3

The Stalinization of Arctic exploration

THE KRASIN AFFAIR

Lakhtin's concern over imperialist attempts to annex Russian territory were justified to some extent by foreign polar expeditions in 1927 and 1928. In 1927 Hubert Wilkins had flown from Point Barrow in Alaska to a point in the Russian sector. The objective of this flight was to ascertain whether there might be land in the area between the course of the Fram (1893-6) and that of the Jeannette (1879), two ships which had been drifting with the pack ice. The drifting of these ships and the flight of the Norge in 1926 (see p. 29) drastically reduced the area in which land could be expected. Wilkins wanted to search some of the remaining area. On 29 March 1927 he flew with his pilot Eielson to a point (77°45'N, 175°E) in the East Siberian Sea where they landed on an icefloe. By means of an echo sounder (at the time a very sophisticated tool) Wilkins measured a depth of 5,440 metres, which meant there could be no land near. Nevertheless, it was beyond doubt that Wilkins had been consciously looking for land within the limits of the Soviet sector (Wilkins 1928: ch. 4,527).

The Soviet Union had but a few expeditions to counterbalance this, such as G.D. Krasinsky's flight from Chukotka to Ostrov Vrangelya in 1927 and the attempt in 1928 to fly along the northern coasts of the Soviet Union, a flight comparable with that made by Wilkins in 1928 from Point Barrow to Spitsbergen. The Soviet attempt of 1928 used a Dornier hydroplane which was given the ominous name of Sovetsky Sever (the Soviet North). It was an OSOAVIAKHIM initiative and was led by the same G.D. Krasinsky who had been responsible for the Krasny Oktyabr'. Sovetsky Sever was not a success, since the plane was destroyed in a gale near Kolyuchinskaya Guba at the beginning of the trip (Belov 1959:300).

While Soviet air expeditions were ineffective, Italy came to the fore. After his successful flight with Amundsen, Umberto Nobile began the preparations for a second airship expedition, with the Italia. Where the task of the Norge had been limited to an overflight, the Italia was meant to search for land as well as to do scientific research connected with the development of an Arctic route (Nobile 1959:128; Nobile-Stolp 1984). These flights were going to take place both in the American part of the Arctic and in the Eurasiatic. It was still hoped in 1928 that

-35-

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The Soviet Arctic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Russian Policy in the Far North 1897-1917 6
  • 2 - Soviet Sovereignty in the Arctic and the Advent of Flying 1917-32 21
  • 3 - The Stalinization of Arctic Exploration 35
  • 4 - In Stalin's Time 1932-53 53
  • 5 - Arctic Policy During the Cold War 67
  • 6 - Historiography in the Cold War 84
  • 7 - The Age of the Nuclear Submarine 109
  • 8 - Arctic Shipping Since 1953 120
  • 9 - The Western Section: Winter Navigation 127
  • 10 - The Season of 1983 139
  • 11 - Arctic Studies Since 1953 152
  • Conclusion 170
  • Appendix 175
  • Glossary 179
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 222
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