The Soviet Polar Aviation

Logo della Polare Aviazione MGA con orso polare, pinguini e simbolo aeroflot sovietico.


Polar Aviation, also known as Polyarnaya Aviatsiya, was a crucial division of Aeroflot, the Soviet Union’s national airline. Founded in 1931, Polar Aviation was tasked with managing flights and rescue operations in the polar regions, both in the Arctic and Antarctic. This division played a significant role in developing polar air routes and providing logistical support for scientific expeditions.

History and Foundation

Polar Aviation was established in 1931 under the direction of the Main Directorate of the North Seaside Path (Upravlenie Severnogo Morskogo Puti – SMP), later renamed Glavnoye Upravlenie Severnogo Morskogo Puti (GUSMP). The main goal of this directorate was the development of the vast northern and eastern territories of the Soviet Union. In January 1960, the directorate was subordinated to Aeroflot and renamed Glavnoye Upravlenie Grazhdanskogo Vozdushnogo Flota (Main Directorate of the Aerial Civil Fleet). Finally, in 1970, the Polar Aviation directorate was discontinued and fully integrated into Aeroflot.

Logos of Polar Aviation and Aeroflot

The logos of Soviet Aeroflot and Soviet Polar Aviation were different and reflected the various operations and missions within the company.

Soviet Aeroflot Logo: The Soviet Aeroflot logo was known for its inclusion of a wing and crossed hammer and sickle. This symbol represented the civil aviation of the Soviet Union and its connection to communist ideology. The design was simple but distinctive, with stylised elements representing both flight and the socialist industry.

Soviet Polar Aviation Logo: The Soviet Polar Aviation logo, which was a specialised division of Aeroflot dedicated to flights in the Arctic regions, was different. Although less well-known than Aeroflot’s main logo, it included elements representing the Arctic environment and the extreme conditions in which it operated. This could include stylised images of polar bears, ice, or other representations of polar regions.

While both were part of Aeroflot’s vast system, the logos served to distinguish the different operations within the airline.

Operational Bases

The main operational bases of Polar Aviation included:

  • Cape Severny (Chukchi Peninsula)
  • Cape Chelyuskin
  • Franz Josef Land

These bases were crucial for organising and maintaining regular flights in the Arctic regions. Their strategic location allowed for systematic exploration of the ice and logistical support for scientific expeditions.

Famous Pilots

Numerous heroic pilots served in Polar Aviation, including:

  • Ilya Mazuruk: Commander of a modified Tupolev TB-3, famous for the rescue mission of the North Pole-1 station in 1937. He was decorated as a Hero of the Soviet Union for his contributions.
  • Mikhail Vodopyanov: Participated in the rescue mission of the Chelyuskin expedition in 1934.
  • Sigismund Levanevsky: Pilot of numerous polar flights, including the tragic flight of “USSR H-209”, which disappeared without a trace.
  • Valery Chkalov and Mikhail Gromov: Known for their record non-stop flights across the North Pole to the United States in 1937.

Aircraft Modifications

The aircraft used by Polar Aviation were often modified to adapt to the extreme polar conditions. Some of the main aircraft and their modifications included:

  • Tupolev TB-3: Modified to transport materials and personnel in extreme conditions. Used by Ilya Mazuruk during the North Pole-1 mission.
  • Antonov An-2: Used in Antarctic expeditions, the first landing in Antarctica was made by this aircraft during the first Soviet Antarctic expedition in 1956.
  • Dornier Do J Wal: Used for flights along the Northern Sea Route, modified for landings on ice and harsh marine conditions.

Operational Routes

The main routes flown by Polar Aviation included:

  • Krasnoyarsk – Dudinka – Dikson
  • Tyumen – Obdorsk
  • Dudinka – Yakutsk – Tiksi Bay
  • Nyurba – Yakutsk
  • Tura – Turukhansk

These routes were essential for connecting the most remote areas of Siberia and the Arctic, providing vital support for scientific research and rescue operations.

