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CAMPAIGN SUMMARIES OF WORLD WAR 2

RUSSIAN CONVOYS 1941-45

see also the more detailed "Russian Convoys", starting with Eastern Front and Russian Convoys, Jun 1941-Oct 1942

HMS Lark, sloop, lost August 1944 (Navy Photos/Bob Hanley, click to enlarge)

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Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

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1941

JUNE 1941

The invasion of Russia soon led to the introduction of the Russian or Arctic convoys with their dreadful conditions and after some months had elapsed, high losses in men and ships. However, the Royal Navy's presence in the Arctic was first made known in August when submarines started operating, with some success against German shipping supporting the Axis attack from Norway towards Murmansk. The port was never captured. Conditions with these convoys were at the very least difficult. Both summer and winter routes were close to good German bases in Norway from which U-boats, aircraft and surface ships could operate. In the long winter months there was terrible weather and intense cold, and in summer, continual daylight. Many considered that no ships would get through. The first convoy sailed in August and, by the end of the year, over 100 merchantmen had set out in both directions. Only one was lost to a U-boat. In 1942 the picture changed considerably.

AUGUST 1941

The first Russian convoy, 'Dervish', sailed from Iceland with seven ships and arrived safely. Carrier "Argus" accompanied them to fly off Hurricanes for Kola.

SEPTEMBER 1941

Russian convoy PQ1 and the return QP1 both set out in September. A total of 24 ships were passed through without loss by early October

OCTOBER 1941

The six merchant ships of Russian convoy PQ2 got through to Archangel without loss.

NOVEMBER 1941

In November Russian convoys PQ3, 4 and 5 and return convoys QP2 and 3 with a total of 45 ships set out. Three merchantmen turned back but the rest got through without loss.

DECEMBER 1941

Three outward-bound convoys, PQ6, PQ7 and PQ7B and one return, QP4 set out in December with a total of 31 ships. All but PQ6 arrived at their destinations in January, with two ships returning and one lost to U-boats.

 

1942

JANUARY 1942

Destroyer "MATABELE" escorting Iceland/Russia convoy PQ8 was sunk off Murmansk on the 17th by "U-454". Only two men survived. None of the eight merchantmen in the convoy were lost although one was damaged by a U-boat torpedo. In two return convoys in the month - QP5 and QP6 - 10 ships set out and arrived safely.

FEBRUARY 1942

In four convoys PQ9, PQ10, PQ11 and return QP7, 31 merchantmen arrived safely at their destinations without loss.

MARCH 1942

1st-12th - Convoy PQ12 and Return QP8 - By now German battleship "Tirpitz", the ship that dictated Royal Navy policies in northern waters for so long, had been joined in Norway by pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer". The next Russia-bound and return convoys therefore set out on the same day, the 1st, so they could be covered by the Home Fleet with battleships "Duke of York", "Renown", "King George V" and carrier "Victorious". On the 4th, cruiser "Sheffield" was damaged on a mine off Iceland as she sailed to join the cover force. Convoys PQ12 and QP8 passed to the southwest of Bear Island and with "Tirpitz" reported at sea, the Home Fleet tried to place itself between her and the convoys. There was no contact between the surface ships, but on the 9th, aircraft from "Victorious" attacked but failed to hit "Tirpitz" off the Lofoten Islands. Of the 31 merchantmen in two convoys, only one straggler from QP8 was lost to the German force.

20th March-3rd April - Convoy PQ13 and Return QP9 - These next two convoys set out around the 20th, again covered by the Home Fleet. Off North Cape on the 24th "U-655" was rammed and sunk by minesweeper "Sharpshooter" escorting QP9. Of the 19 merchantmen in this convoy all reached Iceland in safety. PQ13 and its escort, including cruiser "Trinidad" and destroyers "Eclipse" and "Fury", were scattered by severe gales and heavily attacked. On the 29th three German destroyers encountered the escort north of Murmansk. "Z-26" was sunk, but in the action "Trinidad" was hit and disabled by one of her own torpedoes. As the cruiser limped towards Kola Inlet an attack by "U-585" failed and she was sunk by "Fury". Five of the 19 ships with PQ13 were lost - two to submarines, two to aircraft, and one by the destroyers. "Trinidad" reached Russia.

