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.