Diaries of the Cheliuskinites


Dnevniki cheliuskintsev (Diaries of the Cheliuskinites) tells the story of the Arctic voyage and subsequent sinking of the Soviet ship S.S. Cheliuskin near the Bering Strait in 1933‒34. The book is divided into sections, each ostensibly written by a member of the crew, scientists, explorers, or other staff and covering different aspects of the journey and months-long struggle for survival after the sinking. The Cheliuskin left Murmansk for Vladivostok in August 1933 and sailed nearly to the entrance of the Bering Strait before getting caught in the ice by November of that year. The ship then drifted for three months in the pack ice of the Chukchi Sea before sinking near Kolyuchin Island in February 1934. All of the crew, except for one person, survived on the ice before being rescued by aircraft in March and April, after which they were flown to Vankarem on the Soviet mainland. The rescue effort included some planes that were staged from Alaska, highly unusual for the time, and it was assisted by two American air mechanics. The Soviet rescue pilots subsequently became legendary in the USSR and were the first to receive the new title of “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the highest honor in the Stalin era. The first chapter in the book is by Otto Shmidt, the head of the expedition and a noted Soviet scientist and Arctic specialist (he was seriously ill by April and was flown to Alaska). It gives a broad overview of the history of Russian Arctic exploration and scientific investigation. Although there is some overlap between sections, most of the authors provide complementary coverage of different parts of the story in a roughly chronological fashion, culminating in the dramatic rescue flights in the most challenging Arctic conditions. Some parts of the book had been previously published in other forms in the wave of news coverage that followed the rescue. The book includes several photographs of the crippled ship caught within the pack ice and of the rescue, which are interspersed in sequence as the story unfolds in the text. A table of contents, list of photographs and illustrations, and textual corrections are included at the end of the book.

Last updated: December 11, 2017