APRIL 1942

During the month, Russian convoy PQ14 set out from Iceland with 24 ships. Only seven arrived. One was sunk by a U-boat and another 16 had to turn back because of the weather. Return convoy QP10 lost four of its 16 ships around the same time, two each to U-boats and aircraft. Towards the end of the month convoys PQ15 and QP11 sailed. Both had cruisers in close support and PQ15 was covered by units of the Home Fleet including battleships "King George V" and the American "Washington". On the 30th the QP11 cruiser "Edinburgh" was torpedoed twice by "U-456" and had to turn back for Murmansk. The story of the PQ15 and QP11 convoys is taken up in May

MAY 1942

26th April-7th May - Convoy PQ15 and Return QP11 - PQ15 sailing for Russia suffered misfortune twice, On the 1st, battleship "King George V" rammed "PUNJABI" one of her escorting destroyers and was then damaged by the latter's depth charges as she went down with heavy loss of life. On the 2nd, minesweeper "Seagull" and Norwegian destroyer "St Albans" sank Polish submarine "JASTRZAB" in error. Three of the convoy's merchant ships were lost to torpedo aircraft but the remaining 22 reached Murmansk by the 5th. QP11 departed Russia on the 28th April and on the 30th cruiser "Edinburgh" was torpedoed twice by U-boat. As she limped back to Russia yet again, three German destroyers attacked QP11, but only managed to sank a straggler. They found the cruiser on the 2nd. In a series of confused fights amidst snow showers and smokescreens, "Edinburgh" disabled the "Hermann Schoemann" by gunfire, but was then torpedoed for a third time by either "Z-24" or "Z-25". Escorting destroyers "Forester" and "Foresight" were also damaged. Both "EDINBURGH" and "HERMANN SCHOEMANN" were scuttled on the 2nd. The surviving 12 merchantmen of QP11 got through to Reykjavik, Iceland on the 7th.

14th/15th - Cruiser "Trinidad" (above - Navy Photos) was damaged escorting PQ13 in March, and patched up at Murmansk ready for the homeward journey. Escort was now provided by four destroyers and cover by more cruisers, but on the 14th she was heavily attacked from the air and hit by a Ju88 bomber. Fires got out of control and "TRINIDAD" was scuttled next day in the cold waters north of Norway's North Cape.

German Surface Warships - In addition to aircraft and U-boats, the Germans now had "Tirpitz", "Admiral Scheer", "Lutzow", "Hipper" and nearly a dozen big destroyers at Narvik and Trondheim. With by now continuous daylight throughout the journey, the Admiralty pressed for the convoys to be discontinued until the days shortened. For political reasons they went ahead.

Convoys PQ16 and QP12 passed through in May. PQ16 started out for Russian with 35 ships but one returned, six were lost to heavy aircraft attack and one to U-boats. QP12 had one return but the other 14 reach Iceland.

JUNE 1942

Russian convoys PQ17 and QP13 set sail towards the end of the month.

