9

The western section: winter navigation

INTRODUCTION

One of the more impressive developments in Arctic shipping is the endeavour to make it 'all year round'. The incredibly hard and thick ice of the winter which for centuries had chased the very idea of navigation from the mind of any sensible sailor, and which caused the dangerous and costly winterings, could now be attacked by means of new, powerful icebreakers and ships. The economic advantage of such possibilities is beyond doubt, because seasonal activity means that capital goods will be used only for a short period, which in turn means that capital yields only a part of its potential return, because even if some icebreakers went south a number of them remained unemployed during the winter. Equally, harbour equipment in the Arctic can be used only for a short period, so its capacity has to be larger than in ports that can be used in winter to achieve the same results. Moreover, lengthening the season is a simple way of increasing shipping in the Arctic. Since effective occupation of the Arctic remains difficult, the political weight of this kind of economic activity is still great; exploration and shipping are the pillars of sovereignty in the Arctic, especially where the Soviet Union is concerned.

In the military field, the capacity for winter navigation assures the provisioning of airfields and other installations under all circumstances, which may well be decisive to the fulfilment of their tasks. In addition, it is an attractive idea to be able to exchange navy vessels between the Pacific and the Atlantic.

In spite of modern icebreakers, winter navigation remained nevertheless a very costly and difficult exercise. Although it could have been undertaken as soon as the Lenin came into commission, it took several years to happen. Then, it began on the American side.

A year round maritime link via the Northwest Passage had become an interesting proposition for developing the large oil deposits at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. This possibility was discussed together with alternatives such as the use of a pipeline or nuclear submarine oil tankers (Truitt 1970; McLaren 1982, 1987). Eventually the pipeline was opted for, but only after some experimentation. The supertanker Manhattan (115,000 tons deadweight, 45,000 hp) was equipped with an icebreaker bow and made a successful attempt at passing the little-known

-127-

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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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