The Soviets learn a great deal while on an ice drift to Greenland

A uniquely Soviet method of exploring the Artic was from drifting ice stations. The first, North Pole 1, was celebrated by todays stamp. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your hot chocolate, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Visually the poor quality of the printing lets down this stamp. That is a shame because the true story that the stamp tells has the power to be quite inspiring. In three different ways. The obvious knowledge breakthrough has to inspire the nerd in all of us. The shear bravery of venturing out into the dangerous desolation of a floating ice drift. Also the brave patriotic act of sending out icebreaker ships into dangerous waters to find and bring back the scientists and all the knowledge they have gained. To be fair to the Soviet Postal  authority, it would be difficult to convey so much on a four stamp issue.

The stamp today is issue A251, a 30 kopek stamp issued by the Soviet Union on June 21st, 1938. It features scientist Ivan Papanin and his men about to board the icebreaker ship that was to take them home after nine months on the ice station. The stamp is part of a four stamp issue celebrating the accomplishment of the successful mission. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth $3.75 used. A mint imperforate version is worth $3,250.

Ivan Papanin was an explorer and scientist  who had previously lead an expedition to Franz Josef Land, an archipelago of islands north of the Soviet Union in the Artic ocean. There had been a previous theory by the Norwegian explorer Nansen of purposely letting a ship get frozen into a drifting ice block to allow it to reach artic extremes. This had been done successfully around 1910. Papanin and his Soviet team developed the idea further in the 1930s. A fully functioning science station was built on a section of drifting ice. The people and materials had been flown up by airplanes that successfully landed on the drift ice. The ice float was about 4 square kilometers and only 3 meters thick. The station contained five men. It was christened North Pole-1. It stayed in operation for nine months during which the ice station had drifted over 1700 miles.

In the days before helicopters, it was very difficult to keep up with such a station and guess as to where it might be. Two ice breakers were up to this dangerous mission. They found the ice station near Greenland and were able to evacuate the team. All of those involved were named Heroes of the Soviet Union. The expedition proved there was no large or small land mass at the North Pole.

The drifting ice station idea has continued to be used by the Soviets and still by the Russian. Some have been built on breakaway chunks of glaciers that are much less tenuous than drift ice. A few of the expeditions have lasted several years. The most recent, North Pole- 40 was in 2016.

Well my drink is empty so I will pour another to toast the brave men on North Pole-1 and the other brave men who got them there and saw to their return. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.


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