ARCTIC VOICE No. 11, 27 November 1996


By Leonid Sverdlov, Member of the Russian Geographic Society

The history of geographic exploration of Russia's North, labelled the country's "facade" by Admiral Stepan Makarov, goes back about a thousand years. The earliest voyage by a Novgorodian, Uleb, to the "Iron Gateway" and his passing into the Kara Sea through the Yugorskiy Shar Strait were recorded in 1032.

The history of Arctic exploration would not have been the same without the daring voyages by Russian "pomors" (coastal dwellers of Russia's White Sea coast) to Novaya Zemlya from the 11th century onward and to Grumant beginning in the 15th century, and the launching of the Arctic's first regular line--the Great Mangazea Route, extending from the White Sea to the Ob River and the Yenisey--in the latter part of the 16th century. This line opened up the way to Siberia's riches. It worked till 1619, when it was closed for military and political reasons, for fear of possible penetration by Europeans into Siberia.

Great geographic explorations and discoveries filled the 17th century. We possess verified evidence that a Russian trading venture, launched from the Ob or the Yenisey, circumvented the northernmost part of Eurasia, Chelyuskin Cape, as far back as 1617-1620. The archaeological finds of 1940-1945 in the Sims Gulf and on Faddeyevsky Island serve as evidence of the voyage.

The Yakut Cossaks in 1632-1634 began sea trailblazing farther eastward--as far as Yana, Indigirka, and Kolyma. The years 1639 and 1648 witnessed events of paramount geographic importance: Ivan Moskvitin reached by land the Sea of Okhotsk, and Fedot Alekseyev-Popov and Semyon Dezhnev circumvented the Chukchi Peninsula to discover the strait between Asia and North America.

Results of the latest geographic research give evidence that as early as the 1660s Russians visited North America and even organized a settlement on its Seward Peninsula.

The Russian 17th-century seafarers M. Stadukhin, I.

Rebrov, Y. Buza, P. Beketov, I. Yerastov, and K. Ivanov made great contributions to the exploration of Siberia and especially of its Arctic coast.

By the time of creation of the regular Russian fleet by Czar Peter the Great, practically the whole of Russia's Arctic coastline from the White Sea to the Bering Strait had been explored by Russian mariners of the 16th-17th centuries, mainly by Cossaks from Russia's White Sea coast, the pomors, who are regarded as direct predecessors of Russia's navy. It was on the basis of their geographic experience that the Russian fleet was created.

The adoption by Peter I of the European rig, hull design, navigation equipment, naval terminology, and principles of cartography introduced Russia to Europe's naval culture. But the transition to the European standard demanded a whole new approach to geographic, and particularly hydrographic, studies. A need arose for maps and sailing directions different from those used in the 17th century. Now they had to be based upon astronomical data. This was the task assigned to pioneer naval officers, "fledglings from Peter's nest," who were entrusted with drawing a new map of Russia and designating its northern and eastern coastlines.

In its exploration of the Kuril Islands, the 1719 expedition under Russian Naval Academy graduates, land surveyers Ivan Yevreinov and Fyodor Luzhin used sailing directions written by Peter I himself.

On January 6, 1725, Peter I also wrote sailing directions for Vitus Jonassen Bering, who led Russia's first Kamchatka expedition. Its primary goal, as set in these directions, was to determine whether Asia and North America were connected by land.

Characteristically, when handing over the directions to Admiral Pyotr Apraksin for Bering, Peter I was quoted as saying: "Once we have protected our Fatherland from enemies, we should bring it glory through the arts and sciences. In our search for such a route, we will be more successful than the Dutch and the English, who have already made numerous attempts to reach the American coast."

The Bering-led Kamchatka expedition set sail from Nizhne-Kamchatsk in the spring of 1728. On July 25, the ship "Svyatoi Gavriil" (St. Gabriel) put out to sea through the mouth of the Kamchatka River and began cruising northward along the shore. On August 9, it passed the mouth of the Anadyr and discovered, on August 21, a large island that later was named St.

Lawrence Island. On August 26, the ship "Svyatoi Gavriil" was sailing north of the Bering Strait. Bering concluded that Asia and America were not joined, since at that point, in his estimation, "land does not extend farther northward, and no land can be spotted beyond the Chukot, or East, corner of the earth."

This was how the strait between Asia and North America was discovered for a second time (as by that time, [the Russian historian] Gerard Miller had not yet found the records of the earlier voyage under Alekseyev-Popov and Dezhnev, which had been lost in the archives).

In 1727, the Admiralty decided to send another exploration expedition to be commanded by navigator Ivan Fyodorov and land surveyor Mikhail Gvozdev, who in August of 1732 crossed the Bering Strait, discovered the Diomede Islands and approached Alaska in the vicinity of Prince of Wales Cape. The expedition reported that what they had discovered was "not an island but a far greater portion of land,... a landmass."

