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RUSSIAN POLAR EXPEDITIONS OF 1912-1914

Дата публикации: 07 октября 2021
Автор(ы): Vyacheslav MARKIN
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Рубрика: ПРИКЛЮЧЕНЧЕСКАЯ ЛИТЕРАТУРА
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №4, 2012, C.80-88
Номер публикации: №1633596756


Vyacheslav MARKIN, (c)

by Vyacheslav MARKIN, Cand. Sc. (Geogr.), member of the Geographical Society of Russia

 

A century ago, in the late summer of 1912, three Russian expedition ships sailed out to the Arctic Ocean from different points of departure. On August 27, 1912, the Svyatoi Velikomuchenik Foka (St. Martyr Foka) steam sailship (captain, Georgi Sedov) left the port of Archangel and headed across the White Sea for the Barents Sea. Next day the St. Anna schooner (captain, Georgi Brusilov) started out

 

from the Alexandrovsk-on-Murman harbor for the Barents Sea, too. Finally, the same month the Hercules seal-hunting schooner (captain, Vladimir Rusanov) sailed out from the eastern shores of the Spitsbergen Archipelago. But only the Svyatoi Foka sailboat was destined to come back.

 

THE LOMONOSOV AND KROPOTKIN PROJECTS

 

The aim of the Sedov expedition was to hoist the Russian national flag at a meridians crossing, while the other two expeditions had to make way through the drifting ice to the Bering Strait in search of the northeast passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. We should also mention yet another polar expedition of those years, namely, the Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition. Though decades later, these three expeditions carried out a survey program of the Russian northern seas as suggested by the savant Mikhail Lomonosov and afterwards, by Prince Pyotr Kropotkin*.

 

In 1763, Lomonosov drew up the memorandum "Brief Description of Different Voyages in the Northern Seas and the Possibility of a Passage Across the Siberian Ocean to East India". The outstanding natural scientist actually predicted a possible naval communication

 

See: V. Markin, "Prince Pyotr Kropotkin in Britain", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2003.--Ed.

 
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from Europe to Asia through the Arctic Ocean. In 1766 the expedition captained by Vasily Chichagov attempted to reach the high latitudes of the Arctic North of the Spitsbergen Archipelago in line with Lomonosov's project (it is true that Lomonosov had proceeded from the assumption of the existence of a sea free of ice in the North Pole region, which, however, proved erroneous).

 

More than a century later, in February 1871, at a joint session of the Mathematics and Physics Division of the Geographical Society of Russia Pyotr Kropotkin, just back from his Siberian journey, made a report on research expeditions in the Russian northern seas". "Both the ocean and the islands discovered thus far and scattered in the Arctic Ocean remain for the most part totally unexplored," said he. He put forward the project for studying the climate, ice and geophysical characteristics of the area. That project provided for a preliminary exploration of sea routes from Europe to Asia. Proceeding from the data of naval officer Nikolai Schilling on sea currents, Kropotkin postulated the existence of an unknown land northeast of the Spitsbergen Archipelago. Two years later that land, discovered by an Austro-Hungarian expedition, was named Franz Josef Land.

 

Awaiting a Naval Ministry decision on his project, Kropotkin went to Finland and Sweden in search of ancient glaciation traces. In Stockholm he met Niels Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (an explorer elected to the Petersburg Academy of Sciences as corresponding member in 1879). Nordenskiold had done research in the Spitsbergen Archipelago and in Greenland. The Swedish explorer was thumbs up for Kropotkin's polar project. Unfortunately Prince Kropotkin got no financial support for his expedition. But Nordenskiold managed to organize a sea expedition to the Arctic. In 1878-1879 on board the Vega steam schooner he passed along the Russian arctic coast in two navigations (wintering inshore of the Taimyr Peninsula) to the Pacific Ocean, returned to Sweden via the Suez Canal and thus became the first navigator who sailed round the continent of Eurasia.

