Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation

Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation

In 1941–1942, in the midst of the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet icebreaker A. Mikoyan made a forced circumnavigation of the globe. Today, we can restore this incredible story with the help of manuscripts, photos and documents given by the icebreaker’s chief engineer Nikolai Ivanovich Kuzovto the Moscow Navy Museum

Chief curator of the Navy Museum

The design also uses photo materials from the site

The tradition of naval parades, like so much in the Russian Navy, goes back to Peter the Great. During the Great Embassy, he visited a review of British ships in Spithead, near Portsmouth, organized in his honor, and was very impressed by what was going on. Back to Russia, the Russian tsar held a similar review of ships in summer of 1699 in Troitsk-on-Taganiy Rog (today’s Taganrog), where the construction of the port and naval base had just begun.

1934 / Leningrad

Early in 1934, Sudoproekt started developing the project of a steam icebreaker for the Arctic region ordered by Glavsevmorput (Chief Administration of the Northern Sea Route). They decided to build a series of four steam icebreakers: two at the Baltic Shipyard in Leningrad and two at the Black Sea in Nokolayev. The Sudoproekt team carried out design project (chief designer K.K. Bokhanevich) and the Baltic Shipyard Design Bureau developed the working drawings. The icebreaker «Krasin» was taken as a prototype for the new project. Working drawings of the 3,300-h.p. steam engines were purchased from Armstrong Company to speed up the construction. The stem angled at 25 degrees was made of two steel castings weighting 24 tones, the stern post weighting 34 tones. Hull plating thickness in the fore part was 32 mm, in the middle and aft parts - 35 mm. The frames were located 305 mm apart. The ice belt, 40 mm thick, started at 0.6 m above and reached 5.7 m below the waterline.

November 1935 / Nikolayev

Ceremonial laying of O. Schmidt icebreaker, named after the scientist and polar explorer Otto Schmidt. However, during the navigation of 1937, all the icebreakers were trapped in ice, and one vessel perished. The polar leadership was repressed, many were arrested. Reports were made on Schmidt himself, and under pressure, he had to resign his post at the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route.

April 1941 / Nikolayev

The icebreaker was renamed to A. Mikoyan.

22 June 1941 / Nikolayev

By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the icebreaker had not yet been completed, but was at high level of readiness.

August 1941 / Nikolayev

The enemy was approaching Nikolayev, and from early August the A. Marti Shipyard had been bombed. This caused Captain 2nd Rank Sergey Mikhailovich Sergeyev (who had been awarded two Orders of the Red Banner for his participation in military operations in Spain) to put A. Mikoyan into the sea without waiting for the acceptance tests. The crew (138 people) included workers and engineers from the plant’s trial team, who had already completed the ship afloat. The icebreaker was converted into an auxiliary cruiser, equipped with three 130 mm guns of the main caliber and six 76 mm antiaircraft guns (they were able to shoot down some enemy planes). A. Mikoyan participated in defense of Odessa, then relocated to Sevastopol, and then to Batumi.

5 November 1941 / Batumi

The ship’s command was ordered to remove all weapons and A. Mikoyan auxiliary cruiser again became a line icebreaker. The crew surrendered their machine guns, rifles and pistols, and everyone was issued civilian clothes and nautical books. The Navy flag was changed to the national flag. The country’s leadership decided to relocate the icebreaker to the Far East.

25 November 1941 / Batumi

At night on 25-26 November, the icebreaker and three more tankers under the protection of Tashkent leader and Capable and Soobrazitelny destroyers left in the direction of the Bosporus. The directive from the Chief Naval Staff of the USSR, received by the captain in Istanbul, read as follows: «Break through the Aegean Sea passing enemy naval bases and reach the eastern allied ports on the Mediterranean Sea. Make the breakthrough secretly from the enemy. Do not surrender the ship to the enemy in any case, sink it by explosion, and do not surrender the crew».

30 November 1941 / Istanbul

The icebreaker left Istanbul for Cyprus. They crossed the Aegean Sea only at nights, during the day the icebreaker stayed in small bays and pressed against islands. Hiding from the Italians, who controlled the Dodecanese archipelago, the icebreaker reached the island of Rhodes, where the Italian Navy and Air Force base was located. However, they discovered the icebreaker. An approaching torpedo boat commanded the icebreaker to proceed to Rhodes. After the refusal, torpedoes attacked the icebreaker. Having evaded the torpedoes successfully, A. Mikoyan received more than 500 shots in the superstructures and chimneys from the enemy’s automatic weapons, and two sailors were wounded. The Italians, however, were unable to capture or sink the ship, and using the thickening darkness, she escaped pursuit.

03 December 1941 / Famaguster

The icebreaker arrives at the British-controlled port of Famagusta. Cyprus is not safe, as it is in Italian airspace, and the icebreaker sails onward, toward Beirut and Haifa.

04 December 1941 / Haifa

The damaged icebreaker was under repair at a British military base. A disaster occurred in the port on December 20: the British tanker Phoenix, laden with oil, hit a mine. The oil quickly spread through the port waters and burned. The fire spread to Mikoyan with its three steam engines disassembled for repairs, and the working one being in «cold» condition. The crew of the icebreaker brought the vessel through the burning sea to safety. Mikoyan was the only one of all ships in the port to survive. Once the icebreaker was safe, the crew rushed to the rescue of distressed crews of two tankers and soldiers of British anti-aircraft battery. The British naval command expressed gratitude to the captain and personnel of A. Mikoyan for their courageous behavior. Once the repairs were completed, the icebreaker sailed toward the Suez Canal.

