Homage to the Russian polar explorer Ivan Papanin on his 30th death day
by Olivia Kroth
Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin’s life is the perfect example for the Soviet career of a polar explorer and expedition leader to reach the North Pole as first man on earth, as well as an author of two books about his adventurous life on an Arctic ice drifting station. Born in Sevastopol, on the 26th of 1894, Ivan Papanin (Иван Дмитриевич Папанин) began to work as sailor in his native Crimean peninsula. He died in Moscow, on the 30th of January 1986, as Counter Admiral of the Soviet Navy, a honoured member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and “Hero of the Soviet Union”, who had received the Order of Lenin nine times during his life. On the 3oth of January 2016, on his 3oth death day, it is time to remember Ivan Papanin and his importance for the Russian military in the Artic.
In 1914, Ivan Papanin joined the Russian Navy. He witnessed the October Revolution as sailor, in 1917, and helped to spread Communist ideas among the Crimean sailors. Two years later, in 1919, he became a member of the Communist Party. In 1920, he led some operations of the Boshevik underground movement in Crimea. He moved to Moscow, in 1922, where he began working at the People’s Commissariat of Communications. Ivan Papanin fell in love with the Russian Far North during his first Arctic voyage, in 1931. In the 2nd International Polar Year, 1931/1932, he led a polar expedition to Tikhaya Bay on Franz Josef Land, where he built an observatory.
Afterwards, he was promoted head of the polar station on Cape Chelyuskin, the northernmost point of the Taymyr peninsula. Here he supervised the work of Soviet scientists, in 1934 and 1935. They conducted a study of ice movements in the northern waters to find navigation options in that area. Cape Chelyuskin lies 1.370 kilometres away from the North Pole. Ivan Papanin set up a hydrology and weather base, when he arrived. It was named “Polar Station Cape Chelyuskin”. He also managed to build a township, where Soviet scientists and polar explorers could survive in the harsh conditions of the polar climate.
Today, the Taymyr peninsula belongs to the Siberian Federal District of Russia. Its climate is harsh, with long winters and short summers. The coasts of the peninsula are frozen most of the year. Only mosses and lichen grow in the Taymyr tundra, while its fauna consists of icebears, raindeer, walrusses and white whales. The raindeer herds of Taymyr are the largest worldwide. Its number of raindeer (Rangifer tarandus sibericus) amounts to about one million. In summer, they are joined by millions of seabirds. Indigenous Nenets and Nganasan people live as fishermen, herders and hunters in this sparsely populated region of the Russian Federation. Due to their isolation, they still practice shamanism. In 1993, the Russian Federation founded the Great Arctic Nature Reserve on Taymyr. It comprises 42.000 square kilometers on land and at sea.
In 1936, the Soviets installed the research camp “North Pole 1” on a drifting ice floe near the North Pole. It was led by Ivan Papanin, who was the first man to reach the North Pole. A radio station was installed for communications and a landing strip on the drifting ice was prepared for resupply. For 270 days, “North Pole 1” drifted 2.500 kilometres along the east coast of Greenland. The expedition team carried out a wide range of scientific observations in the polar zone. They measured ocean depth and water temperature, took bottom soil and water samples from different levels. Bottom relief was recorded along the drift track and upper ocean currents induced by the wind were also studied. Thus, the researchers discovered that warm Atlantic water reaches the North Pole and that in the abyss of the Arctic Ocean water temperature increases due to the heat of the Earth. Regularities in the Arctic climate were found: cyclones bringing rain, fog and unstable weather are typical for the North Pole.
Ivan Papanin wrote a book about his adventures at the North Pole, ”Life on an Ice Floe,” published in English by Messner Editions in New York, in 1939. The author described vividly how the members of the expedition, including the dog Jolly, were deposited by plane on the ice floe. In summer, they found themselves and their tents in melt water. In winter, they lived in temperatures far below zero degrees.
Ivan Papanin (in the middle) at the North Pole in 1937:
In the following years, Ivan Papanin devoted himself to educational tasks. He gave lectures on Arctic themes and readings from his book. Due to his expedition to the North Pole and his diary he had become one of the most popular Soviet citizens in Joseph Stalin’s era. In 1938, Ivan Papanin was called to lead the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route because the Soviet Government wanted to develop a sea route from Murmansk to Vladivostok for commercial and military transport. The Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route was responsible for a huge territory of eight million square kilometres, reaching from the Kola Peninsula to the Chukchi Peninsula and from the Barents Sea to the Bering Sea.
Ivan Papanin traveled himself on the Northern Sea Route from west to east and back. He oversaw all Arctic shipping, coordinating its supplies and support. Under Ivan Papanin the Chief Northern Directorate conducted extensive research in the Artic region, exploited its resources and developed the northern coast of Siberia. It controlled the Arctic Institute, the Institute of Economics of the North, the Hydrographic Institute and the Institute of the Peoples of the North. Beginning in 1938, Ivan Papanin supervised the construction of stronger icebreakers and the publication of new navigation manuals. New airports, polar stations and the ports of Igarka, Dison and Pevek were built.
Ivan Papanin in 1938 (second from right):
From 1948 to 1951, Ivan Papanin served as Deputy Director of the Oceanology Institute, which was a branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. From 1951 until his death in 1986, he was Head of the Department of Sea Expeditions at the Academy. Ivan Papanin contributed to many Soviet sea explorations worldwide. He also wrote scientific papers for academic manuals about maritime expeditions in the Arctic. He is the author of several fundamental research papers on ocean studies.
Russia’s Academy of Sciences was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in Saint Petersburg, in 1724. In 1925, the Soviet Government renamed it Academy of Sciences of the USSR. It was the highest all-Union scientific institution during Soviet times. Several renowned members of the Academy worked as pioneers, especially in natural sciences. The results of their research laid the base for Soviet military sucesses, for example the development of the first Soviet atomic bomb. In 1934, the Academy was transfered from Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) to Moscow. It has a network of scientific research institutes, libraries and publication units across the Russian Federation. The headquarters in Moscow are often called “Golden Brain”. Since 2013, the Russian Academy of Sciences has been led by Vladimir Fortov.
Ivan Papanin is the author of numerous scientific texts about maritime expeditions. In 1981, he published his autobiography, “Ice and Fire”. His name was given to a cape on the Taymyr peninsula, a mountain in Antarctica and an underwater peak in the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore an icebreaker bears his name. Ivan Papanin received many honours in the course of his lifetime: nine Orders of Lenin (1937, 1938, May 1944, November 1944, 1945, 1956, 1964, 1974, 1984); two Orders of the Red Banner (1922, 1950); two Orders of the Red Banner of Labour (1955, 1980); the Order of Nakhimov (1945); the Order of the Red Star (1945); the Order of the October Revolution (1975); the Order of Friendship of Peoples (1982); the Order of the Great Patriotic War (1985). Ivan Papanin became a honorary citizen of the Hero City of Murmansk (1974), Arkhangelsk (1975), the Hero City of Sevastopol (1979), Lipetsk and the Yaroslavl Region.
In 2016, Ivan Papanin’s research work and pioneer achievements appear in a new light, as the Russian Federation is continously expanding its economic and military presence in the Russian Arctic. Counter Admiral Papanin’s expeditions brought precious results which are useful today. The Russian Academy of Science functions as a link. From Tsar Peter’s time until today, it laid a scientific base for military explorations. Science and military have always cooperated closely in Russia, generating precious synergy that shines widely in the world.
Ivan Papanin’s memoirs “Ice and Fire”:
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog: