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Novaya Zemlya (Russian: Но́вая Земля́, IPA: [ˈnovəjə zʲɪmˈlʲa], lit. the new land), also known as Nova Zembla (especially in Dutch), is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in northern Russia and the extreme northeast of Europe, the easternmost point of Europe lying at Cape Flissingsky on the Northern island. West of Novaya Zemlya is the Barents Sea, and to the east is the Kara Sea.

Novaya Zemlya
Russian: Но́вая Земля́
Novaya Zemlya.svg
Map of Novaya Zemlya
Ivan bomb.png
Location of Novaya Zemlya, including the site of the Tsar Bomba detonation
LocationArctic Ocean
Coordinates74°N 56°E / 74°N 56°E / 74; 56Coordinates: 74°N 56°E / 74°N 56°E / 74; 56
Major islands2
Area90,650 km2 (35,000 sq mi)
Highest elevation1,547 m (5,075 ft)
Federal subjectArkhangelsk Oblast
Largest settlementBelushya Guba (pop. 1,972)
Population2,429 (2010)

Novaya Zemlya is composed of two main islands, the northern Severny Island and the southern Yuzhny Island, which are separated by the Matochkin Strait. Administratively, it is incorporated as Novaya Zemlya District, one of the twenty-one in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia.[1] Municipally, it is incorporated as Novaya Zemlya Urban Okrug.[2]

The population of Novaya Zemlya, as of the 2010 Census, was about 2,429, of which 1,972 resided in Belushya Guba,[3] an urban-type settlement that is the administrative center of Novaya Zemlya District. The indigenous population (from 1872[4][5] to the 1950s when it was resettled to the mainland) consisted of about 50–300 Nenetses[6] who subsisted mainly on fishing, trapping, reindeer herding, polar bear hunting and seal hunting.[7][8] Natural resources include copper, lead, and zinc.[7]

Novaya Zemlya was a sensitive military area during the Cold War years, and parts of it are still used for airfields today. The Soviet Air Force maintained a presence at Rogachevo on the southern part of the southern island, on the westernmost peninsula (71°37′04″N 52°28′44″E / 71.61787°N 52.47884°E / 71.61787; 52.47884). It was used primarily for interceptor aircraft operations, but also provided logistical support for the nearby nuclear test area. Novaya Zemlya was the site of one of the two major nuclear test sites managed by the USSR, used for air drops and underground testing of the largest of Soviet nuclear bombs, in particular the October 30, 1961 air burst explosion of Tsar Bomba, the largest, most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated.



The Russians knew of Novaya Zemlya from the 11th century, when hunters from Novgorod visited the area.[9] For western Europeans, the search for the Northern Sea Route in the 16th century led to its exploration.[9] The first visit from a west European was by Hugh Willoughby in 1553.[9] Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz reached the west coast of Novaya Zemlya in 1594, and in a subsequent expedition of 1596 rounded the Northern point and wintered on the Northeast coast.[10] (Barentsz died during the expedition, and may have been buried on the Northern island.[11]) During a later voyage by Fyodor Litke in 1821–1824, the west coast was mapped.[9] Henry Hudson was another explorer who passed through Novaya Zemlya while searching for the Northeast Passage.[12]

The islands were systematically surveyed by Pyotr Pakhtusov and Avgust Tsivolko during the early 1830s. The first permanent settlement was established in 1870 at Malye Karmakuly, which served as capital of Novaya Zemlya until 1924. Later the administrative center was transferred to Belushya Guba,[5][13] in 1935 to Lagernoe,[5] but then returned to Belushya Guba.

Small numbers of Nenets were resettled to Novaya Zemlya in the 1870s in a bid by Russia to keep out the Norwegians. This population, then numbering 298, was removed to the mainland in 1957 before nuclear testing began.[8][14][15][16]

In 1943, during World War II, Novaya Zemlya briefly served as a secret seaplane base for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine, to provide German surveillance of Allied shipping en route to Siberia. The seaplane base was established by U-255 and U-711, which were operating along the Northern coast of Soviet Russia as part of 13th U-boat Flotilla. Seaplane sorties were flown in August and September 1943.[17]

World War IIEdit

In the months following Hitler’s June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain organized convoys of merchant ships under naval escort to deliver desperately needed Lend-Lease supplies to northern Soviet seaports.  Destruction of the Allied convoys was thus a top priority for the German Navy — and brought World War II to Novaya Zemlya.[citation needed]

