Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gleb B. Udintsev
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Interview with Dr. Gleb B. Udintsev
Gleb Udintsev; July 30, 1997
ABSTRACT: Family background and early education; military service (1941-1945); Moscow University (1940-1941, 1946-1949); Moscow University graduate school (1949-1952); Institute of Oceanology (1946-1976); International Geophysical Year (IGY); Institute of the Physics of the Earth (1976-1986); Geological Institute (1986-1992); V. 1. Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry (1992- ); life in Soviet Russia and after perestroika; funding sources for his research; problems with development of technology in Russia; political and ideological influences on research and publication; problems with his visa and travel restrictions; interaction with foreign colleagues, including W. Maurice Ewing, Roger Revelle, John Ewing, Bruce Heezen, Marie Tharp, Russell Raitt.
Interviews conducted in Russian and translated by Dr. Lynn Visson. All text is translated from the Russian unless otherwise indicated.
Visson:(in English) This is an interview for the Columbia University Oral History Project with Lamont-Doherty. This is an interview with Professor Gleb Udintsev by Lynn Visson. Today is Wednesday, July 30, 11:30 a.m. (Interview continues in Russian). In continuing our conversation about your activities, tell me a bit more about how you first got interested in science. What attracted you so much to the ocean? After all, you've spent your whole life studying it. What's so interesting for you? When did that interest start?
Udintsev:You see, Lynn, I was born into a family of Russian intellectuals. They were what was known as raznochintsy intellectuals (a term created in the 19th century to mean intellectuals who were not of aristocratic or noble birth: LV).
Visson:And where were you born?
Udintsev:I was born in Moscow, but my family was originally from the Urals. That milieu of raznochintsy intellectuals was generally characterized by an interest in science.
Visson:What did your father do?
Udintsev:For most of his life my father was involved in the study of literature and the history of Russian literature. Of course, the children of Russian intellectuals got interested in science in very different ways. It looked at first as though I was destined to follow in my father's footsteps and study literature, but from childhood on I was interested in both literature and the sea.
Visson:And what did your mother do?
Udintsev:Mother attended the so-called "Bestuzhev courses;" that was a very good women's institute of higher education, a kind of women's university. (These are higher education courses established in 1879 and named after the first director, K. N. Bestuzhev-Ryumin: LV). She majored in history, but unfortunately later in life she didn't have a chance to use that, because the family's life circumstances were very difficult. There was the Civil War, then the period of the Terror. For most of her life she worked in libraries.
Visson:Where did your father work?
Udintsev:Papa worked for the longest period of time in the Literary Museum. In Russian literature he was particularly interested in the work of his relative, his uncle, the Urals writer Mamin-Sibiriak. That interest combined several 2elements; interest in the family, in Mamin-Sibiriak's archives, which my father had inherited, and needed to be worked on, and the land in which they lived, what we called the "Small Motherland" (Malaya rodina), the Urals, where my father was born and spent his youth. He loved the Urals very much to the end of his life.
Visson:Did you spend time there too?
Udintsev:Yes, many times. Almost all of Mamin-Sibiriak's work is linked to the Urals, and my father also very much wanted me to love the Urals, even though I was born in Moscow.
Visson:In what year were you born?
Udintsev:I was born in 1923, when after the Civil War my parents decided they preferred to live in Moscow rather than the Urals. That was because my family was rather closely connected to the Kolchak movement, (i.e. the Whites opposed to the Red army and the Bolsheviks: LV) so remaining there was - well, not very nice. (Laughs). And one great day — it really was a great day for me — my father decided to show me the Urals. So we set off — he, I, and my older brother (uses the word bratwhich can mean both brother and cousin: LV), for the Urals.
Visson:When was that?
Udintsev:That was in 1936, when my father came back from prison - he had been arrested before that, and he really wanted to show me and my brother the land he was from, the Urals.
Visson:Was he arrested in connection with the purges?
Udintsev:Not really the purges as such — the purges affected the Party members, and my father was not a Party member. He was hit by the wave of the so-called “Saboteurs' Trials.” Fortunately, at that time many of those trials weren't too harshly conducted. And he wasn't arrested for long. He spent only a year in prison and then was exiled to the Urals. After he was released he decided to concentrate on literary research, on memoirs of the Urals and his memories of his youth. So he wanted to show that to us boys, too.
Visson:Since you were still a child during those years, did you understand why your father had been arrested and what was going on?
Udintsev:Yes. I understood that well. Our family was very critical of the Soviet system, and that wasn't hidden from the children. I understood that very well. Of course, I thought that my father had been absolutely unfairly sentenced. I knew all about what had happened to my relatives who had died during the Civil War. I felt very sorry for my father and shared his views.
Visson:You said he wasn't a Party member?
Udintsev:Right, he wasn't. There were never any Party members in our family. (Laughs).
Visson:You just mentioned your older “brother.” Was that your “real” brother or —
Udintsev:(interrupts) No, not my real brother, but a cousin, (the son) of my father's late sister. The husband of my father's sister was a prisoner of war during World War I. He had joined the Polish army, the Polish legion during the White movement. After the end of the Civil War he returned to Poland. His wife, my aunt, refused to go to Poland with him. They stayed near our family, my aunt soon died, and their son, my cousin was raised as part of our family.
Visson:Was he older than you?
Udintsev:He was older than I, and from childhood on he loved literature. I think he was a very talented poet; as a child he wrote very good poetry. In terms of his interests he was closer to my father. But already in childhood I was interested in travel, in the sea, in geography. Maybe the most important thing here were two books. I started reading early. The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and the diaries of Miklukho Maklai, his travels to New Guinea. Of course, there were also other books, such as Stevenson's Treasure Island and Jack London's books. I liked a lot of those books that described the sea and sailors.
Visson:Did the trip to the Urals have an impact on your fondness for travel?
