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Early Icebreakers

Breaking ice with ships was not possible before the advent of steam power. By the end of the nineteenth century, only fixedpitch, screw-type propellers driven with steam power were installed on new icebreakers. Early icebreakers were not powerful, and the hull form was basically adapted from open water hull shapes by sloping the bow angles more to create a vertical force to break the ice in bending.

Advances in shipbuilding technology resulted in the creation of the icebreaker, a vessel strong enough to not only withstand the crushing power of the ice, but to break through it. This technology finally opened most of the ice covered Arctic Ocean to military, scientific and commercial interests. In the last decades of the twentieth century, significant developments in icebreaking technology took place through the application of modern marine technology to the design and the operation of polar ships. As a result, ships can travel to remote polar regions that were deemed impenetrable only a few years ago. Basically, polar ships have become larger, stronger, and more powerful. In addition, innovative ideas have been implemented to improve propulsion systems and reduce the resistance encountered during icebreaking.

It is not surprising that precisely Russia became the native land of the most interesting vessels of this class. Not one state needed ice-breakers in the manner that Russia did. Tens of freezing ports (even in the south - in the Black sea) and very northern transport main - northern seaway. It this is what forced ship-builders to apply numerous forces for the creation and improvements of ice-breakers. "The victory above ices, wrote D.I. Mendeleyev, composes one of the economic questions of the future of the northeast of European Russia and almost entire Siberia".

The rescue tugboat Pilot is considered to be a prototype of the first Russian icebreaker, that is a ship capable of breaking and thus actively surmounting ice cover en route. The owner of the ship was M.O. Britnev, an industrialist from Kronstadt, the tugboat being about 26 m long. In 1864 the forebody of Pilot was cut off and a stem inclination by 20 degrees was given [the characteristic bow shape that is now used by all icebreakers] thus permitting the ship under the propeller thrust effect crawl over ice and break it down by the proper gravity. The vessel, set in action by a weak (from the point of view of the present day) 85 hp steam engine, prolonged navigation between Petersburg and Kronstadt by several weeks. This period was small, but this was first step on the road to the development of ice-breaker fleet, first step into the Arctic.

Ice-breaker vessels were necessary to Russian fleet in order to ensure regular navigation, normal business of such most important ports as Petersburg, Riga, Vladivostok, Arkhangelsk and even Odessa. "Ice-breaker of #1" was the first in the world ice-breaker vessel with the nose and stern ballast tanks. Since then they became the necessary appurtenance of any vessel of this class. When ice-breaker from the complete motion climbs to the ice floe, the hardened water does not always yield to the united efforts of speed and weight of ship. And then nose ballast tanks are filled up with water, and the weight of the nose section of the ice-breaker artificially increases. If does not help even this, ice-breaker pumps out water from the nose cisterns and are filled stern in order more rapidly to descend to the pure water and to repeat attack on ice before complete victory.

In 1889 into Kronstadt entered the two-funnelled ice-breaker "Ermak", designed by well-known naval commander and scientific Admiral S. O. Makarov. Makarov is credited with the construction of the Ermak, the first true icebreaker. Icebreaker Yermak was built by the English shipbuilding company Armstrong&Co substantially differs from the predecessors by much greater dimensions and power. In compliance with the original project its overall length was 93 m, breadth - 21.6 m, draft - 7.6 m and displacement - 9 000 t. It was fitted with 4 steam engines of triple expansion with a total horsepower of about 10 000 driving three stern and one bow propellers. The icebreaker was distinguished also by the presence, along with a trim heeling system, of the original construction and shape of hull. The latter characterized by the wedge-shaped forebody successfully combining icebreaking and ice-separating properties was called later the 'Russian' type.

In 1898, the Russian icebreaker Yermak, set forth into the Barents Sea with the goal of reaching the North Pole. Ermak became the first ice-breaker which dared to defy heavy Arctic ices. Directed by the solid hand of S.O.Makarov, it rushed directly to the north. Although the Yermak was unable to fulfill this mission, it proved that icebreakers were able to overcome ice-covered seas that are inaccessible to regular ships. During the Yermak voyage, which reached 8121'N north of Spitsbergen, meteorological and hydrobiological data were collected. After advancing the spectacular call: "To the pole right through!", Admiral Makarov did not know and it could not know that ice-breaker is far from the best means at that time for the subjugation of the pole. The Russian icebreaker Yermak, fitted with propulsive machinery of 7.46 MW (10,000 hp), had considerable effect on the icebreaking technology at the turn of this century by becoming a pioneer in many untested offshore areas.

