The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

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

Bering, Vitus Ionassen (Bering, Ivan Ivanovich – After Christening) (1681–1741)

Reference work entry
Bering, Vitus Ionassen (Bering, Ivan Ivanovich – after christening) (1681–1741) – a prominent Russian sailor, officer in the Russian Navy, captain commander, in charge of the First and the Second Kamchatka expeditions, which laid the foundation to systematic research of polar seas, northeastern coast of Asia, Kamchatka, the Commander Islands and the Aleutian Islands, as well as northwestern America. He devoted all his life to the search of an answer to the question “whether or not Asia joins America” and was born in Horsens (Denmark). In 1703, he graduated from Sea Cadet Corps in Amsterdam and navigated twice to the East Indies on a Dutch ship. In 1704, as an experienced sailor, he was invited by K.I. Cruys, Peter the Great’s associate in Russian Navy creation, to serve as a second lieutenant in Russia. In 1705, he took part in the defense of the river Neva mouth from the Swedish Army in command of the schuyt #1. In 1706, he was promoted to lieutenant and in 1710 to captain-lieutenant; he navigated the Gulf of Finland on a guard ship and was moved to the Azov Fleet. A year later, in command of the snow “Templar” with 12 cannons on board participated in the Pruth River Campaign of Peter the Great. After returning to the Baltic Fleet, he commanded various ships, executing the Tsar’s special orders. In 1714–1715, he ferried the warships “Pearl” and “Selafail” from Hamburg and Archangelsk to Riga and Kronstadt. In the period from 1716 to 1719, he commanded these two ships. In 1720, he was promoted to frigate captain. In 1721, he commanded the “Marleburg” with 60 cannons on board and in 1723 the largest in the Russian Navy battleship “Lesnoe” with 90 cannons on board. In 1724, he resigned but later was restored at the order of Peter the First at the rank of captain.

In 1724 Peter the Great orders to get ready for the Kamchatka Expedition. In 1725 B. was appointed the head of the First Kamchatka Expedition (1725–1730), the official aim of which was to learn for sure if there is a land bridge or a strait between Asia and America. An important role in the organization and implementation of the expedition was played by B.’s assistant, A.I. Chirikov. The participants of the expedition researched and mapped the Pacific coast of Kamchatka and Northeast Asia, discovered the Kamchatka and the Ozerny Peninsulas, Kamchatskiy Zaliv (Bay), Karaginskiy Zaliv (Bay), Kresta Bay, Providence Bay, and the Diomede Islands and St. Lawrence Island. The expedition floated along the eastern shore of Kamchatka, the southern and eastern shores of Chukotka, passed the strait (subsequently called after Bering), without realizing it, up to 67°18′N where it lost the land out of sight, and returned not having found the answer to the question about the strait (62°24′N) but having made the following conclusion: “it is impossible that Asia should connect to America.” Bering managed to survey some parts of the Kamchatka coast and discovered the Avachinsky Zaliv (Bay). He was the first to describe and make pictures of more than 3,500 km of the western coastal line of the sea, which was later called the Bering Sea.

On returning to Saint Petersburg in 1730, B. suggested a plan of exploration of the mainland northern coast and reaching the mouth of the Amur, the Japanese Archipelago and America by means of sea. In 1733 he was appointed the head of the Second Kamchatka (Great Northern) expedition, A. Chirikov becoming his deputy. On June 4, 1741, B. and Chirikov set off from the Kamchatka Coast to the southeast, commanding two packet boats. Having searched in vain for the land in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, the ships headed northeastward, but on June 20 they separated forever because of thick fog. On the ship “St. Peter,” B. reached the coast of North America on July 21, 1741. B. was the first to cross the waters of the Gulf of Alaska; noticed a mountain range (St. Elias Mountains); discovered Tumannyi Island (now called Chirikov Island), five islands (Evdokeevskie), snow mountains (Aleutian Range) on a “hardened shore” (the Alaska Peninsula), and the Shumagin Islands at the southwestern edge; and was first to meet the Aleutians. On his way back from America to Kamchatka, he discovered parts of the Aleutian Islands and the islands subsequently called the Commander Islands. On November 4, 1741, the waves drove the ship to an uninhabited island. The ship was damaged and the crew was suffering from sea scurvy; that is why Captain Commander B. decided to stay there for winter where he died after a serious disease and 14 members of his crew died of scurvy. Later the island was named after Bering. He was buried on the shore of a bay named Commander Bay.

As a result of the 10-year work of the northern teams during the Second Kamchatka Expedition, the northern and the eastern coasts of Russia and inner territories on East Siberia appeared on the maps; the ways to America and Japan were found; North and West coasts of America were discovered as well as the Kuril and the Aleutian Islands, the outlines of two big peninsulas (Gydan and Taymyr), and dozens of new islands; numerous bays became known to the specialists, and the navigable depths were defined. Scientists acquired the information about the climate, tides, ice regime of the Arctic, and other particularities. The base for further exploration of the Arctic was laid.

B. gave his name to the sea in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, the strait, separating Asia from America, a cape, a mount and a settlement in the Gulf of Anadyr, an island in the Commander Archipelago, a bay on Spafaryev Island (the Okhotsk Sea), and a glacier in Alaska. In the honor of B., the Commander Islands, Commander Bay, and the sunken land (Beringia) that used to join Asia and America were named.

The USSR initiated the construction of a multipurpose icebreaker and transport supply ship “Vitus Bering” to work in the Arctic.

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