The results of the Bering-led Kamchatka expedition failed to satisfy the Admiralty. Bering was therefore instructed to go on a second voyage. This second expedition of his (1733-43) is also known as the Great Northern Expedition, so named for its extensive activities in the Arctic.

Organized in accordance with Peter I's ordinances, it explored the shore of the Arctic seas from Arkhangelsk to Bolshoy Baranof Cape, east of the mouth of the Kolyma River. The results of the Great Northern Expedition have not lost their significance to date. This 977-member-strong expedition went down in the history of Arctic exploration as the most ambitious ever, both in scope and achievement.

The members of the expedition were split up into four detachments, with each assigned to its own section: from Arkhangelsk to the mouth of the Ob, from the mouth of the Ob to the mouth of the Yenisey, from the mouth of the Lena to the mouth of the Yenisey, and from the mouth of the Lena to the Chukchi Peninsula and Kamchatka. Apart from those four, working within the framework of Bering's second Kamchatka expedition were Far East detachments and a so-called "Academic detachment."

The results of the Great Northern Expedition were stupendous. Bering and Aleksey Chirikov reached America in 1741, discovering the Aleutians and the Komandorskie Islands. The expedition's northern detachments described and mapped much of Russia's Arctic coastline. And on May 20, 1742, Semyon Chelyuskin reached Eurasia's northernmost point. This expedition demonstrated to the whole world how vast Russia's reaches were, and prepared the way for a Russian foothold in Alaska. The names of Bering, Chirikov, Stepan Malygin, Fyodor Minin, Dmitry Ovtsyn, Vasily Pronchishchev, Chelyuskin, and Khariton and Dmitry Laptev will stay forever in the history of geographic discoveries.

On comparing reports by the participants in the Great Northern Expedition with observations of Russian pomors, who travelled as far as Novaya Zemlya and Grumant, the great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov concluded that "in the summertime, the Siberian Ocean, five to seven hundred versts [one verst equals 3,500 English feet] off the Siberian coast, is free from ice that would make it unnavigable." In 1764, Lomonosov had the Russian government sign a decree that an expedition would be launched to find a sea route at high latitudes from the White Sea to Kamchatka.

Captain Pavel Chichagov was appointed leader of the expedition. He made two attempts to pass between Spitsbergen and Greenland, but both times his three-vessel squadron was prevented from doing so by the ice pack. No navigable passage in the Arctic's high latitudes was found.

The third major seagoing expedition to the northern Far East was the one commanded by Lieutenant Billings, which is known as the Northeastern Secret Geographical and Astronomical Expedition (1785-1793). Among its members were Gavriil Sarychev, R. Gall, and K. Bering (Vitus Bering's grandson). Its principal mission was to explore northeastern Russia, including the Chukchi Peninsula, the islands and seas in the northern Pacific, and the northwestern American coastal lands.

Billings was to chart the northern part of the Chukchi Peninsula (this was what Dmitry Laptev had failed to do) and to try to find a landmass north of Kolyma, the first evidence of which was traced back to the 17th century and which many viewed as a separate continent. However, the harsh ice conditions north of Bolshoy Baranof Stone prevented the explorers from fulfilling these tasks in 1787. The vessels "Pallas" and "Yasashna," built on Kolyma, had to return to Nizhne-Kolymsk. During this voyage, Sarychev observed tides and also ice dynamics depending on the course of the wind. These observations made him ever more certain that there was a continent northward. This delusion of his was to play a negative role later.

An endeavour was made to chart the northern part of the Chukchi Peninsula from land, but it ended in failure. Despite eight years of work, the venture did not succeed in its mission.

Nonetheless, it cannot be regarded as a complete failure. Due mostly to Sarychev, the explorers did stupendous work south of the Bering Strait. They mapped much of the coastal land in the Sea of Okhotsk, including the Aldoma Gulf and the Aldoma River, and discovered the Iona Island. In 1790-1791, an exploration expedition in the vessel "Slava Rossii" (Glory for Russia) sailed to Russian America, where it charted much of the coastline from the Gulf of Prince William to Prince of Wales Cape, Diomede Island, and St. Lawrence Island. The results of this voyage served as a basis for the "Atlas of the Northern Part of the East Ocean," published by Sarychev in 1826. The maps collected in this atlas were for a long time the only ones available for the northern Pacific.

