RAEM - ERNST KRENKEL
by Yuri Manukovsky, R5GM
Krenkel was born on December, 24th, 1903 in the city of Belostok
(Russian empire, now territory of Poland) in family of the inspector of commercial
school. In 1910 Krenkel’s family moved
Despite their limited means Ernst’s parents were determined
to provide him with a good education and in 1913 sent him to a private school. Sadly Ernst was
not able to complete his schooling. During the hard times of the first world
war and civil war he had to work to help his family make ends meet.
briefly employed as a packer, a billposter, an electrical engineer’s assistant,
and for a while a repairer of kerosene stoves and carriages. But Krenkel was
not content and in 1921 he became interested in the role of radiotelegraph
operators. Broadcasting and a radio communication was perceived as something
mysterious back then, slightly magical. At 18 yrs old
Ernst Krenkel had the good fortune to notice an advertisement for a free
evening class, leading to a Radio operator’s license. The class was funded by
the Red Army, on the lookout for recruits for their radio school.
anywhere else, during that hard time, classrooms were not heated. Cadets and
teachers wore overcoats and caps to keep warm. To cadets " the strengthened
ration " - a small piece of black bread with the spoon of jam (free of charge)
was a real incentive to attend.
Krenkel seems to have been an excellent pupil and in the final examinations
showed himself capable of the highest CW reception speed in his class. After
graduation he was sent to work at a receiving station near Moscow, but after working there for some time
he decided upon a career as a ships radio operator to satisfy his desire for
summer of 1924 Ernst Krenkel went to Leningrad
with what little money he had saved, hoping to find employment as the radio
operator on any ship undertaking a long voyage. At that time, only specially
designated Soviet vessels went on long voyages, and in Leningrad there were already qualified naval
radio operators without work.
Krenkel had given up all hope of finding work he was told that the hydrographic
management bureau was in urgent need of a radio operator prepared to go on any
expedition, to any island in the Arctic ocean.
There was little interest because the pay was poor and it was necessary to be
away for the whole year, living in ‘hellish’ conditions.
Ernst rushed around for an interview, and
was offered a post. With a small advance on his salary, and wearing his new
naval uniform he set off by train to Arkhangelsk
(Archangel). On arrival he was assigned to the
" Yugorski Shar " which was preparing to take the relief crew to the first
Soviet polar observatory "Matochkin Shar”, constructed the year before on the
northern coast of the Matochkin Shar strait of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.
returning to Moscow the following year he was
enlisted in the Red Army and served in the radiotelegraphic battalion in Vladimir. At around this
time the USSR
government decided to allow ‘private radio stations’ on the short-waves. Ham
radio was born in the USSR
and Ernst Krenkel was delighted. Soon he was on-air using homebrew equipment,
with the callsign EU2EQ (later U3AA).
had fond memories of his winter on Novaya Zemlya
and he was determined to return to the arctic. Shortwave radio had never been
fully tested in the arctic, and few believed that fragile equipment could be
reliably operated in such extremes. Ernst faced an uphill struggle to convince
anyone to sponsor an expedition.
Krenkel managed to convince officials at the Moscow branch of the Nizhegorodskoj Radiolaboratory to
provide radio equipment for his expedition by giving the impression that the
russian Navy was keen to test it in the arctic. Then he went around to see the
Navy officials in Leningrad.
He explained to them that the Nizhegorodskaya Radiolaboratory had given him
radio equipment to test in the arctic and he was ready to fill any vacancy in
their polar expedition team.
worked, and he got the job despite the fact that no-one seriously believed he
would be able to contact the mainland from the soviet polar station on Novaya Zemlya. Nowadays we would
find it hard to believe that you would not be able to contact the Russian
mainland from the Novaya Zemlya archipelago,
but this ‘over-wintering’ expedition was in 1927/28 and things were very
different back then. For one thing, climate-controlled accommodation was
unheard of. Wide variations in room temperature, with the risk of ‘dew-point’
condensation within high voltage circuitry was an ever-present problem. Within
a few hours of his arrival Krenkel made contact with Baku, and then many other locations, to the
utter amazement (and delight) of the Russian authorities.
Crucially, for our interests, he was able
to persuade the authorities that he could use the radio in his leisure time for
amateur radio. The callsign was PGO (Polyarnaya Geograficheskaya Observatoriya).