JULY 1942

27th June-28th July - Destruction of Convoy PQ17 - Convoys PQ17 and return QP13 both set out on 27th June. PQ17 left Reykjavik, Iceland with 36 ships, of which two returned. The close escort under Cdr J. E. Broome included six destroyers and four corvettes. Two British and two US cruisers with destroyers were in support (Rear-Adm L. H. K. Hamilton), and distant cover was given by the Home Fleet (Adm Tovey) with battleships "Duke of York" and the US "Washington", carrier "Victorious", cruisers and destroyers. The British Admiralty believed the Germans were concentrating their heavy ships in northern Norway. In fact pocket battleship "Lutzow" had run aground off Narvik, but this still left battleship "Tirpitz", pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" and heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" - all formidable adversaries, which reach Altenfiord on the 3rd. At this time PQ17 had just passed to the north of Bear Island, after which German aircraft sank three merchantmen. Fear of attack by the German ships led the First Sea Lord, Adm Pound, far away in London, to decide the fate of the convoy. In the evening of the 4th the support cruisers were ordered to withdraw and the convoy to scatter. Unfortunately Adm Hamilton took the six escorting destroyers with him. The merchantmen were now to the north of North Cape. Thirty-one try to make for the isolated islands of Novaya Zemlya before heading south for Russian ports. Between the 5th and 10th July, 20 of them were lost, half each to the aircraft and U-boats sent to hunt them down. Some sheltered for days off the bleak shores of Novaya Zemlya. Eventually 11 survivors and two rescue ships reached Archangel and nearby ports between the 9th and 28th. In fact "Tirpitz" and the other ships did not leave Altenfiord until the morning of the 5th, after the 'convoy was to disperse' order. They abandoned the sortie that same day. History suggests the vital decision on the future of PQ17 should have been left to the commanders on the spot. The US reacted strongly to the Royal Navy apparently leaving its merchantmen to their fate. Meanwhile all went well with QP13's 35 ships from Murmansk, until the 5th. Approaching Iceland through the Denmark Strait they ran into a British minefield. Escorting minesweeper "NIGER" and five merchant ships were lost. The rest got in. No more Russian convoys run until September..

SEPTEMBER 1942

2nd-26th - Convoy PQ18 and Return QP14 - PQ18 left Loch Ewe in Scotland on the 2nd with over 40 merchantmen. The hard learnt lessons of PQ17 and previous convoys were not forgotten. Close escort was provided by 17 warships plus escort carrier "Avenger" and two destroyers. Two separate forces were in support - close cover by AA cruiser "Scylla" and 16 fleet destroyers under Rear-Adm R L Burnett, and further out three heavy cruisers. More distant cover was by Vice-Adm Sir Bruce Fraser with battleships "Anson" and "Duke of York", a light cruiser and destroyers to the northeast of Iceland. Submarines patrolled off the Norwegian Lofoten Islands and northern Norway. Over 40 major warships were involved. German heavy ships moved to Altenfiord but did not sortie. Instead the attacks were mounted by bombers and torpedo aircraft as well as U-boats. On the 13th, aircraft torpedoed nine ships, but next day "Avenger's" Hurricanes ensured only one more ship was lost to air attack. In total over 40 German aircraft were shot down by the convoy's defences. U-boats sank three merchantmen but lost three of their number to Adm Burnett's forces. Destroyers "Faulknor", "Onslow" and "Impulsive" sank "U-88", "U-589" and "U-457" respectively between the 12th and 16th in the Greenland and Barents Seas. (Some sources reverse the identity of "U-88" and "U-589"). Escort carrier "Avenger's" Swordfish from 825 Squadron helped with the destruction of "Onslow's" U-boat on the 14th. Of the original 40 ships, 27 reached Archangel on the 17th. Meanwhile return convoy QP14 with 15 ships sailed on the 13th to gain the protection of "Avenger" and Adm Burnett's AA cruiser and destroyer force. On the 20th, to the west of Bear Island, minesweeper "LEDA" was sunk by "U-435" and support group destroyer "SOMALI" torpedoed by "U-703". After struggling for four days in tow towards Iceland a gale blew up and she foundered to the north. Three merchant ships were lost to U-boats and the survivors reached Loch Ewe on the 26th. In late 1941, escort carrier "Audacity" closed the Gibraltar air-gap for the first time. "Avenger" had now done the same for the Russian route. However, further convoys havdto be postponed as ships were transferred in preparation for the North African landings.

NOVEMBER 1942

Archangel to Loch Ewe, Scotland convoy QP15 with 28 ships lost two to U-boat attack.

