Australian born George Hubert Wilkins was one of the most remarkable adventurers and explorers of the 20th century. In May 1928 he made the first flight across the Arctic Ocean going from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Spitzbergen, Norway, and was knighted for this feat. In November 1928 he made the first airplane flight in the Antarctic. During two expeditions over 1928-29, his aerial explorations surveyed 1,300 miles of the Antarctic Peninsula. In addition to all this, he was planning an extraordinary submarine voyage to the North Pole.
He planned to use a retired U.S. Navy sub to make a submerged crossing of the Arctic Ocean from Spitzbergen to the Bering Straits via the North Pole. Using open leads in the ice, or special drills to open breathing holes, the sub would charge batteries and replenish the air inside.
Through his American partners he chartered from the U.S. Shipping Board the decommissioned World War I submarine O-12 (SS-73) for one dollar per year. When the expedition was completed, Wilkins would be required to return the O-12 to the Board, or scuttle her at a depth of at least 1,200 feet.