Arctic Siberia: Its Discovery and Development

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<ul><li><p>Arctic Siberia: Its Discovery and DevelopmentAuthor(s): H. P. SmolkaSource: The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 16, No. 46 (Jul., 1937), pp. 60-70Published by: the Modern Humanities Research Association and University College London, School ofSlavonic and East European StudiesStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 07:46</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>Modern Humanities Research Association and University College London, School of Slavonic and EastEuropean Studies are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Slavonic andEast European Review.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 07:46:32 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>ARCTIC SIBERIA ITS DISCOVERY AND DEVELOPMENT </p><p>ARCTIC Siberia is one of those parts of the world which have been almost despaired of by civilised countries. Although very little has been known until recently of the land and its inhabitants-or rather because of that lack of knowledge itself-it has always been regarded as one of the less creditable parts of the globe, as one of the blind spots of the earth's surface. Men casting their glance over the whole world, in search, it may be, of colonies, trade-routes or exploitable land, have hardly given it a thought. Or, if they have allowed themselves to form any impression of it at all, it has been one of a vast desolate waste, unknown and not worth knowing. Its very situation on the northernmost fringe of a continent has pre- vented it from being anything more than a vague idea hovering on the fringe of men's minds. </p><p>Even in the expansive days of the i6th century, when merchants and mariners alike were straining their eyes for new lands to explore, Northern Siberia was considered, not as possessing any importance in itself, but as coastland to be passed on a possible route to " Cathay." As has happened with so many other countries, it was discovered in the search for something else. It was the English and the Dutch, their ambitions thwarted by the maritime powers of Spain and Portugal, who were the first to consider seriously this " north-east passage " along the Siberian coast. During the reign of Henry VIII, a Bristol merchant of the name of Robert Thorne drew up a long petition to the King, urging him to further the work. Not until Edward VI's time, however, was the passage actually attempted. Then an expedition of three ships was sent out by Sebastian Cabot's "Company of Merchant Adventurers." The expedition, sailing under the command of Sir Hugh Willoughby, resulted in the arrival of Richard Chancellor at Archangel, and his welcome by Ivan the Terrible in Moscow. Its outcome was the trade agreement between the Muscovite Tsar and the sovereigns of England. </p><p>With the destruction of the Invincible Armada, there was less need for English merchants to seek a route to China on which their ships would remain unmolested by Spanish galleons. The next step towards the opening up of Arctic Siberia was taken by a Russian. Peter the Great conceived an interest in the actual extent of his dominions, and ordered its whole coast-line to be mapped. In this way, part of the country was explored from the interior. </p><p>6o </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 07:46:32 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>ARCTIC SIBERIA. </p><p>The project of a north-east passage came again to the fore during the period of imperialist expansion at the close of the last century. The greater part of the burden was borne by Englishmen and Scandinavians, the Russian Government itself not participating. </p><p>Captain Wiggins, an Englishman, visited the mouths of the two great rivers, the Obi and the Yenisey, which flow northward through Siberia into the Arctic Ocean. Wiggins was financed largely by a public subscription organised through the columns of The Times. The next explorer, Nordenskjl1d, was backed by Sibiryakov and the Swedish financier Baron Dickson. Nordenskjold brought off a considerable feat by sailing all along the Siberian coast in the course of one winter. This was in 1876. </p><p>In the first years of this century, a Norwegian company organised and managed by Mr. Jonas Lied, elaborated a plan for obtaining concessions of timber from the Russian Government and, after floating the timber down the Obi and the Yenisey, transporting it to Europe. In 19I3 Fridtjof Nansen made a journey on one of the company's steamers and in his book Siberia, the Land of the Future expressed his conviction that commercial navigation in the western half of the Arctic Ocean was quite feasible. </p><p>The Soviet Government, once in power, decided to organise the enterprise on a much larger scale than ever before. In place of lonely explorers braving the northern seas, with little "moral support " and even less financial assistance, there was formed, after earlier efforts on a smaller scale, two years ago an organisation called the "Central Administration of the Northern Sea Route." This organisation was given an exclusive charter to explore and develop not only the route itself, but also that part of the mainland lying above lat. 62. The territory thus covered is over thirty times the size of Great Britain. " The Central Administration of the Northern Sea Route " is the agency through which all the developments which I am to describe were effected, and today it has forty thousand men and women in its employ. </p><p>For some little time it has been common knowledge that the Soviets were working out a comprehensive scheme of development for Arctic Siberia. It was believed to include not only the organisa- tion of a sea-route and an air-route, but the modernisation of the inhabitants' economic conditions as well. First-hand facts, however, were hard to come by. </p><p>The head of the "Central Administration," Professor Otto Schmidt (the leader of the flying expedition which quite recently made a successful landing near the North Pole, and commander of </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 07:46:32 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>THE SLAVONIC REVIEW. </p><p>the "Chelyuskin" when it was marooned on an ice-floe off the Siberian coast in the winter of 1933-34) came to London early over a year ago to explain the achievements of his organisation. I was among those who heard him speak. He gave what seemed to me an astonishing, I might almost say fantastic, account of the extent to which modernisation of the Arctic had gone. I expressed doubts to him as to whether an unbiassed non-Communist, like myself, would see the same picture. The upshot was, that Schmidt invited me to pay a visit to Arctic Siberia myself, so that I might see the work being done there with my own eyes. After some little trouble, he succeeded in getting me permission to travel and take photographs in complete freedom. I made the journey last summer. </p><p>It is obvious, from what has been said, that