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    Russian Hydrographical Expedition

    Encyclopedia Arctica 10: Soviet North, Geography and General

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_X-0481                                                                                                                  


    001      |      Vol_X-0482                                                                                                                  

            the last of the great exploratory enterprises of the Imperial Rus–

    sian Government, was organized for the purpose of testing the navi–

    gability of the Northeast Passage, or rather that of the Siberian Sea

    Route, a 6000-mile-stretch of waterway leading from Arkhangelsk to

    Vladivostok by way of the polar Sea. Bering, Billings, wrangel, and

    Nordensköld and many others had contributed to our its knowledge, of it , but its conquest was

    far from complete and its practical significance largely a matter

    of conjecture. Traffic in the region was still in its initial stages

    and mainly confined to its western part, the stretch from Arkhangelsk to

    the mouths of the Ob and the Yenisei. The sea lanes beyond -notably

    the stretch from the Yenisei to Cape Dezhnev at the entrance to Bering

    Strait - were largely untested and had been forced only once, by

    Nordenskiöld's Vega expedition of 1878-80. De Long, Nansen and

    von Toll, who had made contributions thrusts here since. had met with partial

    or total disaster
    Others, including some 19th-century whalers

    and the leaders of several Jeannette Search Expeditions, had limited

    their field to the Chukotsk Sea.

            Inquiries into the possibilities of the route had finally

    been speeded up by a national emergency, the Russo-Japanese war

    of 1904-5. At that time (1904), the Russian Baltic Fleet had had

    to cross three oceans in order to reach the far eastern theater of war.

    Transfer by way of the Siberian Sea Route would have cut the distance

    in half and, in the opinion of Breitfuss (1), would have been feasible

    for modern cruisers in less than three weeks' time. Leading Russian

    002      |      Vol_X-0483                                                                                                                  
    Russian Hydr. Expedition cont.

    scientists urged the establishment of navigational aids and perma–

    nent observation stations along the route in case of a future emergency

    and, backed by the press, enforced the appointment of a special com–

    mittee which was to inquire into all problems connected with the esta–

    blishment of regular navigation along the Siberian coast. The commit–

    tee proposed a full-scale reinvestigation of the route by means of

    three expeditionary teams and 6 vessels, but the project u l p timately

    gave way to a more modest one: a survey of the least known part of the

    route, the stretch from Cape Dezhnev to the Yenisei River mouth by

    a single expedition equipped with two specially constructed vessels

    of the icebreaker type. The expedition, later known as the

    Russian Hydrographical Expedition, was to work its way westward from

    bases in the North Pacific and, if necessary, was to continue its work

    over a period of several years.

            The two expeditionary vessels the Taimyr and Vaigach, were

    built in Petrograd in 1908 and launched from the dockyards in the

    spring of 1909. The ships had a displacement of 1,500 tons

    and a capacity of 1,200 HP and carried 500 tons of coal, sufficient for

    a speed of 8 knots during 60 days of navigation. Each was supplied

    with a small wireless and equipment for hydrological, meteorologi–

    cal, magnet ic elogical and other research. The Taimyr also carried a

    a small hydroplane. The Vaigach was under the command of Lt. V.A.

    Kolchak who had headed a search expedition for Toll to Bennott

    Island in 1903. F.A. Matissen, one-time member of Toll's Zarya

    Expedition (1900-02) was in command of the Taimyr. The person–

    nel totaled nearly 100 men, including 8 additional officers,

    003      |      Vol_X-0484                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    2 engineers, 2 doctors and a crew of eighty.

            The vessels left the Baltic in the fall of 1909, reaching the North

    Pacific by way of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Base was established

    at Vladivostok when the expedition was to work its way northward to

    Bering Strait and Cape Dezhnev and then westward along the Arctic

    shores to Taimyr Peninsula and beyond.

            During 1910, the expedition limited its work to a short recon–

    naissance trip from Vladivestok to Cape Dezhnev, carrying out hydro–

    logical work along the coasts of Kamchatka and the Bering Sea. The

    main task, a coastal survey from Cape Dezhnev westward, was tackled

    only in 1911 under a new command, Captain I. Sergeev, who was to remain

    in charge through 1911 and 1912. Sergeev sailed on the Taimyr, while

    the Vaigach was under the command of Lt. K. Lohmann. The instructions

    for the season's work (1911) provided for a follow-up of the hydrolo–

    gical work done in the Bering Sea in 1910 and for initial work in the

    Arctic Sea as far westward as the Indigirka river mouth. Along the

    latter stretch surveys were to be made of bays, mouths of rivers

    anchorages and the coast in general, including all off-lying islands.

