Laktionov Alexander Fedorovich



The famous Soviet oceanologist, one of the glorious pleiad of Soviet polar explorers of the 1930s, who created and mastered the Northern Sea Route.

Born in the city of Kerch, here he graduated from the 2nd grade school, and then in the city of Old Crimea Teacher's Seminary. During 1919-1923 taught at school level II.

His next life step, which determined his entire fate, was made by Laktionov in 1923, when, after appropriate training and testing, he began working as an observer hydrologist in the Kerch ichthyological laboratory and the Azov-Black Sea scientific-fishing expedition. Here fate brought him to the honorary academician N.М. Knipovich, under whose leadership he processed materials from oceanographic observations, participated in many campaigns in the Black and Azov Seas, and gained extensive experience in field oceanographic research.

Having decided on the choice of profession and intending to continue his education, Laktionov moved to Leningrad in 1926 and entered the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Leningrad State University, but he failed to complete his education - he was prevented by active expeditionary activities, which became his best university.

In January 1927, a young promising researcher was invited to the Institute for the Study of the North (later VAI, ANII and AARI), where he worked for his entire later life. During 1927-1937 Laktionov almost annually participated in the Arctic expeditions, among which were famous hikes, forever included in the history of the study and development of the Soviet Arctic.

Already in the summer of 1927, he was conducting an oceanographic survey of the north-eastern Barents Sea as part of an expedition.

In 1929, Laktionov participated in the historic cruise of the icebreaker steamer “G. Sedov" to the Land of Franz-Joseph. The main goal of the expedition headed by O. Yu. Schmidt, V.Yu. Vize and captain V.I. Voronin, was the organization of a scientific observatory in Tikhaya Bay on Hooker Island. The expedition had not only scientific, but also political significance, putting an end to the claims of the Norwegians on this archipelago. According to the results of research, Laktionov published his first scientific papers. His conclusions on the chemical properties of ice and the hydrological regime were confirmed by further studies in other Arctic seas.

On the same vessel in 1930, with the participation of Laktionov, the northeastern part of the Kara Sea was surveyed. During the expedition several islands were discovered, including Schmidt, Vize, Voronin and Isachenko, named after members of the expedition. In addition, four polar explorers, led by G.A.Ushakov and N.N. Urvantsev, were landed on the islet Domashny, near the west coast of the Northern Earth.  which for two years put on the map this archipelago, opened only in 1913 by an expedition led by B.A. Vilkitsky. Laktionov collected extensive material on the hydrology of the Kara Sea, hydrochemistry and the physical properties of sea ice. Processing material allowed him to publish several scientific articles.

In 1931, Laktionov headed the voyage on the Lomonosov steamer to the northwestern part of the Kara Sea and to Franz-Josef Land, where in the Tykhaya Bay on the territory of the polar station the expedition organized the world's northern magnetic station cruise on the icebreaking ship “A. Sibiryakov”, who made the first transition along the entire Northern Sea Route for one navigation. His participation in this flight was marked by the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.

In 1933, Laktionov as part of an expedition on the Sibiryakov to the Kara Sea, and in 1934 at the head of the expedition to the "G. Sedov" again in the Kara Sea. Each voyage is a trip to practically unexplored Arctic regions, after each voyage is an extensive scientific material, processing of which gave answers to many questions that are most important for science and practice.

In the next 3 years, Laktionova’s expeditionary activity is associated with High-latitude expeditions on the icebreaker steamer "Sadko". In the first of them, under the leadership of G.A. Ushakov, N.N. Zubov and captain N.M. Nikolaev in 1935,  surveyed the northern parts of the Greenland, Barents and Kara Seas, obtained extensive scientific materials, discovered an island named after Ushakov - the last geographical discovery both in the Kara Sea and in the entire Soviet Arctic, reached a record latitude of free navigation in the Arctic - 82° 41.6'. The second expedition in 1936 under the leadership of R.L. Samoylovich, V.Yu. Vize and captain N.I. Khromtsov surveyed the Barents and Kara Seas and the archipelago of Franz-Josef Land. The third of 1937, under the same leadership as a year ago, explored the Laptev and East Siberian seas, set up a polar station on Henrietta Island in the De Long archipelago and finally dispelled the beautiful myth of Sannikov Land. Then "Sadko" was sent to release the ships squeezed in ice in the Kara Sea, but he himself fell into ice captivity in the Laptev Sea and stayed for the winter with "G. Sedov" and "Malygin".


