Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arctic Explorer Mystery

A Doomed Mission

The captain's decision to placate the Germans was a foreboding incident.

Throughout history, most successful explorations have been commanded by feared, imperious leaders or by inspirational figures who gained the devotion of subordinates, even at great personal sacrifice.

The Polaris crew was more scornful than fearful of Capt. Hall. Any sense of his authority was lost in the journal challenge by the Germans.

Captain George Tyson
Captain George Tyson
And. as noted in navigator Tyson's journal entry, much of the crew lacked the commitment needed to overcome the elements of the Arctic.

The sailors were mercenaries, not patriots or adventurers. They were being paid double or triple what they might have earned on a whaling boat, and by contract they would earn the same pay whether the excursion lasted one year or three.

They were in it for the money, and they certainly were not willing to give their lives -- not for Hall, not for America, and not for the North Pole. Early in the expedition, as the ship dodged icebergs heading north through Baffin Bay toward the northwestern tip of Greenland, Dr. Bessel and other crew members were urging Hall to turn back south to find safe harbor for the winter.

Hall pressed north beyond the 82nd parallel, then agreed to retreat about 50 miles south. There, after the sledge journey, he met his end.

Hall's mysterious death need not have ended the North Pole mission. There was ample manpower and abundant provisions for multiple attempts to reach the target. But there was no will and precious little leadership aboard the Polaris. The mission fell apart after the commander's death.

The sailing master, Capt. Buddington, proved to be an inveterate drunk. He polished off not only all the alcohol that was to have been parsed out over time to crew members, but he raided the scientific supplies and guzzled the grain alcohol that was reserved for preservation of collected specimens.

Food and coal rations were also disregarded that fall and winter. In six months, the crew went through a year's worth of provisions.
This caused no concern. The boat had stores to last at least two years. After Hall died, everyone on board resolved to turn south the moment the ice released its grip. They expected to be home after just one year at sea.

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