 

TWO WINTERINGS OF GEORGI SEDOV

 

On August 26, 1957, the expedition of the International Geophysical Year, in which the author of the present article also took part, came for a two-year research to the Hooker Island, a part of the Franz Josef Land Archipelago. The same year a polar meteorological station was built there, it worked for the next thirty years on the shore of the Tikhaya Bay, where our Nemirovich-Danchenko ship had moored. It was in that bay that the Svyatoi Foka sailship moored as well; bound for the North Pole, she was captained by Senior Lieutenant Georgi Sedov. Now, a few words about this courageous, extraordinary man.

 

Born into a fisherman's family in the warm Azov region down south, Sedov graduated from a nautical school. He sailed as seaman and navigation officer in the Black and Mediterranean Seas, and then became a captain of a small ship. After he passed examinations in an extramural course of the Sea Cadet Corps in Petersburg, he entered the Hydrographical Department. As a hydrographic officer he was among the polar expedi-

 

Science in Russia, No.4, 2012

 
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tion of General Varnek aboard the Pakhtusov vessel, which surveyed the shores of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. He was admitted to the Geographical Society of Russia and the Petersburg Society of Naturalists. As commander of a torpedo boat he participated in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. In his articles Sedov advocated research activities of the Great Oceanic Route (as he called the Northern Sea Route) from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

 

His desire to hoist the Russian flag on the North Pole was supported by official quarters seeking to rehabilitate the image of the Russian Empire after its defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the followed revolution of 1905-1907. In March 1912, the Novoye vremya (New Time) newspaper published by Alexei Suvorin, carried Sedov's appeal for support of his patriotic initiative. He wrote: "The Russian people must contribute small money to this national cause, and I shall give up my life for it." His purposefulness and selflessness won support in society. Newspapers called him a "Russian Nansen", and the refusal to provide government funds stimulated a drive to raise private donations (Sedov managed to raise around 100,000 rubles). But the hasty preparation for the Svyatoi Foka voyage resulted in managerial blunders. For one, there was no adequate coal supply, though suppliers promised to deliver coal by a special vessel but fell down on their promise. The foodstuffs, too, were shoddy.

 

The Sedov expedition turned into a political issue. His doubts in this regard were expressed by the patriarch Russian geographer and head of the Geographical Society of Russia Pyotr Semenov-Tyan-Shanskiy (honorary member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1873 on). Meanwhile, the conqueror of the South Pole, Roald Amundsen, cabled words of support.

 

On the scheduled day the Svyatoi Foka ship set sail. But soon she ran into a gale wind and then again off Novaya Zemlya when she had to be set afloat next to the Krestovaya Bay. The time was lost, and the Svyatoi Foka could not force her way through the ice sheet zone to Franz Josef Land. She had to return to Novaya Zemlya for wintering. The voyage to the North Pole was postponed. But there was also another objective of the expedition, the research activities. After all, it was no chance that Sedov invited to his expedition young talented scientists, such as geographer and climatologist Vladimir Wiese (corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences from 1933), geologist Mikhail Pavlov as well as painter, writer and researcher

 
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of the North Nikolai Pineghin. In this regard, there was no error of expectation. On the contrary, thanks to their presence it became possible to achieve substantial results, and their works saw print (for the first time in the history of Russian polar expeditions).

 

Using a team of dogs, Sedov and sailor Inyutin walked around the Severny Island of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago up to its northern extremity, the Cape of Zhelaniye. The researchers surveyed the shores, Pavlov sampled rocks, and Wiese made meteorological and hydrological observations. But the forced wintering on Novaya Zemlya frustrated the master plan, the voyage to the North Pole. The Svyatoi Foka ran into heavy ice as she left Novaya Zemlya for Franz Josef Land. One day several crew members demanded that Sedov should return, the more so, as the promised vessel with coal never came. But Sedov was implacable: "We want Franz Josef Land... To turn back half-way, on overcoming the hardest stretch, is an act of crime." So, the Svyatoi Foka continued to hack through the archipelago straits as far north as it was possible.