DECEMBER 1942

31st - Battle of the Barents Sea & Convoys JW51A and JW51B - After a three-month gap the first of the JW convoys set out. JW51 sailed in two sections. Part A left Loch Ewe, Scotland on the 15th with 16 ships bound for Kola Inlet. All arrived safely on Christmas Day, the 25th accompanied by supporting cruisers "Jamaica" and "Sheffield". JW51B (14 ships) left on the 22nd escorted by six destroyers, a minesweeper and four smaller vessels under the command of Capt St. V. Sherbrooke in "Onslow". Adm Burnett with "Jamaica" and "Sheffield" joined the convoy south west of Bear Island on the 29th to provide close cover through the Barents Sea. By now "Tirpitz", pocket battleship "Lutzow", heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper", light cruisers "Koln" and "Nurnberg" and a number of 5in and 5.9in gun destroyers were in Norwegian waters. The Admiralty assumed they were for attacks on Russian convoys. In fact, they were in Norway because Hitler feared invasion. Convoy JW51B was reported an the 30th and 8in "Hipper" (Adm Kummetz), 11in "Lutzow" and six destroyers put to sea from Altenfiord to intercept north of North Cape. Early on the 31st, New Year's Eve, the British ships were in four groups (1-4). The main convoy (1) with five remaining 4in or 4.7in destroyers "Achates", "Onslow", "Obdurate", "Obedient" and "Orwell" headed due east. (Some of the escort and merchantmen had been scattered by gales and never regained the convoy). Northeast of the convoy, detached minesweeper "Bramble" (2) was searching for missing ships. Adm Burnett's two 6in cruisers (3) covered to the north. Further north still a straggling merchant ship and escorting trawler (4) tried to reach the convoy. Capt Sherbrooke planned to use the same tactics as Adm Vian in the Second Battle of Sirte and head for the enemy while the convoy turned away under smoke. Unfortunately Adm Kummetz divided his force in two [1-2] and planned to attack from astern on both sides - "Hipper" [1] and three destroyers in the north and "Lutzow" [2] with the other three in the south.

On the 31st around 09.30, the action started with "Hipper's" three destroyers [1] heading north across the rear of the convoy (1), and opening fire on "Obdurate". The convoy later turned as planned, but south towards "Lutzow" [2]. Then "Onslow", Orwell" and Obedient" sighted Hipper" [1] and held her off until, at 10.20, "Onslow" was hit and Capt Sherbrooke badly wounded (Capt Rupert St. V. Sherbrooke RN was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry). Adm Burnett's cruisers (3) meanwhile, following a radar contact, had diverted north towards the straggler and escort (4). They only headed towards the action at 10.00. Still to the north of the convoy, "Hipper" [1] and her destroyers came across the hapless "BRAMBLE" (2) and sent her to the bottom around 10.40. They headed south, and 40min later the 8in cruiser [1] approached JW51B (1), opened fire and hit "ACHATES" which sank after the battle was over. Lutzow [2] had already come up on the convoy from the south but did not join battle until 11.45. She was driven off by the remaining destroyers. By now "Jamaica" and "Sheffield" (3) had arrived on the scene. They quickly hit "Hipper" [1] and sank destroyer "FRIEDRICH ECKOLDT". "Hipper" tried to get back to the convoy but again the destroyers skillfully kept her at bay. By midday the German ships were withdrawing with the two cruisers in pursuit. Contact was shortly lost. None of the merchantmen were more than lightly damaged and all 14 reached Kola on the 3rd January. Return convoy RA51 left Kola on the 30th December. After being supported part of the way by "Jamaica" and "Sheffield", the 14 merchant ships were safely delivered to Loch Ewe on the 11th January. When Hitler learnt the big ships had been driven off by light cruisers and destroyers he flew into a rage and ordered them all paid off. Grand-Adm Raeder resigned in protest and was succeeded as C-in-C, German Navy, in January by Adm Doenitz. The paying-off order was revoked.


HMS Britomart, Algerine minesweeper and
same class as the overwhelmed "Bramble"

 

1943

JANUARY 1943

Russian convoy JW52 and return RA52 both set out in January. Of the 25 ships in the two convoys, one left JW52 to return to port, and one merchantmen with RA52 was lost to U-boat attacks.

FEBRUARY 1943

Russia-bound convoy JW53 sailed with 28 merchantmen. Six turned back because of the weather, but the rest reach Kola Inlet on the 27th. Return convoy RA53 with 30 ships lost three to U-boats in March. These were the last convoys to or from Russia until November 1943 - another nine months, because of the pressure of events in the North Atlantic

MARCH - AUGUST 1943

No convoys ran.

