The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

2016 Edition
| Editors: Igor S. Zonn, Andrey G. Kostianoy, Aleksandr V. Semenov

Vilkitsky, Boris Andreyevich (1885–1961)

Reference work entry

Vilkitsky, Boris Andreyevich (1885–1961) – a Rear Admiral and the Arctic explorer. He is the son of the famous Arctic explorer, lieutenant general of the Hydrographic Corps, and the Director of the Main Hydrographical Board A. I. Vilkitsky. In 1903, he graduated from Sea Cadet Corps and was appointed a junior navigating officer to the squadron armor-plated ship “Tsesarevich.” He participated in the Russo-Japanese War, defended Port Arthur, and was wounded. When the fortress surrendered, he was taken captive by the Japanese. He returned to St. Petersburg only in January 1905. Excellent military service brought him a promotion to lieutenants. From 1905 to 1910, he navigated the seas in the capacity of a watch officer and senior navigating officer on various ships of the Baltic Fleet and abroad. In 1908, he graduated from the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg (Hydrographic Department) and was appointed as a first rate navigating officer. In 1912–1913, he served as a staff navigator of the headquarters of the Baltic Sea Admiralty. At the same period of time, V. participated in hydrographic and geodesic works in the Baltic Sea and in the Far East. From April 1913 to October 1915, he led the Hydrographic Expedition in the Arctic Ocean on icebreaker “Taymyr” (V. was the commander) and “Vaygach.” During the 1913 navigation, the expedition discovered and mapped an earlier unknown island which was named Zemlya Nikolay II (in USSR times, it was renamed into the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago). Also, during the 1913 navigation, the expedition discovered and mapped Tsesarevich Aleksey Island (renamed in 1926 into Maly Taymyr Island) and Starokadomsky Island. The strait between the Taymyr Peninsula and the newly discovered land was named the Strait of Tsesarevich Aleksey (in 1918 renamed into Vilkitsky Strait). The discovery of Severnaya Zemlya Islands became the greatest geographic discovery of the twentieth century. In 1914–1915 the expedition of V. conducted the first thorough navigation from Vladivostok to Arkhangelsk with a single stay for winter in the history of the Northern Sea Route. The participants discovered Novopashennyi Island (currently named Zhokhov Island); made numerous observations about the predominant winds, currents, thickness and melting of ice, its movements, and sea depths; described a number of capes; and defined the positions of certain points on the southern coast of Severnaya Zemlya Islands. Starting from November 1915, V. commanded the destroyer “Letun.” In 1917–1918, as a captain I rank, he served in the signal service of the Baltic Fleet. In 1918–1919, he commanded the Hydrographic Expedition of the West Siberian district of the Arctic Ocean and the Northern Expedition in the mouth of the Yenisei, mainly aimed at solving the problem of Siberian bread delivery to the European part of Russia as well as the problem of ice escorting.

In 1919, he was promoted to a Rear Admiral. Later, he refused to cooperate with the USSR because of contradictions with the Bolsheviks. In 1920, he immigrated and worked in England and France till 1922. In 1923–1924, he was invited by the Soviet Foreign Trade Organization to control bargaining transactions on the coast of the Kara Sea. V. led the Third and the Fourth Soviet Kara Expeditions laying foundation for annual exploitation of the Kara Sea route. In 1925, he returned to England, plunged into poultry farming, and later served in Belgian Congo (Zaire) as a hydrographer for several years. Then he lived in Brussels till the end of his days, where he worked as an accountant and taught Russian. He was awarded Konstantin Medal of the Russian Geographical Society (1914) and a gold medal “La Roquette” of the French Geographic Society and the “Vega” medal of the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Ethnography.

V. died not far from Brussels. In 1996, his remains were moved to Smolensky Cemetery in St. Petersburg into the family grave site of the Vilkitsky family.

The author of memoirs When, How and Who I served Under the Bolsheviks.

His name was given to an island in the Terezy Klavenes Gulf (the Laptev Sea, Taymyr Peninsula) and a strait connecting the Kara and the Laptev Seas.

Vilkitsky B. A. (Source:

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