December 9, 1916 - Russia Opens Murmansk-Petrograd Railroad
Pictured - Austro-Hungarian prisoners operate a handcar for Russian surveyors. This photo was taken by Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, who was commissioned by the Tsar to document the vast Russian Empire through photographs. His marvelous work in color offers a view of a world on the edge of revolution.
Russia had manpower, but it needed supplies and cash. Britain and France obliged with thousands of tons of war good and millions in credit, but all the help in the world was useless if Russia didn’t have a rail system to transport material from the ports to the front. Astonishingly, it didn’t - even the Siberian Railway could only really go from West to East - so these tons of supplies sat rusting in Russian dockyards. To fix this problem, the Tsarist government set about building a railway that connected the Arctic port of Murmansk to the capital, Petrograd.
With the labor of over 70,000 German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war, the Russian government finally opened the railway in December 1916. It took a year and a half of work, and the death of more than 25,000 prisoners, before it was ready. Yet the winter of 1916 was too late to have much of an effect on Russia’s war effort. The Bolsheviks would inherit the logistical railway after the Civil War, which they renamed the Kirov Line after a prominent Old Bolshevik.