Arctic Ocean Hydrographical Expedition 19091915

In the early 20th century, especially after Russia's defeat in the Russian-Japan war of 1904-1905, Russia saw an urgent need to investigate the North East Passage or Northern Sea Route as a transport route between the Atlantic and Pacific. In 1906, the Russian Sea Minister Admiral Aleksei Alekseevich Birilev ordered the creation of a special commission of the Navy's Hydrographical Department to investigate the Arctic Ocean. Admiral Vladimir P. Verkhovsky headed this commission. The head of the Hydrographic Directorate Andrei Ippolitovich Vil'kitskii, oceanography professor Yuri M. Shokalsky, shipbuilding professor Alexei Nikolaevich Krylov, Alexander von Bunge, and other polar explorers also took part in its sessions.

On August 31, 1909, the Arctic Ocean Hydrographical Expedition (AOHE) was established and Colonel Ivan S. Sergeyev was appointed its head. The main aims were surveying of the Arctic coast of Russia with the creation of new navigation maps, discovering and sounding of places suitable for mooring, and carrying out of oceanographic, biological, and meteorological observations. On October 28, 1909, the two icebreakers Taimyr and Vaigach left Kronstadt near St Petersburg and sailed to Vladivostok via the Atlantic Ocean, Suez Canal, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean. On July 3, 1910, the ships entered Vladivostok's port, in time for a brief trip into the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Strait. Here they were blocked by heavy ice and returned to Vladivostok for winter.

From 1910 -to 1913, the expedition made surveys out of Vladivostok further and further west into the Arctic Seas, each time returning east to winter at Vladivostok (Table 1). Every year new navigation maps were published as a result of the voyages (e.g., the first detailed survey of Wrangel Island in 1911). The main geographical discovery of AOHE in 1913, under Boris Andreevich Vil'kitskii (son of A.I. Vil'kitskii) as the head of the expedition, was Severnaya Zemlya (Northern Land). On August 21 (September 3), the hitherto unknown mountainous land was noticed from both ships simultaneously. On landing the next day, the crews erected the Russian State flag and named it "Emperor Nickolas II's Land" (since 1926, Severnaya Zemlya). Besides this archipelago, the members of AOHE uncovered some large islands in the Laptev Sea (Maly Taimyr and Starokadomsky's Island) and in the East Siberian Sea (Vilkitskiisland) in 1913. During the topographical and navigation surveys from 1910 to 1912, the two ships kept close to each other and communicated by radio telegraphy. In 1912, the rock collection gathered by Baron Edward von Toll with companions in 1902 was taken from Bennett Island in the New Siberian Islands. A monument in honor of the dead members of the 1900-1902 Russian Polar Expedition was constructed.

During the 1914 expedition, the small Zhokhov's Island in the De Long Archipelago was discovered. The main aim of this expedition was to pass through the Northern Sea Route from east to west. But heavy ice prevented the ships from completing their task. In the autumn of 1914, the ships became stuck fast in the ice and were forced to winter in Toll's bay

(Northern Taymyr) at a distance of 15 miles from each other.

The expedition was not well prepared for this overwintering. Air temperature in the inhabited apartments was less than 7°C and, due to the lack of provisions, scurvy was common. In March and April of 1915, lieutenant Aleksey N. Zhokhov and stoker Ivan E. Ladonichev died and were buried on Mogilny's Cape. In spite of the severe living conditions during the wintering in the ice, meteorological and oceanographic measurements continued to be carried out. The officers made a topographic map of the shore, tying it to the topographic survey made earlier by von Toll. N.I. Evgenov made meteorological observations. The ship's doctors Leonid M. Starokadomsky and Eduard A. Arngold investigated the marine fauna and made a large collection of Arctic sea animals.

Simultaneously with AOHE's ships, the schooner Eclipse had stopped for overwintering near Vild's Cape. Otto Sverdrup (the famous Norwegian sailor who was in the crew of Fram in 1893-1896 and 1898-1902) was captain of this ship. The Russian Government had hired Eclipse in 1914 to search for three polar expeditions headed by Vladimir Rusanov, Georgy Brusilov, and Georgy Sedov, which had left Russia in 1912 and been lost without any news. The two AOHE icebreakers got in touch with Eclipse by radio. With the help of Sverdrup as a relay, Vil'kitskii got in touch with St Petersburg by radio and reported on the expedition's situation, and about his plan to get the weakest and sick sailors from the ships to the Gol'chikha settlement to prevent exposing them to a second overwintering. To help the expedition, the Russian Sea Ministry sent the polar hunter Nikifor A. Begichev (who was boatsman of the schooner Zarya during the Russian Polar Expedition, 1900-1902).