Udintsev:Absolutely, because after living in the city I developed a great love of nature. I felt happy when I was in the forest, in mountains ... So I had a strong urge to travel. Later, that coincided with the very strong desire of very many of the Russian intellectuals to “get away into nature.” Life in the Soviet Union was very highly politicized. That pressure of the official ideology and politics weighed on many people, and they wanted to find an outlet where they could feel free from those politics, from that ideology imposed on them. Geography, geology, sea trips were very attractive. That gave a sense of freedom.
Visson:Did you have any teachers on these subjects in school who were particularly interesting? GU Unfortunately, not. Although generally the teachers in my school were excellent.
Visson:What school was that?
Udintsev:It was a high school, in the part of the city where I lived. I lived in a somewhat unusual region of Moscow. At the edge of the city — in the past it was actually beyond the city limits. There was the Petrovsky Agricultural Academy, later renamed the Timiryazevskaya Academy. It was what the Americans call (says word in English) a "campus." It was a separate university campus, an agricultural academy with a very interesting group of professors, very democratic and highly educated people, who were in love with their work. Their children also went into science, and some of them were teachers in my school. In my school we had a lot of teachers who had personal or professional ties with the Timiryazevskaya Academy. It was most interesting being a student in that school. The teachers were outstanding. Unfortunately, the lady geography teacher wasn't very interesting, but she was a nice, kind person. It was something else that had an influence on me ... My father, in organizing his trips, on the one hand was involved with the Literary Museum where he worked, because travel wasn't so easy; you had to have some (institutional: LV) backing; and on the other hand, there was the Moscow Tourist Club. There both older and younger people gathered, who were interested in travel and in geographic studies, because in them they found freedom from everything else.
Visson:So now we're talking about the early 1930s?
Udintsev:Yes, and 1936-1938. During those years I often went to that Tourist Club, where they had the following regulations: the Tourist Club helped with the travel formalities, and sometimes with funds, in organizing trips around the country for which you had to write a report, give a talk... That was really research work. People set off for places which had not been extensively studied. The goal was to write a substantive geographical report. That club was very similar to a kind of geographic society.
Visson:So you started your research career early!
Udintsev:Yes. And in this milieu there were also a lot of young people who liked sailing (sailboats). In 1937 when construction of the Moscow-Volga canal ended, large artificial lakes, reservoirs, appeared near the city. And sailing started developing there. My older friends in the Tourist Club invited me to join in. I got very carried away with sailing, because it gave me what we called "naval practice": (morskaya praktika) that's a special term meaning the kind of work which is a prerequisite at sea. How to tie knots, run the sails, prepare the boat.
Visson:Where did you get the sailboats from?
Udintsev:Sailing has a long history in Russia, but until then it didn't exist in Moscow. There were large yacht clubs in Petersburg, on the Volga, in Kazan, Saratov, and Nizhni Novgorod. There were no big lakes around Moscow. So when those artificial reservoirs appeared people immediately got interested, brought the boats there and took up sailing. I got very involved in that. That's why I spent almost all my free time on travels with my father, which usually took a month; and all the rest of the time, from early spring to late fall I was doing sailing. In winter I studied the theory of sailing, and navigation. I really liked that.
Visson:All of this was extra-curricular?
Udintsev:All of this was outside of school. But I also found a great deal that was interesting in the school program. We had to write what were called "course papers, II and also large compositions, compositions written outside of class. In working on those compositions, and following my father's advice. I was in fact engaging in scholarly work. In particular, in one of the later classes I wrote a very long paper on the history of how Tolstoy wrote War and Peace. On the writing of military history in the novel. I spent several months in the history library studying all the original sources which Tolstoy had used in describing war. I kept that composition, and I recently looked at it and was really very happy; it was a real piece of scholarly work. (Laughs).
Visson:Well, some people play with soldiers and some write about them...
Udintsev:That interest in sailing and in travel prompted me, when I finished school, to choose an institute of higher learning with that kind of specialization. There was a time where I was most interested in going to study in the Moscow Hydrometeorological lnstitute, which had an oceanography department. (Uses the term "oceanology". Several of my older friends from sailing were studying there. I finished school in 1940. After graduation you were supposed to go into the army. But I wasn't yet 18 when I finished school, and you had to be 18 for the army. Therefore, unlike my school contemporaries, who all went into the army, I didn't end up there then, and I could continue my higher education. But when I went to that Hydrometeorological Institute, which I found attractive, I discovered that mathematics was very important there. I was afraid of math. In school I very much enjoyed algebra, geometry and trigonometry, but on the high school level. Here I saw that math would be more complicated. Therefore I decided to follow the example of my older friends - I always had a lot of friends who were older - and who were studying at the University in the Geography Department, and I decided to do that too. I did that, was admitted to the Geography Department, and was extremely happy. The teaching at the Geography Department of Moscow University was superb. At that time there were older teachers, intellectuals of the highest level, outstanding lecturers. In part they were pre-revolutionary intellectuals and in part the children of those intellectuals, who had been about 20 at the time of the revolution and therefore had gotten an old-style, good primary education. You felt the impact of that intellectual milieu; they were just superb professors. The lectures were so fascinating that a year later, when I had finished the first year and went into the army, I took with me — just to read — for intellectual pursuits — the book by Fridtjof Nansen, The Drift of the Fram. His wonderful trip through the Arctic Ocean. I really liked him - Nansen was my hero. And I also took the summary of the lectures, to reread them, because they were so interesting. So I was really happy while studying that first year at the university. I had absolutely no regrets that I had chosen that field. I was dreaming about traveling...
Visson:But you said that then you did go into the army. How did that happen?