 

At an early hour on September 10, 1913, the ship sailed into the cozy bay of the Hooker Island. It was decided to stop there for wintering and then start for the North Pole when the polar night was over. As before on Novaya Zemlya, the expedition set up a meteorological cabin with thermometers and a lodge for magnetic observations ashore the bay that Sedov named Tikhaya. While it was light enough, Pavlov, Wiese and Pineghin explored the surroundings, namely, the glaciers and the protrusive areas of a basalt upland. Pineghin called this part of the island Ciurlionis Mountains, after the celebrated Lithuanian artist Ciurlionis. In the 1950s the expedition of the International Geophysical Year worked there. The whole island was plotted on a map confined to the points whose coordinates were exactly determined astronomically.

 

The second wintering of the Sedov expedition proved to be more difficult than one on Novaya Zemlya because of fuel and food shortage. There came an epidemic of scurvy that did not spare Sedov either. But as he recovered a bit, though still very weak, at dawn of February 2, 1914, he together with sailors Grigori Linnik and Alexander Pustoshny got moving. In his valedictory addressed to the crew Sedov said it was but the very first attempt of Russians to reach the North Pole.

 

They covered no more than a tenth of the thousand kilometer route to the North Pole when on February 20, 1914, Sedov died... He spent his last days lying on a sledge. All spent up, with a compass squeezed in his hand, he kept saying it over and over again, "Keep north, north only..."

 

It was the fag end of the journey. At last the Svyatoi Foka reached the Murmansk coast in August of 1914. Apart from a bounty of research data obtained on Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land, the crew had one more good deed to its credit: on the Flora Cape

 
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they picked up two men, the navigation officer Valerian Albanov and sailor Alexander Konrad, members of the Georgi Brusilov expedition aboard the Saint Anna schooner iced up in 1914.

 

END OF THE SAINT ANNA SCHOONER

 

Unlike Sedov who passed round the hat for his expedition, Georgi Brusilov was better off from the very first thanks to the preferential treatment by the Main Hydrographical Department (where Brusilov was employed), a body responsible for conducting research work in the polar seas; Anna Brusilova, wife of the famous general Alexei Brusilov, uncle of Georgi Brusilov, took on the role of a chief investor. G. Brusilov participated in the Arctic Ocean Hydrographical Expedition of 1910-1911 on the Taimyr and Vaigach icebreakers and mapped the Chukotka shores. Just then he had a brainwave: an independent voyage across the Arctic Ocean from west to east on board the St. Anna steam schooner. Hers was a tragic fate.

 
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Already late October of 1912 the schooner got into ice captivity near the shore of the Yamal Peninsula on having negotiated the Kara Strait. Her crew had to winter while drifting together with an icefield northwest, towards Franz Josef Land. Attempts of the crew to break away failed, and north of the archipelago it had to stay for another winter, that time short of fuel and food.

 

That strenuous drifting continued for more than 500 days. The greater part of the crew was sick with scurvy. By agreement with the expedition head, navigation officer Valerian Albanov gathered a group of those willing to leave the vessel and go on foot to the nearest land. On April 10, 1914, fourteen people left the schooner. Only two of them, Albanov and Konrad, managed to cross the archipelago covered with ice sheets and get to the southern end of Franz Josef Land, the Flora Cape. They were lucky to encounter the home-bound Svyatoi Foka and be taken aboard. Albanov brought some materials of the expedition to the continent and in 1917 published his diary entitled "Southwards, to Franz Josef Land".

 

The marooned Svyataya Anna schooner with the remaining thirteen crew members vanished without a trace. But they left a bottle with the following note inside: "No hope of seeing Russia again. We part with our life with honor. The crew. My last greeting from the sheet of eternal ice. Brusilov."

 

THE FATE OF THE HERCULES

 

Vladimir Rusanov, head of the expedition aboard the Hercules vessel was born in the city of Orel into the family of a second guild merchant who died when his only son was five years old. Noted for a drive for self-affirmation even when a child, he got involved in revolutionary propaganda. Arrested now and then, Rusanov was exiled to the Vologda province for two years. Over there the former seminarian and Kiev University undergraduate began his research work in the remote Zyryansky region of the Pechora river basin. Upon his release Rusanov went to Paris for a course in natural sciences at la Sorbonne. From 1907 to 1911 he visited Novaya Zemlya five times and made geological studies of its two islands. He came to Spitsbergen as an experienced polar geologist.