Sverdrup (who was then 63 years old) skied to Taimyr to get the sick sailors to the Eclipse. They lived on the schooner till the middle of July, when Begichev could reach Eclipse by reindeer. Begichev took the sailors to Enissey. During the period on the Eclipse, stoker Georgy Mjachin died and was buried on Vild's Cape.

On July 26,1915, the icebreakers, and on August 11, Eclipse became free from the ice and sailed west. They visited Dixon Island and the new polar station, where they took coal on board from a depot. Then Vaigach went to Gol'chikha and took the group of sick sailors back on board. On September 3 (16), all ships came to Arkhangel'sk, having passed by the Northern Sea Route from the east for the first time in navigational history.

In March 1915, the Russian Geographical Society rewarded Vil'kitskii with the Large Konstantin Gold Medal, and in 1926 the Swedish Society of Anthropology and Ethnography rewarded him with

Arctic Ocean Hydrographical Expedition results, 1910-1915


Period of navigation

Taimyr commander

Vaygach commander

Region explored







August 17-October 20 July 22-October 15

May 31-October 10

June 26-November 12

June 24-September 5


July 26-September 3

B.V. Davydov B.V. Davydov

B.V. Davydov


P.A. Novopashenny

B.A. Vil'kitskii P.A. Novopashenny B.A. Vil'kitskii P.A. Novopashenny

Chukotka Peninsula, Bering's Sea Bering's Strait—Kolyma River mouth, Wrangel Island

Kolyma River mouth—Lena River mouth, Lyakhov's Islands

Northern parts of East Siberian Sea and

Laptev Sea, Severnaya Zemlya,

New Siberian Islands

Northern Taymyr (wintering in Toll's Bay)

Taimyr—Yugorsky Shar—Arkhangel'sk the Vega Gold Medal for his valuable contribution to geographical exploration. In November 1915, all members of AOHE were rewarded with orders and gold and silver medals for diligence.

During the AOHE, an enormous amount of mapping and descriptions of the Arctic shores were carried out, and 26 map positions were determined by astronomic measurements in the most inaccessible places. It was the largest and most successful Russian polar expedition before the Revolution. The scientists who took part (hydrographers Boris V. Davydov, Konstantin K. Neupokoev, Aleksey M. Lavrov, Nikolay I. Evgenov, and others) laid the foundations for later Soviet hydrographic work in the Arctic. World War 1 interrupted the work of AOHE and on October 1, 1915, AOHE was broken up.

Fedor Romanenko

See also Kolchak, Alexander; North East Passage, Exploration of; Vil'kitskii, Boris Andreevich

Further Reading

Bor'ba za skvoznoy arktichesky put' iz Atlanticheskogo okeana v Tikhiy. Gidrographycheskaya ekspeditsiya Severnogo Ledovitogo Okeana (1910-1915) [Fight for the through passage from Atlantic to Pacific Ocean. Arctic Ocean Hydrographical Expedition (1910-1915)]. In Istoriya otkry-tiya i osvoeniya Severnogo Morskogo Puti [History of Discovery and Development of the Northern Sea Route], edited by Ya.Ya. Gakkel' & M.B. Chernenko, Volume II, Chapter 19, Moscow: Morskoi transport, 1962 Evgenov, N.I. & V.N. Kupetsky, Nauchnye rezul'taty polyarnoy ekspeditsii na ledokolakh ""Taymyr" i ""Vaygach" v 1910-1915 godakh [Scientific Results of Polar Expedition on the Ice-Breakers ""Taymyr" and ""Vaygach" in 1910-1915], Leningrad: Izd-vo "Nauka," 1985 (in Russian) "Russian hydrographical expedition to Arctic ocean." Scottish

Geographical Magazine, 1914: 87-90 Starokadomsky, L.M., "Vilkitsky's North-East Passage, 1914-1915." Geographical Journal, 54(6) (1919): 367-375

-, Charting the Russian Northern Sea route: the Arctic

Ocean Hydrographic Expedition 1910-1915, edited and translated by William Barr, Montreal: Arctic Institute of North America, 1976 Transehe, N.A., "The Siberian Sea Road: the work of the Russian Hydrographical Expedition to the Arctic 1910-1915." Geographical Review, 15 (1925): 392

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