Great War and the Arctic

Claiming the Far North

the Arctic 1917.0406

Great War and the Arctic

Arctic exploration, colonization of Greenland and Northern Canada, Erik the Red's Land (6 April 1917)

Historical Map of the Arctic & the Far North

In 1914 the Great War broke out in Europe. While the United States kept out of the War for the first few years, it expanded in the Caribbean by purchasing the Danish West Indies, in return recognizing Danish sovereignty over all Greenland. Only days after completing this deal, the US joined the Allies, responding in part to German attempts to starve Britain into surrender through unrestricted submarine warfare.

Main Events

Discovery of Severnaya Zemlya

The 32-man Russian Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition, making use of the two new icebreaking steamers Vaigach and Taimyr, discovered what is now Severnaya Zemlya while exploring the Northern Sea Route. The new lands were named Emperor Nicholas II Land after the Russian Emperor and claimed for Russia.

Outbreak of World War I

The Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia, in response to Serbia's rejection of Austria-Hungary's July Ultimatum. In the following days, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain all entered the conflict, resulting in the First World War.

Treaty of the Danish West Indies

After a series of negotiations for the purchase of the Danish West Indies - which had begun for some islands as early as 1867 - the United States signed the Treaty of the Danish West Indies with Denmark on 4 August 1916, agreeing to purchase the islands for a sum of US$25,000,000 in gold. After ratifications were exchanged on 17 January 1917, and the US presented the money on 31 March, the islands were formally transferred to the US, becoming the US Virgin Islands.

Russian Arctic claim

A Note of the Russian Government announced that the islands of Henrietta, Jeannette, Bennett, Herald, Edinenie, New Siberia, Wrangel, Novaya Zemlya, Kolguev, Vaigach, and others to the north of the Russian Empire were officially part of Russia. This claim was reconfirmed by the Soviet Union on 15 April 1926.

Danish claim to Greenland

During the negotiations over the sale of the Danish West Indies, the United States stated that it would not object to Denmark extending its political and economic interests to the whole of Greenland. Although the US had never explicitly disputed the Danish claim to the island, this act helped confirm the Danish position in the face of US explorations in the region.

February Revolution

Mass demonstrations broke out in Petrograd, capital of the Russian Empire, in March (late February in the Julian calendar) in response to economic and social problems, compounded by the strain of World War I. After a few days, the mutinous Russian Army sided with the revolutionaries, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate in favor of a Provisional Government under Prince Georgy Lvov.

US declaration of war on Germany

On 2 April 1917, United States President Woodrow Wilson asked a special joint session of the US Congress to declare war on the German Empire. Congress obliged by declaring war on the 6th, with the resolution passing 82 to 6 in the Senate and 373 to 50 in the House.

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