    Currents and the movements of ice were to be studied and hydrological,

    meteorological, magnetic and biological research was to be carried out.

    Signals were to be set up in anchorages which offered shelter from

    wind and ice , and astronomical stations were to be established at

    various points along the coast.

            Held up by ice in the Chukotsk Sea, the expedition proceeded

    only as far as the mouth of the Kolyma River. In September, during

    the return voyage, a landing was made on wrangel Island and an astro–

    004      |      Vol_X-0485                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    nomical station established at its southwestern end. However, the

    work done both on the Bering and the Chukotsk seas was sufficiently

    advanced to permit the establishment of regular steamship service be–

    tween Vladivostok and the Kolyma river mouth. That very year, the

    steamer Kolyma achieved her first round trip from Vladivostok, inau–

    gurating commercial navigation along the route.

            Hydrographical work in the Bering and Chukotsk seas were re–

    sumed in the spring of 1912. Through June and part of July, the

    Taimyr and Vaigach worked along the coasts of Kamchatka, thence

    entering the Arctic Sea on July 22, and later operating off the

    Kolyma and I indigirka coasts. The Bear Islands were surveyed and

    several astronomical stations established thereon. The mainland coast

    between the mouths of the Kolyma and Indigirka was only partially

    charted, as shallow water prevented a close approach to the shore.

    After a thrust in the direction of the New Siberian Islands, where

    some preliminary cartographic work was done in the Liakhovski group,

    the ships continued in the direction of the Lena delta, surveying

    Tiksi Bay on the way. The Lena delta was doubled on August 28 and

    a course then set for Cape Chelyuskin; but the western part of the

    Laptev Sea was badly encumbered by ice, forcing the ships south

    to the mouth of the Anabar River, where surveys were carried out

    until September 5. On the way back to Vladivostok walrus were hunt ed ing

    was engaged in
    in the vicinity of Cape Dezhnev and several specimens

    were secured for the Zoological Museum in Petrograd.

            In 1913, over-all charge of the Russian Hydrographical Expedi–

    tion went to Captain V.A. Vilkitski, who also assumed command of

    the Taimyr. Command of the Vaigach passed to Captain P.A. Novo–

    005      |      Vol_X-0486                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    pashennyi. The season's instructions called for wide explora–

    tion rather than the pursuit of immediate practical objectives, and

    the ships, on entering the Arctic Sea on August 5, separated at once,

    the Vaigach proceeding to Wrangel Island and the Taimyr to chaun

    Day, east of the Kolyma River. Unable to approach Wrangel Island

    because of ice, the Vaigach turned southwestward to the Bear Islands

    and thence westward along the coast of the Laptev Sea to Nordvik Bay.

    Where a series of observations were carried out. From there course

    was taken for Preobrazhenie Island (now V strechnyi Island north

    of B egiohev Island), where a rendez-vous with the Taimyr had been

    agreed upon.

            The latter had meanwhile moved north to the New Siberian Islands

    to carry out sou n dings in the surrounding waters. Surveys here had led

    to the discovery of the small v ilkitski Island (so named after the

    late chief of the Russian Hydrographic Office. General A.H. Vilkitski).

    about 70 miles southeast of Bennett Island. Farther westward, a

    search had been made for S annikov Land, which a hunter-trader of that

    name , and later Toll , claimed to have seen from the northern shore of

    Kotelnyi Island. Despite excellent visibility and an open sea, no

    trace had been found of the legendary island. The Taimyr had

    su bsequently s t eered for Preobrazhenie Island, where contact with

    the Vaigach was established on August 23. Together, the ships then

    cxreled the Gulf of Khatanga and investigated the little known coast

    between the mouths of the Khatanga and Olenek rivers, thence resuming

    their westward course on August 23. The sea was free of ice as

    far as Faddei Bay on the eastern side of Taimyr Peninsula, but pro–

    006      |      Vol_X-0487                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    gress to northward became increasingly difficult, and an attampt to

    double Cape Chelyuskin failed. On September 1, close east of the

    famous point, ice from 3 to 5 feet thick made further advance to

    westward impossible. Searching for open water to the northward,

    the ships struck Little Taimyr Island (named Tsarevich Alexis Island

    by the expedition), about 34 miles northeast of the cape. Its eastern

    shore was free of ice and there was open water to the northward. Keep–

    ing close to the edge of the ice, the vessels continued in a north–

    western direction and on September 3, made their first major disco–

    very: Nicholas II Land, the present Severnaia Zomlya or Northland.