Krenkel returned to Moscow, working as a ships radio operator,
but he was always looking for an opportunity to return to the far north. He
joined an expedition to spend winter 1929/30 on Franz Josef’s Land as a
wireless operator, using the callsign RPX. Early in 1930 he surpassed all
previous achievements by making contact with Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic
expedition. This was on a wavelength of 42m. He was using 250w output, while
Admiral Byrd’s party had 700w. The radio operator of Byrd’s expedition was
Howard Meson, the callsign WFA
The Russian authorities were keen to use
airships in the arctic, so in 1931 Krenkel joined the crew of the "Graf
Zeppelin”, along with Rolf Kluge (later to become DK4MF) and two other
operators. This flight was arranged in preparation for 1932, which had been
designated "International Polar year”
The flight lasted 104 hours and covered
over 8000 miles.
Starting from the Zeppelin Hangar in Friedrichshafen,
to Leningrad, Arkhangelsk
and then to Franz Josef’s Land. Returning via Severnaya Zemlya and Cape Tscheljuskin).
Graf Zeppelin at Franz Josef’s Land
1933 was probably the year that really
brought Krenkel’s name to the attention of the general public. The north-east
passage was important to Russia.
All along the Siberian coast there were trappers, weather stations, and others
who needed regular supplies. The previous year (1932) Krenkel had been wireless
operator on board the icebreaker "Alexander Sibirjakow” which had demonstrated
the viability of sea passage from Archangel to Vladivostok without having to over-winter
trapped in ice, in ships with specially reinforced hulls.
The icebreaker "Chelyuskin” 7,5 thousand tons displacement had been
fitted with a 2,500- horsepower engine, a special frame, and reinforcements,
plus extra steel plates on the bow and forward bulkhead. By the time the ship
reached Cape Chelyuskin (after which it was named), Captain Vladimir Voronin realized that his vessel was not performing to expectations and
that conditions were worsening rapidly as the summer drew to a close. By
mid-September, the "Chelyuskin” was picking its way through narrow strips of
water, twisting and turning to avoid the big floes, heading ever eastward.
Then, just 200 miles
from the Bering Strait, the ship became
trapped in the ice. Even its powerful engine was unable to free it.
The ice began to drift steadily to the
southeast, and on November 3, the ice pack, with the "Chelyuskin” in it, moved
into the Bering Strait. By radio, the captain
heard that 12 miles
ahead was open water. In a matter of hours, the "Chelyuskin” would be in the Pacific Ocean free to steam south. Success was finally
within their grasp.
But alas it was never to be. Without warning the ice was gripped by
powerful northerly current. After weeks of drifting to the northwest, they
realized the ship was now in the main polar ice-pack and would never be free,
so the captain started to make plans to abandon ship.
Once again nature would force their hand. On February 13, 1934, a mountain of ice
gashed a 40- foot-long hole in the side of the ship, flooding the engine and
boiler rooms. The Chelyuskin’s bow began to go down rapidly and the order was
give to abandon ship.
Krenkel stayed in his cabin to send a
distress call. Only after he was sure it had been received did he dismantle all
the radio equipment and carry it out onto the ice. As they watched, the stern
of the ship gradually rose higher, until she stood almost vertically, before
sliding down through the ice. Within just a few minutes she was gone.
Out on the ice after the sinking of the
Chelyuskin. Pictures courtesy of SM5IQ.
It was 13th February 1934, and
the 104 men & women from the "Chelyuskin” had to camp on the ice.
Rescue would have been impossible to
organise without radio communication. The only aircraft available were based
230km away and could only take a few people each time. Rescue was co-ordinated
via a radio station at Uelen, operated by Ludmila Shrader.
Flights were entirely dependent on favourable
weather, something in short supply at those latitudes, and the last six men
(Krenkel was one of them) would not be rescued until 12th April,
after 7 weeks on the ice.
Ivanov and Krenkel (right) inside the radio
Shrader. Operator at Uelen.
Throughout this time Krenkel had to
maintain the radio equipment carefully. During the night, the ‘indoor’
temperature was well below zero, so dew formed inside the gear when the
paraffin heater was lit in the morning. Every time they wanted to use the radio
Krenkel had to dismantle it, polish all the contacts, and let the components
dry out near the paraffin heater.