It is noteworthy that until the mid-19th century, Russia's Arctic territories extended to the North American continent, where they were managed by the Russian-American Company. This is why the voyage captained by Otto Kotzebue in the ship "Rurik"

(1815-1818) beyond the Bering Strait (where a large bay was discovered and later named Kotzebue in his honor), the discoveries made by M. Vasilyev and G. Shishmaryov during their expedition in the ships "Otkrytie" (Discovery) and "Blagonamerenny" (Benevolent) in 1819-1822 in the northern part of the Bering Sea and north of the Bering Strait, and the unprecedented expedition by Alexander Kashevarov, a son of an Aleutian woman and a Russian settler, who was made captain for his daring exploration of the northern part of the North American continent and also for his many-year work with the Russian-American Company (which mapped America's northern coast up to Point Barrow during its 1838 kayak expedition), can by no means be disregarded when speaking of the contribution made by Russian naval officers to Arctic exploration. Thanks to the above expeditions and also to the voyages undertaken by M. Tebenkov and V. Khromchenko, the Atlas of America's Northwestern Coast from the Bering Strait to Corrientes Cape and the Aleutian Islands, with an Addition of Certain Sections of the Northeastern Coast of Asia was published. The atlas was compiled by Tebenkov in 1852 and proved to be a significant event in 19th-century geography.

Several other equally important expeditions were mounted in the early 19th century into the European and Asian sections of the Arctic. Fyodor Litke undertook four voyages to Novaya Zemlya (1821-1824), and Pyotr Pakhtusov travelled there twice, in 1832-33 and 1834-35 (both times involving wintering). These expeditions enriched the geographical sciences with reliable maps of the coastlines of the whole South Island and part of the North Island: in the west up to Nassau Cape and as far as Dalny Cape in the east.

Two other brilliant east-bound expeditions were organized in the 1820s. As leader of the Ust-Yana expedition, Lieutenant Pyotr Anzhu mapped the coast between the Olenyok and Indigirka rivers and also the New Siberia Islands. In the winter, he covered about ten thousand kilometers in dogsleds, and in the summer--a total of four thousand kilometers on horseback and by kayak, discovered the northern coasts of Kotelny and Fichurin islands, and drew the first more or less accurate map of the New Siberia Islands.

Lieutenant Ferdinand Wrangel and Midshipman Fyodor Matyushkin charted the Siberian coast in 1820-24 from the Indigirka to Kolyuchinskaya Guba and the Bear Islands, and explored the basin of the Greater and Lesser Anyui rivers. In his expedition on pack ice in 1822, Wrangel travelled over 250 kilometers off shore. Such icegoing expeditions by Wrangel and Matyushkin were a groundbreaking achievement for the epoch. As a result, the question as to whether Asia was contiguous with North America was finally taken off the agenda.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the unknown piece of land sighted by Yakov Sannikov from Kotelny Island in 1811, which had long been a subject of speculation, found itself in the spotlight again. In 1900, the Russian Academy of Sciences sent to the area an expedition in the vessel "Zarya" ["Dawn"], under the command of Eduard Toll. The expedition was manned by a military crew, whose members included the noted naval officers Fyodor Matisen, Alexander Kolchak and Kolomeitsev. This Toll-led expedition was both outstanding and tragic: outstanding because it yielded a great deal of novel scientific evidence (journals by Toll and Kolchak's book "The Kara Sea Ices" served as manuals for future polar navigators), and tragic because Toll, astronomer F.

Zeiberg, and the entrepreneurs Gorokhov and Protodyakonov perished along the way.

In 1899 the Arctic seas saw an icebreaker for the first time. Under the flag of Admiral Makarov, the "Yermak" reached Spitsbergen and in 1901 made its way to Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land.

The successful pioneer voyages of the "Yermak" made it possible for icebreakers to sail through the Northeast Passage.

Starting from 1910, the Hydrographic Expedition of the Arctic Ocean worked in the Arctic in the icebreakers "Taimyr" and "Vaigach." During the navigation season of 1914-1915, the members of the expedition journeyed from Vladivostok to Arkhangelsk in their first ever traverse of the Northeast Passage. One of their remarkable achievements was the discovery of the archipelago Severnaya Zemlya, the most significant geographic discovery made in the Arctic in the 20th century. The names of the leader and members of this expedition--Boris Vilkitsky, L. Starokadomsky, A.

Lavrov, N. Yevgenov, A. Zhokhov, and B. Novopashenny--are all engraved on the map of the Arctic.

Equally noteworthy are the activities in the Arctic in the early 20th century of the team of military hydrographers led by Andrei Vilkitsky, A. Varnek, and N. Morozov, who made a large contribution to the Russian geographical sciences.

Throughout the Soviet era, the Arctic was explored on a regular and systematic basis, so that there were no more "blank spots" left on the map of the Russian Arctic by the early 1940s.

(RIA Novosti)