The Attack on Convoy PQ-17Edit

The most ill-fated and one of the largest Arctic convoys, code-named “PQ-17,” left Iceland on June 27, 1942.  It consisted of thirty-four merchant ships, six destroyer escorts, fifteen additional armed ships (among which were two Free-French corvettes), and three small rescue craft.[citation needed]

The fast-moving convoy encountered ice floes on June 30 and was forced to reduce speed.  On the following morning, the convoy was detected by German U-boats and visually confirmed by German reconnaissance aircraft.[citation needed]

On the night of July 4, the German battleship Tirpitz and the heavy cruisers Admiral Scheer, Lutzow, and Hipper, closed on PQ-17 and sank four allied merchant ships.  The British Admiralty responded by diverting the convoy’s escort vessels to the west to engage the German warships, and ordered the now-vulnerable merchant vessels to scatter.  Seeking the hoped-for sanctuary of Matochkin Strait, several of the ships headed toward Novaya Zemlya at flank speed.  S.A. Kerslake, a crew-member aboard the British Trawler Northern Gem, recorded in his diary:[citation needed]

…we were making all haste for Novaya Zemlya, hoping that no German ships had arrived there before us.  If they had, and it was thought that escape by sea was impossible, then the three trawlers would be run ashore on one of these God-forsaken islands.  We could then salvage what we could from them and try to make our way overland and the sea ice, until we found a settlement, or until we reach the Russian mainland…not a very charming or happy prospect to look forward to.

When the Northern Gem approached Novaya Zemlya and neared the entrance to Matochkin Strait, it quickly reduced speed.  Kerslake wrote:[citation needed]

All eyes were hypnotized by the sight of the strait opening up like a page of a picture book.  From behind the port side promontory appeared the bows [sic] of a ship, and as the angle of our approach opened up the straits more of the vessel came into view.  In those first few minutes we thought that the enemy had got there before us, and were waiting to blast us out of the water, but to our intense relief…we saw that it was a corvette…

Another seaman described the strait as “very barren and uninviting, but almost with ‘Welcome’ written along it.

On July 7 at 4:00 p.m., Captain J.H. Jauncey, the commander of the British antiaircraft ship Palomares, called a meeting to discuss strategy with the commanders of the other ships which, by then, had managed to enter the strait.  At first, they discussed breaking into the Kara Sea from the east end of the Strait.  An officer familiar with the region raised the possibility that the strait, navigable on the west end, might, at the other end, be ice-locked.  Accordingly, a seaplane was dispatched which confirmed the presence of ice blocking the strait’s eastern entrance. Other officers suggested that the ships remain in the strait until “the hue and cry had died down,” adding that “the high cliffs on either side would afford some protection from dive-bombing.[citation needed]

As a precaution against detection from the air, the ships were painted white, and each positioned with its armament facing the west entrance.  As an added precaution, the French corvettes Lotus and La Malouine were dispatched to patrol the entrance for possible infiltration by German submarines.[citation needed]

The BreakoutEdit

At 7:00 p.m., the ships (described by author David Irving as the “little convoy”) re-entered the Barents Sea and headed due south.  Anticipating the breakout, the German Task Force commander Rear Admiral Hubert Schmundt (Fig. 40) pre-positioned several U-boats near the strait’s western entrance.  Six of the seventeen Allied ships exiting the strait were subsequently sunk.  The badly-damaged American freighter Alcoa Ranger was beached on Novaya Zemlya’s west coast.  Its crew found temporary shelter and were eventually rescued by a Russian vessel which took them to Belushya Bay. The Germans also damaged the Soviet tankers Donbass and Azerbaijan, both of which reached the sanctuary of Archangel.[citation needed]

Of the thirty-four merchant ships in PQ-17, twenty-four were destroyed. The American contingent alone lost more than three-fourths of the merchant ships committed to the convoy — more than one fourth of the losses to American shipping in all convoys to northern Russia.[citation needed]

The destruction of PQ-17 significantly affected the people dependent on supplies carried by the ill-fated merchant ships.  Karlo Stajner, a Gulag prisoner in Norilsk in 1942, wrote “the German cruiser’s attack on Novaya Zemlya and the sinking of the food transports had catastrophic consequences…the population was left without provisions…supplies in the warehouses of Norilsk [were] distributed among the NKVD, the guards, and the few free civilians that lived in the town.” supplies, Stajner and his fellow prisoners received nothing.[citation needed]