Significant Incidents

Operating in the polar regions carried numerous risks, and Polar Aviation faced several significant incidents over the years. Some of the most notable include:

  • 1963 Incident: An Antonov An-12 crashed during a supply mission in the Arctic, resulting in the death of the entire crew.
  • 1972 Incident: An Ilyushin Il-14T crashed during a rescue flight in Antarctica, with the loss of several scientists on board.

Legacy and Commemorations

Despite its closure in 1960, Polar Aviation continues to be remembered through various commemorative items, including wristwatches celebrating the division’s brave operations. These watches, often adorned with the distinctive Polar Aviation logo, are highly valued by collectors for their historical significance and unique design.


The Soviet Polar Aviation played a fundamental role in developing aerial operations in polar regions. Its strategic bases, heroic pilots, aircraft modifications, and operational routes enabled the division to operate in some of the planet’s most extreme conditions, significantly contributing to scientific research and rescue operations. Despite numerous incidents and operational difficulties, the division left a lasting legacy that is still celebrated today.


Discovering the Charm of Soviet and Russian Watch Collections

Ritaglio schermata pagina Lancette Sovietiche Collezionare Sovietaly intervista

It may seem unusual, but sometimes a collection of Soviet/Russian watches can capture the attention and appreciation of even those who are not experts in the field. This intriguing niche of collecting has recently been highlighted in an interview published by the magazine “Collezionare,” available in both print and digital formats (

The Magazine “Collezionare”

The magazine “Collezionare” is a specialized publication focused on the world of collecting, offering in-depth articles, news, and interviews on a wide range of collectible items. From vintage to antiques and modern collectibles, the magazine serves as an authoritative and up-to-date resource for enthusiasts. Available in both print and online versions, “Collezionare” stands out for the quality of its content and the passion with which it tells the stories of collectors and their unique collections.

Two years ago, I contacted several journals related to collecting to promote my father’s Pirelli advertisement collection, including “Collezionare”. The interview with my father can be found at this link. Given the existing contact, a couple of months ago I reached out again to the journalist who conducted the interview, suggesting she might also be interested in my collection of Soviet/Russian watches. A few days later, she contacted me to schedule a phone interview.

Ritaglio schermata pagina Lancette Sovietiche Collezionare Sovietaly intervista
Lancette Sovietiche collezionare online

On April 14, 2018, the online version of the interview was published and can be read at this link.

Soviet Watches

In the interview, Andrea Manini, a 44-year-old from Milan who has been collecting since 1992, shares insights into his collection of over 400 Russian watches. “What I really enjoy is that, unlike Swiss watches, Russian ones always have a story to tell.”

The Stories Behind Soviet Watches

Many stories surround Soviet watchmaking, particularly those involving Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. The watch he wore during the 1961 mission is still a mystery. Some claim it was a Poljot Sturmanskie, produced by the First Moscow Watch Factory, often referred to as the Russian equivalent of the Speedmaster used by Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. Others believe it was the Type One by Sturmanskie, citing a photo where Gagarin wears this model over his red suit. “But who can say for sure? Maybe it was just a training shot,” says Andrea, emphasizing the mystery that often surrounds these famous timepieces.

The Influence of History on Soviet Watchmaking

The end of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s marked the beginning of a new era for Russian watchmaking in Italy. Andrea, like many other enthusiasts, started his collection in 1992, the year after the USSR’s dissolution. “1992 is my year zero, the year I began to appreciate these beautiful watches. That year, the first after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, all the unique goods from the former USSR became very sought after, including Russian watches, which started appearing in our jewelry stores. Over the years, I have expanded my collection to about 400 pieces.”

Early Discoveries

Andrea’s first purchase was a Vostok Komandirskie wristwatch. “The military look and the rocket on the dial attracted me, and only later did I discover that it was a Vostok Komandirskie model, with the Vostok 1 rocket that Gagarin used to orbit the Earth in 1961.”

