Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route

Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route
Depiction of a northern sea route between Europe and the Pacific

The Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route (Russian: Главное Управление Северного Морского Пути, ГУСМП) (or Glavnoe upravlenie Severnogo morskogo puti), also known as Glavsevmorput, was a Soviet government organization in charge of the naval Northern Sea Route, established in January 1932 and dissolved in 1964.



The organization traces its roots to AO Komseveroput, a shipping company established by Kolchak government and nationalized by Bolsheviks. In May 1931 AO Komseveroput was reorganized into VO Glavkomseveroput; the organization employed 35,000 men scattered all over Arctic, as well as a sizable staff in Moscow and other mainland cities. A new office, Glavsevmorput, was established in December 1932 and absorbed VO Glavkomseveroput in May 1933.[1] Overall management was assigned to arctic explorer Otto Schmidt, who previously managed the Arctic Institute (VAI, later AANII). Glavsevmorput had its own Polar Air service Aviaarktika, headed by Mark Shevelev.

Glavsevmorput, in addition to Arctic shipping, also became the Soviet agency for exploiting resources across the far north and coordinating supplies and transport. Its aim was to contribute to the development of northern coastal Siberia; the office was empowered to establish seaports, conduct extensive research and trade with United States and Japan as was necessary to its principal function. The organization's quick unchecked expansion, especially in its Moscow offices, was initially masked by the successes of 1934-1936 seasons.[2]

However, the season of 1937, through a combination of unrealistic plans, bad weather and bad luck, was a disaster.[3] 25 of 64 ships dispatched on the route (many of them not fit to Arctic conditions) were trapped with crews and cargoes in the Arctic winter; one, Rabochiy, sank.[2] The debacle that coincided with Great Purge led to a string of arrests; at least 673[4] of Glavsevmorput personnel were arrested in a domino effect NKVD operation. The oversized organization was streamlined and stripped of auxiliary functions that were delegated to Dalstroy (land facilities) and Gostorg (foreign trade). Glavsevmorput concentrated exclusively on maintaining the Northern Sea route, specifically, its coastal shipping line.

Otto Schmidt, once an extremely highly publicized personality, was spared but demoted to scientific duties; overall management of the organization was assigned to Ivan Papanin, a famous North Pole explorer. Papanin's first season, 1939, was a relatively safe and successful one; the Northern Route was now a functioning regular line, rather than a dangerous experiment.[5]

In 1953 the organization, previously enjoying the ranks of national ministry, was downgraded to a department within the Ministry of Merchant Fleet. In 1964 the department was dissolved. Its units were reassigned to Ministry of Merchant Fleet, Commission for Meteorology and Ministry of Civil Aviation. The system, however, continued working and reached peak capacity in 1987.[5]

A large island at the mouth of the Kolyma River (Mikhalkino) was named Glavsevmorput (or GUSMP Island) in the honour of the organization 69°30′N 161°30′E / 69.5°N 161.5°E / 69.5; 161.5.

See also


  1. ^ 75 years of Northern Sea Route, p.1
  2. ^ a b Barr 1980, p.4
  3. ^ Barr 1980, p.17
  4. ^ 75 years of Northern Sea Route, p.3
  5. ^ a b 75 years of Northern Sea Route, p.4


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