.

Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images

They climbed hills up to 3,000 feet, crossed glaciers, veered around cliffs, and descended through a frozen waterfall before walking shattered and exhausted at the whaling station in Stromness Bay. There, to great satisfaction, the manager, Thorlaf Sørlle, immediately provided them with food, shelter and assistance.

“Mr. Sorley’s generosity knows no bounds,” Shackleton wrote. “He would seldom let us wait to take off our frozen shoes before taking us home and giving us seats in a warm, comfortable room.

“We were in no condition to sit in anyone’s house until we had washed and put on clean clothes, but the kindness of the stationmaster was evidence even of his dissatisfaction in being in a room with us. He offered us coffee and cake in Norwegian fashion, and then they showed us upstairs to the bathroom , where we threw our rags and washed ourselves luxuriously.”

While Shackleton’s colleagues on the other side of South Georgia were quickly rescued, the rough seas and ice around Elephant Island thwarted repeated attempts to rescue the 22 men, including second-in-command Frank Wilde, still camped there.

Shackleton refused to surrender and on August 30, he managed to reach them because they were on their last rations.

Not a single man was lost.

From there they sailed to Chile, eventually arriving on September 3, 1916, in Punta Arenas to receive messages of congratulations and support from all over the world.

Shackleton’s mission was a fiasco, but his success in keeping his crew alive and ensuring their rescue was a victory beyond any glory of the expeditions.