The pilots of the rescue planes were the
very first people to be made a "Hero of the Soviet Union” (an award that
Krenkel would later be awarded himself) but for his part in the rescue Krenkel
was awarded something that (as a radio ham) he would probably have been more
pleased about. The soviet government gave him the callsign of the "Chelyuskin”
for use with his home amateur station. That callsign was RAEM.
Most people would have opted for a quiet
life after surviving such an ordeal, but Krenkel’s love for the polar region
was undiminished. By august the following year he was on board the ice-breaker "Alexander
Sibirjakow” en route to Novaya Zemlya. There, at Cape Olovyanniy
he was to be the chief of a 4-man team at a wintering camp. But once that
previously deserted camp had been restored Krenkel decided that it was foolish
for four young men to do nothing but read the thermometer and weather data 4
times a day and relay it to Moscow.
The weather station
The Domashniy team. Krenkel 3rd
He requested permission for himself and one
other man to travel 100km further north to Kamenev Island
to restore an abandoned weather camp. His wish was granted, but he and his
companion suffered terribly from scurvy during their stay. Despite this they
survived, and were taken back to the mainland in May 1936 by the ice-breaker
"Alexander Sibirjakov, which brought Krenkel the news that he had been selected
as 2nd in command for an expedition to the North Pole, led by Ivan
Papanin, in March the following year.
Their mission was to set up a weather
monitoring station near the North Pole.
On the outward journey the 5 large
aeroplanes carried 35 researchers and 10 tons of equipment. They left Moscow and arrived at Rudolf Island
easily enough, but then had to wait two months for the weather to become
suitable to make the final leg of the journey to an ice floe near the North
Ten hours after leaving Rudolf Island a radio message was heard there.
"This is UP0L. I hear you loud and clear”. By then they had erected a ‘residential
tent’ made of eider down in a silk cover (weighing 17kg), a radio tent, a tent
for the hydrological laboratory, and the radio masts. All on an ice floe near
the north pole.
The radio tent at
Another view of Krenkel operating UP0L.
Picture courtesy of G4AYO
Two weeks later most of the people made the
return flight, leaving just 4 men (Krenkel included) to spend the winter on an
ice floe measuring about 1.5km long and 1km wide, taking weather readings.
They knew that the ice floe would drift and
274 days and 2600km later they found themselves near the north coast of Greenland.
The decision to leave the ice floe was
taken when it broke into 3 pieces during an extreme storm.
The picture shows Krenkel waiting to leave
It was given to G4AYO by N4IA.
This picture shows the route of the
drifting ice-floe (in red), together with the outward flight, and return
journey home via sea.
Once again Ernst Krenkel had obtained
permission to use the radio equipment on the amateur bands when he was not on
duty. But there were restrictions. Wind power was used to charge the batteries
so Krenkel was only permitted to use the radio on the amateur bands if the
batteries were already fully charged, and there was enough wind to maintain
them fully charged while he operated the equipment.
This inevitably limited the time he could
spend on the amateur bands, but despite this he made a number of contacts.
27th May to 31st
July (from 89 degrees North to 88 degrees North)
LA1M, F8IS, W2CYS, PA0AS, GI5AJ, G6KP,
G5RI, TF3C, U1AD, U1AP, W1EWD, OK1PK, ON4BW, D3FZI (Germany),
U3CY, PA0FF, UK1CR, D3GKR (Germany),
F8AI, PA0GN, K6SO (Hawaii),
1st August to 31st
October (from 88 degrees North to 84 degrees
SM5UW, W7LQS, VE5LD, G5MY, W8PMB, W1AEF, W9PNE,
1st November to 4th
December (from 84 degrees North to 82 degrees
W2SB, W2FSN, W8EME, K7RT, G5JX, F8GQ,
W9THH, W9ALV, W9VDQ, W8CMH, W8HRD, W8NOT, W9AJA, W9PLX, W8BGX, W8LSK, W8DFH,
U1CO, ZL4BR, U9ML, W1HUD, GM2JF, W2BHW, W2GTZ, PA0DA, SM5WM, SM5QU, U1AD, U1BC
This QSL shows contact between G5MY and UP0L. Picture courtesy of G4AYO
G4AYO provided this picture of this
Krenkel-themed SWL card sent to U3BX
QSL received by Mike (G4AYO) from Ernst
Krenkel in 1969, when he was ISWL G7871
Although the UP0L callsign is more
prominent, the QSL is actually from RAEM operating from his home QTH.
