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A portrait once believed to be of Vitus Bering (according to more recent data, it is likely his uncle's portrait)

Vitus Jonassen Bering (also, less correctly, Behring) (August 12, 1681 in Horsensmarker, Denmarkmarker – December 8, 1741, Bering Islandmarker, Russiamarker) was a Danishmarker navigator in the service of the Russian Navy, a captain-komandor known among the Russian sailors as Ivan Ivanovich. He is noted for being the first European to discover Alaskamarker and its Aleutian Islandsmarker. The Bering Straitmarker, the Bering Seamarker, Bering Islandmarker, Bering Glaciermarker and the Bering Land Bridge bear the explorer's name.

Biography and voyages

After a voyage to the East Indies, he joined the fleet of the Russian Navy as a sublieutenant in 1703, serving in the Balticmarker Fleet during the Great Northern War. In 1710–1712 he served in the Azov Seamarker Fleet in Taganrogmarker and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. He became engaged to a Russian woman, and in 1715 he made a brief visit to his hometown, never to see it again.

A series of explorations of the northern coast of Asia, the outcome of a long-reaching plan devised by Peter the Great, led up to Bering's first voyage to Kamchatkamarker. In 1725, under the auspices of the Russian government, he went overland to Okhotskmarker, crossed to Kamchatka, and established the ship Sviatoi Gavriil (St. Gabriel). Aboard the ship, Bering pushed northward in 1728, until he could no longer observe any extension of the land to the north, or its appearance to the east.

In the following year he made an abortive search for mainland eastward, rediscovering one of the Diomede Islandsmarker (Ratmanov Islandmarker) observed earlier by Dezhnev. In the summer of 1730, Bering returned to St. Petersburgmarker. During the long trip through Siberiamarker along the whole Asian continent, he became very ill. Five of his children died during this trip. Bering was subsequently commissioned to a further expedition, and returned to Okhotsk in 1735. He had the local craftsmen Makar Rogachev and Andrey Kozmin build two vessels, Sviatoi Piotr (St. Peter) and Sviatoi Pavel (St. Paul), in which he sailed off and in 1740 established the settlement of Petropavlovskmarker in Kamchatka. From there, he led an expedition towards North America in 1741. A storm separated the ships, but Bering sighted the southern coast of Alaskamarker, and a landing was made at Kayak Islandmarker or in the vicinity. Under the command of Aleksei Chirikov, the second ship discovered the shores of the northwestern America (Aleksander Archipelagomarker of present-day Alaska). These voyages of Bering and Chirikov were a major part of the Russian exploration efforts in the North Pacific known today as the Great Northern Expedition.

Bering was soon forced by adverse conditions to return, and he discovered some of the Aleutian Islandsmarker on his way back. One of the sailors died and was buried on one of these islands, and the group was named after him (as the Shumagin Islandsmarker). Bering became too ill to command his ship, which was at last driven to refuge on an uninhabited island in the Commander Islandsmarker group (Komandorskiye Ostrova) in the southwest Bering Seamarker. December 19, 1741 Vitus Bering died at Bering Islandmarker, near the Kamchatka Peninsulamarker, reportedly from scurvy (although this has been contested), along with 28 men of his company. This island bears his name. A storm shipwrecked Sv. Piotr, but the only surviving carpenter, S. Starodubtsev, with the help of the crew, managed to build a smaller vessel out of the wreckage. The new vessel had a keel length of only 12.2 meters (40 ft) and was also named Sv. Piotr. Out of 77 men aboard Sv. Piotr, only 46 survived the hardships of the expedition which claimed its last victim just one day before coming into home port. Its builder, Starodubtsev, returned home with governmental awards and later built several other seaworthy ships.

See also


  • Frost, Orcutt. Bering: The Russian Discovery of America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003 (hardcover, ISBN 0300100590).
  • Lauridsen, P. Bering og de Russiske Opdagelsesrejser (Copenhagen, 1885)
  • Müller, G.F. Sammlung russischer Geschichten, vol. iii. (St Petersburg, 1758)
  • Oliver, James A. The Bering Strait Crossing. UK: Information Architects, 2006 (hardcover ISBN 0954699572, paperback ISBN 0954699564)
  • Under Vitus Bering's Command: New Perspectives on the Russian Kamchatka Expeditions (Beringiana, 1), edited by Natasha Okhotina Lind and Peter Ulf Møller. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2002 (paperback, ISBN 87-7288-932-2).


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