Arctic Siberia had been visited by foreigners before; but I can safely claim to be the first non-Soviet traveller to have seen what the Russians are doing in its most outlying centres. My account of what I saw may be made easier to follow if I give a short description of the route I took. </p><p>From Moscow I travelled by train to Krasnoyarsk, in Eastern Siberia. From there I went by aeroplane, following the course of the Yenisey down to Port Igarka, a town lying right in the centre of the Arctic zone and only recently erected. I then took another aeroplane across the Taimir Peninsula (which juts out from the north- ern coast of Siberia) to Nordvik, returning east to Norilsk and Dudinka. The next part of my journey was undertaken in a British tramp steamer carrying timber to Dickson Island. Dickson Island is the central radio exchange and polar station in the Kara Sea, and from it I made a few expeditions on board an ice-breaker engaged in blasting a route for a fleet of cargo steamers through the Vilkitsky Straits. I returned on a Russian tank-steamer through the Kara Sea, the Matoshkin Straits of Novaya Zemlya, the Barents Sea, and so to Murmansk. From there I came down by rail on the " Polar Arrow " to Leningrad, flying home from Moscow to London in one day. </p><p>I made this journey, as I have said, in summer. When any attempt at navigating these northern seas is considered, there is one fact of unescapable importance to which all projects have to conform. It is this: for all but three months of the year the seas that wash Siberia's northern coast are frozen over. For nine months great waterways like the Obi and the Yenisey flow into an ice-bound Arctic Ocean. </p><p>Nevertheless, the Soviet Government has spent considerable sums of money in organising transport on these rivers, in building ports at </p><p>62 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 07:46:32 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>ARCTIC SIBERIA. </p><p>their mouths, and in developing communications from these ports during the three months of the year in which navigation is un- hindered. </p><p>The chief aid to navigation is, of course, provided by powerful ice-breakers. The ice-breakers themselves are further assisted by other achievements of modem technical progress such as wireless stations and reconnoitring aeroplanes. </p><p>A chainwork of radio stations has been built along the whole length of the coast-line, as well as on islands in the Kara and East Siberian Seas. They number fifty-seven now; further inland are another two hundred. These stations report on weather conditions to the centre at Dickson Island four times a day; from there, incident- ally, they are relayed to Moscow and the principal European weather bureaux. The ice-breakers are provided with valuable information on the location and resisting-power of the ice-floes, on the strength and direction of the wind, and are thereby saved much time and trouble. The stations also make hydrographic, biological and geological observations. </p><p>When visiting some of these stations, I found the operators to be mainly young people. They tackle their task with immense courage and zeal; they look upon their work as a national mission. Among them I found some of the finest types of Russian youth, men and women possessing great faith in their work and ready to sacrifice for it their own comfort and welfare. </p><p>The other aid to navigation through these waters possesses also high importance of its own: it is aviation. Aircraft assists the ice- breakers in this way. Planes, taking off from the shore, reconnoitre a largish area around and ahead of each caravan of ships. During the flight, observers draw maps of the ice-formation and, upon their return, drop a small parachute, with the maps attached, on to the deck of the vessel. Routes for cutting through the ice are then mapped out on board. </p><p>The ice-breakers in use at present are mostly out-of-date. The largest, the " Yermak," was built in 1899 (at Newcastle). No ice- breaker is able to remain away from its fuelling-base for more than 25 days, and therefore has to return several times in one season. </p><p>The problem of how ships are to be provided with fuel to last them a considerable period, has only recently been brought in sight of solution. </p><p>It was not until 1932 that the North-East passage was negotiated in one summer. Then the ice-cutter " Sibiryakov," under Professor Schmidt, travelling from west to east, made the journey. Since then </p><p>63 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 07:46:32 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>THE SLAVONIC REVIEW. </p><p>at least one ship has made the journey each year, until, in 1936, the trip was made by no less than fourteen vessels, some travelling west to east, others east to west. </p><p>This spring four new ice-breakers were to have been put into service. They were to be of I2,000 tons each, run on Io,ooo h.p. Diesel-engines, and have space for carrying two aeroplanes apiece. Their radius of action will be very much higher. These vessels will, then, be independent of the coastal bases throughout the summer season. </p><p>Siberia possesses some of the most valuable and extensive timber- forests in the world. It is only the inaccessibility of the country which has prevented its immense wealth from being utilised on a large scale. Russians today being very keen on statistics, perhaps I may be allowed to introduce a few figures in support of these statements: particularly as they do give some idea of the unsus- pected riches of the country. The natural annual growth of Siberia's forests is estimated at fifty million trees. That is to say, fifty million trees could be felled each year without reafforestation ever becoming necessary. Last summer five hundred thousand trees were sawn up for export at Port Igarka. More than fifty vessels were engaged in its transport, and nearly seventy thousand standards of Siberian wood were brought to Europe. </p><p>The timber is cut up in towns built for the purpose only recently by the Russians. Work in the mills and in the towns generally goes on all the year round. The two great drawbacks which most people ascribe to the Arctic, the intense cold and the polar night, hardly trouble the workers at all. As a matter of fact, the Arctic winter is not the coldest on the earth. The timber can be rafted downstream in summer, and only when the thermometer falls below -65 degrees C. is work in the mills interrupted. And that happens very rarely. The minimum temperature is usually -35 degrees C., a not unusual figure even in more "temperate" regions of Russia, such as Ukraine and Southern Siberia, where large industries have been established for many years. During the polar night the whole town is floodlit. </p><p>The sawmills are organised on extremely modern lines. Up-to- date machinery has been brought from Sweden; and operatives, before being sent out, are trained for their work at Archangel. The largest of the timber-exporting towns, the largest to...</p></li></ul>