Udintsev:In my family - and in the whole country — we were living with a sense of the inevitability of war. Of course people viewed that war differently. Some thought it would be a war for the victory of world revolution. Or against imperialism. And in patriotically minded circles there was a sense of the growth of some forces very hostile to Russia, first of all Germany. I’m not a great admirer of the Soviet poet Mayakovsky, but he has some very talented lines, a poem about youth: “When we’re only seventeen or twenty, — like it or not, we’ll have to fight. That sense of the inevitability of it, that we’d have to fight, was very strong. We couldn’t have failed to notice the preparations for war in the country. So when, suddenly totally unexpectedly for everyone — though everyone had been feeling the inevitability of war — the war with Germany broke out, I immediately decided I needed to join the army. There was only one thing which concerned me: what my father’s attitude to that would be. Held suffered from Soviet power, so had the whole family; my mother’s brother was killed, her sisters had been tortured and shot...
Visson:When you say he was “ killed,” do you mean he was shot?
Udintsev:It was a bit more complicated. When they came to arrest him, he poisoned himself to avoid arrest. Her sisters and the husband of one of the sisters, who had been an officer with Kolchak (the Whites: LV) were tortured and shot in front of my mother. My mother always got terribly upset when she recalled the events of the Civil War. I was worried how my father would feel. I was very pleased that when I asked him how he felt about my going into the army, since Germany had attacked, I said, “I know you don’t like Soviet power.” He said, “What are we talking about? We have to defend the motherland.” So he fully approved and I went into the army.
Visson:Did your cousin also join the army?
Udintsev:My brother then was finishing his studies at the Pedagogical Institute, so he couldn’t go into the army. He had to finish his studies; he did that a few months later in October, 1941 and then went right into the army. But our fates were different. I joined at a time when things were relatively calm, at the outset of the war. I passed the medical exam, and was considered fit for the air force. Frankly, I had wanted to serve in the navy, because I liked the sea. But they said I was too healthy for the navy and had to go to the air force. My cousin went through a very difficult period, October 1941, when the Germans had made their way up to Moscow. At that point the army was mostly taking people into the infantry, that was most needed. He served 3 years in the army, was wounded 4 times, twice lightly, twice seriously. Finally in 1994 he was killed…I was sent to a military aviation school; I studied there two years.
Visson:Where was the school?
Udintsev:It was in the Urals, in Chelyabinsk. These were places that I already knew. That was very nice, that I was in the land of my parents… I studied two years, than had additional training, and only at the end of the summer of 1944 was assigned to an active regiment. Long-range bombers. Later that was called strategic aviation.
Visson:Where were you sent?
Udintsev:I studied in Chelyabinsk, to be a navigator, and was then sent to a regiment where we hooked up with the other crew members; the pilots, the gunners and radio operators from other schools. Then we had to start our flights together. It was in a place which later became sadly famous, Totskoye, where the first military exercises in case of an atomic bomb explosion took place. There I got together with the other crew members, they joined an active regiment and then I spent yet another month at advanced courses near Moscow, near Podolsk, where I had extra courses in radio navigation, star navigation, and then was sent to a regiment near Kiev. Then during the war we went through all of Ukraine, and ended the war in Poland.
Visson:You'd also mentioned that you flew over Berlin.
Udintsev:Yes, at the very end of the war I flew over Berlin; that wasn't a great deed. But it made a very strong impression on me. There was a coincidence here. My father tried to instill in me a love of music. We went to a lot of concerts. My father was very fond of Wagner. So was I. I particularly like the Ride of the Valkyries. It always gave me goose pimples. And in 1934 or 33 on the radio we heard a speech by Hitler. We didn't understand it very well; we knew German badly, though we had studied it. After that speech they played the Ride of the Valkyries. Papa said, "Well, we're moving towards war." It was very martial music. Then we heard it a second time. When the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia. Hitler gave another speech, and the played the Ride of the Valkyries again. Finally, I heard it the last time when I was in the sky over Berlin. There was a kind of hell reigning in the air: firing, anti-aircraft, fighter planes, night searchlights. After weld finished the bombing we turned back towards home and at that time we usually tried to pick up the signals from Radio Mayak. And on the radio I got the Germans playing the Ride of the Valkyries. At that moment it was really a ride of the Valkyries in the sky. I could feel my hair stand on end.
Visson:You said that during one of your flights the other crew members were killed…
Udintsev:Yes, we were bombing the naval fortress Hel, covering the Danzig Bay, that was in March, 1945, the last days of the war, and there were a lot of German ships. There was very powerful anti-aircraft equipment on the German boats, often more powerful than on land. We bombed Hel and a shell severely damaged our panels tail, making it difficult to control. The fighters came after us, the radio operator-gunner was very courageous, and he managed to shoot down two fighters. Then two more came. They killed the gunner and the radio operator, and only the superb skill of my pilot allowed him to get away and land the plane right behind the front lines. The gunner and the radio operator gunner were killed. The gunner fell into the sea, and we buried the radio operator-gunner in the place where we landed, the city the Germans called Elbing, the Poles called in Elblong. I was never later able to return to his grave. When I say the morning prayers I usually ask, 110 Lord, save the Soul of Thy Servant… and recall the names of my gunner and radio operator-gunner... who saved my life, became a gold prospector; he found large sites four times. Of course he was a bit of an "adventurist, in the good sense of the word. He went broke four times. But he gave my mother and her sisters and brother a very good education.
Visson:Were your parents believers?
Udintsev:Yes, they were very religious. As long as it was possible to do so, they went to church. During the first census they weren't even afraid to declare themselves as believers. Many people were afraid to do that. The prestige of the church had considerably declined before the Revolution, but afterwards it rose, and many intellectuals were strongly drawn to the church. There were a lot of intellectuals among the priests. It was a kind of protest against persecution of the church. My parents’ family priests were intellectuals, scholars. That had a very strong influence on my family and on me. My priest was a scientist, a physicist. He helped me a lot with my school studies, with advice, what to read.
Visson:Did he want you to become a priest?
