While many nations have awarded medals for Arctic and Antarctic exploration and scientific research over the last 200 years, Russia has also awarded special breast badges for these services. The tradition of breast badges dates back to the middle of the 19th century, when they were presented by military academies. Toward the end of the 1800s, all manner of badges were being produced, including those with maritime connections. Some honored the launching of ships, goodwill naval visits to foreign seaports, awards for winners of boat races — and to commemorate ocean voyages. After the Soviet Union came into existence in 1922, the tradition of awarding special badges was continued by Soviet civil and military institutions.
Here is an illustrated review of some badges awarded for polar exploration and research:
1) Swedish/Russian Arc of Meridian Expedition (1899-1901)
The governments of Sweden and Russia sponsored this expedition and it was organized by the academies of science in Stockholm and St. Petersburg. The aim of the expedition was to obtain very precise measurements of how much the Earth is flattened at the poles due to the planet’s rotation. Physical and meteorological observations were also carried out and valuable topographical surveys were made around Sorgfjorden and on the northwest coast of Nordaustlandet, between Kapp Hansteen and Celsiusberget.
2) Voyage of the Icebreakers Taymyr and Vaygach (1910-15)
The Imperial Russian Navy sponsored the Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition from 1910-15, using the specially constructed survey icebreakers Taymyr and Vaygach to sytematically chart the waters north of Siberia during six seasons. The aim was to develop the Northern Sea Route, which would be an important means of communication across Russian territories. It is difficult to understand why the dates on the badge are '1913-1915'. The expedition made the important discovery of the achipelago Zemlya Nikolaya II (now Severnaya Zemlya) and several smaller islands. It also made the first through-passage of the Northern Sea Route from east to west. As a result, new charts and pilots were created for the entire route from the Bering Strait to the Kara Sea. However, the main objective of opening up a Northern Sea Route to regular shipping was not accomplished. It was not until after the Russian Revolution that important efforts to establish such a route were begun by the Soviets.
3 & 4) Expeditions to Wrangell Island (1924 & 1929)
Lying between between the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas, the history of Wrangell Island involves some interesting twists and turns. In 1824, Ferdinand von Wrangell investigated reports of land north of the Chukotka Peninsula by the local Chukchi people. Though he never sighted the island, he did see birds flying north and assumed land was to be found in that direction.
British naval Capt. Henry Kellett may have been the first to sight the island in 1849, which he named for his ship--HMS Plover. However, the position noted on his chart is not correct, so what was seen may have been a mirage. Sailing in the W.C. Talbot during a trading and exploring expedition, Eduard Dallmann claimed to have been the first to land on the island in 1866, but this claim has been widely disputed. The American whaler Thomas Long sailed along the island's south coast in 1867 and gave Wrangell Island its name. In 1881, two American government ships searched the island for survivors of the ill-fated American Jeannette Expedition (1879-81).
The Vaygach was the first Russian vessel to visit the island (September 1911, during the Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition). A landing was made, in addition to the first circumnavigation and first accurate coastal survey, and Wrangell Island was claimed for Russia. In 1914, 17 survivors of Vilhjamur Stefansson's Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913-18) landed on the island's north coast. This temporary occupation was seen by Stefansson as basis for a territorial claim, and three white men and one Inuk girl (Ada Blackjack) were landed on the island in 1921. By June 1923, Blackjack was the only survivor of the group. She was rescued soon after by a relief expedition. A new party of colonists were left behind, composed of 12 Inuit, led by American trapper and prospector Charles Wells.
Neither the Canadian, British or American governments were prepared to formally claim Wrangell Island, and in August 1924, the armed Soviet icebreaker Krasny Oktyabr' (Red October) made a landing and claimed the island for the Soviet Union. The colonists were arrested and subsequently expelled.
In 1926, a Soviet colony was formed on Wrangell Island, composed of 60 Inuit from Chukotka and led by Georgiy Ushakov (who constructed of a meteorological and radio station). In 1929, a new leader arrived and served until 1934. In the latter year, Konstantin Semenchuk became the station head. Wrangell Island became the scene of a bizarre criminal story when it supposedly fell under Semenchuk's increasingly arbitrary rule. It was reported that he controlled the local populace and his own staff through open extortion and murder. The subsequent Moscow trial in June 1936 sentenced Semenchuk to death for "banditry" and violation of Soviet law, and he was executed in the beginning of Stalin's purges. The 1929 dated badge depicts the icebreaker Fedor Lidtke, which was built in 1909 and scrapped in 1960.
5) Participant on a North Pole Drift Station (circa 1950s)
Although the first established Soviet drift station NP-1 in 1937, floating ice stations are far more often associated with the Cold War period. The Soviet Union next operated stations from 1950 to 1991 and varied considerably according to their duration, from a few weeks to over 3,000 days.
NP-1 drifted more than 1,000 miles in 274 days and was finally evacuated off the east coast of Greenland. It was a major propaganda victory for the young Soviet Union, and the station supplied supplementary meteorological information for ships using the Northern Sea Route, and much was learned about the central Arctic Ocean and Greenland Sea: the direction and strength of surface currents, the geographical distribution of terrestrial magnetism and the topography of the ocean floor.
The Cold War drift stations carried out and supported a wide range of scientific and military activities.
6, 7 & 8) Honored Polar Explorer (1935-Present Day)
In 1935 the Main Board of the Arctic Sea Way, at the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR, founded the Honored Polar Explorer badge, which has been awarded to the most distinguished polar pilots, sailors, researchers and those who have over-wintered in the polar regions. By way of example, all of the participants of the first Soviet Antarctic expeditions during the 1950s were given these badges. Approximately 7,000 badges in all have been awarded, and were issued with an engraved numbers on their reverses, which correspond to individual recipients.
Badge no. 6 is circa 1940s/1950s and is numbered 1222. The icebreaker on the badge has 'I. Stalin' on its bow. The Joseph Stalin was built during 1937-39 at the Ordzhonikidze Yard, Leningrad. Badge no. 7 was issued in the 1970s/1980s and is numbered 6918. It shows the Lenin, the world's first nuclear-powered icebreaker; she began her sea trials in September 1959. Badge no. 8 is the current badge and is unawarded.
(Acknowledgements: Clive Holland, Veniamin Maletin, William James Mills, Maria Tsukernik)
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Thursday, 19 October 2006 07:15
Badges for Imperial Russian & Soviet Polar Exploration and ResearchWritten by Glenn Stein
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