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Cold war whaling: Bellingshausen and the Slava flotilla

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2010

Rip Bulkeley*
Affiliation:
38 Lonsdale Road, Oxford, OX2 7EW (rip@igy50.net)

Abstract

On 7 December 1945 a captured German whaling factory, Wikinger, was allocated to the Soviet Union under the terms of the Potsdam Agreement between that country, the United States and the United Kingdom. In the first section, this article presents the first detailed account of how Wikinger was seized by the Royal Navy and eventually transferred to Soviet ownership. The second section illustrates the hostile attitudes of western governments towards the Slava whaling flotilla during the cold war, and the degree to which their suspicions were focused on the work of scientists assigned to the flotilla. The next four sections trace the fluctuating perceptions and presentations, during the Tsarist and early Soviet periods, of the Imperial Russian Navy's Antarctic expedition of 1819–1821, the problems in respect of Antarctica which confronted Soviet diplomacy and propaganda in the 1940s, and the new story, about Russians having been the first people to discover Antarctica, which was developed in order to address them. It is then possible, in the seventh section, to explain the political utility of the Slava flotilla in the early 1950s. An eighth section sketches the divergent cultural fortunes of the Bellingshausen expedition and the Slava flotilla after the period under consideration.

This article discusses the use of whaling and history in support of Soviet Antarctic policy between the end of World War 2 and the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957–1958. But the Slava whaling flotilla did not just play a part in the historicisation of Soviet Antarctic policy. It was itself a historically constituted object, fraught with meanings on both sides of the cold war. For that reason the opportunity is taken to give a more detailed account of the flotilla's origins than has been available hitherto. The author notes that two contributors to this journal have preceded him in some of these matters (Armstrong 1950, 1971; Gan 2009). He ventures to suggest, however, that the connections between whaling, historiography and public information management in Soviet Antarctic policy have not been fully demonstrated before this.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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