    The ships struck the coast in about 78° 16' N., 104° 50' E., at its

    southeastern end, thence ranging the eastern side to about 80° 40' N.,

    97° 12' E., where a lending was made and possession claimed of the land

    on behalf of the Russian Crown. Still seeking an outlot to west–

    ward the expedition set forth again on September 5 and [ ?] vanced to

    about 81° N., 96° E., where impassable ice turned them back. How

    much farther the coast extended was impossible to determine, but the

    significance of the discovery had become cloar. The sea off Cape

    Chelyuskin was but a strait, bordered some 50 miles to the north by

    a large mass of land of unknown width and length, but extending far

    to ward the pole.

            On the return to Cape Chelyuskin, the expedition found ice con–

    ditions unchanged. A whole week was spent in a vain attempt to force

    a passage to westward and fuel supplies began to run dangerously low.

    Vilkitski finally ordered a return to Vladivostok. The ships left

    On September 12, maneuvering their way back as far as Bennett Island

    in the New Siberian Archipelago where repairs necessitated a stop.

    007      |      Vol_X-0488                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    A team under L. Starokadomski, medical officer of the Taimyr , went

    on land and secured Toll's geological collection which Kolehak, in

    1903, had failed to bring back. Surveys were made and dredging ope–

    rations were carried out off shore. The latter, unfortunately, re–

    sulted in a serious accident and cost the life of the stoker Belyak.

    On September 22, the ships left for Wrangel Island but were ulti–

    mately forced to a more southerly course. Ice had begun to form in

    the Chukotsk Sea and, together with unfavorable winds and the

    growing darkness, added to the hazards of navigation. However,

    Chaun Bay was safely reached on the 29th and time taken off here

    for the burial of Belyak. Cape Dozhnev was rounded on October 4.

    course was then set for Providenya Bay where a relief ship s might

    be available with a much needed supply of coal, but a day out of

    Cape Dezhnev a storm forced the ships off course and on to the

    coast of St. Lawrence Island. Badly battered and practically out

    of fuel, the expedition headed for the Alaska coast and on October

    18 arrived at St. Michael's , where the ships were able to coal.

    On the way back to the Siberian coast, the vessels ran into another

    storm, suffering engine and other damage which necessitated prolonged

    repairs at Petropavlovsk. Completing 13,000 miles of navigation and

    with a major discovery to their credit, the ships finally entered

    their home base on November 23.

            Past records of the expedition had been admirable, but time

    was running out, especially in view of the increasingly complicated

    European situation. The main goal in 1914 was therefore the comple–

    tion of the Northeast Passage.

    008      |      Vol_X-0489                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

            Work was resumed on July 7, when the ships left once more for the

    north, the Taimyr , as previously, under the command of Vilkitski,

    and the Vaigach under that of Novopashennyi. After touching on

    Hakodate and Petropavlovsk, the vessels continued to Providenya Bay,

    where the steamer Tobol was waiting to supply them with coal. The

    Taimyr then sailed to Nome, Alaska, to take Captain Bartlett of

    Stefansson's Karluk Expedition on board. The Karluk had foundered

    early in 1914 in the northern Chukotsk Sea and the survivors, 17 out

    of 25, had sought refuge on Wrangel Island. Bartlett, their commander,

    had crossed to the mainland to bring help and had eventually reached

    Nome whence he awaited transport back to Wrangel Island. However,

    when the Taimyr arrived on the Alaska coast, Bartlett had already

    sailed on board the [ ?] American revenue cutter Bear . Nome

    had meanwhile had word of the outbreak of the European War and

    the news caused Vilkitski to return to the mouth of the Anadyr and

    the wireless station at Novo Mari i nsk where he could get in touch with

    Petrograd. Advised to proceed with his work, Vilkitski took his

    ship to Koliuchin Bay on the northern coast of Chukotsk Peninsula,

    where the Tobol was waiting with last-minute supplies of coal.

    The latter had been in touch with the Vaigach up t to July 25, but

    had had no word from her since. However, on August 15, a wireless

    message came in, stating that the ship was icebound off Cape Hawai i

    on the eastern side of Wrangel Island. The Vaigach had tried to

    succor the members of the Karluk Expedition, but had been unable

    to effect a landing. The Taimyr departed the following day, finding

    the Vaigach unable to move,as a large piece of ice had gotten under

    009      |      Vol_X-0490                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    her propeller. The ice was eventually cut away, but attempts to

    approach Wrangel Island were momentarily abandoned. The vessels

    returned to Koliuchin Bay where a last supply of coal was taken on on

    August 19, and a course was then set westward along the mainland coast.

