The Full Wiki

More info on Umberto Nobile

Umberto Nobile: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

Umberto Nobile (1926)

Umberto Nobile (January 21, 1885 – July 30, 1978) was an Italianmarker aeronautical engineer and Arctic explorer. Nobile was a developer and promoter of semi-rigid airships during the Golden Age of Aviation between the two World Wars. He is primarily remembered for designing and piloting the airship Norge, which may have been the first aircraft to reach the North Polemarker, and which was indisputably the first to fly across the polar ice cap from Europe to America. Nobile also designed and flew the Italia, a second polar airship; this second expedition ended in a deadly crash and provoked an international rescue effort.

Early career

Born in Lauromarker, in the southern Italian province of Avellino, Nobile graduated from the University of Naples with degrees in both electrical and industrial engineering. In 1906 he began working for the Italian state railways, where he worked on electrification of the rail system. In 1911 his interests turned to the field of aeronautical engineering, and he enrolled in a one-year course offered by the Italian Army. Nobile had always been fascinated by the work of airship pioneers such as Ferdinand von Zeppelin. When Italy entered World War I in 1915, the then 29-year-old attempted three times to enlist, but was rejected as physically unfit for service.

Commissioned in the Italian air force, Nobile spent the war overseeing airship construction and developing new designs. The Italian military had already used airships as early as 1912, during the Italo-Turkish War, for bombing and reconnaissance. Italy built about 20 M-class semi-rigid airships with a bomb load of 1000 kg which it used for bombing and anti-shipping missions. The Italians also used other, smaller airships, some of them British-built. None of Nobile's designs flew until after the war.

In July 1918, Nobile formed a partnership with the engineers Giuseppe Valle, Benedetto Croce and Celestino Usuelli, which they called the Aeronautical Construction Factory. During this period he also lectured at the University of Naples, obtained his test pilot's license and wrote the textbook Elementi di Aerodinamica (Elements of Aerodynamics). He became convinced that medium sized, semi-rigid airships were superior to non-rigid and rigid designs. The company's first project was the Airship T-34, which was designed for a trans-Atlantic crossing. When the British R34 crossed the Atlantic in 1919, Nobile and his partners sold the T-34 to the Italian military. Later the U.S. Army acquired the ship, and commissioned it as the Roma. The Roma ultimately crashed in Langley, Virginiamarker in 1922 after hititng high tension power lines, killing 34.

That same year, in the face of political instability and threats to nationalize his company, Nobile traveled to the U.S. to work as a consultant for Goodyear in Akron, Ohiomarker. He returned to Italy in 1923 and began construction of a new airship, the N-1. According to his biography and numerous articles, he was also caught up in a web of political and professional intrigue with competitors and detractors. His principal antagonists seem to have been General Gaetano Arturo Crocco, a competing airship manufacturer, and General Italo Balbo, chief of the air force general staff, who sought to develop Italy's air fleet with heavier-than-air craft rather than the airships Nobile designed.

Polar expeditions


In autumn 1925 Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen sought out Nobile to collaborate on a flight to the North Pole - still at that time an unreached goal for aviators - using one of Nobile's craft. Amundsen had previously in spring 1925 flown to within 150 nautical miles (280 km) of the North Pole, in a pair of Italian-built Dornier Wal flying boats along with the American millionaire-adventurer Lincoln Ellsworth, the pilot Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, but their planes were forced to land near 88 degrees North and the six men were trapped on the ice for 30 days.

The Italian State Airship Factory, which had built Nobile's N-1, made it available for the expedition March 29 1926. Amundsen insisted in the contract that Nobile should be the pilot and that five of the crew should be Italian; Amundsen named the airship Norge (Norway). On April 14 the airship left Italy for Leningrad (now renamed Saint Petersburg] in Russia with stops at Pulhammarker (England) and Oslo. On its way towards its Arctic jumping-off point,Ny-Ålesundmarker (Kings Bay) at Vestspitsbergen, Svalbard (belonging to Norway) it also made a stop at the airship mast at Vadsoe (Northern Norway).

On 29 April Amundsen was dismayed at the arrival of Richard E. Byrd's American expedition which also aimed to reach the Pole. On May 9, after Byrd and Floyd Bennett departed in their Fokker F-VII and returned less than 16 hours later claiming to have overflown the Pole, Amundsen was one of the first to congratulate them. The Norge crew pressed ahead with their flight. Byrd's co-pilot Bennett is said later to have admitted that they faked their flight to the Pole.