Between July and August 1942, German U-boats destroyed the Maliyye Karmakuly polar station and damaged the station at Mys Zhelaniya.  German warships also destroyed two Soviet seaplanes and staged an attack on ships in Belushya Bay.[citation needed]

Operation WunderlandEdit

In August 1942 the German Navy commenced “Operation Wunderland,” an attempt to enter the Kara Sea, and sink as many Soviet ships as possible.  The Admiral Scheer and other warships rounded Cape Desire, entered the Kara Sea, and attacked a shore station on Dikson Island, badly damaging the Soviet ships Dezhnev and Revolutionist.[citation needed]

Later that year, Karlo Stajner made the acquaintance of a new prisoner, identified as “Captain Menshikov,” who told Stajner:

In August 1942 another…transport arrived in Novaya Zemlya.  The escort ships turned around and went back.  Just a few hours later, the watchman in the tower announced that a ship was in sight.  Everyone assumed it was one of the Allied warships and didn’t give the matter any importance. Shortly after, the watchman announced that the ship was nearing the bay.  I went outside…to see for myself.  As soon as I had climbed the tower, I realized to my horror that this was a German warship.  I gave the alarm, but it was too late…the German cruiser was coming closer.  One of the Allied freighters — the first ship we managed to get moving — steered its way out of the bay.  That’s all the Germans were waiting for.  At the moment when the ship reached the narrowest part of the bay, the German guns sent off their first salvo — a direct hit…our coastal batteries opened fire…but the guns didn’t reach far enough…[they] came closer and destroyed all the ships in the bay, as well as a large part of the harbor [and] left a hundred dead and wounded.

Whether the attack on Menshikov’s battery occurred on Dikson Island or on Novaya Zemlya, Stajner’s account illuminated the fate of a Soviet officer imprisoned by his countrymen for the “crime” of suffering defeat at the hands of the enemy. Not surprisingly, Menshikov’s arrest was never announced in the Soviet press.

In August 1943, a German U-boat sank the Soviet research ship Akademic Shokalskiy near Mys Sporyy Navolok, but the Soviet Navy, now on the offensive, destroyed the German submarine U-639 near Mys Zhelaniya.

Nuclear testingEdit

Novaya Zemlya Test Site
Novaya Zemlya Test Site boundaries and facilities
TypeNuclear test site
Arealand: 55,200 km2 (21,300 sq mi)
water: 36,000 km2 (14,000 sq mi)
Site information
OperatorRussian Federation (formerly Soviet Union)
Site history
In use1955–present
Test information
Subcritical testsnot known
Nuclear tests224

In July 1954, Novaya Zemlya was designated the Novaya Zemlya Test Site, construction of which began in October[18] and existed during much of the Cold War. "Zone A", Chyornaya Guba (70°42′N 54°36′E / 70.7°N 54.6°E / 70.7; 54.6), was used in 1955–1962 and 1972–1975.[18] "Zone B", Matochkin Shar (73°24′N 54°54′E / 73.4°N 54.9°E / 73.4; 54.9), was used for underground tests in 1964–1990.[18] "Zone C", Sukhoy Nos (73°42′N 54°00′E / 73.7°N 54.0°E / 73.7; 54.0), was used in 1958–1961 and was the site of the 1961 Tsar Bomba test, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated.[18]

Other tests occurred elsewhere throughout the islands, with an official testing range covering over half of the landmass. In September 1961, two propelled thermonuclear warheads were launched from Vorkuta Sovetsky and Salekhard to target areas on Novaya Zemlya. The launch rocket was subsequently deployed to Cuba.[19]

1963 saw the implementation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty which banned most atmospheric nuclear tests.[20] The largest underground test in Novaya Zemlya took place on September 12, 1973, involving four nuclear devices of 4.2 megatons total yield. Although far smaller in blast power than the Tsar Bomba and other atmospheric tests, the confinement of the blasts underground led to pressures rivaling natural earthquakes. In the case of the September 12, 1973, test, a seismic magnitude of 6.97 on the Richter Scale was reached, setting off an 80 million ton avalanche that blocked two glacial streams and created a lake 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) in length.[20]

