The Unbelievable True Survivor Story of The Endurance and Sir Ernest Shackleton

History has provided some powerful stories. One incredible survival story happened over a century ago and belongs to explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew on the fated Trans-Antarctic expedition.

Polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton's ship, ENDURANCE, trapped in Weddell Sea pack ice in Antarctica in 1916.
Polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton’s ship, ENDURANCE, trapped in Weddell Sea pack ice in Antarctica in 1916. Photo By Everett Collection/Shutterstock

They were stranded for over a year in a frozen wilderness, and these men had nothing to do but survive. Against all the odds, the British explorer, and 28 men on the ship, named The Endurance, survived an ocean expedition.

A Daring Goal

The goal was to cross the Antarctic continent from coast to coast. The mission was daring, considering that ten men had ever stood at the South Pole – 5 of them had died on the way back, too. This story was beyond any expectations, not even the ship’s commander, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Ernest Henry Shackleton
Ernest Henry Shackleton. Photo By Granger/Shutterstock

Shackleton struggled with boredom and restlessness in his school years. He got his father’s approval to join a sailing ship at age 16. It was the beginning of a journey of adventures at sea.

Coast to Coast

Shackleton became a known polar explorer, and in 1909, he got to work right away, planning his journey to Antarctica. He was sure others would succeed in reaching a goal he had failed at: reaching the South Pole.

Officers of the British Antarctic Expedition On Board the Discovery
Officers of the British Antarctic Expedition On Board the Discovery Front Row Second From Left is Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and Back Row Fourth From Right is Ernest Shackleton 1901. Photo By Historia/Shutterstock

To cross the Antarctic continent from coast to coast, via the South Pole, was a distance of 1800 miles. A long journey for a ship, but it wasn’t further than a “there and back” trip to the pole. The attention-grabbing aspect of such an expedition was a small part of it.

Men Wanted for the Journey

There was a publicized newspaper ad that was placed by Shackleton himself, though no trace of a copy was ever found. It read: ” Men Wanted: For Hazardous Journey. Small Wages, Bitter Cold, Long Months of Complete Darkness, Constant Danger, Safe Return Doubtful. Honor and Recognition in Case of Success.”

Sir Ernest Shackleton and Three Members of A Polar Exploration Party
Sir Ernest Shackleton and Three Members of A Polar Exploration Party Photographed Within 111 Miles of the South Pole in 1907-9 On Board the Nimrod. Photo By Historia/Shutterstock

Funding was a problem, so Shackleton recruited and prepared for the departure while also scrambling to find funds. Eventually, he got the funding and by the end of July 1914, his plans were almost complete.

The Endurance & the Aurora

Shackleton’s plan had two ships and 56 men split evenly. Endurance was under his command, to sail from South Georgia Island. Aurora sailed from Australia. Shackleton and his crew ended up being the ones to complete the journey.

Cutaway View of the 'Endurance'
Cutaway View of the ‘Endurance’ the Flagship of Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-antarctic Expedition Which Began in 1914. Photo By Historia/Shutterstock

Aurora’s crew set up supplies and assisted the explorers. At the time, the clouds of World War I were starting to gather. Shackleton saw an order for mobilization of troops and supplies, calling on volunteers.

A Telegram from Churchill

He sent a telegram offering his ships, stores, and services to the country. An hour after, he got a reply with a single word: “Proceed.” Two hours later, Winston Churchill sent a telgram, thanking him for the offer, but that his expedition should go on. That night, war broke out.

Sir Ernest Shackleton Dressed in Kit Suited to Antarctic Conditions Before His Trans-antarctic Expedition in 1914.
Sir Ernest Shackleton Dressed in Kit Suited to Antarctic Conditions Before His Trans-antarctic Expedition in 1914. Photo By Historia/Shutterstock

On August 8, 1914, the Endurance set sail. They figured the war would end within half a year. By November 5, when they arrived in South Georgia, Shackleton learned it was a particularly heavy ice year.

Some Time in South Georgia

They were supposed to be in South Georgia for days, but remained there for a month, letting the ice dissolve… if at all. It gave the men time to bond, something that would be beneficial when push came to shove.

Roald Amundsen, Ernest Henry Shackleton, and Robert Edwin Peary.
Group portrait of three great polar explorers of the early 20th century: Roald Amundsen, Ernest Henry Shackleton, and Robert Edwin Peary. Photo By Courtesy Everett Collection/Shutterstock

They were going to sail to the Weddell Sea, known to be especially ice-bound. The Endurance had coal to help with the load on the engines. They brought extra clothing in case the Endurance may have to winter it out there. They left n December 5, 1914.

Like an Almond

To get to Antarctica, they had to weave through ice and shift between glaciers. And as they sailed, the ice grew thicker, slowing progress to a crawl. The ship battled its way through a thousand miles of ice which took six weeks. They were one hundred miles from their destination.

Shackleton's Endurance
Shackleton’s Endurance Heeled to Port under the Pressure of Ice in the Weddell Sea of Antarctica, Oct. 1915. Photo By Granger/Shutterstock

On January 18, 1915, the ice closed in around the ship. It cemented together with the ice that surrounded the ship. The storekeeper on the ship wrote how the Endurance was “Like an almond in a piece of toffee.”

A Disappointment

This had happened to ships before in the Arctic. It was, though, a setback. For Shackleton, it was a disappointment. He was 40, his country was at war, and the expedition was massive effort and energy.

Sir Ernest Shackleton (second From Right) with Queen Alexandra
Photograph of Sir Ernest Shackleton (second From Right) with Queen Alexandra (right) and the Dowager Empress of Russia (second From Left) On Their Visit to the ‘Endurance’ Before His Antarctic Expedition in 1914. Photo By Granger/Shutterstock

Yet his men looked towards him. Royal Naval sailors, fishermen, and  Cambridge University graduates. They were now dependent on the man who led them to this place in the world.

An Unfortunate Predicament

The ship was drifting southwest. The crew tried to free the ship, but they weren’t successful. The ice was simply too thick. The men would break up the ice near the ship.

Sir Ernest Shackleton's Air-propelled Sledges Intended For Use in the Trans-antarctic Expedition
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Air-propelled Sledges Intended For Use in the Trans-antarctic Expedition. Photo By Historia/Shutterstock

Even at full speed, there was no effect at all. By the end of February, temperatures fell to -4°F. It was clear the ship was there for the winter. Where was the ice taking them?