Race to the Pole Gets Underway

The Times 1 March 1910 –- Standing on the steps of the Royal Opera House, Lord Northcliffe officially launched the first leg of his much-publicized “Race to the Pole” with a shot from a starter’s pistol, a sound quickly drowned out in the noise created by the five behemoths riding the skies above Covent Garden getting underway. The crowd of over forty thousand hardy souls who braved the foul weather were treated to an event of much pomp and not a little controversy.

With only six vessels entering the owner of the Daily Mail’s grand challenge, the field further shrank when the Royal Navy ordered the only civilian vessel in the skies, the American-built Voyager, to withdraw, stating that it was not appropriate for a private vessel to enter the Race. What began as a race to showcase these powerful sky ships has quickly become a contest of pride between competing powers, and now is undeniably being used as a means for the various national fleets to prove their dominance.

Representing the Royal Sky Fleet is the HML Indefatigable, a custom-built leviathan commanded by Captain James Jennings. Captain Jennings is an officer of good repute, having served with honor and courage in the Boer campaign. The Indefatigable is similar to the much larger Edward VII-class vessels, obviously emulating that proven design.

The French entrant is the Clarion, captained by Capitaine de Volée Jacques Milés. A veteran of the Channel clashes, Milés is an unknown quantity, but onlookers were certainly impressed with the Clarion, its sleek lines belying its rather ugly namesake. Certainly from the ground, the Clarion looks to be fastest of the competitors.

In complete contrast to French ship is the representative of the German Kaiserliche Luftmarine, the SMS Flugboot, an obvious pun. The Flugboot looks like a machine of war, unlike the other entries, but it is captained by a civilian, Dr. Ernst Schmidt of the Hahn-Meiter Institut. Given the German reputation for technical innovation, one cannot help but wonder what the good Doktor has up his sleeves.

The Russian entrant is easily the most somber-looking of the competitors, with the scars of battle still evident on the hastily converted hull. Captained by Polknovik Sergei Schementolov, a veteran of the Schmidt Mutiny, the converted Berkut II-class leviathan Krimskaya Borzaya is the only vessel competing that has seen active combat. Whether that experience will help in a timed race remains to be seen, but using a proven vessel shows that the Russians have made at least a small effort to prepare for the trials ahead.

The final competitor is the USS Camp Teller, captained by the famous Rear Admiral Robert Peary. Obviously, the Americans hope that Peary’s previous experience in reaching the Pole will give them the edge in this competition. Indeed, the Teller is the only vessel that appears to be ready for the extreme climes to be conquered, its deck festooned with tarpaulins covering crates of supplies.

At any rate, as the vessels faded into the distance beyond London, it was the French ship Clarion in the lead. The first leg of the Race ends in Paris, where the difference in time will be recorded before the competitors begin the next leg. With only five competitors, Lord Northcliffe, on advice from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, has decided to eliminate the Rome and Vienna legs of the Race, an obvious insult to those nations that failed to participate.

At long last, they’re underway!

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