ASHLEY SNOW, JR.
Aviation Chief Machinist Mate, USN
My father, Ashley Clinton Snow, Jr., was born March 23,
1906, in Meridian, Mississippi, to Laura Granberry
Snow and Ashley Clinton Snow, Sr.† He
attended Marion Military Institute, Marion,
Alabama, from the first grade
through completion of his first year of college.†† His father was a lumberman by trade and
traveled throughout the country and Latin America
purchasing timber.† His mother, a native
of Meridian, Mississippi, was a southern beauty and
gifted singer who was invited to sing in churches throughout the South.† My grandmother was the author of Music and the Out
of Doors, published in 1930, by the Museum
of Natural History in New York City.†
Joining the Navy in 1927, my father was accepted into flight
school in 1929, and received his wings in 1930.
In 1939, he applied to the United States Antarctic Service to be a pilot
and was accepted.† The two expedition
ships, the USS Bear and the USMS North Star sailed for Antarctica in November 1939.††† My father was pleased to be assigned to the
historic USS Bear, a three-masted barquentine built in Scotland in
1872.†† The Bear was under full sail for
weeks and because they were not traveling in commercial shipping lanes they did
not see other ships or inhabited islands for extended periods of time.† The newly installed diesel engines were used
only when the ship got into the pack ice.
Life on the Bear was spartan, but it was an extraordinary experience that my
father never forgot.
Four aircraft were utilized during the expedition.† Two aircraft, a Beechcraft
and a Curtiss-Condor were assigned to West Base.† Only one aircraft, a Curtiss-Condor, was
assigned to East Base.† The Bear carried a Barkley-Grow
that was on loan from a private individual but returned to the United States
with Admiral Byrd.† The Barkley-Grow had
a longer range than the other expedition aircraft and was therefore more
suitable for the flights of exploration planned by Admiral Byrd.† The fact that East Base was provided with
only one aircraft resulted in a precarious situation for that base.†
The first stop in Antarctica was Little
America where West Base was constructed.†† As the USMS
North Star unloaded, it was Admiral Byrdís plan to take the Bear and explore the region.† Paul Siple, West
Base leader, and Richard Black, East Base leader, were concerned about the Bear leaving on an exploratory
voyage.† Admiral Byrd apparently advised
no one about his destination or plans.
With my father as pilot, Earle Perce as copilot, and Admiral Byrd as
navigator, they flew over 100,000 square miles of territory, discovering
mountains and islands, and added 700 miles of coastline to mapped territory.
These exploratory flights were particularly dangerous because they flew over
heavy broken pack ice in uncharted areas.
Unfortunately, there was no aerial film footage taken on these flights.†
After the construction of West Base was well on its way to
completion, and the Snowcruiser, Beechcraft,
and a Curtiss-Condor had been offloaded at West Base, the Bear sailed for Marguerite
Bay, adjacent to the Antarctic
Peninsula.† The North Star sailed for Valparaiso, Chile.†† The Curtiss-Condor intended for East Base had
been stored in Valparaiso
under the watchful eyes of William Pullen, along with the prefabricated housing
panels for the main bunk house, for which Robert Palmer had been
responsible.† The North Star sailed to East Base with the housing panels and the Condor.† Immediately after all East Base materials had
been offloaded, the Bear and the North Star had to depart because they
were in danger of being iced-in.† Until
their housing was complete, the ice party lived in tents.
When the Curtiss Condor was shipped from the United States,
the wings were removed and placed into a huge crate.† After assembling the aircraft, the aircraft
crew adapted the huge wing crate into an ďaviation shack.Ē†† The aviation field was a mile from Stonington Island, the location of East Base, on a
glacier connected to the island by a thick slope of snow.††† The dismantled crate was moved to the
glacier, rebuilt, and covered with a thick tarp.† Four bunk beds and a work bench were built,
and a pot-belly stove was installed.
Because of the difficult and quickly changing weather conditions in the
Marguerite Bay area of the Antarctic Peninsula, it was necessary for two men to
remain close to the Condor at all times.