Over its history as a nuclear test site, Novaya Zemlya hosted 224 nuclear detonations with a total explosive energy equivalent to 265 megatons of TNT.[18] For comparison, all explosives used in World War II, including the detonations of two US nuclear bombs, amounted to only two megatons.[20]

In 1988–1989, glasnost helped make the Novaya Zemlya testing activities public knowledge,[18] and in 1990 Greenpeace activists staged a protest at the site.[21] The last nuclear test explosion was in 1990 (also the last for the entire Soviet Union and Russia). The Ministry for Atomic Energy has performed a series of subcritical underwater nuclear experiments near Matochkin Shar each autumn since 1998.[22] These tests reportedly involve up to 100 grams (3.5 oz) of weapons-grade plutonium.[23]


Novaya Zemlya is an extension of the Northern part of the Ural Mountains,[24] and the interior is mountainous throughout.[9] It is separated from the mainland by the Kara Strait.[9] Novaya Zemlya consists of two major islands, separated by the narrow Matochkin Strait, as well as a number of smaller islands. The two main islands are:

The coast of Novaya Zemlya is very indented, and it is the area with the largest number of fjords in the Russian Federation. Novaya Zemlya separates the Barents Sea from the Kara Sea. The total area is about 90,650 square kilometers (35,000 sq mi). The highest mountain is located on the Northern island and is 1,547 meters (5,075 ft) high.[25]

Compared to other regions that were under large ice sheets during the last glacial period, Novaya Zemlya shows relatively little isostatic rebound. Possibly this is indebted to a counter-effect created by the growth of glaciers during the last few thousand years.[26]


The ecology of Novaya Zemlya is influenced by its severe climate, but the region nevertheless supports a diversity of biota. One of the most notable species present is the polar bear, whose population in the Barents Sea region is genetically distinct from other polar bear subpopulations.[27]


Climate data for Malye Karmakuly, Novaya Zemlya
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 2.6
Average high °C (°F) −10.9
Daily mean °C (°F) −14.1
Average low °C (°F) −17.3
Record low °C (°F) −36.0
Average precipitation mm (inches) 30
Average rainy days 1 1 1 1 3 10 15 17 19 9 3 2 82
Average snowy days 18 18 19 17 17 10 1 1 6 17 19 20 163
Average relative humidity (%) 78 77 77 76 78 81 83 83 85 82 79 78 80
Mean monthly sunshine hours 0 25 107 215 189 173 229 143 73 40 3 0 1,197
Source #1:[28]
Source #2: NOAA (sun 1961–1990)[29]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Law #65-5-OZ
  2. ^ Law #258-vneoch.-OZ
  3. ^ Russian Federal State Statistics Service (2011). "Всероссийская перепись населения 2010 года. Том 1" [2010 All-Russian Population Census, vol. 1]. Всероссийская перепись населения 2010 года [2010 All-Russia Population Census] (in Russian). Federal State Statistics Service.
  4. ^ "Новая земля - история заселения". Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  5. ^ a b c "Новая земля в 1917—1941 гг". Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  6. ^ "Microsoft Word - North Test Site _FINAL_.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  7. ^ a b c Novaya Zemlya in: "The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed". Retrieved 2006-10-14.
  8. ^ a b Ядерные испытания СССР. Том 1. Глава 2, p. 58.
  9. ^ a b c d e f   Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Novaya Zemlya". Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 832–833.
  10. ^ Whitfield, Peter (1998). New Found Lands: Maps in the History of Exploration. UK: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92026-4.
  11. ^ "Search for Barents: Evaluation of Possible Burial Sites on North Novaya Zemlya, Russia", Jaapjan J. Zeeberg et al., Arctic Vol. 55, No. 4 (December 2002) p. 329–338
  12. ^ Henry Hudson in: Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Archived from the original on November 1, 2009. Retrieved 2006-10-14.
  13. ^ "Health, science and education, history and trade among others - news review from the Arkhangelsk region". 2005-08-03. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  14. ^ "Nenets", Arctic Network for the Support of the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Arctic
  15. ^ "The Nenets", The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire
  16. ^ "Nuclear Free Seas" Archived January 10, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., Greenpeace
  17. ^ Warship International No. 3, 1987, p. 318.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Khalturin, Vitaly I.; Rautian, Tatyana G.; Richards, Paul G.; Leith, William S. (2005). "A Review of Nuclear Testing by the Soviet Union at Novaya Zemlya, 1955–1990" (PDF). Science and Global Security. 13 (1): 1–42. doi:10.1080/08929880590961862. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 8, 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-14.
  19. ^ "Testing the Kosmos 2 rocket". Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2012.
  20. ^ a b c Pratt, Sara (2005-11-28). "Frozen in Time: A Cold War Relic Gives up its Secrets". Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University. Retrieved 2006-10-14.
  21. ^ "The early history of Greenpeace Russia". Greenpeace Russia. Retrieved 2006-10-14.
  22. ^ Jasinski, Michael; Chuen, Cristina; Ferguson, Charles D. (October 2002). "Russia: Of truth and testing". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists . 58 (5): 60–65. Retrieved 2009-09-22. External link in |journal= (help)
  23. ^ "Russia: Central Test Site, Novaya Zemlya". Nuclear Threat Initiative. 2003-07-30. Retrieved 2006-10-14.
  24. ^ "Novaya Zemlya, Northern Russia". NASA. Archived from the original on October 11, 2006. Retrieved October 14, 2006.
  25. ^ Russian military mapping. The highest point is located at 75°10′N 57°50′E / 75.167°N 57.833°E / 75.167; 57.833
  26. ^ Feldskaar, Willy; Amantov, Aleksey (August 21, 2017). "Liten landheving på Novaya Zemlya?". (in Norwegian). Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  27. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) Polar Bear: Ursus maritimus,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg Archived December 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ "Weather and Climate-The Climate of Malye Karmakuly" (in Russian). Weather and Climate (Погода и климат). Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  29. ^ "Malye Karmakuly Climate Normals 1961–1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 27 February 2016.


