'Minor mistakes' cost lives of Scott and polar trek team
One of the greatest adventures in human history need not have ended in tragedy if a Westcountry explorer's orders had been followed, scientists claim.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott may have returned alive from the South Pole if officers under his command had obeyed crucial instructions, according to new research.
After his death, on the edge of Antarctica, the Plymouth man was celebrated as a British hero – only to be later condemned for leading his South Pole expedition to disaster.
A new analysis of his ill-fated return from the pole has transferred the blame to the men under his command – claiming it was their errors which meant he and his fellow explorers died.
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During the 800-mile trek back, Scott and his party perished in bitterly cold temperatures of –44C, towards the end of March 1912, just 11 miles from a food depot.
The findings, by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Scott Polar Research Institute, may help restore the Devon explorer's reputation.
Written instructions left by Scott before he embarked south across the frozen continent were apparently ignored by expedition members who in his absence made decisions that delayed attempts to rescue their leader.
He had ordered the men left at base camp to send dog sleds out past the food depot to meet him and his party as they returned from the pole.
Karen May, a researcher writing for the Polar Record, the official journal of the Scott Polar Research Institute, said: "What is so compelling about the Scott Expedition is how close these men were to surviving, and just how many unfortunate incidents ultimately led to the tragedy.
"Examining the Scott Expedition, one sees a pattern of minor mistakes by a number of people, which were not necessarily fatal in themselves, but when taken in conjunction with everything else, led to catastrophe.
"I believe that the new findings emphasise more firmly than ever the interpretation of 'a tragic accumulation of circumstances'."
Mrs May said a series of catastrophic errors were made by the men he left in charge – including choosing not to jeopardise the scientific goals of the mission.
She said: "In the crucial moment, there was a struggle for ascendancy in the expedition between the 'pole-seekers' and the 'scientists'. The claim for science ultimately won through.
"Though the scientists of the expedition undoubtedly did undertake ground breaking research during their time in Antarctica, I would argue that their victory here came at the risk, and eventual loss, of four lives."
Previous claims have led to Scott being painted as an indecisive leader and even saw one biographer in 1979 conclude that he was "one of the worst polar explorers".