Udintsev:No, he sensed that I had other interests. He knew I liked the sea and travel and supported that.
Visson:And were there believers among your peers?
Udintsev:Yes, there certainly were, but we avoided talking about it. Everyone kept that to himself. But I know there were. Maybe not that many.
Visson:You were talking about the army. How were you demobilized after the war?
Udintsev:That’s a very interesting story. When the war ended there was a strong feeling in the country about keeping a strong army. Friction with the West started up soon after the war, there was Churchill’s famous “Fulton” speech about the Iron Curtain, all the stuff with the atom bomb in America ... The army was not really very highly disbanded. Perhaps privates were demobilized, but not the officers. So when I said I wanted to go back to the university and continue my education that turned out to be very difficult. It took a lot of work. But fortunately I was lucky. At the end of 1945 I got leave for the first time; during the war leave wasn’t given. I went to Moscow to see my parents and try to take the university exam as a non-matriculated student. After the end of the war there was a lot of free time, and I took out library books, continued to study, and started preparing for the winter exam for the first half of the second-year course. I passed these exams and went to the dean to ask for support in demobilizing. But the dean didn’t support me, though it would have been easy enough to write a letter. He said they had to give support to the graduate students, not to the undergraduates. I was very upset. When I left the dean’s office his secretary, a middle-aged woman who remembered me from before the war, asked what the matter was. I told her. She told me not to get upset, and that she would introduce me to a very kind professor at the university and hoped he might help. She did so, and he was very kind. He also taught a course on a subject of great interest to me, and he was connected an institute which became the major institute in my life. He was Professor Veniamin Borisovich Bogorov, head of the department of the Geography of the Northern Polar countries. One of my literary heroes was the polar explorer Nansen, as I said. I had read all his works. When it turned out that this man who was ready to help me was the head of that department dealing with the northern polar countries, that was very attractive to me. He said to me held try to help. "Go study in my department,” he said. "I need energetic young people.” And he added. "I’d like you not only to study but also to work in the institute we’re now founding.” That was the Institute of Oceanology (Russian: "Okeanologiia.". In English the term used is more often "Oceanography " but since this is the official name of the Institute it will be referred to as the Institute of Oceanology here. LV). That "go work there" sounded like an onerous duty. But for me that was happiness. I said that l’d be delighted to study and work in that institute. Bogorov himself was then the deputy director of the institute, and the director was Petr Petrovich Shirshov, who in 1937 was on the first drifting station at the North Pole. The Chief of that station was the well-known polar explorer Ivan Dmitrievich Papanin. He carried a lot of weight in the Soviet government a lot more than Bogorov. He was the head of a very powerful organization, Glav sevmorput. That was the ministry responsible for the organization of shipping along the northern shores of Eurasia and the Arctic, the organization of polar stations, transportation, etc. That organization was extremely important for Russia’s defense during the war. He was a Rear Admiral and had excellent government connections. Bogorov introduced me to him and recommended me, saying I wanted to continue my studies and work in the institute. Papanin went to bat for me. He could do that because the long-range aviation division to which I belonged was mostly headed by polar pilots, who had worked in the Arctic. That helped me considerably, and in June, 1946 I was demobilized, received my passport, and the very same day registered again at the university and at the Institute of Oceanology in which I then worked for a full 30 years.
Visson:Did you finish your studies at the university?
Udintsev:Yes, I immediately began the third year, because I passed the exams for the second year as a non-matriculated student. So I in fact did the university in four rather than five years, as is usually done. At the same time I worked in the Oceanology Institute, first at a rather funny-sounding job, as an "Experimental worker" — it sounds as though someone were conducting experiments on me. In fact at first I was just doing supply work. The institute was preparing expeditions and a research vessel, and all kinds of materials had to be acquired, instruments, etc. Later, in 1947 I started doing research work, as a laboratory assistant.
Visson:What did you do your senior thesis on?
Udintsev:It was on a subject live been dealing with my whole life — the geomorphology of the ocean and sea floor. At first it was proposed to me that I do physical oceanography — the processes which take place in the water, but that seemed to me very boring. Then it was suggested to me to do something else. And in the library I saw a book at an exhibit, by an American scholar, Daly, with a very striking title: “The Ocean Floor: New Light on Old Mysteries.” A kind of "best-seller." I grabbed that book, read through it — I could already read English —
Visson:Where had you studied English?
Udintsev:First at the university, during the first year. We had a great teacher, and I loved reading. Of course, with a dictionary… I really liked Kipling, and then I read Stevenson's Treasure Island in the original — earlier, I had read it in translation. So I knew some English. And then in the air force I had to read the instructions for the devices and instruments we received from the US and the UK through lend-lease. I was probably the only one in the regiment who could read something. At the university I tried in particular to read foreign literature in oceanography, and there was also a lot in German. Daly's book really appealed to me. I decided I should probably take up that field. So I asked to work in the laboratory dealing with the geology of the ocean floor, and my first expedition was on the Black Sea - for the study of the sea shores.
Visson:This was while you were still studying?
Udintsev:Yes. In 1947. L’d just started studying. During that expedition we studied the morphology of the shore, its dynamics. It was very interesting, but my scientific adviser — who was a wonderful person —
Visson:When the first side of the tape ended, you were talking about your adviser.