This picture is of the UPOL award to commemorate the 70th
anniversary of UPOL – which G4AYO received in 2007
Mike actually provided "RADIO" magazine with the QSL
image for the award.
This image is of Ernst Krenkel operating as
RAEM from his home QTH near Moscow
in 1958. The original is in monochrome, but when Mike (G4AYO) sent it to the Krenkel Museum he received this colourised
version in return from Eugene (UA3AJT) who was the founder of the museum.
Krenkel’s AR-88-F is
now on display in the RKK
This BC-610-e, also known as the
hallicrafters HT4 was owned by Krenkel.
This BC-610-e, was owned by Krenkel and is now an exhibit in the RAEM memorial museum Transmitter covers 1.5 – 18MHz. Up to 3 channels, determined byplug-in tuning units and final amplifier coils. Modes A1 (400w) and A3 (300w).
Requires BC-614 speech amplifier for AM. Nett weight 390lbs (without BC-614). Developed from Hallicrafters HT-4 amateur power amplifier. Manufactured from 1939 Looking at the advertisement of the time,
you can see the price. A lot of money in those days !
Even after the remarkable ‘voyage’ on the
drifting ice in 1937, Ernst Krenkel’s grave. Picture via SM5IQ
Krenkel still maintained his love of the arctic. Here is
on December 24th (Ernst’s birthday)
people close to him, friends and
QSL card, sent to UA1AB for a QSO in 1947 with RAEM/MM,
pupils gather at his tomb on Novodevichiem a cemetery in Moscow.
was aboard the "George Sedov”
There were many polar expeditions
that RAEM participated in, or organized, but Krenkel’s last voyage to the Antarctic Circle,
took place in 1968. He headed a voyage of the scientific-research vessel
"Professor Zubov”, which was bound for the shores of Antarctica
to relieve its staff of winterers, and also to carry out oceanographic
Despite so many winters in the arctic in
primitive camps Krenkel not only survived, but succeeded in keeping his signals
on the air. He then survived persecution in the Stalin epoch, in some ways more
arduous still, but after Stalin’s death in 1953, his reputation, his amateur
radio license, and his honour were restored.
He was the first chairman of the central
radio club (CRK) the USSR;
and Chairman of the Federation of radiosports of the USSR (1959 - 1971). He put great
effort into the popularization and development of amateur radio in the USSR, and he
did all this despite the uneasy conditions behind the iron curtain.
He died on Dec 8th 1971, and his
tombstone bears the letters of that unique callsign RAEM. Now the
Central Radio Club of the Russian
Federation bears his name.
A bay on the coast of Komsomolets
Island, and one of the islands in the Severnaya Zemlya
archipelago are also named after him. Together with a polar hydrometeorological
observatory on Heys Island (Franz Josef's Land), a street in Moscow, a Communications
Electro-Technical College in St.
Petersburg, and a weather research vessel of the
In addition to the various museum exhibits and published articles
honouring Ernst Krenkel, on the 4th full weekend of December each
year the 'Ernst
Krenkel Memorial' - International Contest RAEM is held on 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 m. bands. The uniqueness of the
contest is in the non-trivial number exchange that requires operators to show
their true CW skills.
The memory of Ernst Krenkel will never die!
Yuri Manukovsky, R5GM
PS : I wish say special thanks to David
G3ZPF for his care, support, and help when I decided to write this article. Also my thanks go to Mike (G4AYO) and to Alf
(SM5IQ) for helping G3ZPF with
translation and images from their private collections.
writing of this article I used:
E. Krenkel "RAEM is My Callsign”;
B.Kremer "The radio operator and the polar
APPENDIX 1 :
Equipment at UPOL.
Translation from Russian to
Translation from Swedish to English: SM5IQ
The main equipment was named ”Drift” and
was produced by the advanced radio laboratories in Leningrad.
Chief engineer - Vladimir Leonidovich Dobrozhansky
(U1AB; earlier: 65RA, EU3AJ);
Developers - Feodor
Abramovich Gaukhman (U1BP; earlier: RK-1, 93RB, EU2DF, EU3DE);
Engineers - Nikolay
Nikolayevich Stromilov (U1CR), Andrey I.Kovalev, Nikolay Ivanovich Aukhtun;
Designers - Maria
Zabelina, Tosya Sheremet and Alexey Razhev;
Technologists - Evgenie Leonidovich Ivanov (U1BH;
earlier: 51RW, EU3BT) and Paul Tovpenets;
Mechanics - Anatoly
Kiselyov, Alexey Kirsanov and Alexander Zakharov
Assembler - Victor
Other radio amateurs who worked on the project :
Dmitry Petrovich Aralov (U1AH, earlier - EU3FD)
Boris Grigorevich Haritonovich (U1AK; earlier-EU3ED)
transmitter in the two Drift stations was a two stage
telegraphy transmitter, the main oscillator being crystal controlled.