The first icebreaker at Lake Baikal was ordered as a shuttle ferry for railway carriages, a "swimming bridge", to connect the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Lake Baikal, where tracks approached from the west and from the southeast. The committee decided to order a small icebreaker, which would be named Angara, for transporting goods and passangers. The parts of this icebreaker were shipped from Britain to Revel (now Tallinn), and then went by the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the shore of Baikal. It was assembled and first touched the water on July 25, 1900. Angara was refurbished in 1989 by the donations of private individuals and organizations. Now it is a floating museum.

In the early 20th century, the Russian Government began to study the problem of promoting regular voyages from the Barents Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Two icebreakers, Taimyr and Vaigach, were built for this purpose. During the period 1911-1915, these icebreakers made several voyages from Vladivostok to the west via the Bering Strait during which a wide spectrum of oceanographic and hydrobiological studies was conducted.

The Great War forced the tsarist government to correctly estimate the importance of sea communications on the extreme north through such ports as Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. The Russians had some 20 icebreaking, or else ice-strengthened vessels operating in arctic waters during the First World War. Only two were Russian-built, one being the world's largest, the Yermak of 10,000 tons and 10,000 horsepower. She was 5 years old when war broke out. In England several ice-breakers were ordered in haste, including Svyatogor - the improved copy Yermak. At the end the 1920s this ice-breaker under the new name "Krasin" acquired an international reputation during the march to the rescue of the surviving participants in the Nobile expedition. Krasin was the only ice-breaker of the first generation, which was preserved to the present. In its 50th year it was repaired and modernized, and transferred to liquid propellant and a substantially changed superstructure. Now the renowned ice-breaker became the base of geologists, who investigate Spitsbergen.

In 1916, the first liner icebreaker aimed at support of regular navigation along the northern coast of Russia was built in Newcastle, England by order of Russian Maritime Ministry, and named the Krasin. This icebreaker operated for many years in the Arctic and was a crucial component in the development of the Northern Sea Route (Northeast Passage).

In 1918 Ermak participated in the famous "ice march" of Baltic fleet from Helsingfors (Helsinki) into Kronstadt and Petrograd through the frozen Gulf of Finland, after ensuring the rescuing of warships. After the October Revolution it was one of those, who mastered northern seaway. In the years of World War II Ermak protected blocked Leningrad and only in 1963 it retired. In order to immortalize the memory of this remarkable ice-breaker, some objects from Yermak are returned for storage in the sea museums of Russia.

The Earl Grey was built at Barrow-in-Furness in 1909 for Canada for the St. Lawrence winter service, her tonnage (4,600) and power (7,000 HP) were considerably less than those of the Russian Yermak, built the same year, but her speed of 17 knots was 3 knots higher. Under successive Soviet regimes her name was changed more than once, first to Kanada, then to III International, and finally to Fedor Litke. Unlike those before her, which battered at the ice floes, the Litke knifed her way through and she was probably one of the last designed to execute this manoever. The modern icebreaker uses the "rush, rise, and crush" method of attack.

At the end of the 1930s Soviet government decided to strengthen ice-breaker fleet by the new powerful vessels, which absorbed the accumulated experience of Yermak and Krasin. The lead ship of a new series "I.Stalin" (subsequently renamed Sibir) went down to the water in 1938. It outwardly resembled its predecessors: the same two high funnels and a spacious bridge, but it housed more advanced and much more powerful machinery. Ice-breakers of this type were for the first time in the world built in series, of this class there were four. The icebreakers had almost the same characteristics: length overall - about 107 m, breadth - 23 m, draft - 9.2 m, displacement - 11 200 t, speed - 15.3 knots. At a continuous speed they could surmount compact level ice up to 0.9 m thick. The lead had already in 1940 acquired an international reputation, when it freed the steamship Sedov from the many-month ice captivity, and tens of caravans along the dangerous Arctic routes were conducted in the years of World War II. The vessels of this series proved to be exceptionally successful.

On the calculation of vessels of this type not only direct work in the specialty. Thus, for instance, on the ice-breaker "Mikoyan", finished building in the first months of war in Nikolayev, they were established by 130-mm of instrument, and as an auxiliary cruiser it participated in the defense of Odessa. Then it completed the risky and unprecedented passage on the envelopped by war seas and the oceans to the Far East. The course lay through the Black and Mediterranean, the Suez strait, went around the southern extremity of Africa, on Atlantic Ocean, the cape of Horn, and finally Pacific Ocean.




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