Udintsev:Professor Zenkovich, the head of the laboratory of Marine Geology, was extraordinarily erudite, very talented, a strikingly impressive person; he was an excellent musician, had a superb knowledge of literature, and was an outstanding scholar. Therefore it was extremely interesting to work with him. He found unusual solutions to issues. I very much enjoyed working with him on the Black Sea. When we returned to Moscow he gave me his published works and unpublished manuscripts to read, and in addition to his writings on the geomorphology of sea shores, he had very interesting works on the geology of the oceans. He saw that I was interested, and suggested that I work on that. Then, in 1948, he sent me for my pre-degree practical work stage to work in summer on the Barents Sea. Our institute didn’t yet have its own research boat. On the Black Sea we worked on two launches. For the Barents Sea work he sent me with a letter of recommendation to the so-called “Polar Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography.” That institute is in Murmansk. In the 1930s Vsevolod Pavlovich Zenkovich had worked with that institute. He knew many people there. He asked them to take me on some expedition from there. When I got to Murmansk I immediately got on an expedition on a small drifter boat which was studying the topography of the ocean floor of the fjords along the Murmansk coast. That was very interesting and gave me practice in working with an instrument which was new for me, a recording echo sounder. That was interesting, but these were rather small depths. So upon my return from the expedition I started asking the administration of PINRO, as the Institute was known, to send me on another expedition. In a month a large expedition was to start of on an SRT (medium fishing trawler). It also had an echosounder, and in a month I was to go to the Barents Sea. I used the month in between to travel on foot along the Murmansk coast. It is the polar summer, it’s light all the time. I covered a lot of ground and got to know the morphology of the coast, and then went to sea, where I worked on surveys of the topography of the ocean floor, sampling of sediments, and the material which I collected there for the region of the so-called Perseus undersea rise, named for the Perseus, the first Soviet research vessel, — that was the ship on which Professor Zinkovsky had worked, and Bogorov, and many other professors of the Institute of Oceanology. All of the people who founded the Institute of Oceanology in the 1920s had worked on the Perseus. I did my senior thesis on the Perseus undersea rise. In 1949 I defended that senior thesis to graduate from the university, and continued working in the Institute of Oceanology.
Visson:Were all your expeditions up to then within Russian waters or were there any abroad?
Udintsev:My first student expedition was the Black Sea one, which went along the coast of the Caucasus... After the war intensive construction began of sanatoria and vacation centers, and for that a lot of sand and pebbles from the shore were used. As a result the shore began to deteriorate rapidly. People who don't know anything about geology start putting up concrete barriers on the shoreline, but they immediately crumble. The goal of the expedition was to study that shore. So that was all within the boundaries of the USSR, on the Russian coast; now it's Abkhazia and Georgia, administratively. And the Barents sea has international waters, but we didn't dock anywhere.
Visson:What were your plans once you had graduated?
Udintsev:Then I began to participate in the marine expeditions of the Institute of Oceanology. My graduation from the university coincided with the end of the preparations for the first major Soviet research vessel Vitiaz. That was a very interesting story. After the end of World War II the allies got trophies (spoils of war - LV) in the form of marine vessels. The USSR had captured some of the most modem German submarines. That was a very tempting prize. And the British had taken several boats as trophies. The USSR did not have enough ships. The Director of the Institute of Oceanography and its founder, Professor Shirshov, was also the Minister of the Merchant Marine. He realized that the institute needed a ship. The simplest thing was to get one from among the trophy ships. He made an agreement with the government that the British would be given one of the most modern German submarines, and they would give us one of the ships. He chose a good one, built in 1939 in Germany. It was first designed to be used as a cargo and transport ship, but during the war was a hospital ship. It was appropriately built for use as a research vessel. The Germans had named it for the god of war, Mars, and in Russia it was decided to give it a name which was very important for Russian marine science, Vitiaz. Prior to that there had been two Vitiazes: one which participated in Miklukho Maklai's expeditions and research work, and a second on which the outstanding Russian oceanographer Admiral Makarov worked. He did research in the Pacific Ocean and published a book entitled The Vitiaz and the Pacific. Ocean. That book was known all over the world, and therefore on the facade of the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, next to the names of other outstanding research vessels, is the name Vitiaz. So the Vitiaz was prepared back in 1947 and 1948; I had worked on supplies for it. I had dealt with the installation of the echosounder on that vessel. In 1949 it came into operation. I was on the first pilot cruise of that vessel, in the Black Sea, in April, 1949, and on the second cruise in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean, and later on many of its other cruises.
Visson:Did you go on to graduate school at that time?
Udintsev:Yes. I should say that after graduation from the university and while continuing to work in the Oceanology Institute, I enrolled in graduate school. continued my ties to the university. Therefore, as a graduate student I had to write a dissertation for the degree of Candidate of Sciences, the approximate equivalent of a Ph.D. On the basis of my work studying the topography ot-the floor of the Sea of Okhotsk, I wrote a Candidate of Science dissertation, liThe Geomorphology of the Floor of the Sea of Okhotsk. II In 1952, three years later, I defended it successfully.
Visson:Who was your thesis adviser?
Udintsev:My adviser for that candidate's dissertation was Professor Bogorov. He, however, is not a specialist in the field of geology; he's a professional biologist. But he was still my adviser because he's an oceanographer with a broad range of interests. My defense took place in the Institute of Oceanology… I was the only graduate student to defend a thesis in this field. But here other problems arose, characteristic of those times in the USSR. Since I was a graduate student at Moscow State University, I was subject to "work assignment" (raspredelenie: the system in the USSR under which young specialists who had completed their education were arbitrarily assigned to jobs in any part of the country as needed. LV). I was already working in the Institute of Oceanography, and therefore asked to be assigned to it. I was told no. At that time the new University building was being built, on the Vorobiev Hills. I had studied in the old buildings. (GU is referring to the old buildings of Moscow University in the center of the city opposite Manezh Square and the new buildings on what was then known as the Lenin Hills, now the Vorobiev Hills. LV). They said that everything was being expanded in the new university buildings and that I was being assigned there. This absolutely stunned me, as I already considered that I was a part of the Institute of Oceanology, and I was crazy about those expeditions. What would I do at the university? I refused. They sued me. (laughter).
Visson:Who sued you?