Power output 20 W
Bands 20-30, 40-60, 560-610 metres
Power source Ni-Fe
Plate voltage Via
rotating converter PM-2 which, if necessary, could also be hand-cranked or treadled).
Power output 50-80
W depending on frequency band
Power source Ni-Fe
Plate voltage Via
"enankaromformare” PM-1, (from the low voltage outlet the
batteries could be charged) driven by an air-cooled petrol engine
B-3. "Enankaromformare” is a Swedish word
that I cannot translate. It is a rotating converter, which in contrary to a
motor-generator has only one rotor block for the input and output windings.
Main receiver 1-v-1 19-20000 metres, battery
shaped wire antenna, horizontal part 55 m,
sloping part (to tx) 15 m,
height 8.5 m
(two duraluminium masts)
Spare station Name "Reserv”.
One stage transmitter with fixed frequency, max 20 W, wavelength
600 m. with 0-v-1 receiver
Main power source "The
windmill” (designed by eng. S B Perli, Kharkov)
Dynamo power output 200 W at max voltage 15 V
APPENDIX 2 : Translated from Russian by Mike (G4AYO)
A conversation with Ernst Krenkel
in an interview on the day before he departed to UP0L, and which was published
in the Russian ‘RADIO’ magazine.
We placed before the designers of the radio laboratory of the
People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs the following basic requirements: a
total autonomous (i.e. capable of existing independently) portable radio
transmitter, durable, with back-up and maximum lightness. A radio station which
I will have to operate at the North Pole, built by the Leningrad laboratory especially for our
V.L. Dobrozhansky, head of the research part of the laboratory who
had been involved with the construction of the radio relay centre on Dikson Island,
took upon himself leadership in the
planning of the radio station. Taking on the work was radio technician N.N.
Stromilov, a participant of Arctic sailings, who built two transmitters of 20
and 80 watts power which operated on short and long wave.
The working out of two receivers to this transmitter was carried
out by chief radio technician A.I. Kovalyov who used original working apparatus
which with extraordinary portability allows coverage of a range of waves from
20 to 20,000 m.
The third set of radio equipment is a reserve backup
receiving-transmitting radio station created under the direction of senior
technician of the ORL comrade Gaukhman who set up the receiving-transmitting
radio station on a fixed wave of 600
The main radio station works on long and short wave. For work on
short wave range the transmitter is constructed with a three-cascade circuit.
The power of the transmitter is 80 watts with the possibility of
reducing to 20 watts. It works solely by wireless telegraphy and I consider
such communications most advantageous over long distances. Valves UB-132,
SK-164 and GD-50 are used in the transmitter.
The portable wireless transmitter is set into a common framework
and gives the means to transmit in the following ranges:
20.5 - 32.5
550 - 1600 m
32 - 52.5
- 3820 m
50 - 85 m
3200 - 8500 m
230 - 650
m 7500 - 19800 m
The radio is constructed according to 1-V-1 layout with a pentode
in the output and with feed-back.
UB-152, CB-154 and SB-155 valves are fitted in it.
An additional station power 20 watts "analogous basic”
We also took a reserve station of 20 watts working in the 550-610 m ranges.
During work on long waves the transmitter will feed from a RM-2
During our work on short waves we will set working a petrol engine with RM-1
Besides this we will have 2 complete sets of alkaline
accumulators. We will charge the accumulators from a special 200 watts output
turbine. During calm weather charging can also be produced from the RM-1
machine coupled with a petrol engine.
Our reserve source of power supply are 3 dry anode batteries and
one RUN-10 machine for feeding the anodes. We also have two spare RM-2 and one
We will construct a one-radial antenna and will extend it on two
masts. The height of each mast is 8.5
m and the total length of the antenna 70 m.
It is difficult to say what the communication conditions will be
on the drifting ice. Obviously we will work with Rudolph
Island on long wave and with coastal
stations and Dikson
Island on short.