A History of our First Polar Vessels
Corvette ARA Uruguay
Built by the Cammell Laird Bros. shipyard in Birkenhead, England, it cost £ 32,000 according to a contract signed for two twin ships (Uruguay and Paraná). Launched on March 6, 1874, under the command of the English Captain Jaime A. Powlett with a crew of 27 men, it set sail towards our country in convoy with the Paraná and both arrived in Montevideo on July 5, 1874. Their Argentinian commanding officers were waiting for them at that port. They symbolically received the vessels on July 6 and then they set sail, entering the Riachuelo the following day.
In 1903, the Swedish scientific expedition aboard the Antarctic, led by Dr. Otto Nordenskjöld, was considered to be lost in Antarctic waters. The Argentine Republic found the corvette Uruguay was suitable to attempt a rescue and ordered to fit her out to face the ice. Thus, the bow and the stem were reinforced; the double bottom was filled with cork sawdust; a whaleback forecastle and two aftercastles, one on each side, were added as well as tanks for six additional tons of oil. On October 8, 1903, the corvette Uruguay set sail from the North Dock and was seen off by President Julio A. Roca. The vessel had a crew of only twenty-two men and was led by Lieutenant Julián Irízar. The voyage up to Snow Hill was nice and quick, almost without setbacks. On November 8, the happy encounter with Dr. Nordenskjöld and the other members of the expedition, including Sublieutenant Sobral, took place. The corvette arrived back in Buenos Aires on December 2, 1903.
In 1904, she sailed back to Antarctica to carry out a relief operation at the new Orkney Base, which had been operated, until that time, by members of the Scottish expedition led by William Bruce during 1904-1905. During that expedition, they unsuccessfully tried to find the French Expedition led by Dr. Jean Charcot, whose whereabouts were unknown. This small and fragile vessel continued to navigate the Drake Passage and Cape Horn to supply the Orkney Base with provisions until 1922. It also reached San Pedro Island (South Georgias) between 1909 and 1919, supplying the Sociedad Argentina de Pesca [Fishing Argentine Society] and the whaling station with charcoal and provisions. The corvette even collected letters and performed hydrographic activities. Today, almost a hundred years after her joining the Argentine Navy, the Corvette Uruguay is the oldest vessel in the Navy and was turned into a museum of her own glories at the port of Buenos Aires.
As the Government was worried about not having an appropriate vessel for Antarctic missions, they decided to purchase Le Francais from Dr. Charcot on November, 22, 1905. The vessel cost $50,000. On December 17, the ship was renamed Austral, and Lieutenant Lorenzo Saborido became its commander.
With an oak hull specially built for polar navigation and a three-mast schooner rig, the ship was launched at Gautier shipyard in St. Maló, France, on June 27, 1903. Its dimensions were: 40.00 x 4.00 x 4.80 m. The vessel has a displacement of 900 tons. It was equipped with a 250 HP auxiliary steam engine connected to a propeller. Its original crew was made up of 25 members.
In the summer of 1906, the vessel took part in a campaign to the South Orkney Islands. When returning, she underwent several modifications in the Taller Naval de Dársena Norte (North Dock Ship Repair Workshops). Those modifications included the replacement of the propulsion engine. Led by Lieutenant D. Arturo Celery, she set sail from Buenos Aires on December 19, 1906, as part of a new Antarctic campaign.
On December 21, during a fierce storm, the schooner is wrecked after running aground the Ortiz Bank. The crew was rescued by the dispatch boat Gaviota from the Argentine Navy. As a consequence of the accident, the Uruguay had to resume its Antarctic destination navigating until 1922 to perform the annual relief of the observatory located on Laurie Island.
From 1923 and until 1947, when the Antarctic annual campaigns started, the routine relief and replenishing journeys to the observatory on Laurie Island continued to be carried out by the following naval transports: Guardia Nacional, Pampa, 1º de Mayo, and Chaco.
Icebreaker ARA General San Martín
Brief Historical Outline
It was the first icebreaker of the Argentine Navy. She navigated the frozen Antarctic seas for 25 years, always carrying out summer and winter campaigns, and search and rescue missions to find ships, navigators, and expedition members. She enabled the establishment of shelters and Antarctic bases and supplied them as well as relieved their personnel. This icebreaker also explored the borders of the Weddell Sea and carried out oceanographic, hydrographic and meteorological research in the whole Argentine Antarctica.
The Beginnings of her Antarctic Operations
Setting sail from Germany, where she was built, the ship arrived in our country in 1954, led by Lieutenant Commander Luis Tristán de Villalobos. The vessel immediately took part in the 1954 - 1955Summer Antarctic Campaign. The Antarctic Naval Force, which the icebreaker was part of, was under the command of Captain Alicio Ogara. This Force was made up of the Argentine Navy ships Bahía Aguirre and Bahía Buen Suceso, the tanker Punta Loyola, the hydrographic ships Chiriguano and Sanavirón, and the rescue ship Yamana. Four planes, three helicopters and six landing crafts completed the force.
Establishment of the Army Base “General Belgrano” — Southernmost Latitude Reached by the Icebreaker.
During the 1955 - 1956 Summer Antarctic Campaign, Captain Alicio Ogara penetrated the Weddell Sea deep into the south and set up, along with Army personnel led by General Hernán Pujato, the base called “General Belgrano,” opened on January 18, 1955. On that occasion, the icebreaker reached the southernmost latitude ever reached by a ship within sea ice field.
The icebreaker continued to take part in 1956 - 1957 and 1957 - 1958 Summer Campaigns along with the vessel Bahía Aguirre and the hydrographic ship Chiriguano.
It also took part in a Winter Campaign led by Lieutenant Commander Jorge A. Boffi and, although the ice field condition did not allow the ship to penetrate deep into the south of the Weddell Sea, the crew was able to partially perform the scheduled meteorological, biological, and oceanographic observations.
Once its duty during the 1962 - 1963 Antarctic campaign was completed, the icebreaker was ordered to circumnavigate the pole with the purpose of performing glaciological and bathythermograph observations. During the 1964 – 1965 Antarctic campaign, the Scientific Base “Almirante Brown” at Paradise Harbor was opened. It was equipped as a permanent scientific base and was run by a Navy officer, military staff for operations and maintenance of the equipment and mechanisms and by a group of civilian scientists.
Iceabreaker ARA Almirante Irízar
Built in the Wärtsilä shipyard in Helsinki, Finland, in 1977, the vessel was delivered to the Argentine Republic on December 15, 1978. Since then, it has supplied Antarctic Argentine bases as well as other countries’ bases year after year. It is the flagship of the Antarctic Naval Force. It is the only icebreaker based in the Southern Hemisphere. Other vessels in this hemisphere are categorized as polar transports.
She took part in the Malvinas War as a hospital ship until the end of the conflict, without suffering any attacks.
In June, 2002, it took part in the operation called Cruz del Sur to rescue the Polar transport vessel Magdalena Oldendorff, icebound in Antarctica. The Irízar moved forward along 330 km of ice and supplied the ship with medicines, fuel, and food.
Between the spring and the fall, the Almirante Irízar takes part in Antarctic campaigns, using the Ushuaia Naval Base as a support point. The vessel visits Argentine bases to supply them with provisions, collect the waste they produce and transport the relief staff.
(Antarctic Museum. Exhibit halls 15 -17 - 19)