Aviation Chief Machinist Mate, USN

Chief Pilot

East Base








Laura Granberry Snow


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 animals.†††


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 hidden.††


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.



Medals: †††† Antarctic Service Medal, Gold

†††††††††††††††††††† Distinguished Flying Cross


Geographical feature: Snow Nunataks


Contributions:††† Chief Pilot, East Base; Chief of Staff of Enlisted Personnel; evacuation of East Base personnel






Full Photo/Films/Video Library:


Links:††† Earle Perce, Biography