SEPTEMBER 1943

22nd - Midget Submarine Attack on Tirpitz - Battleship "Tirpitz" posed such a threat to Russian convoys and held down so much of Home Fleet's strength that almost any measures to immobilise her were justified. One gallant attempt was made in October 1942 when a small Norwegian fishing vessel "Arthur", penetrated to within a few miles of the battleship in Trondheimfiord with Chariot human torpedoes slung underneath. Just short of the target they broke away and all the efforts were in vain. Now it was the turn of midget submarines - the X-craft each with two 2-ton saddle charges. Six left for northern Norway towed by 'S' or 'T' class submarines. Two were lost on passage, but on the 20th off Altenfiord, "X-5", "X-6" and "X-7" set out to attack "Tirpitz" and "X-10" for the Scharnhorst. "X-5" was lost and "X-10" was unable to attack, but "X-6" (Lt Cameron) and "X-7" (Lt Place) penetrated the defences to reach "Tirpitz" laying in Kaafiord at the far end of Altenfiord. Both dropped their charges under or near the battleship before they sank and some of their crews escaped. "Tirpitz" managed to shift her position slightly, but not enough to avoid damage when the charges went up. She was out of action for six months. Lt Donald Cameron RNR and Lt Basil Place RN were awarded the Victoria Cross.

NOVEMBER 1943

For the first time since March 1943, Russian convoys sailed - setting out and arriving at the end of the month and in early December. Convoys JW54A and JW54B to Kola Inlet, and return RA54A and RA54B passed through a total of 54 ships without loss.

DECEMBER 1943

26th - The Battle of North Cape and Convoy JW55B - Russian convoys were still sailing in two sections. JW55A left Loch Ewe, Scotland on the 12th and arrived safely with all 19 merchant ships on the 20th. Adm Fraser with "Duke of York" went right through to Russia for the first time before returning to Iceland.

Convoy JW55B, also with 19 ships, sailed for Russia on the 20th. >>>

<<< Three days later return convoy RA55A (22 ships) sets out.

Cover for both convoys through the Barents Sea was to be provided by Vice-Adm R. L. Burnett with cruisers "Belfast", "Norfolk" and "Sheffield" (1) which left Kola Inlet on the same day as RA55A - the 23rd. The Admiralty expected the 11in-gunned battlecruiser "Scharnhorst" to attack the convoys and Adm Fraser with "Duke of York" and cruiser "Jamaica" (2) left Iceland and headed for the Bear Island area. "Scharnhorst" (Rear-Adm Bey) and five destroyers [1] sailed from Altenfiord late on the 25th, Christmas Day. Early next morning JW55B was 50 miles south of Bear Island, the weather stormy, as the Germans headed north to intercept. Meanwhile Adm Fraser (2) was 200 miles away to the southwest and Adm Burnett's cruisers (1) were approaching the convoy from the east. At 07.30 on the 26th the German destroyers were detached to search for the convoy, failed to make contact and were later ordered home. They played no part in the battle.

 

 

First contact (by group 1) was just before 09.00 on the 26th when "Belfast" detected "Scharnhorst" by radar as she was heading south and only 30 miles east of the convoy. "Norfolk" engaged and hit the battlecruiser which turned north and away to try to get around to JW55B. Adm Burnett anticipated this move and instead of shadowing, carried on towards the convoy. "Belfast" regained contact at noon and all three cruisers (1) opened fire. In the next 20min "Scharnhorst" was hit and "Norfolk" badly damaged by 11in shells. The German ship now headed south away from the convoy as Adm Burnett shadowed by radar. At this time, Adm Fraser (2) was now to the south-southwest and in a position to cut off her retreat. He made radar contact soon after 16.00 at a range of 22 miles and closed in. Fifty minutes later at 1650, "Belfast" (1) illuminated "Scharnhorst" with starshell and Adm Burnett's cruisers (1) engaged from one side and "Duke of York" and "Jamaica" (2) from the other. Hard hit, especially by the battleship's 14in shells, the German ship's main armament was eventually silenced. Finally the cruisers and accompanying destroyers fired torpedoes, 10 or 11 of which struck home, and soon after 19.30 "SCHARNHORST" went down. Only 36 men could be rescued. Now only "Tirpitz" remained as a potential big ship threat to the Russian convoys. On the 29th JW55B reached Kola safely. Return convoy RA55A was well clear of Bear Island by the time the battle had started and made Loch Ewe on 1st January. The second return half - RA55B of eight ships - left Russia on the last day of the year and got in on 8th January.