Left: 1934 On "G. Sedov” with his wife E.V. Caseyev

Right: 1935. In the cabin on the "Sadko"

(photo from the home archive of Laktionov)


On this pre-war expeditionary activity of Laktionov ended. As stated in his official description, “the scientific works written by A.F. Laktionov on the basis of the materials of the expeditions in which he participated personally,  characterize A.F. Laktionov, as a well-established research worker, who fully knows the methods of field research, as well as the formulation and development of individual oceanographic problem”s.  

These works served as the basis for awarding Laktionov in 1938 the degree of candidate of geographical sciences without defending a thesis.

A new direction of his scientific activity was the study of the ice cover of the Arctic seas. On the initiative of Laktionov, an ice research department was established at the institute with a special ice laboratory. Dealing with this problem, Laktionov published the fundamental monograph "The ice of the polar seas", filling a large gap not only in the domestic, but also in foreign literature on this issue. In 1942, the work was awarded the prize of honorary academician Yu.M. Shokalsky, established by the General Directorate of the Northern Sea Route.

In 1941, the monograph “The Atlas of the Arctic Sea ice coverings” was completed, recognized by experts of that time as an outstanding scientific work.

Laktionov paid a lot of attention to the popularization of Arctic research, publishing the historical and geographical works “The North Pole” and “Severnaya Zemlya”, which even nowadays everyone interested in the history of the development of the Arctic wants to have in his library. He, together with co-authors V.Yu. Vize, G.V. Gorbatsky and V.K. Yesipov published the 3-volume Physical Geography: Foreign Arctic, Antarctic, Soviet Arctic.

With the beginning of the war, the Arctic Institute was evacuated to Krasnoyarsk. In late August 1941, Laktionov, armed with a certificate signed by the Commissioner for the evacuation of the Leningrad organizations of the Main Directorate of the Northern Sea Route. under the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR Hero of the Soviet Union V.Kh. Buinitsky, went for his previously evacuated family to Voronezh, and from there to Krasnoyarsk.

In wartime, the Institute's researchers worked at the Headquarters of naval operations in the western and eastern regions of the Arctic, provided the fleet and aviation in the Arctic with ice and hydrometeorological forecasts, and participated in ice-hydrological patrols and aviation ice reconnaissance. For the performance of tasks during the war years, Laktionov was awarded the Order of the Red Star, medals "For the Defense of the Polar Region" and "Victory over Germany".


Skiing in Krasnoyarsk

(photo from the home archive of Laktionov)


In 1948, Laktionov held the last meeting with the Arctic - he led a comprehensive oceanographic expedition on the Litke ice cutter, the purpose of which was to explore the possibilities of passing transport ships along the Great Northern Polynya.

All subsequent years Laktionov did not stop the most active scientific, educational and social work. He published over 100 scientific and popular scientific works, he read countless lectures in various scientific, public, workers and student organizations, factories and factories, schools and lecture halls.

And, of course, one cannot fail to note another quality of Laktionov, inherent to many polar explorers of that generation, - the many-sidedness of interests and opportunities, intelligence and erudition. He drew well, loved music, played several instruments, had golden hands. All this made him an interesting person, attracted to him. Laktionov talked with A.T. Tvardovskim, I.S. Sokolov-Mikitov, met with J.-I. Cousteau.


1955 At the cottage Sokolov-Mikitov in Karacharovo

From left to right: Tvardovsky, Sokolov-Mikitov, Laktionov

(photo from the home archive of Laktionov)

Meeting with Tour Heyerdahl (second from right)

(photo from the home archive of Laktionov)

Unfortunately, Laktionov’s life did not turn out to be particularly long, but until the end of his days he did not cease his vigorous activity. Here is what Elena Vladimirovna Kazeev's wife writes about his last days: “He knew that he was seriously and hopelessly ill, but never in the family had we heard a single complaint, and even tried to support me and calm me down. Both enthusiasm in work and love for the institute were with him until his last breath. On April 27, he was at the institute, and on the night of 28 he said, “I have absolutely nothing to breathe”, and died a few hours later.

He was buried in Leningrad at the Northern cemetery.

Glacier on the northern island of Novaya Zemlya in the Russian Harbor Bay area. Named in August 1930, by expedition on the icebreaker steamer "G. Sedov".


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