Hell on Ice, The Saga of the 'Jeannette'

Hell on Ice, The Saga of the "Jeannette"

by Commander Edward Ellsberg

Illustrated by Armstrong Sperry

Dodd, Mead & Co., New York, 1938

from the dustjacket:

Nearly sixty years have slipped by since the Jeannette sailed away through the Golden Gate sped by cheers, sirens, salutes, by high hopes -- and by a woman's tears; the first expedition to seek the North Pole by way of the Behring Sea. Only a scattering of people recall today her dramatic fate, though it was the sensation of the time. No doubt she would soon be remembered only by Arctic historians had not Commander Ellsberg, delving into the facts and circumstances of that voyage, found them of the stuff that has made great human drama since the days of Troy.

Commander Ellsberg discovered in the half-surpressed logs of the hapless expedition a story of incredible excitement and variety -- a tale of men locked two years in the Arctic pack, of sudden disaster, of desperate flight across the cruel ice, of a wild small boat passage over the storm swept Arctic seas to the barren frozen tundra of Siberia. But more than that, he saw in those events human heroism and courage in the face of such hardships as have never been recorded before nor since. He saw men who had been ordinary sailors and officers transformed by extraordinary occurences -- some into gallant leaders, a few into shirkers and mutineers, others into lunatics, some into reckless martyrs, one at least into a hero whom all men can be proud.

No one could be more ideally equipped to make this saga of the Arctic live than Commander Edward Ellsberg. Author of On the Bottom, already recognized as a classic of the sea, himself a brilliant engineer, he recounts of the story through the vivid personality of George Wallace Melville, chief engineer on the Jeannette. A careful research through diaries, journals, Naval Inquiries, and Congressional Investigations enables him to use the actual dialogue and set down authentically the characters of the whole ship's company. Above all, his rare knowledge of men in action and his rare ability to depict them make the reader virtually a member of the most extraordinary Artic expedition in history.

In Hell on Ice he takes a musty, never wholly known record and recreates it in the flesh and blood with wild Arctic gales singing through it, with the screech and roar of the tumbling ice floes, the flaming colors of the Aurora Borealis, the smell of sweaty furs, and the cries of men, now hoarse and desperate as they face destruction, now softened by the hope of salvation; while through it all, strangely woven into the fabric of the banner borne along till it falls from dying fingers to the ice, is the presence of the woman who waits at home, in agony looking toward the void of the unknown North.


Commander Edward Ellsberg was born in New Haven but his family moved to Colorado when he was a boy. He entered the United States Naval Academy in 1910 and was graduated as honor man of his class. After varied service on the USS Texas, he was ordered to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for post graduate work in Naval Architecture where he received a Master of Science degree. Thereafter he specialized in construction, diving, and engineering. His many inventions have proved important contributions to naval science.

In 1925 he was detailed as Salvage Officer on the S-51. As a result of his extraordinary work in raising that submarine, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the Navy (the first time that honor has ever been conferred in time of peace) and promoted to Commander.

He retired from the Navy but volunteered his services for the rescue of the S-4 during which he narrowly escaped death. In connection with his salvage work on these submarines, the Secretary of the Navy wrote to him saying: "For this work, well done, cheerfully done, and loyally done, I thank you in behalf of the Navy."

Author of the best-selling On the Bottom, Commander Ellsberg has since devoted his time to writing and to engineering consultation. During the past three years he has been gathering the material and doing the writing for his greatest book, Hell on Ice.






Admiral Edward Ellsberg's biography by John Doughty Alden was published in 1997 by the United States Naval Inst.: Salvage Man: Edward Ellsberg and the U.S. Navy and is available through Amazon.com, within 3-5 weeks according to Amazon.com.




This page last updated Saturday, 10/13/12, by Margo Burns, margo@ogram.org
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