 

1944

JANUARY 1944

Escorting Russian convoy JW56B, destroyer "HARDY (2)" was torpedoed by "U-278" to the south of Bear Island on the 30th and had to be scuttled. On the same day destroyers "Whitehall" and "Meteor" of the escort sank "U-314". All 16 of JW56B's ships reached Kola Inlet. JW56A earlier in the month had not been so fortunate - of the 20 merchantmen, five returned due to the weather, and three were lost to U-boats.

FEBRUARY 1944

The 42 merchantmen of Russian convoy JW57 all reached Kola on the 28th, but one escort and two U-boats were sunk in the battles surrounding them: 24th - To the northwest of Norway, "U-713" was put down by destroyer "Keppel" of the escort. 25th - Next day, destroyer "MAHRATTA" was lost to an acoustic torpedo from "U-956" or "U-990" and sank with heavy loss of life. A RAF Catalina of No 210 Squadron flying at extreme range managed to sink "U-601". Return convoy RA56 earlier in the month made Loch Ewe with its 37 ships.

MARCH 1944

The next return convoy from Russia RA57, sailed with the escort of the February JW57 including escort carrier "Chaser" and her rocket-firing Swordfish of 816 Squadron. On the 4th, to the north west of Norway, they damaged "U-472" which was finished off by destroyer "Onslaught". In the next two days, in spite of foul weather, they destroyed "U-366" and "U-973". The 2nd EG moved from Atlantic convoys to support Russian convoy JW58. Two days after leaving Loch Ewe and by now off Iceland, "Starling" sank "U-961" on the 29th. More U-boats were lost before the convoy reached Russia early in April.

APRIL 1944

Three days after 2nd EG sank "U-961" off Iceland, Russia-bound JW58 was to the northwest of Norway and the attacking U-boats lost three of their number. On the 1st an Avenger of 846 Squadron from escort carrier "Tracker" damaged "U-355" with rockets and destroyer "Beagle" completed the job. Next day - the 2nd - destroyer "Keppel" sank "U-360" with her ahead-throwing Hedgehog mortar. On the 3rd it was the turn of "U-288". A Swordfish, Wildcat and Avenger from "Tracker's" 846 and "Activity's" 819 Squadron sent her to the bottom. Apart from one merchantman forced to return, all JW58's remaining 48 ships arrived at Kola on the 5th April. Return convoy RA58 passed through 36 rnerchantmen by mid-month without loss.

3rd - Fleet Air Arm Attack on "Tirpitz", Operation 'Tungsten' - The damage inflicted by midget submarines on "Tirpitz" in September 1943 was nearly repaired and the Admiralty decided to launch a Fleet Air Arm attack. On the 30th March, Adm Fraser left Scapa Flow with battleships "Duke of York" and "Anson", fleet carriers "Victorious" and the old "Furious", escort carriers "Emperor", "Fencer", "Pursuer" and "Searcher", cruisers and destroyers, split into two forces, and headed north, partly to cover JW58. By the 2nd the two forces had joined up 120 miles off Altenfiord and early next morning on the 3rd, two waves each of 20 Barracuda bombers with fighter cover surprised "Tirpitz" at anchor. A total of 14 hits were made, but the damage was not serious. However, the battleship was out of action for another three months. Home Fleet was back in Scapa on the 6th. A similar operation was attempted later in the month, but bad weather prevented any attacks. Instead a German convoy was found in the area and three ships sunk. The weather again saved Tirpitz from two sorties in May 1944, but the fleet and escort carrier aircraft did manage to sink several more merchant ships at these and other times during the month.

