Over seventy-five years ago, an event in the aviation calendar involved some remarkable feats of flying, requiring determination, even heroism, or just sheer guts. In the summer of 1933, a Soviet ship, the Chelyuskin, had set off from European Russia with high hopes of proving that a practical sea route was possible to the Russian Far East, via the Artic Ocean and the Bering Strait. The valiant ship did not quite make it. On 5 November 1933, it was gripped by the pack-ice when it was within sight of open water to the Pacific Ocean. The currents forced it back 200 miles until, on 13 February 1934, 75 miles off the desolate shore of the Siberian Chukotka Peninsula, the pressure of the ice crushed the ship and it sank.
Under the direction of expedition leader, Otto Schmidt, 104 scientists, crew, and a Wrangel Island relief party, set up camp, having been able to unload food, stores, and equipment. They saved their little Shavriv reconnaissance seaplane and the priceless radio transmitter.
Back in Moscow, the cry for help resulted in a special committee which organized a rescue by airplane. Three separate units, with three different airplane types, were dispatched by three different routes, to supplement the first flight by a locally-based transport plane which had managed to bring out the women and two children. Seven brave pilots struggled through to reach the nearest point to the ship, and during a dramatic month in April 1934, they saved all the shipwrecked survivors.
Back in Moscow, in June, they were acclaimed as the first heroes of the Soviet Union, and they were all pictured on commemorative postage stamps. Many others who took part, including two Americans—Alaskan airmen—received the Order of Lenin.
This book aims to relive the drama of what is believed to be the first time in history that shipwrecked castaways were saved by air. The pilots never beat any world records; but those who took part in the unique airlift were truly a Magnificent Seven.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Formidable Challenge
Roll of Honor