07 January 1942 / Port Said

They had to go through the Suez Canal only during a day, bypassing the sunken ships blown up on German mines. At nights the traffic stopped.

06 February1942 / Aden

The icebreaker’s original plan was to circle Eurasia, but given the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and Britain’s entry into the war with Japan, this route was closed. The icebreaker was ordered to sail around Africa. Presence of Japanese submarines in the Straits of Mozambique and German military bases allegedly located in Madagascar complicated this route. Having resupplied with provisions and fuel in Kenya’s Mombasa, the icebreaker headed for Durban.

23 February 1942 / Durban

The dock lasted for three weeks to repair the boilers and steam engines, and to clean and paint the underwater part of the hull. In addition, it was decided to weld the wings on both sides 4-5 m below the waterline to reduce the roll during rough seas - the Atlantic crossing was ahead. Gladush, the radio squadron commander, recalls that on the Red Army Day the crew had a party. «The mechanics and electricians made a model of the globe with the flags of allies fighting fascism - the USSR, the USA and England. <...> The icebreaker was illuminated and colored with flags. The amateur art group was hard at work preparing for the performance during the celebration. Many people gathered on the pier, watching our party preparations. Port and city authorities came to the icebreaker, and after negotiations, the delegation was invited to the party and gratefully accepted the invitation. In the evening, tables were prepared on deck with refreshments for the crew and guests».

26 March 1942 / Cape Town

Having replenished supplies and loaded coal, Mikoyan was ready to proceed. They chose the further route taking into account that German submarines were operating on the Cape Town-New York line and that German raiders «Michel» and «Stier» were presumably in the South Atlantic. The route to the Panama Canal proved extremely dangerous. Mikoyan left Cape Town, taking a longer and heavier route: across the South Atlantic, around Cape Horn and further northward across the Pacific.

12 April 1942 / Montevideo

A. Mikoyan was the first Soviet ship to visit this port. While approaching to Montevideo the icebreaker requested permission to enter and unexpectedly was rejected: the authorities considered the ship to be heavily armed, and the warships were forbidden to enter. Fake cannons made of logs and sailcloth, placed by the crew after leaving Aden, they mistook for powerful armament. When the misunderstanding was cleared up, the icebreaker was warmly welcomed in port. One of the city’s delegations presented the crew with a 32-pound chocolate shell on which the Soviet, English, and American flags were embossed. The chocolate, chopped up with a fire axe (the knife would not take the chocolate mass), was divided among the crew.

After another repair and resupply, Mikoyan sailed south and rounded Cape Horn. The ship sailed along South America to American San Francisco and Seattle calling at the Chilean ports of Punta Arenas, Coronel, Lota, and Valparaiso.

4 July 1942 / Seattle

A. Mikoyan stood up for repairs at the Seattle Shipyard. The icebreaker was fitted with an antimagnetic belt, the machines were rebuilt, and four 76.2-mm guns, ten 20-mm anti-aircraft guns, four 12.7-mm, and four 7.62-mm machine guns were installed.

6 August 1942 / Dutch Harbor

Icebreaker guarded by two U.S. warships arrives at U.S. Naval base in Alaska.

9 August 1942 / Anadyr

The icebreaker returns to home waters. The vessel arrived just in time to ensure the passage along the Northern Sea Route for 19 transports with cargoes and three Pacific warships (the leader Baku, the destroyers Razumny and Razryazhenny). Thus, the circumnavigation was completed and the icebreaker came to the front again.

14 August 1942 /Anadyr

Icebreaker heads the caravan on the Northern Sea Route.

21 December 1942 / Barents Sea

A. Mikoyan hit a mine laid by German ships in September. Just at that time, the vessel was almost exactly on the 40th meridian, the meridian of Batumi.

In total, A. Mikoyan has covered 28,560 nautical miles from November 1941 to December 1942.

The mine-damaged icebreaker managed to reach Severodvinsk, where she was repaired. Next summer she again went to Seattle for a full repair, after which she escorted caravans of military cargoes along the Northern Sea Route up to the end of the war. For 20 years after the Great Patriotic War, A. Mikoyan navigated ships along the Northern Sea Route. Her circumnavigation was declassified only in 1957; all the participants received a badge «For the long voyage».

In 1968, the icebreaker was decommissioned and cut up for scrap. In June 2021, the bankrupt Black Sea Shipyard in Nikolayev (Ukraine) was liquidated.

Anastas Mikoyan (from a speech at a meeting with the crew of the icebreaker A. Mikoyan in 1973): “In the history of the Russian and Soviet merchant and military fleet, there is hardly a case like this”.

The icebreaker was converted into auxiliary cruiser, with three 130-mm guns and six 76-mm anti–aircraft guns mounted on her
In total, A. Mikoyan has made 28,560 nautical miles from November 1941 until December 1942
The circumnavigation was declassified only in 1957

Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation
Shipbuilders’ Fiery Circumnavigation