Ernst Krenkel, Hero of the USSR.-Mike Hewitt-15th February 2016.

An inter­est­ing talk by Mike Hewitt ( G4AYO), a radio ham, describ­ing the life and work of Ernst Krenkel( RAEM) who was made a hero of the Soviet Union for his work as a radio oper­ator in the per­il­ous, explor­at­ory exped­i­tions to the Arctic .Later the paths of Mike Hewitt and Krenkel crossed through their shared interest as radio hams.

Mike was brought up in Kent and did his national ser­vice with RAF Signals. After gradu­at­ing from radio school, learn­ing morse code, he was posted to Hong Kong where his work involved mon­it­or­ing the chat­ter and mes­sages over the radio waves, work which was clearly sub­ject to the offi­cial secrets act. On his return to civy street, he resumed his career with the bank in the com­puter depart­ment. During this time and later in retire­ment developed his interest and pas­sion as a radio ham, con­tact­ing fellow enthu­si­asts all over the world includ­ing Ernst Krenkel and col­lect­ing their call­ing cards.

So who was Ernst Krenkel ? How did he become a hero of the Soviet Union ?

He was born in Belostock in 1903 and in 1921 gradu­ated from the radio tele­graphy course with top marks for morse code at 30 words a minute. His early ambi­tion was to go to sea as a radio oper­ator but instead joined an exped­i­tion to a remote Arctic island. A year later he was called up and joined the Radio Telegraphy Battalion. Around 1926, Russia was laying claim to all lands north of the Russian coasts as far as the Bering Straits and exped­i­tions were sent to rein­force the claims, together with exped­i­tions to create a sea pas­sage so that raw mater­i­als could be trans­por­ted from Siberia. The solu­tion was new icebreak­ers, radio sta­tions and encamp­ments ser­viced by air­craft. Krenkel was act­ively involved in these ven­tures as a radio oper­ator.

Mike gave us vivid descrip­tions of some of these exped­i­tions, two in par­tic­u­lar involving the icebreaker, Sibiryakov, and the mer­chant ship Chelyuskin.
In 1932 the Sibiryakov headed east along the north­ern route, lost all pro­pellers drif­ted at the mercy of the wind and cur­rents and even­tu­ally, under sail, reached Vladivostok after 61 days. This was the first time the chan­nel had been nego­ti­ated in one season. Krenkel played a sig­ni­fic­ant part in com­mu­nic­at­ing pos­i­tions and pro­gress to the Russian author­it­ies. In 1933, the Chelyuskin set out from Leningrad on an ill-fated jour­ney to repeat the single summer transit of the North East pas­sage first com­pleted by Sibiryakov. In February 1934, the crush­ing ice pres­sure put a 60 foot gash in the ship’s hull. The ship sank. Krenkel, now a Chief Radio Operator, resumed radio oper­a­tions for 2 months on the ice from inside a tent !. Finally, 7 months after the ship had first become ice blocked Krenkel with 5 others were the last to leave the ice flow. Krenkel had played a major role in keep­ing the ice bound group in touch with the shore sta­tion.

Krenkel was presen­ted to Stalin and became a Hero of the Soviet Union. He was given the title of No1 Radio Amateur in Russia which meant he was the only one able cor­res­pond with per­sons out­side USSR, using the call sign RAEM , the call sign of the ship Chelyuskin. Affectionately, he was known as the’ Radio Man of the Arctic.’ So here we have the story of a Russian feted by Stalin and party lead­ers, and a Kentish Man joined over the air­waves by their mutual pas­sion as radio hams.