Vilkitsky Boris Andreevich


An outstanding Russian naval officer-hydrograph, the head of the hydrographic expedition of the Arctic Ocean 1910–1915 on the icebreakers "Taimyr" and "Vaigach", since 1913. Son  A.I. Vilkitsky.

Born in Pulkovo. In 1903 he graduated from the Naval Cadet Corps and as a boy of eighteen he was released into the fleet with the rank of midshipman. He took part in the Russian-Japanese war, was severely wounded by a bullet through his chest through with damage to the lung and shoulder blade, survived captivity. For their special courage and composure in the battles near Port Arthur, he was awarded a number of military orders "with swords and bows".

After the war, he entered the Naval Academy and in 1908 graduated with honors from its hydrographic department, receiving the title of navigator of thefirst category. Immediately after graduating from the Academy, Vilkitsky sought to get into the Hydrographic expedition of the Arctic Ocean 1910–1915 on the icebreakers "Taimyr" and "Vaigach",  organized in those years, but his father, the head of the GSU, not wanting misinterpretations and accusations of protectionism, prevented this.

In 1913, after the death of his father, Vilkitsky was appointed commander of the Taimyr icebreaker, one of the two SLO expedition expeditions, instead of B.V. Davydov. It is interesting to note that Davydov took the post of the head of the expedition of the Eastern (Pacific) Ocean, which was held before him by M.E. Zhdanko, who became the head of the Main Hydrographic Department instead of the dead A.I. Vilkitsky. Thus, his father opened the way for his son with his death, which led him to worldwide fame. The second vessel of the expedition was the Vaigach icebreaker.


Archipelago Severnaya Zemlya

(space image)

The ships left Vladivostok on July 9, and on July 24 there was a stroke with the head of the expedition, I.S. Sergeyev. A few days later, by order of the Maritime Minister, the duties of the expedition head were assigned to Vilkitsky as the senior ship commander. He was the captain of the 2nd rank at that time.

It was a difficult time for the expedition. Vilkitsky did not have the necessary experience, and besides, at first he did not enjoy the authority of the officers.

As the further course of events showed, the young officer best coped with the duties of the head of the expedition. The lack of hydrographic training, he had a navigator diploma, and the lack of polar navigation skills Vilkitsky made up for in the expedition process, learning from the experience of his officers, some of whom had been swimming in ice for two or three campaigns. It successfully combined caution and responsibility for the security of an enterprise with determination and ability to make non-standard decisions. When it was allowed to ships to disperse outside the radio coverage, which later largely contributed to the success of navigation. During his leadership, all the loud discoveries of this expedition were accomplished.


Raising the flag in the Land of Nicholas II 
(photo from the archive of N.I. Evgenov)

The organization of the post office on the Land of Nicholas II

(photo from the archive of N.I. Evgenov)

Land of Nicholas II. 1913


Having entered the Chukchi Sea on August 6, the ships moved in different routes, carrying out independent tasks: “Taimyr” walked along the coast, the Vaigach went to Wrangel Island to find out the position of the ice edge. The ships met in the East Siberian Sea near the Bear Islands, from where the "Taimyr" headed north to the region where the ship of D. De-Long's expedition "Jeannetta" was crushed in 1881. Here a geographical discovery was waiting for them: in an effort to go around the Novosibirsk Islands from the north, they discovered a small island, later named after A.I. Vilkitsky. Some Soviet researchers claim that the son named the island in honor of his father. In fact, according to the rules in force at that time, the expedition leader did not have the right to give geographic names without the consent of the General Hydrographic Administration. Vilkitsky himself suggested calling the island by the name of A.V. Kolchak in memory of his trip to the islands of De Long in 1903 at the whaleboat to search for E.V. Toll and his companions. However, in the order of the Minister of the Sea No. 14 dated January 10/23, 1914, this island was given the name “Island of General Vilkitsky”.

By September 1, both vessels approached Cape Chelyuskin, in visibility distance, near which lay unbreakable ice. In an effort to go around the ice field, the vessels moved north and stumbled upon a small piece of land, lost among the hummocks, called the island Small Taimyr. Moving further north, on September 3, 1913, the expedition made the main geographical discovery of the twentieth century. When visibility improved, the eyes of the sailors on the right on the course opened snow-covered mountains, clearly distinguished against a blue sky. As it turned out, it was the southern island of a major archipelago, named by the discoverers of the Land of Nicholas II , renamed the Northern Land under Soviet power.