MAY 1944

Return Russian convoy RA59 (45 ships) was attacked by U-boats to the northwest of Norway. One ship was lost, but in return the Swordfish of 842 Squadron from "Fencer" sank three with depth charges - on the 1st, "U-277", and next day "U-674" and "U-959". The convoy arrived at Loch Ewe with the rest of the 44 ships on 6th May.

JUNE 1944

6th June - Normandy invasion and the "Second Front" demanded, often belligerently by Russia since early 1942, was opened

JULY 1944

17th - FAA Attack on "Tirpitz" - Barracuda torpedo bombers from Home Fleet carriers "Formidable", "Indefatigable" and "Furious" attempted to hit "Tirpitz" in Altenfiord on the 17th, but failed, partly because of defensive smokescreens. U-boats were sent to attack the carrier force, but over a period of four days, RAF Coastal Command sank three in the Northern Transit Area.

AUGUST 1944

15th-29th - Attacks on Tirpitz and Convoy JW59 - Russian convoy JW59 (33 ships) left Loch Ewe on the 15th with a heavy escort including escort carriers "Striker" and "Vindex" and the 20th and 22nd Escort Groups. Home Fleet, under the command of Adm Moore, sailed in two groups, partly to cover the convoy but mainly to launch further FAA attacks on "Tirpitz" in Altenfiord. One group included "Formidable", "Indefatigable" and "Furious" and battleship "Duke of York"; the second one escort carriers "Trumpeter" and the Canadian-manned "Nabob" together with the 5th EG (Cdr Macintyre). Between the 22nd and 29th, three strikes were made, but in two of them the German ship was obscured by smoke; and although a hit was obtained on the 24th, the bomb failed to explode. In the course of these manoeuvres the escort carrier group suffered two casualties: 22nd - "U-354" encountered them to the northwest of North Cape and attacked. Frigate "BICKERTON" (below - in foreground) of the 5th EG was torpedoed, badly damaged, and finished off by destroyer "Vigilant" (not an old "V" and "W", but a war programme ship). Escort carrier "NABOB" was too badly damaged by her torpedo hit to be repaired. The U-boat was shortly sunk.

 

 

The convoy, JW59 was also subjected to U-boat attack and losses were sustained by both sides: 21st - Sloop "KITE" of the 22nd EG was torpedoed by "U-344" to the northwest of Norway in the Greenland Sea and went down. There were few survivors, but the attacker, like "U-354" was also sunk shortly. 24th - As "U-344" tried to approach the convoy to the north of North Cape, she was sunk by destroyer "Keppel", frigate "Loch Dunvegan" and sloops "Mermaid" and "Peacock" of the 20th EG (both sister-ships of "Kite" so recently lost to "U-344's" attack) 25th - "U-354" now prepared for the arrival of return convoy RA59A in the Bear Island area and was destroyed by a rocket-firing Swordfish of 825 Squadron from "Vindex". (Note: Some sources reverse the cause of loss of "U-344" and "U-354", but with "U-344" sunk on the 22nd and "U-354" on the 24th.) JW59 arrived at Kola Inlet on the 25th with all 33 merchant ships.

SEPTEMBER 1944

Return Russian convoy RA59A (nine ships) was now off northwest Norway when "U-394" was damaged by Swordfish of 825 Squadron and sunk on the 2nd by destroyers "Keppel" and "Whitehall" and sloops "Mermaid" and "Peacock". The convoy arrived safely at Loch Ewe on the 6th. Nine days later the next Russian-bound convoy, JW60 set out with 30 merchantmen. They too arrived at their destination without loss before the month was out. The next convoy returning from Russia, RA60 left Kola on the 28th with 30 ships, but by the time it arrived at Loch Ewe in early October had lost two merchantmen to U-boat attack. While still to the northwest of Norway on the 30th, Swordfish of 813 Squadron from escort carrier "Campania" sank "U-921".

OCTOBER 1944

Convoy JW61 arrived safely at Kola by the end of the month with all 29 ships. On the 30th October, JW61A with just two liners carrying Russian POWs for repatriation, left Liverpool and reached Kola Inlet by 6th November.

