The United States Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–1941), often referred to as Byrd’s Third Antarctic Expedition, was an expedition jointly sponsored by the United States Navy, State Department, Department of the Interior and The Treasury. Although a U.S.-government sponsored expedition, additional support came from donations and gifts by private citizens, corporations and institutions.
Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd donated many of the supplies that he had gathered for his own expedition, the largest item being the Bear of Oakland, commissioned the USS Bear. A second ship, the USMS North Star, a 1434-ton wooden ice ship built for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was supplied by the Department of the Interior.
A total of 125 men departed from the United States in the two ships of the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. Most of the men who made up the expedition were solicited from the military ranks, civilian agencies of government and scientific institutions. A few volunteers were employed by the Department of the Interior for $10 per month, food and clothing included. A total of 59 men, divided initially into three groups, wintered in Antarctica.
The objectives of the expedition were outlined in an order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt dated November 25, 1939. The President wanted two bases to be established: East Base, in the vicinity of Charcot Island or Alexander I Land, or on Marguerite Bay if no accessible site could be found on either of the specified islands; and West Base, in the vicinity of King Edward VII Land, but if this proved impossible, a site on the Bay of Whales at or near Little America was to be investigated, and delineation of the continental coast line between the meridians 72 degrees W., and 148 degrees W. In view of the broad scope of the objectives and the unpredictable circumstances that always arise in Antarctica, it is remarkable that most of the objectives set for them were met.
Observations were conducted in every conceivable area: seismic, cosmic ray, auroral, biological, tidal, magnetic and physiological to name a few. All in all, it was an extremely successful expedition.
With international tensions on the rise, it was considered wise to evacuate the two bases rather than relieve the present personnel with new men who would continue to occupy the bases. It was hoped that one day this base would be reoccupied so much of the equipment and supplies were left behind as the two ships sailed from West Base on February 1, 1941. The evacuation of East Base was concluded on March 22 and both ships sailed immediately. The USMS North Star arrived in Boston on May 5 and the USS Bear on May 18.