Collection Categories

Russian watches are categorized in various ways. Andrea focuses on Russian space adventures and Soviet watches made for the Italian market. Other themes include Soviet polar explorations and Russian railways, particularly the BAM line.

The History of Russian Watchmaking

Russian watchmaking has a complex history intertwined with the country’s social, political, and military developments. During the Tsarist era, watches were mainly produced by artisanal workshops. With the advent of the Soviet Union, watch production became essential for both civilians and the military. Initially, pocket watches were produced, but gradually, wristwatches became the focus.

Watch Factories

Numerous companies arose in the Soviet Union, named after war or space adventures. “The First Moscow Watch Factory, later named Poljot (which means flight), Raketa (rocket), Pobeda (victory, dedicated to WWII), and Chaika (seagull, which was Valentina Tereshkova’s code name during her space flight).”

Export and Marketing

In the 1960s and 70s, Soviet watches were exported at low prices to promote sales. This was a state-imposed strategy. In Italy, Russian watchmaking has often been underrated due to its proximity to Switzerland. However, the Russians understood the importance of marketing and created watches with logos for export or specific models for certain markets.

Rare Models

Among the rarest models in Andrea’s collection is a Raketa Big Zero with a nephrite dial, a green stone similar to jade. Finding rare models is challenging, especially online where many fakes and assembled pieces are sold.

Tips for Collectors

To avoid buying fakes, Andrea advises consulting more experienced and reliable collectors. “Today, there are many forums and groups where you can exchange opinions and advice.”

This collection of Soviet/Russian watches, with its rich history and intriguing models, continues to captivate not only enthusiasts but also newcomers to the world of collecting.

Discover the Rare Vostok Buran Watch: A Tribute to Soviet Polar Aviation

Primo piano di un orologio Vostok Buran celebrativo della Polar Aviation sovietica. Proprietà di Sovietaly.

Three Penguins and a Polar Bear on the Dial of a Vostok Buran


Today, I am wearing an intriguing watch from the USSR, which I believe is often overlooked, particularly in Italy, due to a lack of understanding of its historical significance. While many theories about this watch can be found online, few are based on solid evidence. The watch in question is the Vostok Buran, dedicated to Soviet Polar Aviation.

You can view some fascinating images from the historical archive of Russian Aeroflot here.

The Dial of the Polar Aviation Watch

The dial of this watch is divided into two distinct areas:

soviet watch Vostok Polar aviation

Vostok Polar Aviation

At the top, there is a blue semicircle with the Cyrillic inscription “БУРАН” (Buran, meaning blizzard). Inside this semicircle, there is a depiction of a polar bear, an animal native to the northern hemisphere and the North Pole.

Three Penguins

At the bottom, there are three penguins, which are typical of the southern hemisphere and the South Pole. Alongside the penguins is the logo that currently represents Aeroflot.

Today, Polar Aviation is considered a subsidiary of Aeroflot, and its services are carried out under a unified brand.

Photographic Evidence of Polar Aviation

Historical Context

Established in 1934, Soviet Polar Aviation remained active until 1970. It serviced all polar routes to and from the most remote countries and scientific stations located in the Arctic regions of the planet.

Many intriguing details about this period can be found here. Unfortunately, the history of Polar Aviation is marked by numerous accidents and disasters.

Service to Arctic Islands

Polar Aviation also served many Arctic islands, providing crucial services such as mail, medicines, and food supplies to the island inhabitants.

A particularly interesting website, albeit in Russian, provides insights into the life on Dickson Island. Thanks to Google Translate, you can explore the historical photos showing Soviet Polar Aviation planes and helicopters here.

The Watch Itself

The Vostok Buran watch is well-crafted and comfortable to wear. It was primarily released for the Italian market, identifiable by the typical case back and the high-quality leather strap marked in several places. This watch deserves a prominent place in any Russian watch enthusiast’s collection.

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