Ross Sea party 1914–1917

 Outline of Antarctica coast, with different lines indicating the various journeys made by ships and land parties during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
Map of the sea routes of Endurance, the James Caird, and Aurora, the overland supply depot route of the Ross Sea party, and the planned overland route of the Weddell Sea party led by Ernest Shackleton on his trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914–15:
  Voyage of Endurance
  Drift of Endurance in pack
  Ice drift after Endurance sinks
  Voyage of James Caird
  Planned transcontinental route
  Voyage of Aurora to Antarctica
  Drift and retreat of Aurora
  Supply depot routes

The Ross Sea party was a component of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–17. Its task was to lay a series of supply depots across the Great Ice Barrier from the Ross Sea to the Beardmore Glacier, along the polar route established by earlier Antarctic expeditions. The expedition's main party, under Shackleton, was to land near Vahsel Bay on the opposite coast of Antarctica, and to march across the continent via the South Pole to the Ross Sea. As the main party would be unable to carry sufficient fuel and supplies for the whole distance, their survival depended on the Ross Sea party setting up supply depots, which would cover the final quarter of their journey.

Shackleton set sail from London on his ship Endurance, bound for the Weddell Sea in August 1914. Meanwhile, the Ross Sea party personnel gathered in Australia, prior to departure for the Ross Sea in the second expedition ship, SY Aurora. Organisational and financial problems delayed their start until December 1914, which shortened their first depot-laying season. After their arrival the inexperienced party struggled to master the art of Antarctic travel, in the process losing most of their sled dogs.

A greater misfortune occurred at the onset of the southern winter when the Aurora, locked in an ice-floe which broke off from the main shelf, was torn from its moorings. The ocean currents then pulled ship further away from the sledding parties marooned on shore and drifted for over six months before breaking free of the ice. Sadly the Aurora's damaged rudder forced her to return to New Zealand rather than returning for the stranded shore party.

Despite these setbacks, the Ross Sea party survived inter-personnel disputes, extreme weather, illness, and the deaths of three of its members to carry out its mission in full during its second Antarctic season. This success proved ultimately without purpose, because Shackleton's main expedition was unable to land after Endurance was crushed in the Weddell Sea ice. Shackleton eventually led his men to safety, but the transcontinental march did not take place and the Ross Sea party's depots were not required. The Ross Sea party remained stranded until January 1917, when Aurora, which had been repaired and refitted in New Zealand, arrived to rescue them. Public recognition of their efforts was slow in coming, but in due course four Albert Medals were awarded to members of the party, two posthumously. Shackleton later wrote that those who died "gave their lives for their country as surely as those who gave up their lives in France or Flanders." [1]


After the conquest of the South Pole by Roald Amundsen in December 1911 Shackleton, who had sought this achievement himself, was forced to rethink his polar ambitions. He believed that there remained "one great main objective of Antarctic journeyings—the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea." [2] Basing his strategy on plans developed earlier by the Scottish explorer William Spiers Bruce, Shackleton planned to land with his main party as far south as possible, on the Weddell Sea coast. [3] His transcontinental team would then march southward to the Pole, before continuing across the polar plateau and descending via the Beardmore Glacier (which Shackleton had discovered in 1909) to the Great Ice Barrier. The final stretch would take them across the Barrier to McMurdo Sound on the Ross Sea coast. [2] [3]

Shackleton estimated that the crossing would cover approximately 1,800 miles (2,900 km), [2] a distance too great for his party to carry all its supplies. In support of the main journey, therefore, a separate Ross Sea party would land in McMurdo Sound and would lay a series of supply depots across the 400 miles (640 km) width of the Barrier, to assist the crossing group home. [2] It would also carry out scientific investigations. Shackleton described the depot-laying as vital to the success of the whole undertaking, but believed it would not present any great difficulties in execution. [4] The Ross Sea party's vessel would be SY Aurora, a ship recently used by Douglas Mawson and the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. [2]

Other Languages
العربية: حزب بحر روس
Nederlands: Ross Sea Party
日本語: ロス海支隊
Plattdüütsch: Ross Sea Party