On May 11, 1926, the Norge expedition left Svalbard. Fifteen and a half hours later the ship flew over the Pole and landed two days later in Teller, Alaskamarker; strong winds had made the planned landing at Nome, Alaska impossible. In retrospect, the Norge crew may actually have achieved their aim of being the first to overfly the Pole: Byrd's May 9 flight, acclaimed for decades as the prestigious first Polar flyover, has since been subjected to several credible challenges, and it was never proven that Byrd and Bennett successfully reached the Pole first, as Byrd claimed.

The Norge "Rome to Nome" flight was acclaimed as another great milestone in flight, but disagreement soon erupted between Nobile (designer and pilot), and Amundsen (expd. leader, observer and passenger) on the flight, as to who deserved greater credit for the expedition. The controversy was exacerbated by Mussolini's government, which trumpeted the genius of Italian engineering and ordered Nobile on a speaking tour of the U.S., further alienating Amundsen and the Norwegians.


Despite the controversy, Nobile continued to maintain good relations with other polar scientists, and he started planning a new expedition, this time fully under Italian control. Nobile's company managed to sell the N-3 airship to Japanmarker; however, relations between Nobile and his competitors in the fascist government were hostile, and he and his staff were subjected to threats and intimidation. Nobile's popularity with the public meant he was, for the moment, safe from direct attack. When the plans for his next expedition were announced, Italo Balbo is said to have commented, "Let him go, for he cannot possibly come back to bother us anymore."

The N-class airship Italia was slowly completed and equipped for Polar flight during 1927-28. Part of the difficulty was in raising private funding to cover the costs of the expedition, which finally was financed by the city of Milan; the Italian government limited its direct participation to providing the airship and sending the aging steamer Città di Milano as a support vessel to Svalbardmarker, under the command of Giuseppe Romagna.

This time the airship used a German hangar at Stolp (now Slupsk in Poland) en route to Svalbard and the mast at Vadsømarker (Northern Norway). On May 23, 1928, after an outstanding 69 hour long flight to the Siberian group of Arctic islands, the Italia commenced its flight to the North Pole with Nobile as both pilot and expedition leader. On May 24, the ship reached the Pole and had already turned back toward Svalbard when it ran into a storm. On May 25, the Italia crashed onto the pack ice less than 30 kilometres north of Nordaustlandet (Eastern part of Svalbard). Of the 16 men in the crew, ten were thrown onto the ice; the remaining six crewmen were trapped as the lightened ship swept the intact gondola skyward; the ship might have then exploded later, but the fate of the six men was never resolved. One of the ten men on the ice died from the impact; Nobile suffered a broken arm, broken leg, broken rib and head injury; Cecioni suffered two badly broken legs; Malmgren suffered a severe shoulder injury and suspected injury to a kidney; and Zappi had several broken ribs

The crew managed to salvage several items from the crashed airship gondola, including a radio transceiver, a tent which they later painted red for maximum visibility, and, critically, packages of food and survival equipment which quick-witted engineer Ettore Arduino had managed to throw onto the ice before he and his five companions were carried off to their deaths by the wrecked but still airborne airship envelope and keel. As the days passed, the drifting sea ice took the survivors towards Foyn and Broch islands.

A few days after the crash the Swedish meteorologist Malmgren and Nobile's second and third in command Mariano and Zappi decided to leave the immobile group and march towards land. Malmgren, who was injured, weakened and reportedly still depressed over his meteorological advice that he felt contributed to the crash, asked his two Italian companions to continue without him. These two were picked up several weeks later by the Soviet icebreaker "Krasin".

A "highly imaginative, fictionalized version" of these events was made into the 1969 film The Red Tent. The film was an Italian/Russian co-production and featured Peter Finch as Nobile, Sean Connery as Amundsen and Hardy Krüger as Lundborg.

Controversial search and rescue

In the wake of the crash, a collection of nations, including Soviet Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Italy, launched the first polar air and sea rescue effort. Privately owned ships which had been chartered by polar scientists and explorers also participated. Even Roald Amundsen put aside his past differences with Nobile and boarded a French seaplane and headed for the rescue headquarters; this plane disappeared between Tromsoe and Svalbard, and though a pontoon from the craft was later found, neither Amundsen' body nor those of the five other on board were.

After a month of privation for the Italia survivors, the first rescue plane, a Swedishmarker airforce Fokker ski plane, piloted by Lieutenant Einar Lundborg and with Lieutenant Schyberg as observer landed near the crash site. Nobile had prepared a detailed evacuation plan, with the most seriously wounded man (the heavy built mechanic Cecioni) at the top of the list and himself as number 4, with the navigator (Viglieri) and the radio operator (Biagi) as respectively no. 5 and 6.However Lundborg refused to take anyone but Nobile. He argued that the plane could only take one survivor and the other seriously injured man was so heavy Lundborg was unsure he could take off. Nobile was airlifted to Ryss Island, base camp of Swedish and Finnish air rescue efforts. When Lundborg returned alone to pick up a second survivor he crashed his plane on landing, and was trapped with the other five.

Eventually, Nobile reached the Città di Milano where, he later said, he was dismayed at the incompetence he found. His attempts to help co-ordinate the international rescue effort were blocked, and when he threatened to leave he was placed under virtual arrest by Captain Romagna. His telegrams to the survivors still on the ice, as well as to various people involved in the rescue, were heavily censored. It was wrongly reported in Fascist Italian newspapers that his own evacuation was an obvious sign of cowardice. After 48 days on the ice floe, the last five men of his crew were rescued by the Soviet icebreaker Krasin. Nobile insisted that he wanted to continue the search for the six crew who were swept away by the airship when it disintegrated, but he was ordered back to Rome with the others.

List of the aircraft (23 in number), ships (20) and dog-sled teams participating in the rescue effort at Svalbard in the summer of 1928

  • State-owned Arctic schooner Gustav Holm from Kgl. Grønlandske Handel.

  • Pontoon / ski aircraft Junkers F 13 ”Turku” K-SALG (from Aero OY / Finnair) pilot: Lihr

  • Flying boat biplane Latham 47 ”02” (from French Navy) pilot: René Guilbaud.
  • Two small flying boats, biplane type Schreck (on board Strasbourg).
  • Cruiser Strasbourg, oil supply vessel Durance, fishery inspection vessel Quentin Roosevelt and private expedition vessel Pourquoi Pas?

  • Flying boat Savoia-Marchetti S.55 I-SAAT ”Santa Maria” (from Italian Air Force) pilot: Maddalena.
  • Flying boat Do15 Dornier Wal ”Marina II” I-PLIF (from Italian Air Force) pilot: Penzo.
  • Flying boat Do15 Dornier Wal ”Marina I” I-XAAF (from Italian Air Force) pilot: Ravazzoni. (”Marina I” was stationed exclusively at Tromsø, Northern Norway searching for Amundsen).
  • Two small flying boats, biplane type Macchi M-18 stationed at Citta di Milanoand Braganza pilots: Penzo and Crosio. *Cableship Citta di Milano and seal fishery vessels Hobby and Braganza.
  • Norwegian trapper Waldemar Kræmer and four Alpini soldiers with a small boat searched the coast of Vestspitsbergen.
  • Dog sledge team led by the Italian Alpini captain Sora, the Dutchman van Dongen and the Dane Ludvig Varming searched the coast of Nordaustlandet. Varming was left behind, but Sora and van Dongen reached Foynøya and Brochøya.

  • Pontoon monoplane Hansa Brandenburg W33 ”F.36” pilot: Lützow-Holm.
  • Pontoon monoplane Hansa Brandenburg W33 ”F.38” pilot: Riiser-Larsen.
  • Pontoon biplane Sopwith Baby”F-100” pilot: Lambrecht (on board Tordenskjold).
  • Pontoon biplane Sopwith Baby”F-102” pilot: Ingebrigtsen (on board Tordenskjold).
  • Minor cruiser Tordenskjold, and seal fishery vessels Hobby (used thrice, see Italy and USA), Braganza (used twice, see Italy). Veslekari (Tryggve Gran), Heimland,fishery inspection vessel Michael Sars, Svalbard governor’s Svalbard and miner’s boat (name unknown).
  • Dog sledge team led by the trapper Hilmar Nøis and Rolf S. Tandberg supported partly by two Italian alpine students Albertini and Matteoda.

