Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The German South Polar Expedition of 1911

Brave Men in a Very Small Boat

In early May 1911, the bark "Deutschland" set sail from Bremerhaven en route to Antarctica.

The goal of the second German South Polar Expedition was to map the continent via an overland route from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea, and confirm that it was one piece of land.

The leader, and organiser, of the expedition was Wilhelm Filchner (1877-1957) who, at the age of 34, had already been involved in expeditions to Russia, Central Asia and Tibet.

Wilhelm Filchner
By any measure, the expedition was a failure. After visiting South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, they were beset by pack ice for nine months. The only real success of the expedition was disproving the existence of South Greenland, which had been included in maps since 1823.

During their visit to Grytviken in South Georgia, the crew were busy posting postcards home.

Although many cards have been on the market in recent years, and have achieved five-figure sums, this may be the ultimate postcard from the expedition.

The picture side, showing the "Deutschland", is autographed by ten members of the expedition. A total of thirty-five crew and scientists were on board. 

One signature is that of the Captain, Richard Vahsel, which can be seen second from the top on the right

It's reported that Filchner and Vahsel did not "get on" during the expedition. Sadly, Vahsel was to perish on board on 8 August 1912. Filchner named  Vahsel Bay after him.

Other signatures identified to date are Erich Barkow (meteorologist - second from the top on the left), Erich Przbyllock (astronomer and magnetician - bottom centre) and Dr. Felix Konig (vertical at right) 

The reverse is full of fascinating detail 

I'm not yet able to decipher the writing, but the card was sent by the expedition leader, Wilhelm Filchner, to Coln (Cologne). His signature appears along the left edge

A "vignette" (what we now know as a cinderella) was issued for the expedition. This is tied to the card with a handstamp "Polarschiff Deutschland Sud-Georgien Grytviken 30 November 1911".

The card was subsequently franked with Falkland Islands SG44e, KEVII 1d orange-vermilion, and postmarked at South Georgia De 6 11

This card should be seen in context of the times. It was handstamped two weeks before Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole. 

It stands as a time capsule, and a record of a group of very brave men, who took on an enormous challenge in a very small boat!


  1. The signature at the bottom centre I believe belongs to Eric Przybyllok.

  2. Thanks for the info, which I've added to the blog!