"The man who literally did the impossible": how Vitus Bering's discoveries changed the map of Russia

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"The man who literally did the impossible": how Vitus Bering's discoveries changed the map of Russia
"The man who literally did the impossible": how Vitus Bering's discoveries changed the map of Russia

The outstanding Russian navigator Vitus Bering was born 340 years ago. He conducted studies of the northeastern part of Asia and the seas adjacent to it, mapping a number of geographic objects previously unknown to Europeans and creating the prerequisites for a large-scale expansion of the borders of Russia. Experts call Bering one of the most prominent leaders of geographical expeditions in the history of the country.

On August 12, 1681 (in some sources this date is called into question), the outstanding navigator Vitus Bering was born in the Danish city of Horsens. Having entered the Russian service, he made a number of important geographical discoveries, which later made it possible to significantly expand the borders of Russia.

By order of Peter I

According to historians, already in 1695, Bering set off on his maiden voyage. As a cabin boy, he accompanied his half-brother to the Danish overseas possessions in India. Later Vitus was educated in Holland, in the Amsterdam Naval Cadet Corps.

In 1704 (some sources indicate 1703), Bering accepted an offer to enter the Russian naval service. He served in the Baltic and the Sea of ​​Azov, took part in the Northern War and hostilities against the Ottoman Empire.

“Under Peter I, many foreign mercenaries were attracted to Russia in the good sense of the word. Bering became one of them. The best talented personnel from European countries went to serve Russia not only for the sake of money, but also for the colossal prospects that arose in front of them in our vast country, "said Konstantin Strelbitsky, chairman of the Moscow Fleet History Club, in an interview with RT.

Since 1712, Bering commanded various courts, but after almost 20 years of service, he resigned. According to historians, the reason for this was the lack of a decision by the command to make him a captain of the 1st rank.

However, a year later, Peter I gave instructions to return Bering to the service and assign him the rank he was seeking. For several years the king had been thinking about outfitting an expedition to find out if there was a strait between Asia and North America. The emperor decided to entrust the leadership of the expedition to Bering.

Gangut battle of the Northern War © Wikimedia

Peter I prepared instructions according to which they had to build one or two bots in Kamchatka, move north on them, find out whether Asia connects with America and draw up a map of the explored lands. Lieutenant Alexei Chirikov was appointed Bering's assistant.

At the beginning of 1725, Bering, together with his companions, moved from St. Petersburg to Okhotsk. They were on the way for more than two years. In the spring of 1728, the members of the expedition arrived in Nizhnekamchatsk and started building the Saint Gabriel bot. In the summer of the same year, they set out to sea and moved north, according to the instructions of Peter I, who had already died by that time.

The expedition ascended to 67 ° 18 'north latitude, passing almost the entire strait, later named Bering. After talking with local residents, the Russian sailors made sure that the Asian coast turns to the west, and there are no signs of land to the north. The members of the expedition turned to the northeast, but they did not find any land there either and headed for Nizhnekamchatsk. Off the coast of Kamchatka, they were the first to visit the island of St. Lawrence, and also made a number of other geographical discoveries.

Alexey Ilyich Chirikov © Wikimedia

After the construction of the second bot, named Fortuna, Bering appointed Chirikov as its commander. In the summer of 1729, the members of the expedition went to sea on two ships. They moved east, but did not find new lands and began to explore the coast of Kamchatka.

According to the results of the First Kamchatka Expedition, it became clear that Kamchatka is not connected with Japan. In addition, Bering made a cartographic survey of about 3, 5 thousand km of the coast of the sea, which was then named in his honor.

According to historians, part of what the Bering expedition did (in particular, the visit to the Bering Strait) had already been accomplished by the pioneer Semyon Dezhnev, but the results of his research carried out several decades earlier in St. Petersburg were not yet known at that time. As the honorary polar explorer of Russia Valery Ippolitov noted, any information from the east to the European part of Russia at that time went extremely long, the documents about Dezhnev's expedition were banally lost and were found in the archives almost 80 years later.

“The strait, which was then named in his honor, was actually reopened by Bering, after Dezhnev,” said the honorary polar explorer of Russia Viktor Boyarsky in an interview with RT.

