Early Soviet Exploration (1920s-1930s)
The rapidly growing fleet of Soviet
icebreaking vessels was also opening up the Arctic. The icebreaking
steamer Sedov was used on two research expeditions
in 1929 and 1930, headed by O. Schmidt. The first year, a polar
station on Frantz Josef Land was established where Georgy Sedov
had wintered, becoming the world's most northern settlement.
The next year, another station was located on Domashniy Island
near the western coast of Severnaya Zemlya. From 1930 to 1932
a special expedition determined that the archipelago of Severnaya
Zemlya consisted of four larger and a number of minor islands,
filling in the last "white spots" on the map of the Arctic.
To join the western and eastern legs of the
Northern Sea Route and make a regular working transport way
from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, the Chief Administration
of the Northern Sea Route was established in 1932, and more
polar stations and observatories were created. The first passage
through the Northern Sea Route during one navigation was performed
by the icebreaking steamer Sibiriakov, organized by
the All-Union Arctic Institute (presently known as the Arctic
and Antarctic Research Institute). The Sibiriakov sailed
from Archangelsk, crossed the Kara Sea and chose a northern,
unexplored way around Severnaya Zemlya to the Laptev Sea. In
September the propeller shaft broke, the icebreaker drifted
for 11 days, and using sails arrived in the Bering Strait in
October completing the first successful crossing of the Northern
Sea Route during a single navigation without wintering.
In 1933 the second sailing from Murmansk to the Pacific Ocean
was undertaken by the icebreaking steamer Cheluskin.
There she was taken by the current northward through Bering
Strait, trapped in the Chukchi Sea pack ice, and crushed and
sank. The expedition members escaped to the ice, organized a
camp, and were rescued with the help of aircraft. The icebreaker
Litke first navigated along the Northern Sea Route
without accident from Vladivostok to Murmansk in 1934. In 1935
the first commercial cruises were carried out by two cargo steamers
each way between Murmansk and Vladivostok, proving the practical
possibility of safe navigation in the Arctic seas. Gradually
the Northern Sea Route was supplied with more powerful icebreakers
and reliable radio communication, new ports were founded along
the coast, and the network of polar stations increased.
While carrying out oceanographic observations
in the Laptev Sea in 1937, the icebreaking steamers Sedov,
Sadko, and Malygin were trapped in the ice
for the winter. In August of the next year the icebreaker Yermak
got through the ice to the ships (at that point drifting at
83°N) and led Sadko and Malygin out of
the ice to the open sea. Sedov's steering was seriously
damaged and could not get out of the ice, so she was converted
into a drifting research platform. Altogether Sedov
was held fast by the ice for 812 days and reached as far north
as 86°39'N. Soundings revealed that the depth of the Arctic
Ocean was much greater than previously thought. The year round
observations from the high Arctic proved that the weather there
is less severe than at its margins. Ice and snow observations
received great attention and were measured every 10 days. The
drift began while the first "North Pole" drifting station was
manned, providing comparable observations. Soon after the start
of the drift, Sedov moved into the region where the
Fram drifted 40 years prior, and finally drifted out
into the Greenland Sea in January 1940.
||Tent camp on the ice
after Cheluskin catastrophe. Image courtesy Ecoshelf.
Armstrong, T., The Russians in the Arctic, Methuen and
Co., London, 182 pp., 1958.