Udintsev:The university sued me - the dean of the department. I was called in, cajoled, threatened, - threatened that the university would order me to be assigned to the university of Ashkhabad at forced labor - and so then the university there would be deducting 250/0 of my salary for the state. Here I got seriously worried. I was saved by one of the university professors who was protecting me, a very interesting man, Nikolai Nikolaevich Baranski, even though he was a specialist in a totally different field, economic geography. But he taught us regional geography (stranovedenie: the study of a country or region's customs and institutions. LV). In the university — I forgot to mention that — I had studied simultaneously in two departments, with Professor Bogorov in the department of the geography of the northern polar countries, and I was also very taken with the lectures of Professor Baranski, who headed the regional geography department. The major country on which there were lectures was the USA. Since Professor Baranski knew that at that point I already knew English fairly well, he suggested that I help him (though I think it was basically him helping me) in doing translations of various articles on geography from British and American journals. He paid me a bit, as he knew the scholarship stipends were small. I was in constant contact with him.
Visson:From what journals did you translate articles?
Udintsev:The National Geographic, mostly, and from the British journal Geography. I also had been recommended to him by a friend of my father and my aunts, Vera Alexandrovna Rausch, a schoolteacher of geography and the editor of the journal Geography in the Schools. When my father and aunts were small she taught geography in the Gymnasium (high school before the revolution: LV) in Ekaterinburg where they grew up. So they had known each other for a long time. She introduced me to Professor Baranski, who gave me some help. So when that mess came up with the court, he helped me. He wrote a letter to someone who would seem to have had nothing to do with science and education, Voroshilov. (Laughter). (Marshall Kliment Voroshilov was an old Bolshevik, army commander and commissar who was briefly chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. LV). For some reason, in the Central Committee of the Communist Party Voroshilov was in charge of higher education. Baranski didn't know Voroshilov, but Voroshilov's secretary for issues of higher education was an acquaintance of his. Baranski was a very colorful, unusual figure. In the 1920s he had taken the risk of leaving the Communist party. That was highly risky. Like many Russian intellectuals, he had strong revolutionary inclinations before the Revolution. Then he worked on economic questions in Siberia. He was a major scholar. But when he saw what was going on he upped and left the Party.
Visson:And what happened to him?
Udintsev:You know, strangely enough, nothing. He was such a major scholar, and was so important for the government for the organization of the economy, that he was spared, and taught in the University. He was even a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences. So he wrote that letter to Voroshilov and Voroshilov released me from those legal charges. And so I continued to work in the Institute of Oceanology after graduate school.
Visson:Well, and wasn't there pressure on you to join the Party?
Udintsev:Yes, there was, a great deal.. A great deal. But I had never been in all those children's and young people's political organizations, the Pioneers, the Komsomol —
Visson:You weren't a Komsomol member?
Udintsev:No — uh — I was a Komsomol member, but not in those years. When I was in the army I was all fired up to do my military duty. And there I was among the rather young pilots. They had a rather intelligent tactic; the more experienced crews were always sent off first. There was another privilege: Party members and Komsomol members also got to go first. There they started pressuring me: "Join the Komsomol." I said that I didn't want to, that my father had been imprisoned, and that I was a religious believer - I couldn't do that. And the Deputy regiment commander for political questions, who was responsible for all that, was a very honest man. He wasn't a professional politico; he was a pilot, a hero of the Soviet Union, and I stayed in contact with him for a long time after the war. He said, "Well, join the Komsomol. I know you want to fly. If you join we’ll give you first crack at it." Here I couldn't resist and joined the Komsomol. saw in that the possibility to do my patriotic duty more fully. Then true, when I was demobilized I tried to stay off the Komsomol registration rolls. But they found me out, and trouble started; I had to get back on the rolls. I didn1 know how to get rid of that. It really bothered me. I was an active person, and therefore in the institute they soon made me the secretary of the Komsomol organization. And those Komsomol people started interfering in all kinds of ways in personal affairs. It was then considered quite incompatible for Komsomol members to divorce or remarry. And there was a scandal when one of my Komsomol members decided to divorce his wife and marry another girl. They started demanding that I interfere in that, and I didn’t want to; I sympathized with him. They were very good people. After all, personal tragedies happen. Therefore I did the opposite; I tried to defend them. It all got even more complicated because at that time the director of our Institute, Professor Shishov, died, and the heroine of this love story, whom one of the Komsomol members had fallen in love with, was Petr Petrovich Shirshov’s niece. And I had great respect for him. He had a tragic fate. His wife — because she refused to become Berials mistress — was arrested and exiled, and she died in the camps. Beria was notorious for that. She was accused of spying for America. Shirshov was very protective of his niece. I felt it was a matter of honor and my duty to defend her. I succeeded in doing that, but the whole thing made me sick of the Komsomol. The only way out of the Komsomol at that time — without a scandal — was to join the Party. And I didn’t want to join the Party. I took advantage of the opportunity, because when Stalin died, attention was no longer focused on all that. And right away I got out of the Komsomol. Nobody wanted to bother with all that then. But later, of course, I was often pressured to join the Party. I understood that it could have helped my career. But I felt that it would have been an insult to my own feelings, first of all religious ones, because the Soviet CP was atheistic, and to my parents, who were anti-Soviet, so I avoided that in any way possible. The last time I was seriously exhorted to join the Party, and was called into the Raikom (Regional Party Committee: LV), I took advantage of the fact that I was on bad terms with the director of the Institute. I was asked why I didn’t want to join the Party, and I said, because I love my work. They said, but it’ll then be even easier for you to work. I said no, you’re wrong. Once I join the Party the director - since he is the Party Secretary — will try to get even with me. He’ll give me one reprimand (i.e. a formal Party reprimand which had serious repercussions at work — LV), then a second, and with the third he’ll expel me from the Party. And then I’ll never again be able to work in my field. And my director was already known then for his dictatorial tricks. So the Raikom members agreed with me and left me alone.
Visson:Who was the director then?
Udintsev:That was already Monin. And the secretary of the Party regional committee said yes, you’re probably right. You really don’t belong here in the Party. (laughter). That’s how the conflict with the director saved me.
Visson:You were saying a while ago before we got off on this subject that as a graduate student you’d been translating articles from English. In those years of the Iron Curtain foreigners often wondered to what extent Russian students, graduate students etc. had access to foreign literature, and to what extent foreign ideas had an impact on —
Udintsev:(interrupts) You know, many of my colleagues in the west, or journalists have a rather erroneous notion of what all that was like. Access to scientific literature was totally free. There were different attitudes to the use of western literature in different areas of science. The desire of the CP leadership was of course to ideologize and politicize science as much as possible. That’s very easy in the humanities and much harder in the natural sciences. The weak link in all this turned out to be biology, in terms of resistance to it, because a person was found who managed to get the trust of the Communist leadership, Lysenko. And persecution started in biology on the basis of that ideologization. Western genetics was opposed to the materialism professed by Lysenko. There was that. sadly notorious session of VASKHNIL — the All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Attempts to instill such a policy into the other sciences aside from biology did take place, but they were totally fruitless. They achieved nothing. Ifs very hard to inculcate ideology into geology, geophysics... Therefore there was no such influence in those sciences. We were freely reading western literature. At that time the libraries were receiving sufficient funds to subscribe to foreign journals.
Udintsev:For me the bulletin of the Geological Society of America was very important, the Journal of Geophysical Research, the journal Geology, and others including British journals; the Proceedings of the Royal Society. So I read a lot, as I knew that without understanding what was going on in the West work was impossible, particularly in oceanography, because in Russia oceanography of the world ocean as such had really begun only after World War II. Naturally it had begun before the revolution, but then was stopped. In the first Soviet years, work was only done well on the Arctic seas and the seas adjacent to the USSR; the oceans were not studied, and it was very important for me to read western literature. That included the German literature written before and during the war, and particularly the English-language postwar literature.
Visson:Were there foreign scientists visiting?
Udintsev:For a long time there were none. Almost none of our people went abroad. All that was very limited. In our institute only one person, the biologist Academician Zenkevich, occasionally went abroad. That was considered as some kind of a miracle. The breakthrough with foreign scientists came in connection with the organization of the International Geophysical Year. That coincided with the period we called the relaxation of international tensions (detente: LV). That was Khrushchev's policy. Khrushchev is a very contradictory figure, and a lot of bad and good things are connected to him, but as far as detente goes, and allowing for broader and personal contacts with western scholars, here of course Khrushchev played a large role. When that project for the organization of the IGY began, at the beginning of 1955, and through 1957 etc., we broke through and real contacts began. My first step in starting up contacts with western scientists was — well, of course, correspondence, exchange of offprints — we were already allowed to do that —
Visson:Whom were you in contact with?
Udintsev:I started sending my offprints and letters to all the major institutions, to colleagues at the Scripps Institute, to the Lamont Observatory, to Cambridge University, to Woods Hole, but it seemed to me that the publications closest to my way of thinking and interests were with the Lamont's associate Bruce Heezen. Of course, you had to get the directors permission, but I did that and decided to risk sending him an invitation to come to Russia. I think it was in 1960 or 1961 that I did that. He was already familiar with my publications, and I, naturally, knew his. He came in the summer of 1960 or 61 — I’m not sure — and character, spirit, and interests, he turned out to be someone very close to me. I felt that this person could be my friend. Not just a colleague, but a friend. I really liked him. He wasn’t just a narrow specialist; he had a lot of interests. Art, literature, I was so taken with his interest in Leo Tolstoy. We went together to the (Tolstoy: LV) museum at Yasnaya Polyana, and he liked that. We toured around Moscow a lot, and went to St. Petersburg. I felt that we were becoming friends, and that played a very large role in my life, because that friendship continued up to his death — I guess in 1976 or 1977.
Visson:What kinds of problems did you have then in hosting foreigners?
Udintsev:Problems — well, if you had the director’s support, then the Foreign Department of the Academy of Sciences usually gave its agreement to the invitation. True, you had to write that this person had a friendly attitude towards the Soviet Union and was glad to exchange information and offprints, didn’t make any hostile statements ... Of course, there were certain restrictions on travel around the USSR: If I invited someone to Moscow I had to get additional permission to go to Zagorsk or Yasnaya Polyana. When I invited Heezen to Moscow it was easy to get permission for St. Petersburg. That all wasn’t so complicated. At that time such exchanges were not hampered; the iron curtain wasn’t so strongly felt.
Visson:Just to finish this subject, you’d been saying that after the candidates degree you did your doctoral degree. When did you do that?
Udintsev:My active participation in the preparations for the IGY was very helpful to me here. There were two major problems in our institute during the IGY: study of the Antarctic, since the USSR before that had never participated in study of the Antarctic. And during the IGY it was decided to organize a special Antarctic expedition. I really wanted to go on that; I was very active in its preparation. But when the chips were down I was told OK, that's enough, you’ve been helpful, now we have to prepare an expedition to the Pacific Ocean, and that will be the other major topic for our institute. I had to abide by that and started preparing for the Pacific Ocean expedition. When the IGY started in 1957 I was working in the Pacific Ocean. At that point I already had a group working under me.
Visson:What was your position in the institute then?