On September 4, the expedition leader read the following order in a solemn atmosphere: “When executing the order of the Chief of the Hydrographic Administration, to go after work westward in search of the Great Northern Path from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, we managed to reach places that had never been seen before and open the ground, about which no one thought. We found that the water to the north of Cape Chelyuskin is not a wide ocean, but a narrow strait. This discovery in itself is of great importance, will explain a lot in the distribution of ice and will give a new direction to the search for the Great Road". On the newly discovered land was raised the national Russian flag.

Then the ships moved along the open coast and mapped a total of about 180 miles of the east coast of the island. More do not allow the ice. Returning to the southeast of the open land, they discovered another islet, later named after the Taimyr doctor L.M. Starokadomskiy. On the way home went on  Bennett Island and took the geological collection of E.V. Toll, lying there since 1902. In memory of the completely disappeared travelers, a sign with a memorial inscription was installed on a high rocky shore.



Transportation of Toll materials from Bennett Island

(photo from the archive of N..I.. Evgenov)

November 25, both vessels entered the Vladivostok Bay of the Golden Horn.

In the early years, the main tasks of the expedition were hydrographic and hydrological research, the collection of geological and biological collections, and the study of navigation conditions, then in 1914 the task was to go along the northern shores of Siberia from the Bering Strait to Arkhangelsk. Hydrographic work was supposed to be carried out in a volume that does not impede the achievement of the main goal. Vilkitsky firmly decided not to return to Vladivostok and reach Arkhangelsk even at the cost of possible wintering.


In the winter of 1914/1915

(photo from the archive of N.I. Evgenov)

However, as is often the case in the Arctic, it was necessary to make major adjustments to the plans of the expedition. At the request of the Canadian government, the expedition was instructed to assist the team of the Canadian vessel “Karluk” crushed by ice in the area of Wrangel Island by the expedition of V. Stephanson. The courts are divided. Vaigach went on hydrographic work to the shores of Chukotka, and Taimyr was forced to go to Alaska to get more information about Canadians in distress. In Alaska, sailors learned about the beginning of World War II. This news made further adjustments to the expedition's actions. We decided that Vaigach would help Canadians, and "Taimyr" would go to Anadyr in order to get in touch with Main Hydrographic Department through the powerful radio station there and receive instructions on the future of the expedition. An order was received from St. Petersburg to continue polar research according to a previously adopted program. Having requested to deliver coal and spare propeller blades to the beginning of the new navigation at the mouth of the Lena, the vessels continued sailing. This was the last connection of the expedition with the mainland in 1914.

"Vaigach" did not manage to reach the island of Wrangel. Moreover, he himself was captured in ice and was able to get out of it only with the help of "Taimyr". Learning that the American ship was going to the place of the death of "Karluk", Vilkitsky ordered to move to the west.

In the area of ​​Bennett Island, I was lucky to discover another island (now Zhokhov Island).

In late August, they reached Taimyr, on September 1 they rounded Cape Chelyuskin, but met impassable ice to the west. In the area of ​​the Islands of Firnley, both vessels, which had received serious damage to the hulls and propellers, were forced to hibernate at a distance of about 15 miles from each other. It soon became clear that the Norwegian ship Eclips O. Sverdrup wintered 150 miles west of the Vaigach, which was sent to the Kara Sea at the request of the Russian government in order to search for the missing expeditions V.A. Rusanov and G.L. Brusilov. In January 1915, through a Norwegian radio station and a radio station in the Yugorski Shar, we managed to contact Petrograd.


The walking group is preparing to march on the mainland

(photo from the archive of N..I.. Evgenov)

Wintering was generally successful. It was possible to repair the hulls and screws, to organize a number of research works. The officers conducted classes with sailors in a variety of disciplines, read lectures, and held sports competitions. Some people from both ships were sent to Eclipse, where N.A. Begichev delivered several hundred deer to transport people and goods to the mainland.

In mid-July, the ice at the wintering site began to move. Ships suffered in the shallows, the disaster seemed imminent, but, fortunately, stranded ice stopped the drift of ships to the shore.