 

In the spring of 1912 Rusanov sailed to Spitsbergen on the Hercules seal-hunting schooner bought in Norway. Together with geologist Rudolf Samoilovich (later, head of several Soviet arctic expeditions), they examined coal outcrops on that polar archipelago. It is largely thanks to their work that Russia gained the right for coal mining on Spitsbergen. After that Samoilovich returned home but Rusanov and the Hercules shipmaster Alexander Kuchin, both co-owners of the schooner, had quite different plans, into which they let nobody.

 

The Hercules was a reliable vessel tested in Greenland ice, she had a displacement of 64 tons and a 24 horsepower engine. Its captain was Alexander Kuchin, a White Sea coast-dweller and a gold medal graduate from the commercial and nautical college in Archangel. Working in Norway as assistant to the oceanologist Helland-Hansen, he proved a talented specialist. Roald Amundsen invited him to his expedition to the South Pole in violation of the Storting (parliament) decision whereby only Norwegians could take

 
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part as crew members. Kuchin carried out oceanologic observations on Amundsen's Fram vessel and showed himself to good advantage.

 

In "the Plan of the Spitsbergen Expedition" drawn up by Rusanov Paragraph 10 reads: "In conclusion I find it necessary to state openly that...I would consider the Spitsbergen survey as a small first attempt. On a vessel like that it will become possible to get on top of the problem of the Great Northern Sea Route to Siberia and pass from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the Siberian Sea." When leaving Spitsbergen Rusanov left the following cable at a Norwegian radio station to be dispatched to St. Petersburg: "Research work on Spitsbergen over, the program fulfilled... A lot of ice. I am going east."

 

The Hercules set a course for Novaya Zemlya where Rusanov sent another cable: "Going to the northeast end of Novaya Zemlya. If the vessel goes under, I shall start for the nearest islands en route, the Uyedineniya, Novosibirsk and Vrangel islands. Our supplies enough for a year. Everybody is in good health. Rusanov." It was the last message from the Hercules. It disappeared in ice. Only in 1934 off the western shore of the Taimyr Peninsula, on one small island spaced 80 km apart, a wooden pole was found with the words "Hercules 1913 cut on it; found on the other island were open cans, broken sledges and clothes. No doubt, those were the dwelling sites of the lost expedition. Possibly one pole was put up near the place where the Hercules perished, from where the crew probably started for the Yenisei river. Of course, we cannot argue for sure but we might be true in our assumption that Rusanov's expedition aboard the Hercules had discovered the shores of one of the islands of the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago before it reached Taimyr where the vessel was crushed by ice and sank. Unfortunately, the fate of the Hercules is still a mystery. The memory of the selfless polar researcher lives on in geographical names in the Arctic map, in the museum named after him in the city of Orel and in the memorial house on Spitsbergen preserved carefully by Russian winterers wherefrom he started for his last expedition.

 

The search for the Russian polar expeditions lost in 1912 went on for the next three years without success, though it involved four steam-sail schooners equipped for the purpose. The famous Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen* suggested Otto Sverdrup,

 

See: V. Markin, "Fridtjof Nansen and Russia", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2011.--Ed.

 
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shipmaster of the Fram ship on which he had made an unprecedented voyage in the arctic seas in 1893-1896, to be captain of the Russian Eclipse schooner. But the Eclipse did not find anything either and got into ice captivity. It was rescued by the Taimyr and Vargas icebreakers making a historic voyage from east to west by the Northern Sea Route, the dream of the Russian polar expedition gone in 1912.

 

ARCTIC OCEAN EXPEDITION

 

The idea of that expedition originated in the Russian Ministry of the Navy in connection with the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905. To remedy the situation it was decided to navigate warships to Southeast Asia by the Northern Sea Route, which was navigable as proved by Nordenskiold who had sailed around Eurasia.