Udintsev:I was at first an "experimental worker. A year later I became a laboratory assistant, and that was for quite some time. I was made a junior research associate only in 1950 or 1951. Then after I defended my candidate's degree I was made a senior research associate. And then there was a barrier that was hard to overcome. I already had a group working with me, a group of assistants. I felt that I needed a laboratory. But I was working in a laboratory headed by Professor Bezrukov, a specialist in the field of sediments. He didn't very much support that, and preferred for me to remain working with him. But I managed when we were processing the materials from the IGY to get for our group the status of a "cabinet" (office: L V) of marine geomorphology. Later, I defended my doctoral dissertation, using materials from the IGY on the Pacific Ocean: on the map of the topography of the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Before that there was no map of the contemporary topography of the Pacific Ocean floor. Two maps then appeared at the same time. My partner — and competitor, too, in a way — was a major scientist from the Scripps Institute, Bill Menard, who published a book, The Geology of the Floor of the Pacific Ocean, and a map. That map was published not in color, but in separate pieces on the pages of that book, and therefore it didn’t make such an impression. We published a map, a beautiful big map. That map served as the basis for my dissertation. On the basis of that topographical map I did a geomorphological map, a map of the tectonics of the Pacific Ocean floor, I defended my doctoral thesis, and my group was in a better position, closer to becoming an independent laboratory. It was particularly helpful to me that I reported on these results to the Assembly of the Geophysical Union in Berkeley. It was an Assembly dedicated to summarizing the results of the IGY. There I demonstrated that map; everybody liked it.
Visson:Was that your first trip abroad?
Udintsev:Yes, it was my first trip abroad. It was not easy to go abroad. It was simpler to participate in an expedition which docked in foreign ports. But going abroad was difficult because this was the system: You couldn’t just go. When people went to various conferences the Academy of Sciences formed a delegation. That usually included the leading administrators, scientists, etc. It was rather hard for young people to get into a delegation. And also, as at that Assembly of the Geophysical Union, there was a group of "scientific tourists." Those weren't funded by the state; you paid your own way. And it was pretty expensive. But you got the opportunity to get into that group and to the Assembly. I hesitated a bit because it was very expensive, but thought — no, this is so interesting I’ll go. But it’s still not so simple, because there was a selection process, but since I had a good paper planned, with a map, I was included in the group.
Visson:Did you only go to Berkeley, or also elsewhere during that trip?
Udintsev:It was a wonderful trip. First, during the preparations for that Assembly, the preliminary session was in Los Angeles. So first I went to Los Angeles. It was like a rehearsal for the Assembly. In Los Angeles I met with two people with whom I had been corresponding: Russell Raitt and Helen Raitt from the Scripps Institute. I already had sort of friendly relations with them. Helen Raitt had written a very good though popular book — l’d even call it a bestseller — on one of the Scripps Institute expeditions. She was a journalist by profession, a good writer. Her husband for me was practically my teacher, figuratively speaking, through his letters and publications. He was one of the most outstanding geophysicists at the Scripps Institute and gave me very helpful advice. So when I was planning to go on the trip I wrote to them that I wanted to meet them. They met me in Los Angeles, and as there was some time before the Assembly they suggested I go to Scripps, to La Jolla with them, near San Diego. Here a complication arose. According to the rules at the time I wasn’t supposed to be allowed to go alone. There had to be some kind of group. First, my good friend, and in a way teacher, Irina Petrovna Kosminskaya, agreed to go with me. She was a major geophysicist who had also corresponded with Russell Raitt. But we needed a third. Then proposed to the then director of our institute, Vladimir Grigorievich Kort, a very nice man — unfortunately he’s dead now — to come with us. We’ve been invited to go by car to La Jolla. Fine, he said, let’s go. He was a member of the delegation, so he carried a good deal of weight. And Kosminskaya and I were members of the tourist group. So the three of us with the Raitts went to La Jolla, and there I had the chance to meet for the first time my main partner on the Pacific Ocean, Bill Menard. Officially he was Henry — Henry William. For some reason he preferred to be called Bill. I met him and his family, and saw the Scripps Institute. And then I met Francis Shepard, who was well known for his classic works.
Visson:Whom else did you meet, whom you remember ?
Udintsev:I also met Bob Fisher, also a specialist on the Pacific Ocean, and Victor Vaquier, — he’s of Russian origin, a major expert on magnetometry, and I was introduced to the director of the institute, Roger Revell, who played an important role in my life — I’ll get to that later. Also a wonderful, very cultured person, a large cut above many other scientists, because he’s got such a broad range of knowledge and interests. Those were the main ones. I also met a major scientist, Harold Urey, a Nobel Prize laureate and specialist in geochemistry. That was very interesting. Then after a few days at Scripps we went by car to the north to San Francisco, to Berkeley. Participation in that event was of course a big event for me. It was very interesting; such an unusually wide range of papers, a lot of people, new people, and my paper was very successful. I was very lucky, because since my paper impressed him Roger Revell invited me on a Scripps expedition. My paper was on the topography of the Pacific Ocean floor. With a demonstration of the map. Roger Revell proposed to me and to the head of the delegation, Professor Belousov, — I also had a great deal to do with him - to invite two Russian scientists, me as a specialist in geomorphology, and Dr. Elena Lubimova, who worked in geothermy, to that Scripps expedition on the research vessel Argo.
Visson:What year was that?
Udintsev:The Assembly was in 1963, I think, or 1962. But the beginning of the expedition was at the end of the year in which President Kennedy was killed. But live been jumping around here. You’d asked me where else l’d been?
Udintsev:The Scripps Institute, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and on the way back that tourist group stopped in New York. There I had the opportunity to visit Lamont Observatory.
Visson:That was your first visit to Lamont?
Yes. Since I already knew Bruce Heezen we agreed that he would meet me in New York and take me to Lamont. And this time, now that lid been “checked out,” that I was behaving properly, I was allowed for one day to split from the tourist group which was sightseeing in New York and visiting museums; I was given permission to visit Lamont observatory. For me that was very important, that visit to Lamont, meeting Bruce Heezen, and Mary Tharp, his colleague, co-author, close friend, who participated in creating those wonderful maps, physiographic maps of the oceans which in fact brought me close to the Lamont Observatory.