On August 8, the expedition began the long-awaited movement to the west and reached Dixon, where by that time a polar station was operating, headed by P.G. Kushakov. After the repairs, they headed for Arkhangelsk. On September 16, 1915, the first through passage of the Northeast passage from east to west was completed. At the Sobor of Arkhangelsk, the participants of the expedition had a solemn meeting, which was attended by all civil and military provincial authorities. The entire ceremony was described in the local newspaper Northern Morning. After the bread and salt and numerous welcoming speeches “the hero of the main celebration is cap. Vilkitsky, together with the commanders gathered for the celebration, goes to the cathedral to thank the Almighty who saved him and the people entrusted to him among the storms and dangers of the Northern Ocean”.  Welcoming telegrams were received from the Emperor, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, many learned societies and institutions, and individuals interested in the expedition. In the welcome address of the City Council of Arkhangelsk, read out at the reception, the expedition leader, the outbuilding adjutant B.A. Vilkitsky was named "Russian Columbus". A year after the end of the expedition, the official opening of the lands it opened to the territory of the Russian Empire followed.

World War raged on the Big Earth at that time. It also prevented the proper evaluation of this expedition, which, according to R. Amundsen, “... in peacetime, would arouse admiration of the entire civilized world ...”.


Over the Strait Vilkitsky. 2007 On the horizon Bolshevik Island

The contribution of this expedition to the development of the Northern Sea Route is difficult to overestimate. Charts and pilots compiled by sailors for five years of navigation were distinguished by the highest accuracy and were appreciated in the future. Geological, botanical and zoological works were carried out and, finally, major geographical discoveries were made that brought the map of the Arctic into a modern look known to every cultural person. The credit for this belongs to the entire composition of the expedition and, of course, to its chief Vilkitsky. He was awarded the highest award of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society - the Big Konstantinovsky medal. Vilkitsky also received gold medals of the French Geographical Society and the Swedish Society of Anthropology and Ethnography. At the suggestion of the head of the expedition, its entire composition was awarded orders and medals. The world war scattered people in different fleets and ships, and Vilkitsky, receiving awards, sent them with accompanying letters to the places of service of his former subordinates. Until the revolution, he followed their fate.

During the World War, Vilkitsky commanded the destroyer “Letun” and participated in battles with the German fleet in the Baltic.

In 1918, Vilkitsky headed the first Soviet hydrographic expedition, but with all the ships he was captured by interventionists in Arkhangelsk. In 1920 he emigrated to England, for which the Soviet government was declared a traitor to the Motherland. Vilkitsky's wife, saving herself and children from the red terror, went to Germany. There, having received the false news of the death of her husband, she married. Vilkitsky found them a few years later and was forced to file a divorce.

Vilkitsky's authority as an Arctic navigator was so great that emigration did not prevent the Soviet foreign trade organizations from inviting him in 1923–1924. to guide the Kara commodity expeditions. Expeditions to the mouths of the Ob and Yenisei were successful, bringing great benefits to Soviet Russia.

In 1925, he went to England, where, not finding a use for himself in his specialty, he headed the artel for the repair and manufacture of furniture. Then, with a Nansen refugee passport, Vilkitsky went to Belgium and was enlisted in the naval service with the rank of lieutenant. For two years he worked as a hydrograph in the former Belgian Congo, studying the regime of African rivers. On the basis of the materials of these works, maps of the Zairean Atlantic shelf and the mouth of the Congo River were drawn up with a lot attached to them, developed by Vilkitsky himself. Due to a tropical fever disease, I had to terminate the contract and return to Europe. After that, he lived in Brussels, worked as an accountant, driver, and taught Russian. During all the years of his emigration, Vilkitsky suffered from separation from his homeland, corresponded with his colleagues in hydrographic expedition of the Arctic Ocean L.M. Starokadomsky and N.I. Eugenov, dreamed of returning, but failed. Another broken life of an outstanding Russian man.

Vilkitsky died near Brussels, in a Catholic poorhouse, having managed to celebrate his 75th birthday. He was buried in a personal grave at the Ikselsky communal cemetery in Brussels. After the expiration of the lease period of the cemetery site, the body was reburied to the family grave of distant relatives of the Vilkitsky Shorins. Only in 1996, at the initiative of the Cherkashin brothers-writers, the ashes of the long-suffering rear admiral were reburied at the Smolensk Orthodox cemetery of St. Petersburg near the grave of his father and younger brother.


Vilkitsky grave in Brussels


Islands in the gulf of Theresa Klavenes. Called by R. Amundsen in 1919.

Strait between the Taimyr Peninsula and Severnaya Zemlya. In 1916, he was named the Tsarevich Alexei Strait by royal decree. After 1917, it became known as the Strait of Boris Vilkitsky, and since 1957 - just Vilkitsky. Only in 2004, the name of Boris Vilkitsky was returned to the strait.


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