Franz Josef Land - History


The first recognized exploration of the archipelago was done in 1873 by Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition explorers Karl Weyprecht and Julius von Payer, while their ship was locked in ice trying to find a northeast passage. After exploration of its southern islands, the name was bestowed in honor of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef I of Austria. The Norwegians Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen passed through the islands in 1895–96 after an aborted attempt to reach the pole. By sheer coincidence, they met British explorer Frederick George Jackson at Northbrook Island in 1896.

In 1914, Russian navigator Valerian Albanov and one crewman, Alexander Konrad, sole survivors of the ill-fated Brusilov expedition, made it to Cape Flora on Northbrook Island, where they knew that Frederick George Jackson had left provisions and had built a hut in a previous Arctic expedition. Albanov and Konrad were timely rescued by Georgy Sedov's ship Saint Foka, while they were preparing for the winter. Their plight was chronicled in Albanov's published diary, In the Land of White Death.

With the introduction of larger steam-powered vessels, a number of sealing expeditions were made to the islands from the last decade of the 19th century, with more than 80% of these coming from Norway. In the late 1920s, both the Soviet Union and Norway claimed the islands. Norwegians called the islands "Fridtjof Nansen Land". The Soviet Union claimed a sector in the Arctic region that included Franz Josef Land and the nearby Victoria Island by a decree of 15 April 1926. Norway was notified on 6 May and officially protested on 19 December, contesting the Soviet claim.

In the following years, Norwegian authorities put much effort into reclaiming Victoria Island and Franz Josef Land. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not wish to take any measures to lay official claims, but had no objection to private initiatives. In 1929, consul Lars Christensen of Sandefjord, a whaling tycoon whose expeditions had annexed Bouvet Island and Peter I Island in Antarctica, funded an expedition of two vessels, S/S Torsnes and M/C Hvalrossen. Upon departure from Tromsø, the crew were given detailed instructions to erect a manned wireless station and leave a wintering crew on Franz Josef Land, and also to claim Victoria Island on behalf of Christensen. The objective was to obtain legal footing in part of the archipelago before the Soviets did. The expedition never reached Franz Josef Land due to severe ice conditions, and while waiting for better conditions they were surpassed by the Soviet icebreaker Georgij Sedov.

On 29 July 1929, Professor Schmidt of the Sedov Expedition raised the Soviet flag at Tikaya Bay, Hooker Island, and declared that Franz Josef Land was a part of the Soviet Union. Norway did not officially contest the Soviet annexation of Franz Josef Land itself, but continued their efforts regarding Victoria Island. The dispute over Victoria Island was ended when the Soviets annexed the island in September 1932.

In July 1931, a German airship marked a milestone in Russian polar exploration. The Graf Zeppelin travelled from Berlin to Hooker Island, by way of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). It delivered 300 kg (650 lbs) of commemorative mail and met with the icebreaker Malygin. After traveling east along the 81st parallel to Severnaya Zemlya, it returned to Hooker Island and began a groundbreaking aerial survey of the archipelago, flying as far north as Rudolf island.

During the Cold War years, the polar regions were a hot buffer zone between the USA and Soviet Union, and many points in the Arctic became key strategic locations. The islands were declared as a national security area from the 1930s until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and were therefore off-limits to foreigners. An airfield was built at Greem Bell to serve as a staging base for Russian bomber aircraft, and training missions were quite common between Franz Josef Land, the mainland, and Novaya Zemlya. Though the islands were militarily sensitive, a cruise ship visited in 1971.

In 2005, the Austrian geographer Christoph Höbenreich led the Payer-Weyprecht-Memorial expedition to Franz Josef Land. The Austrian-Russian team followed the historic footsteps of explorer Julius Payer by ski and pulkasleds.

From 15 June 2009 the archipelago became part of the newly established Russian Arctic National Park.

Because of their remoteness the islands are considered to be a separate DXCC "entity" for amateur radio purposes. Occasional DX-peditions have visited them. The current ITU prefix that Russia uses for the area has callsigns that start with "RI1F".

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