Last voyage of Georgy Sedov, the hero of the Arctic


The first quarter of 20th Century was marked by a number of known expeditions that make a deep impact in the history of the studies of Arctic Seas and their ice regimes. In the summer of 1912, a total of three expeditions set out from Arkhangelsk and Saint-Petersburg to explore the uncharted expanse of the Arctic. Many cherished the hope that the expeditions would be marked by new geographical discoveries. One of those expeditions include the voyage of Senior Lieutenant Georgy Yakovlevich Sedov on board the Saint Martyr Foka (Svyatoy Muchenik Foka) to Franz Joseph Land, which was planned to be used in the future as a base for reaching the North Pole.

Georgy Sedov (1877–1914) was a Russian Arctic explorer, hydrographer and surveyor who devoted much of his career to exploration of the Northern Sea Route north of Siberia. He was born on the shore of the Sea of Azov, in the village of Krivaya Kosa of Taganrog district (now Novoazovskyi Raion, Donetsk Oblast) in a fisherman’s family. After finishing navigation courses in Rostov-on-Don and acquiring some sea time, he took an external degree in the Imperial Naval College and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Russian Imperial Navy in 1901. In 1902 he joined an expedition to Novaya Zemlya. His work included a survey of the island of Vaygach and soundings of Yugorsky Shar. In 1909 Sedov headed an expedition to explore the mouth of the Kolyma River and to investigate the possibility of approaching it from the sea. The group made a plane-table survey and sounding of the river, conducted meteorological and hydrological observations, surveyed the seacoast, and, before beginning navigation, gave a complete description of the mouth of the Kolyma. At the same time Sedov gathered ethnographical and geological material and made astronomical observations. In 1910 he explored and mapped Krestovaya Gulf on the western shore of Novaya Zemlya.

George Sedov on board the schooner Mikhail Suvorin – St Fock

In 1912 Sedov proposed a sled expedition to the North Pole but his project was ignored by the Imperial Government. After appealing to the public for donations, he acquired the ship Saint Martyr Foka and departed Arkhangelsk. His Arctic expedition was designed as Russia’s first to reach the North Pole. Sedov-led expedition set out on 14 August 1912 with twenty-two crew members and scientists intending to travel to Zemlya Frantsa Losifa, from where they would attempt to reach the North Pole by dog sled. The expedition relied on private means, which contributed to the shortages of fuel and food. After leaving Arkhangelsk, Sedov renamed the ship to “Mikhail Suvorin.” Sedov supposed to get to Franz Josef Land in the same year. But the late arrival and the particularly difficult ice conditions in the Barents Sea forced the expedition to winter on Novaya Zemlya.

Wintering significantly depleted material resources and exhausted the crew. However, during this challenging time, scientists worked for the most important scientific research. In Foki Bay, where the expedition hibernated, regular scientific observations were made. Trips were made to the nearest islands, Cape Litke, and the north-east coast of Novaya Zemlya was described. All these works were carried out in extremely difficult conditions. George Sedov himself went to 63 of the day from the wintering place near Pankratiev Peninsula, along the coast to Cape Zhelaniya and further to Cape Vissinger – Goft, at both ends, about 700 kilometers. At the same time it was taken a route survey on the 1: 210000 scales and four astronomical and magnetic points were identified, discrepancies with previous maps were found. For the first time, Sedov skirted the northern extremity of the northern island of Novaya Zemlya on sleds, while his companions Wiese and Pavlov were the first to cross the island. They found out the geography of the inner part of Novaya Zemlya in the field of continuous glaciations conducted other important studies. On the results of wintering on Novaya Zemlya, Sedov, in his diary noted that the expedition had done “a great scientific work in many branches of science.”

In June 1913, a part of the crew: Captain Zakharov and four diseased crew members, returned to Arkhangelsk to transfer expedition materials and mail. The letter to the “Committee to equip expeditions to the North Pole and to study the Russian polar countries” requested to send a ship with coal and dogs to Franz Josef Land. It was possible to provide timely assistance to the expedition of George Sedov, but this was not done. The staff of the expedition, Pavlov, Wiese, Pinegin, on their return wrote to the Minister of War: “Sedov’s request for assistance in sending a ship with coal in the 1913 year … was not met. The latter destroyed the plans of Sedov and was the cause of all the disasters of the expedition …”

In September 1913, the ship got rid of the ice enclosing it. On the ship there was almost no fuel, the situation with vital supplies has become critical. They burned the fat of the animals being killed, burned wooden objects on the ship, even bulkheads between the cabins. The main food was porridge. Stinging appeared among the expedition members. They ate hunted meat of walruses, bears and even dog meat and drank bear blood. Most, including Sedov, refused to eat such food. As a result, Sedov from a cheerful and energetic man turned into a silent and sick. He often became ill but still decided to reach the pole. Off the coast of Franz Josef Land, the ship was again covered with ice and began its second wintering at Bukhta Tikhaya on Hooker Island. In February 1914, Sedov, already sick with scurvy, and his accompanying sailors G. Linnik and A. Pustotniy set off for the North Pole with their draft dogs. Before reaching Rudolf Island, Sedov died at sea and was buried at Cape Auk on this island.

Georgy Sedov devoted his whole life and all his strength to the study and conquest of the Arctic. This was a man extremely passionate about his work, exceptional endurance, and courage. His voyage to the North Pole in 1912 became one of the most tragic and heroic pages in the centuries-old stories development of the Arctic. The name of Sedov includes two bays and a peak on Novaya Zemlya, a glacier and a cape on Franz Josef Land, an island in the Barents Sea, a cape in Antarctica and the icebreaker Georgy Sedov.

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