Soviet Russia:
  • Pontoon / ski monoplane Junkers G 23 “Red Bear“ (on board Krasin) pilot: Chukhnovskyi.
  • Pontoon /ski monoplane Junkers F 13 RR-DAS pilot: Babushkin (on board Malygin).
  • Ski monoplane Junkers F 13 RR-??? (on board Sedov, but never used).
  • Icebreakers Krasin, Malygin, Sedov and brig Persey.

  • Pontoon monoplane Hansa Brandenburg (Heinkel He5) ”255” pilot: Tornberg.
  • Pontoon monoplane Hansa Brandenburg (Heinkel He5) ”257” pilot: Jacobsson.
  • Ski biplane Fokker C.V.M. “31“ pilot: Einar Lundborg.
  • Ski biplane Fokker C.V.M. “32” (never used, in the hold of Tanja).
  • Pontoon / ski biplane de Havilland 60 Moth S-AABN pilot: Schyberg.
  • Ski monoplane Klemm-Daimler L.20 D-1357 (from Germany) pilot: Ekman.
  • Pontoon monoplane Junkers G 24 ”Uppland” S-AABG (from national airline ABA) pilot: Viktor Nilsson.
  • Seal fishery vessel Quest and freighter S/S Tanja.

  • Seal fishery vessel Hobby with ”F.36” and ”F.38” pilots: Lützow-Holm and Riiser-Larsen (Louise Boyd charter).

Two hundred thousand cheering Italians met Nobile and his crew on arrival in Rome on July, 31st. This show of popularity was unexpected by Nobile's detractors, who had been seeding the foreign and domestic press with accusations against him. An aggrieved Nobile was not shy about his complaints; in an interview with Benito Mussolini, he offended the dictator by detailing his grievances at length. The official inquiry and the embarrassment over the crash gave Nobile's enemies the chance they were looking for: blame for the disaster was placed on his shoulders, and he was accused of abandoning his men on the ice - charges he would spend the rest of his life trying to dispel. In protest of the findings, general Nobile resigned from the air force in March 1929. He faced a further trial with the death of his wife Carlotta in July 1934.

Later career

In 1931, Nobile left Italy to work for the next four years in the Soviet Unionmarker, where he helped with the Soviet semi-rigid airship programme. Details of the Soviet Airship Program remain obscure, but there is an obvious Nobile influence in the design of the airships USSR-V5, and SSSR-V6 OSOAVIAKhIM. He was allowed to return to Italy to teach in December 1936, before going to the United Statesmarker in 1939 to teach aeronautics at Lewis University in Lockportmarker, Illinoismarker. When Italy went to war with the United States, he was permitted to remain in the US, but declined the offer of a US citizenship and instead returned to Rome in May 1942. After a brief stay, he moved to Spain where he stayed until Italy surrendered to Allied forces in July 1943. At that time, he returned to Rome to see to the safety of his only child Maria (born ca. 1921).

In 1945 the Italian air force cleared Nobile of all charges related to the Italia crash, and not only reinstalled him in his former rank as major general, but promoted him to lieutenant general and paid him back-pay dating to 1928. He was persuaded to run for the Constituent Assembly. Once elected, he was falsely accused of being a communist on the basis of his five years working in the Soviet Union. He returned to his beloved University of Naples where he taught, and wrote of his adventures, until his retirement. He also married again, and this time to Gertrude Stolp, a German lady he had met in Spain (she later became chief librarian at the FAO organisation in Rome).

He died in Rome on July 30, 1978 after having celebrated the 50th anniversary of his two polar expeditions. The Italian Air Force Museum at Vigna di Vallemarker (just outside Rome) has a large permanent exhibition on his achievements.

See also


Further reading

Nobile, Umberto: "My Polar Flights", Frederick Muller, London, 1961. Republished as paperback in 1972 with new title: "The Red Tent".

Samoilowitsch, R.: "S-O-S in der Arktis - Die Rettungs-Expedition des Krassin", Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, Berlin, 1929

Tandberg, Rolf S.: "The ITALIA disaster: Fact or Fiction - Including the Personal Experiences of a Member of One of the Relief Expeditions", Oslo, 1977.

  • (Umberto Nobile interviewed in 1960 about the Norge and Roma, with transcript)
  • (Umberto Nobile interviewed in 1960 about the 1926 Norge Alaska trip, with transcript)
  • (fictional dramatization)

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address