  • Gerrit de Veer, Nova Zembla, written 1598, published 1996
  • Vladimir Nabokov, "The Refrigerator Awakes" (1942), line 27
  • Ian Fleming, In "The Living Daylights" (1966), Agent 272 is holed up in Novaya Zemlya
  • Clive Cussler, Raise the Titanic! (1976), features a U.S. plan to recover a rare element vital to protecting the U.S. in the Cold War, an element found on Novaya Zemlya (where a U.S. spy and a Soviet guard clash), but now believed to be in the wreck of the RMS Titanic.
  • Laurence Sterne, 1761, The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Book III, Chapter Twenty


  • Архангельское областное Собрание депутатов. Областной закон №65-5-ОЗ от 23 сентября 2009 г. «Об административно-территориальном устройстве Архангельской области», в ред. Областного закона №232-13-ОЗ от 16 декабря 2014 г. «О внесении изменений в отдельные Областные Законы в сфере осуществления местного самоуправления и взаимодействия с некоммерческими организациями». Вступил в силу через десять дней со дня официального опубликования. Опубликован: "Волна", №43, 6 октября 2009 г. (Arkhangelsk Oblast Council of Deputies. Oblast Law #65-5-OZ of September 23, 2009 On the Administrative-Territorial Structure of Arkhangelsk Oblast, as amended by the Oblast Law #232-13-OZ of December 16, 2014 On Amending Various Oblast Laws Dealing with the Process of Municipal Self-Government and Relations with Non-Profit Organizations. Effective as of the day which is ten days after the official publication.).
  • Архангельское областное Собрание депутатов. Областной закон №258-внеоч.-ОЗ от 23 сентября 2004 г. «О статусе и границах территорий муниципальных образований в Архангельской области», в ред. Областного закона №224-13-ОЗ от 16 декабря 2014 г. «Об упразднении отдельных населённых пунктов Соловецкого района Архангельской области и о внесении изменения в статью 46 Областного закона "О статусе и границах территорий муниципальных образований в Архангельской области"». Вступил в силу со дня официального опубликования. Опубликован: "Волна", №38, 8 октября 2004 г. (Arkhangelsk Oblast Council of Deputies. Oblast Law #258-vneoch.-OZ of September 23, 2004 On the Status and Borders of the Territories of the Municipal Formations in Arkhangelsk Oblast, as amended by the Oblast Law #224-13-OZ of December 16, 2014 On Abolishing Several Inhabited Localities in Solovetsky District of Arkhangelsk Oblast and on Amending Article 46 of the Oblast Law "On the Status and Borders of the Territories of the Municipal Formations in Arkhangelsk Oblast". Effective as of the day of the official publication.).

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit