The Arctic has long been an important strategic region for Russia. Russian explorers began to actively explore it back in the 15th-16th centuries, but movement along the northern seas was difficult due to the fact that they were covered with ice. Here ships were required that could not only pass through the ice themselves, but lead others, less powerful. This idea was realized only at the end of the 19th century. Although, attempts to equip ships with devices for dealing with ice blocks have been made before. But this did not bring much success.
Vice Admiral Stepan Osipovich Makarov was the first to suggest building a powerful Arctic icebreaker. According to the vice admiral, this could give a significant impetus to the development of the Northern Sea Route. In 1897, the Russian government allocated money for the construction of an icebreaker, and Makarov was appointed head of the commission. The well-known Russian chemist Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev took an active part in the work of this commission, together with Makarov he was engaged in the development of blueprints for the future icebreaker.
The construction itself was entrusted to the British company Armstrong. In Russia, it was decided that the ship would bear the name "Ermak" - in honor of the famous ataman of the 16th century, the conqueror of Siberia. Ermak was to become the world's first icebreaker designed exclusively for operations in the harsh Arctic conditions. For the Russian treasury, the work cost a very impressive amount - 1.5 million rubles.
The construction of the icebreaker was completed at the beginning of 1899. On February 19, a ceremonial raising of the commercial flag took place. It was decided to classify "Ermak" as the Ministry of Finance. On February 21, the icebreaker set off for the shores of Russia, and on March 4 arrived in Kronstadt. On the way he had a chance to fight with ice jams, in this fight, albeit not without difficulty, "Ermak" was the winner.
A few days later, "Ermak" went on the first mission, he managed to free 11 ships from the ice captivity in the Revel area. After this successful operation, even skeptics stopped doubting the advisability of building such an expensive, but extremely necessary ship for the Russian fleet.
In May 1899 "Yermak" set off on a long journey. Initially to the English port of Newcastle, and from there to the Arctic Ocean. A scientific expedition was on board, which conducted a number of studies. The icebreaker managed to reach Spitsbergen, breaking the powerful ice of the Arctic. But the "Ermak" itself was seriously damaged, returning to England for a major overhaul.
The special commission stated that such travels are dangerous for "Ermak", it was decided that it should be used only in the waters of the Gulf of Finland. Although, initially Vice-Admiral S.O. Makarov assumed that it would be possible to reach the North Pole on the Ermak.
Makarov managed to get permission for the next Arctic expedition only in the summer of 1900, and the icebreaker set off only in May of the following year. It was agreed in advance that the route of the expedition would continue no further than the mouth of the Yenisei.
The icebreaker failed to reach Novaya Zemlya as planned, impenetrable ice prevented. "Ermak" was overwritten by them and was forced to drift for more than a month. The course had to be changed and went to Franz Josef Land. After the end of the expedition, in which the Yermak again received significant damage, the commission of the Ministry of Finance made a decision to limit the use of the Yermak to the Baltic Sea. And Makarov was removed from his post.
Soon the Russian-Japanese war began, in which Stepan Osipovich Makarov died on the battleship Petropavlovsk, which was blown up by a mine. "Ermak" at this time helped Russian ships to overcome the ice of the Baltic Sea in order to be able to go to the Far East in the area of hostilities. And at the very beginning of the First World War, the icebreaker was included in the Baltic Fleet.
Three wars fell to the lot of "Yermak": Russian-Japanese, First and Second world wars. In October 1941, guns were installed on it. Despite its venerable age, the icebreaker regularly performed service: escorted Soviet ships through the Gulf of Finland, accompanied submarines. In 1949 "Ermak" was awarded the Order of Lenin for services in the Great Patriotic War and in connection with the 50th anniversary of the ship.
In the early sixties, Yermak could no longer compete with the modern nuclear-powered icebreaker Lenin. Its further exploitation was deemed impractical. In 1963, Ermak was decommissioned. It was assumed that the honored veteran of the Russian fleet could become a museum. But, this idea was never implemented. The vessel was sent for recycling. Only a few fragments of the wardroom and some items from the "Ermak" ended up in the Museum of the Navy.