On July 6, 1935, the Sadko icebreaker embarked on the first of its three high-latitude cruises to explore the deep-water regions of the Arctic, going much further north than any other Soviet craft had ever gone.
During its cruises between 1935 and 1937, the Sadko completed a number of studies and collected data about the last unexplored areas in the northern Karskoye Sea; Ushakov Island was discovered on one trip. While caught in the ice in the Laptev Sea in the winter of 1937, it never stopped conducting research and adding valuable winter observations to the usual summer ones.
One of the most noteworthy of the Sadko’s achievements was unraveling the mystery of the Sannikov Land, the existence of which had been debated over decades.
The island was first reported in 1811 by Yakov Sannikov, an entrepreneur trapping polar foxes, who also had a successful career as an Arctic explorer with a record of two previously discovered islands. He was convinced that, “a vast land” existed further north, constituting four rocky mountains.
The multiple bird migrations were another argument in favor of the Sannikov Land enthusiasts. Birds tended to fly somewhere north towards the springtime, and come back with their young by fall. The boldest suggestions were that the Sannikov Land not only existed, but was a very fertile and beautiful place. It’s unclear, though, how such a thing could be possible in such proximity to the North Pole.
In 1886, Baron Eduard Toll, the renowned polar geologist, also saw the contour of the Sannikov Land in his binoculars. He resumed his quest for the Sannikov Land in 1902, on the Zarya schooner but, defeated by the Arctic ice, he abandoned his ship and perished in the snow desert while trying to get to his destination on foot.
The mysterious land had fallen into oblivion for a long while, until a book about it was released in 1926, to coincide with the surge of interest in Arctic exploration and the advent of new techniques for this exploration to be more productive, such as long-term weather forecasts and air reconnaissance.
In 1937, the Sadko teamed up with an air reconnaissance crew which had conducted a very thorough research of the area, but hadn’t located any trace of the Sannikov Land.
The majority of scientists agree that the Sannikov Land, just like many other Arctic islands, was a temporary formation of permafrost, with a layer of soil on top of it, but which melted over time, as many islands of the same kind had done.
The bird migration issue was easily resolved once ornithologists had wired the migrating birds and traced their itinerary. The birds crossed the North Pole and settled for summer to reproduce in Canada and Alaska.