Vitus Bering's travel routes © Wikimedia

Great Northern Expedition

Returning to St. Petersburg, Bering presented a detailed report on his journey and the maps drawn by him to the Admiralty Collegium, the highest governing body of naval affairs in Russia. The navigator suggested organizing a new expedition for a thorough exploration of the northern shores of Siberia. According to historians, the members of the collegium were not satisfied with the level at which Bering's expedition studied the question of the existence of the strait between Asia and North America, however, in general, his report and proposals were approved. The Admiralty Board presented Bering to the conferment of the rank of captain-commander (by modern standards, intermediate between rear admiral and captain of the 1st rank) and to a cash bonus.

On Bering's initiative, the new expedition was given large-scale tasks: finding routes to America and Japan, describing the northern coast of Russia between the Lena and Ob rivers, creating administrative and economic infrastructure in the Okhotsk Territory and Kamchatka. Bering raised the issues of founding metallurgical enterprises and shipyards in the Far East, organizing agriculture in the region, forming regular military units from the local population, developing the mining industry, establishing international trade and religious education.

In 1732, Bering's ideas were fully supported by Empress Anna Ioannovna, who issued a decree in which she emphasized that his proposals fully meet the "state benefit". The Queen instructed to equip the Second Kamchatka Expedition (also known as the Great Northern Expedition), which, in addition to Bering himself and his longtime associates, included a number of famous travelers and scientists: Dmitry and Khariton Laptev, Dmitry Ovtsin, Stepan Malygin, Vasily Pronchishchev, Gerhard Miller, Georg Steller and others. They were divided into groups, each of which was tasked with studying individual sections of the Russian coast from Arkhangelsk to the Amur. One of the detachments had to find a way to Japan.

Bering himself, together with Chirikov, volunteered to finally clarify the issue of the presence of a strait between Asia and America, and then study the American shores. The members of the expedition were also given a political task - the extension of Russian power to all newly discovered lands. Considerable funds were allocated for the organization of the research.

In 1740, Bering's detachment, having built the ships "St. Peter" and "St. Paul", crossed to Kamchatka, where they laid the foundations for a port called Petropalovskaya harbor (modern Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky).In June 1741, Bering's detachment went to sea and moved to the southeast, but soon, during a strong storm, the ships under the command of Bering and Chirikov lost sight of each other.

"St. Paul" under the command of Chirikov reached the shores of America, but, faced with the aggressive behavior of local residents, soon returned to Kamchatka. Bering on "St. Peter" approached the Kayak Island located off the coast of Alaska. Having replenished their water supplies, the travelers set off on their way back. Moving in the direction of Kamchatka, they discovered several new islands. Due to severe weather conditions, as well as a lack of food and water, the expedition members began to get sick en masse. Several people died every day. Due to the deteriorating state of his health, Bering handed over command of the ship to Ovtsin. In the fall, the detachment reached the shores of the island, which was later named after Bering. The travelers decided to stay in the land they discovered for the winter. They lived in pits covered with tarpaulins and sails. On December 19, 1741 Vitus Bering died.

Expedition of Vitus Bering © Wikimedia

In the spring of 1742, the surviving companions of Bering built a new ship from the wreckage of St. Peter, reached Kamchatka and returned to Okhotsk a few months later.

In general, the participants of the Great Northern Expedition implemented Bering's large-scale plan. In 1733-1743, they explored the northern shores of Russia from the White Sea to the Kolyma, as well as part of the northwestern coast of America, the Aleutian and Kuril Islands, found the shortest route to Japan, and finally proved the existence of a strait between Asia and North America. During the expedition, invaluable materials were collected on currents, straits, ice conditions, geology, meteorology, ethnography and biology.

Map compiled from the results of the Great Northern Expedition © Wikimedia

“Based on the results of the expedition, ambitious tasks set for its participants by the leadership of Russia were fulfilled, a general atlas of the country was compiled, the peoples of Siberia and Kamchatka were described. The city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, named after Bering's ships, was actually laid, "Galina Klykova, head of the history department of the Osinsky Museum of Local Lore, a branch of the Perm Museum of Local Lore, told RT.

According to Viktor Boyarsky, Bering's role in history is best characterized by the very fact of his name on all maps of the world and in geography textbooks.

“The name of Bering is among the names of the great devotees of Russian science. This is a person who literally did the impossible,”the expert said.

Monument to Bering on the embankment in Tyumen © Wikimedia

According to Galina Klykova, in addition to purely scientific merits, Bering played a huge role in the history of Russia as a state.

“After Bering's expeditions, previously unknown lands became part of our country. The territory of Russia in its modern form was formed, among other things, thanks to the activities of Bering, "Klykova summed up.

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