The conquest of the North Pole performed by Umberto Nobile is a milestone in the history of Arctic exploration.
Born January 21, 1885 at Lauro in the Irpinia region, after earning a degree in engineering he became Director of the Stabilimento Militare di Costruzione Aeronautiche of Rome and reached the rank of General. His interest in the construction of airships led him to design and refine new models, semi rigid and more reliable than those of the time. His fame crossed the borders of Europe, so that on May 10, 1926, along with Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, aboard the airship “Norge”, N-1 completely designed by him, he left Ciampino towards the Arctic. They flew to the North Pole and landed in Alaska. A well-traversed 5,300 km non-stop. On April 15, 1928 he attempted again a flight to the North Pole as commander of the airship “Italia”. The expedition also involved a group of Alpini led by Captain Gennaro Sora, who subsequently take part in the rescue operations after the disaster of the airship in the return flight.
Umberto Nobile with the airship “Italia” left Milan for Svalbard, where the base was built. On 23 May 1928, the airship left Ny Alesund and at 00:24 hours of May 24, 1928 reached the North Pole. The landing was not carried out due to adverse weather conditions, but when above the 90th parallel the Italian flag and a cross blessed by Pope Pius XI were launched.
On the way home, with the mountains of Svalbard at the horizon, the airship crashed on the pack ice. Ten men, including Nobile with his inseparable dog Titina were left on the ice while the airship takes with it the other six crew members destined to disappear forever. The survivors were surrounded by materials such as a radio, food and a small tent. The tent was then painted red to facilitate the sighting of the rescuers and entered into legend as “The Red Tent.”
Nobile was rescued by the Swedish pilot Lundborg by a small plane and against his will. Other crew members were rescued later by the icebreaker Krasin on July 12, 1928 after seven weeks on the pack.
Because of the political disputes that followed the rescue Nobile first moved to Russia where designed the airship USSR W6, then went to America where his ability as designer was highly recognized and appreciated.
He returned to Italy in 1943 where his figure was rehabilitated and on 27 December 1966 was honored with the title of Grande Ufficiale dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana.
He died in Rome on 30 July 1978.
BIOGRAPHY curated by Bruno Bocchi