For the first time since September 1939, no merchant ships were lost throughout the length and breadth of the North and South Atlantic, including the Arctic, in October 1944

NOVEMBER 1944

UK-bound convoys RA61 and RA61A left Kola and passed through a total of 35 ships in the month without loss. Russian-bound JW62 set out at the end of the month and reached Kola in early December with all 30 merchant ships.

DECEMBER 1944

Return Russian convoy RA62 (28 ships) prepared to leave Kola Inlet on the 10th with the escort of JW62. Beforehand on the 9th, Royal Navy and Russian warships drove off the waiting U-boats, and corvette "Bamborough Castle" serving with the 8th and 20th EGs sank "U-387". As the convoy passed Jan Mayen Island on the 13th, "U-365" was sent to the bottom by Swordfish of 813 Squadron flying from escort carrier "Campania" (better known for her association with the 1951 Festival of Britain in London). All merchantmen reached Loch Ewe on the 19th.

 

1945

JANUARY 1945

Convoys JW63 and return RA63 passed through a total of 65 ships in the month without loss.

FEBRUARY 1945

There was still no let up for the Russian convoys. Although JW64 reached Kola Inlet safely on the 13th with all 26 merchantmen, the arriving corvette "DENBIGH CASTLE" was torpedoed by "U-992" and became a total loss. Four days later on the 17th return RA64 was ready to set out. Just off Kola Inlet "U-425" was sunk by sloop "Lark" and corvette "Alnwick Castle", but later that day "LARK" was damaged by "U-963" and also became a total loss. Corvette "BLUEBELL" was then torpedoed by "U-711" and blew up with only one man surviving. Of the 34 ships with the convoy, one returned, one went down to U-boats and on the 23rd, straggler "Henry Bacon" was sunk by Ju88 torpedo bombers, the last ship of the war by German aircraft. The rest of the convoy arrived at Loch Ewe on the 28th after a voyage made even more difficult by violent storms typical of northern waters.

MARCH 1945

As Russian convoy JW65 approached Kola Inlet with 24 merchant ships on the 20th, waiting U-boats sank two and "U-716" sank sloop "LAPWING" of the escort. Return RA65 set out on the 23rd and all 25 ships got through to the Orkney Islands on the last day of the month.

APRIL 1945

29th - Russia/UK Convoy RA66, the Last Convoy Battle of the War - Kola Inlet bound convoy JW66 (22 ships) arrived safely on the 25th with escort carriers "Premier" and "Vindex", cruiser "Diadem", Home Fleet destroyers and the 8th and 19th EGs all under the command of Rear-Adm A. E. Cunninghame-Graham. Return convoy RA66 (24 ships) set out on the 29th with JW66s escort, some of which went ahead to clear the 14 U-boats waiting off the Inlet. Frigates "Anguilla", "Cotton", "Loch lnsh" and "Loch Shin" of the 19th EG accounted for "U-307" followed by "U-286", the last U-boats sunk by warships of the Royal Navy. In the action, frigate "GOODALL" of the 19th EG was torpedoed by "U-968" and went down with heavy loss of life. She was the last major warship of the Royal and Dominion Navies lost in the war against Germany. RA66 arrived safely in the Clyde on 8th May

MAY 1945

One last Russian convoy sailed each way soon after the German surrender. JW67 left the Clyde on the 12th with 23 merchantmen and reached Kola on the 20th. Three days later return RA67, again with 23 ships, set out and on the last day of the month sailed up the Firth of Clyde, Scotland.

In Conclusion ...... Since August 1941, 78 convoys had sailed in both directions and passed through nearly 1,400 merchant ships for the loss of 85 - a loss rate of 6 percent. Millions of tons of vital cargo and thousands of tanks and aircraft were delivered to the Russians. The cost to the Royal Navy included one escort carrier severely damaged, two cruisers, six destroyers ans eight other escorts sunk in the cold and often stormy waters of the Arctic. The Germans lost "Scharnhorst" and indirectly "Tirpitz", three big destroyers, over 30 U-boats.

 

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revised 9/7/11


 

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