    At Cape Billings, renewed attempts were made to reach Wrangel Island,

    this time from the west, but these also failed. On the meridian of

    Chaun Bay the two icebreakers separated, the Vaigach proceeding to

    the Bear Islands, the Taimyr northward into an area of apparently

    immovable ice which no ship had as yet been able to cross and where

    the legendary Andreev Land (qv) was supposed to lie. Attempts at

    penetration failed, however, and the ship continued in the direction

    of the De Long group, closing with Vilkitski Island on August 25.

    The Taimyr thence forced her way northward through heavy ice to assist

    the Vaigach which, on her way up, had struck an unknwoown island in

    about 76° 10' N., 154° E. and effected a landing there. The ships

    made contact here, the Taimyr joining in a survey of the island.

    Vilkitski named it Novopashennyi Island after the captain of the

    Vaigach , but it has since been renamed Zhokhov Island after another

    officer of the Vaigach , who died on Taimyr Peninsula in 1915.

            Thereafter, the vessels parted again, both heading for Cape

    Chelyuskin but by different routes. The V aigach passed close north

    of Faddevski and Kotelnyi islands, while the Taimyr held on to a

    more northerly course in order to determine the boundary of the drift

    ice from the north. The Vaigach reached Cape Chelyuskin on August

    31, passing through open water during most of her cruise, but the

    Taimyr encountered a considerable amount of ice and arrived only

    on September 2. Both vessels were able to anchor close to the cape,

    010      |      Vol_X-0491                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    although ice conditions in the strait were rapidly worsening, in the vicinity.

    A team from the Taimyr went ashore to examine the cairn built by

    the Zarya Expedition in 1901, while the Vaigach got underway again

    and moved north to Nicholas II land, taking advantage of open water

    along its southern coast. The coast was surveyed to a point in

    about 77°51′ N., 99° E., not far from its southwestern extremity,

    whence the Vaigach doubled back to the its eastern end of the strait

    for a survey of Tsarevich Alexis Island and the neighboring Starokadomski

    Islet, neither of which had been charted in 1913. Shortly afterwards,

    the Taimyr joined up with her again near the coast of Nicholas II

    Land and together the vessels resumed their westerly course. Ice

    in the strait had meanwhile begun to thicken , and the ships, exposed to

    increasing pressure, drifted back and forth between Nicholas II Land

    and the mainland coast. However, landings were made on the Axol Heiberg geiberg

    and the island group, which had never been previously ex–

    plored, and samples of ore were collected from the latter group their shores .

    On September 9 a passage was finally forced on to the western side

    of Taimyr Peninsula. The situation continued dangerous, however,

    as the temperature was constantly below freezing point and young ice

    had begun to form in the Kara Sea. Finding open water, the Vaigach

    proceeded as far as King Oscar Peninsula, while the Taimyr , caught

    between two closing icefields, found herself definitely beset, and

    in immediate danger of being crushed. Contact by wireless had mean–

    while been made with Captain Otto Sverdrup of the Eclipse who

    was searching the P K ara Sea for traces of the lost Brussilov and

    Russanov E e xpedition s . The Eclipse , which stood about 200 miles

    to the westward, had some 30 dogs on board and promised help with

    sledge parties. The Taimyr eventually cut loose again and the

    011      |      Vol_X-0492                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    ships finally maneuvered their way into Toll Bay, close to the entrance off

    to Haffner Fjord, where they were gradually frozen in. The Taimyr

    stood about 6 miles from shore in 76°41′ N., 100°50′ E., while the

    Vaigach was about 16 miles to the northwestward in 76°54′ N., 100°

    13′ E. The Eclipse had by then arrived off Cape Vilda, about 100

    miles to the southwestward, where she, too, was frozen in. The

    three ships maintained radio communication throughout the winter, but

    contact with the outside world was delayed until January 1915,

    when the Eclipse extended her wireless by means of a mast rigged on

    the ice. and got through to the radio stations in Yugor Shar. The

    latter, in truurn, were in touch with Petrograd by way of Arkhangelsk.

            Toward the end of October preparations for winter were started on both

    the icebreakers, the Taimyr transferring pro c v isions and a shed for

    her hydroplane to the coast. As the livestock brought from Vladivosto k

    was nearly consumed, a rationing scheme was drawn up, but the outlook

    was far from dark , as reindeer and partridges had been sighted on shore

    Various necessary repairs were begun and contrivances were rigged up

    to permit the taking of scientific observations: meteorological,

    hydrological, astronomical, etc. Meteorological observations in–

    cluded studies of the upper layers of the atmosphere by means of

    flying kites equipped with a meteograph. In order to keep the members

    of the expedition in good health, games and exercises in the open were

    arranged, and the long evenings were filled with instruction courses

    and lectures on popular subjects.

