Axel Ivanovich Berg

The increase in the efficiency of man’s work in all cases where he needs to perform some control” A.I. Berg on what he saw as the objective of cybernetics.

Axel Berg, a former submarine commander in the Russian Navy, was a brilliant scientist who was the driving force in the new science of Cybernetics in the USSR and the founder of its Scientific Council of Complex Problem Cybernetics.

The stamp design shows a submarine for obvious reasons, a red star (one of Berg’s honours in Russia)
and the number 90 as the envelope commemorates the 90th anniversary of his birth.

Axel Ivanovich Berg was born in 1893 in Orenburg in the southern Ural in Russia. His parents were well educated – his father, Johan Ivan Berg, was a general in the Russian army and his mother was the principal of a gymnasium for girls in the aristocratic suburb of St Petersburg. Both parents inculcated their children with good work ethics, honesty, a quest for knowledge and respect for others. Berg followed in his father’s footsteps and went to St Petersburg’s navy school where he matriculated. In 1914 he joined the Russian Imperial Army starting as a junior navigating officer on one of its battleships. He then moved on to the Russian submarine fleet, where he became commanding officer on the submarines Rys, Volk and Zmeya. In 1925 he was transferred back to shore and completed his degree at the St Petersburg Polytechnical University.

In 1927 he was assigned to the Navy’s radio electronics department and in 1932 he became head of the Navy Research Institute for Radio and Telecommunications. During one of Stalin’s purges in 1937 he was accused of spending large sums on unnecessary research, arrested and imprisoned for three years. In 1940 he was released and rehabilitated, and soon promoted to admiral in the Navy. He became the driving force for the development of radar for the Russian defence forces.

After World War II Berg became Director of the Institute for Radio Electronics in 1947. In 1953 he was appointed Deputy Minister of Defence of the USSR. During his tenure he was responsible for the Russian translation and publishing of Norbert Wiener’s book on cybernetics. Following a heart attack in 1957 he retired as Minister and started concentrating on cybernetics.


The Bolshaya Sovietskaya Enciklopedia (2nd edition, 1959) contained the following definition: “Cybernetics is the science of communication, operation and control in machines and living organisms.” >br> In 1958 Berg founded the Scientific Council of Complex Problem Cybernetics within the USSR Academy of Sciences.
He became its head for the next twenty years and pursued interests like radio communications, microelectronics, computers and cybernetics, artificial intelligence and similar areas. As such he became the founding father of cybernetics in Russia.

Axel Ivanovich Berg died in 1979 in Moscow.

Academician Berg honoured

In 1946 Axel Berg was elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences.
He received a number of USSR awards:
Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Star, Order of the October Revolution, Order of the Patriotic War.
He also was a Hero of Socialist Labour – Russia’s highest distinction for exceptional achievements in science, economy and culture.

The only philatelic item portraying Berg is a Russian envelope, issued on October 4, 1983, to commemorate the 90th anniversary of his birth.

© Wobbe Vegter, 2010

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