 

The expedition aboard of the Taimyr and Vargas icebreakers built at the Nevsky Shipyard was to explore that route. The ships were equipped with radio stations having an operating range up to 150 miles. On July 22, 1911, they left Vladivostok and on August 13 passed through the Bering Strait, then sailed round the New Siberian Islands, reached the Tiksi Bay in the north of Yakutia where the Zarya schooner of Eduard Toll was cast ashore; thereupon the ships turned back. The Kolyma river estuary was the last place of their hydrographic survey in 1911. Late in May next year the ships left Vladivostok to register the Siberian northern coasts up to the Lena river estuary. For the first time the Taimyr ship of the icebreaker type sailed north of the New Siberian Islands through ice, a route that Baron Eduard Toll had taken in search of the mythical Sannikov Land twelve years before, and lost in one of the straits.

 

In 1913 Boris Vilkitsky*, son of head of the Hydrographic Department General Andrei Vilkitsky, was appointed head of the expedition, and the Taimyr and Vargas ships sailed much farther west, to the Taimyr Peninsula. They discovered a small island Maly Taimyr, and, outside the strait filled with icebergs appearing as if out of nowhere, a highland came into sight with domed glaciers like those on Franz Josef Land. The island was named Emperor Nicholas II Land (today the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago). Next day, on August 22, 1913, the crew landed on the low shore and hoisted the Russian flag on a high pole.

 

See: Yu. Suprunenko, "Turns of Fate", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2005.--Ed.

 
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When on June 24, 1914 the Taimyr and Vargas ships sailed from Vladivostok on their third voyage to the north, the expedition was to pass throughout the Northern Sea Route from east to west, as far as Archangel. A hydroplane was loaded aboard the Taimyr for aerial surveillance of the ice, but unfortunately a bad defect was detected in it, and so the plane could not be used.

 

The ships passed through the Bering Strait without any big difficulties, then sailed north of the New Siberian Islands, and members of the expedition described the southern shore of the land discovered a year before. But the impassable ice forced the ships to stay for wintering at a distance of 16 miles apart. Meanwhile, the Eclipse schooner with Otto Sverdrup, shipmaster of the famous Nansen's Fram, was at a forced wintering off the coast of the Taimyr Peninsula near Cape Vilda. Vilkitsky got in touch with it by radio, and they agreed to take sailors ill with scurvy by deer-drawn sledges to the nearest Golchikha village on the Yenisei. The rescue party was headed by the arctic traveller Nikifor Begichev. In September of 1915 both ships of the Hydrographic Expedition reached Archangel, thus completing their five-year work and the first ever voyage by the Northern Sea Route (in two navigations) from east to west. Boris Vilkitsky was awarded a gold medal of the Geographical Society of Russia for the discovery of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago.

 

Thanks to the Vilkitsky expedition regular sea freight traffic got undeway from Vladivostok to the Kolyma river estuary and Yakutia. This traffic stopped during the Civil War when the Taimyr and Vargas were captured in Archangel by British troops. In the 1920s the goods exchange "Kara Sea voyages" to the Yenisei estuary were resumed, and Boris Vilkitsky was invited to head them, he had emigrated and was promoted to rear-admiral by the Kolchak government hostile to the Soviet power. But his northern voyages were not long, for he returned to Great Britain and then went to Africa where he did hydrographic surveys in the Belgian Congo. Vilkitsky died in Brussels in 1961, and in 1996 his ashes were carried to his homeland and buried in the Smolensky cemetery of St. Petersburg.

 

Mapped in 1930-1932 the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago was surveyed by a four-man team, including two eminent scientists, geographer Georgi Ushakov and geologist Nikolai Urvantsev. In memory of the outstanding Russian navigator the strait separating Severnaya Zemlya from the Taimyr Peninsula was named after Boris Vilkitsky, and two capes of this archipelago, after the icebreakers Taimyr and Vargas.

 

 

Опубликовано на Порталусе 07 октября 2021 года

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