My father and William Pullen lived in the aviation shack.† Earle Perce was scheduled for regular radio
duty and spent long periods of time at the main camp when he was not flying or
working on the Condor.†††
Flying duties included reconnaissance flights to find the
best sledging routes for the trail parties, cache-laying flights, and
photographic flights in which Art Carroll documented the geography of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Flights were made in order to deliver photographs to trail parties to
assist them in locating the best routes to their destinations.† My father and Earle Perce depended upon
Herbert Dorsey, Jr.ís weather forecasts in order to
undertake these flights.†
The original mission of the United States Antarctic Service
was to establish two permanent bases where personnel would live and operate for
a year until they were relieved by the next group.† These plans were cut short due to concerns
about Japanese activity in the Pacific and the belief that the United States
might enter the war.† The Bear and the North Star returned to Antarctica
in 1941, evacuated West Base and subsequently sailed to East Base.† The situation at East Base proved to be
difficult because the ships could not get close to Stonington
Island because Marguerite Bay
was filled with pack ice.† In
mid-February both ships were still in the vicinity of Stonington Island,
awaiting a change in wind direction that would clear the ice.† On March 15, the North Star sailed to Puntas Arenas, Chile, in order
to allow the West Base personnel to disembark.
Supplies were picked up in case East Base personnel had to remain for
another year.† The Bear sailed to Mikkelsen
Island (currently named Watkins Island) and personnel established a
landing field on top of the island, 400 feet above. In Washington, Admiral Byrd and the Executive
Committee of USASE gave Captain Cruzen of the Bear permission to make the decision
regarding any possible evacuation.†
On March 21st, Captain Cruzen
gave the order to evacuate East Base the next day.† All East Base personnel volunteered to
evacuate on the second flight.† Every man
knew the Condor had been patched up several times and there was a significant
chance the aircraft might not be able to return to East Base after the first
flight.† Base Leader Richard Black chose
the men for each flight according to the necessity of having them at East Base
for another winter in the event the aircraft did not make it back for the
second group.† The first group of evacuees were:
Darlington, Dyer, Dolleman,
Healy, Hill, Hilton, Morency, Odom, Palmer, Pullen, Sharbonneau, and Steel.
Each man was allowed to take the minimum of possessions with him.†† My father and Earle Perce took off from East
Base at 5:30 a.m., with the twelve passengers aboard the Condor.† The aircraft landed atop Mikkelsen Island at 7:15 a.m.†† The Bearís
radio operator notified East Base of the successful landing.†
The Condor returned to East Base at 10:00 a.m.† By 11:10 a.m., the aircraft was refueled and
the pilots, with Black, Bryant, Carroll, Collier, Dorsey, Eklund,
Knowles, Lamplugh, Lehrke, Musselman, Ronne, and Sims aboard, attempted to take
off.† The aircraft was unable to do so;
therefore, my father ordered the disposal of five hundred pounds of personal
possessions.†† Time was of the essence as
the Bear was becoming encased in
ice.† At 12:15 p.m., the aircraft took
off successfully and landed at Mikkelsen Island
at about 2:00 p.m.
Human tragedy was averted as another tragedy occurred.† There were sixty-seven sled dogs that could
not be taken aboard the evacuation flights.
The airfield surface was softening as the temperature warmed.† The aircraft was in dubious condition.
Additional flights were deemed too risky.
The decision had been made the night before that the dogs would have to
be destroyed.† This decision was
indescribably painful for the men whose lives had depended upon these marvelous
When the Bear was
underway with all evacuees aboard, my father and Perce were happily surprised
to find that seven tiny puppies, just ten days old, had been smuggled aboard
the aircraft in duffel bags, inside jackets and anywhere else they could be
Ashley C. Snow, Jr. retired from the U.S. Navy after
thirty-two years of service.† He lived in
Pensacola, Florida, with his wife, Mildred, and his
three daughters, Ashley C. Snow III, Elizabeth Snow, and Laura Snow.† My father died on April 10, 1975, seven
months after the death of my mother.
†††† Antarctic Service Medal, Gold
†††††††††††††††††††† Distinguished Flying Cross
feature: Snow Nunataks
Contributions:††† Chief Pilot, East Base; Chief of Staff of Enlisted
Personnel; evacuation of East Base personnel
Links:††† Earle Perce, Biography