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Historical perspective   Denmark has a long tradition for voyages of discovery and expeditions. From Jens Munk and Carsten Niebuhr to Galathea 1, Galathea 2 - and now Galathea 3.

Galathea 2 (1950-52)

100 years after Galathea 1, the World was entirely different. Two great wars had brought profound changes, and after the Second World War, the borders opened again. Denmark was still a seafaring nation of significance, but the colonies were now a thing of the past.

The original thought was that Galathea 2 was to depart precisely 100 years after Galatea 1, that is, in 1945, but this had to be abandoned because of the Second World War.

Already long before the war, young navy officers and scientists had dreamed on venturing out on a Galathea 2 expedition, but the plans only assumed concrete form in 1941 when journalist and author Hakon Mielche entered the scene.

In 1941, Mielche read an article in Ekstra Bladet, a Danish daily tabloid, which reviewed a presentation by zoologist Dr Anton Frederik Bruun at Danmarks Akvarium. Bruun had entertained his audience with stories of sea snakes, and as a scientist he would not reject the possibility that, in the vast unexplored depths of the oceans, one might find creatures that were monster-like sea snakes.

Hakon Mielche contacted Bruun, who was able to confirm the quotations reported in the newspaper, and thus the idea of the deep-sea expedition Galathea 2 was conceived. The sea snakes were never discovered, but Galathea 2 nonetheless found a place in history as one of the most successful Danish scientific expeditions.

Planning and obstacles

Another nine years were to pass from the conception of the idea of another Galathea expedition until the frigate Galathea left its quay. Obviously, the war was an obstacle to the realisation of the project, and in addition funds subsequently had to be raised to finance the expedition.

Professor Bruun and Hakon Mielche handled the protracted initial work to organise the expedition, but they were not the only ones to develop a yearning for foreign seas and shores during the war. The Greenland explorers Eigil Knuth and Ebbe Munch were also eager to set out, and also the Mongolia expert Henning Haslund-Christensen had plans for an expedition.

In June 1945, they all gathered at Hakon Mielche’s house in Roskilde. On this occasion, they decided to establish the Danish Expedition Foundation, which was to raise funding for the many expeditions, especially through contributions from expatriate Danes and by collecting a special fee on the sale of cigarettes.

All three expeditions were realised. However, the largest, the deep-sea expedition Galathea 2, only set out five years later, on board the navy frigate Galathea, acquired and re-christened for the occasion.

Vision and retrospect

Galathea 2 sailed from Langelinie in Copenhagen on a grey October day in 1950. She was a fine ship: 80 metres from the prow to the stern, 11 metres wide and with a weight of 1,600 tons. The two steam turbines were able to propel the ship at a speed of 12 knots.

The scientific results that the expedition brought home after two years on the oceans in many ways exceeded the expectations, even though the voyage had to be shortened because of financial constraints. Among the side-activities on Galathea 2 were ethnographical surveys.

The research scientists on Galathea 2 followed up on the findings from the first Galathea expedition in order to document the development over the intervening period. Thus the expedition visited several of the destinations that also Galathea 1 had visited more than 100 years earlier. One of these destinations was the not particularly well-known former Danish colony the Nicobar Island in the Bay of Bengal.

On Galathea 2, dissemination of information and relations with the public were an important element for the first time. Under the leadership of Hakon Mielche, changing journalists and film crews sailed onboard the ship, and their reports home the project generated deep popular support. More than 20,000 Danes went to the Langelinie quay in Copenhagen to welcome the frigate when she returned on 29 June 1952.

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The Three men heading the voyage.jpg
The three men heading the voyage
From left to right: Captain Svend Greve, Head of Expedition Dr Anton Bruun, and Head of Press Relations Journalist Hakon Mielche.
Photo: From the book "Danske ekspeditioner på verdenshavene"



 Scientific research onboard.jpg

Scientific research onboard
The catch is studied with keen interest.
Photo: Torben Wolff