Amundsen vs Scott; Planning, Preparation, Organization … …

Posted on October 24, 2010. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities, Sports, The English |

As small boys in an English Boarding School, this was a story on which we cut our teeth – but told to us much differently!

Some one hundred years ago, there was this most famed race to reach the South Pole. Amundsen, the Norwegian, handily beat Scott, the Englishman and thereby became the first man to reach the South Pole on Dec 14, 1911. Incidentally he was also the first to reach the North Pole – though by air.

Scott reached the South Pole five weeks after Amundsen and was crushed when he saw the Norwegian flag flying. On his return journey, most tragically, he perished with his entire party.

Leadership, Planning, Preparation and Organization are what made the difference. This is what Amundsen had to say of his achievement.

“I may say that the greatest factor is the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. 

‘Victory awaits him who has everything in order. People call it Luck. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time. This is called Bad Luck.”

Scott and his four comrades perished on the way back from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.

The Norwegian’s base was closer to the pole and Amundsen’s experience as a dog driver was formidable. Amundsen also eschewed the heavy wool clothing worn on earlier Antarctic attempts in favour of eskimo style skins.

Scott had the advantage of travelling over a known but longer route which had been pioneered by Shackleton.

For transport, the Norwegian banked entirely on sleds hauled by huskies and skis for personal movement. Scott decided that dogs would be one element in a complex strategy that involved horses, motor sleds and much man-hauling.

Scott’s mixed transport groups (motors, dogs, horses), with loaded sledges, travelling at different speeds, were all designed to support a final group of four men, who would make a dash for the Pole.

Scott gave no specific and precise roles – no one knew who would form the final polar team. During the journey, he sent a series of conflicting orders back to base concerning the future use of the expedition’s dogs – leaving it unclear whether they were to be saved for future scientific journeys or were to assist the polar party on its return home.

Scott’s subordinates at base were unsure of his intentions and consequently failed to use the dogs in a concerted attempt to relieve the returning polar party.

With 400 miles still to travel across the Ice Shelf, the party’s prospects steadily worsened with the deteriorating weather, leading to frostbite, snow blindness, hunger and exhaustion.

The final camp was made some 11 miles short of their advance depot.  The next day, a fierce blizzard prevented their making any progress and in the next nine days, their supplies ran out and they froze to death while the storms raged outside the tent.

In the final analysis Scott’s planning is described as ‘haphazard and flawed’ and his leadership characterized by lack of foresight. He  is depicted as a ‘heroic bungler’.

Such was the British bitterness and anger that Lord Curzon, as President of the Royal Geographic Society, sarcastically toasted Amundsen, saying “Now, Three Cheers for the Dogs!”

At this Amundsen resigned from the Society. He was killed later when his plane was lost while he was on a rescue mission.

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