            The expedition fared relatively well during the winter until the

    end of February when a death occurred - that of Lt. A.N. Zhokhov

    of the Vaigach . A month later, the fireman Ladonikhov died of

    012      |      Vol_X-0493                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    appendicitis. However, a round of fresh activities soon brought

    cheer and new expectancy. Mild weather came with April and on the

    15th, a first snow-bunting was sighted on the ice. From the 22nd onwar

    onward the sun ceased to sink below the horison. During May Sverdrup

    arrived for a visit and a number of land excursions were inaugurated.

    An overland party was despatched to Golchikha Village on the Yenisei,

    which fell in with a relief party from Krasnoiarsk, scheduled to esta–

    blish a radio station on Dickson Island. Excursions were made to

    Oscar Peninsula and the adjoining shores. Survey work were carried

    out by Lts. A. Lavrov and N. Evgenov and the able cartographer,

    Lt. Neupokoev. They discovered that Haffner Fjord was closed and

    had no water communication with Faddei Bay on East Taimyr. A frozen

    mammoth was found by one of the shore parties. In order to speed up

    excursions on land, the expedition converted their hydroplane into

    an aero-sledge.

            The highly valuable scientific work of the expedition came to

    an end toward the beginning of August 1915, when openings appeared in to

    the surrounding ice. After heavy maneuvering, the vessels finally

    broke loose, passing Cape Vilda on August 28. The following day, they

    met the Eclipse which had managed to free herself two weeks before

    and which was bringing coal to them from Dickson Island. Together

    the three ships proceeded to Dickson Island, where the expedition

    found the wireless station well advanced. The Vaigach thbnce went to

    the mouth of the Yenisei River to pick up the team which had left for

    Golchikha earlier in the season. The ships then left for Arkhangelsk,

    the icebreakers passing through Yugor Strait, the Eclipse cho o sing the

    way through [Matochkin Shau?]. On Sept e mber 14, the

    013      |      Vol_X-0494                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.

    vessels anchored at Cape Kanin, awaiting arrival of the ice-cutter

    Brus which was to escort them thro u gh a German minefield in the

    eastern part of the White Sea. On the 16th, all three ships

    entered Arkhangelsk where they met with much acclaim and a cere–

    monious reception.

            The mass of scientific data resulting from the Russian

    Hydrographical Expedition was were never fully evaluated due to the

    war and the revolution, but the major achievements of the expedi–

    tion stood out at once. and They may be summarized as follows: 1) consi–

    derable cartographic work was done along the entire coast from Cape

    Dezhnev to the mouth of the Yenisei River which permitted material

    corrections of existing maps; 2) soundings were made along the entire

    route and currents and ice conditions were determined in many parts

    of the Chukotsk, East Siberian and Laptev seas; 3) sailing directions

    were prepared for the eastern Arctic as far as the Lena delta, and the

    establishment of commercial navigation from t V ladivostok to the

    Kolyma mouth was made possible; 4) Severnaia Zemlya and a number of

    small unknown islands [ ?] put on the map; 5) the main goal of

    the expedition attained - the forcing of the Northeast Passage

    from east to west. In all, a vital chapter had been added to

    the history of Arctic exploration.

    014      |      Vol_X-0495                                                                                                                  
    RHE cont.


    1. Breitfuss, L. "Zur Frage ueber den sibirischen Seeweg nach Osten".

    Petermanns Mitteilungen Vol.50, 1904. pp. 285-290. Gotha,

    J. Perthes Verlag.

    2. Breitfuss, L., Die Erforschung des Polargebietes Russisch-Eu-

    rasiens. Petermanns Mitteilungen. Ergaenzungsheft Nr.188.

    pp. 68-74. Gotha, J. Perthes 1925

    3. "Vilkitski's North-East Passage, 1914-15." (Abridged translation

    form a narrative of the above voyage by L.M. Starokadomski, pub–

    lished in Russian at Petrograd in 1916.) The Geographic Jour-

    nal . vol. LIV, no. 6. December 1919 pp. 367-375. London,

    The Royal Geographical Society

    4. Fransehe, N.A., "The Siberian Sea Road". The Geographical Review.

    vol.XV. no. 3. July 1925. pp. 367-398. New York, American

    Geographical Society.

    5. [Starokadocki, L.M. "Ekepeditaic?].... 1910-15

    [ ?] Moscow 1946


    Felizia Seyd

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