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Ushakov Medal for Arctic Convoy Veterans Letters Of Gratitude of Arctic Convoy Veterans



For the gruelling years of the Second World War the Soviet, British, American, Canadian, South African and other military and merchant sailors ploughing the Arctic seas within the Convoys discharged their allied duty with honour. They endured the fire miles of the World War II, having supplied arms, ammunition, food and thousands of tons of other strategic cargo to Soviet Russia essential to our war effort.

Originally convoys started to be used in the beginning of the WWII in 1939. The system of convoys provided for formation of large groups of merchant ships under the escort of military vessels for making sea trips. Such a system is organizationally complicated and hardly effective since speed of any convoy does not exceed speed of its slowest ship.

In April 1940 the fascist Germany occupied Norway under the pretext of defence of its nationals from the British invasion. On June 22, 1941 Germany treacherously attacked the USSR. On July 12, 1941 Soviet Union and Great Britain signed the treaty on ’mutual assistance’ against Germany.

In August 1941 Allied convoys commenced running to the Arctic port of Murmansk (with the exception of several months in 1943 the convoys to the Soviet Union ran from 1941 until the war’s end). The northern route of less than 2,500 miles was practical, but it crossed the cruellest sea of all, the Arctic Ocean. This Arctic route became known as the Murmansk Run.

A convoy set off each month, except in the summer when the lack of darkness made them very vulnerable to attack. On the other hand, in the darkness of the Arctic winter, when the sun never rose, keeping station was difficult for the poorly equipped merchant ships, so there was always a danger of ship-to-ship collision. Sailing around the northern tip of Norway, the convoys would be exposed to one of the largest concentrations of German U-boats, surface raiders and aircraft anywhere in the world. Strict orders forbade the halting of any ship for even a moment for fear of being attacked by prowling German U-boats, and individuals who fell overboard or survivors seen adrift on the waters had to be ruthlessly ignored. Each delivery of arms was an epic achievement, described as undertaking the impossible.

Some of these convoys are particularly notable.

On August 12, 1941 the first convoy ’Dervish’ departed Liverpool to Scapa Flow. It was composed of 6 British and a Dutch merchant ship. It reached Archangel with no losses on August 31 and delivered 10 thousand tons of rubber, 3800 depth-bombs and magnetic mines, 15 ’Hurricane’ fighters and other equipment.

Originally, the Allied convoys went unnamed and unnumbered. After several round trips were successfully completed, a coding system was established. All convoys bound for the Soviet Union were designated ’PQ’ and those returning were designated ’QP’ (the name of the officer who was monitoring convoys in the British Admiralty was P. Q. Edwards, his initials ’PQ’ were used to mark the convoys heading outward and QP - homeward).

On September 28, 1941 the first of the PQ-convoys made up of 10 merchant ships under the escort of a cruiser and 2 destroyers departed Iceland to Archangel and reached it safely on October 11, 1941.

By the end of 1941, seven convoys had delivered 750 tanks, 800 planes, 2,300 vehicles and more than 100,000 tons of general cargo to the Soviet Union. Convoy PQ-8 was attacked by a U-boat but came to Murmansk on January 19, 1942. By early February 1942, 12 northbound convoys including 93 ships had made the journey with the loss of only one ship to a U-boat.

During 1941 the enemy did not put up serious resistance to the convoys in the Arctic still setting hopes on ’blitzkrieg’. After the failure of the offensive on Moscow Germany started systematic fight against convoys by means of its fleet, submarines and ’Luftwaffe’ forces.

By the beginning of 1942 Germans additionally deployed here one of the worlds’ best battleships - ’Tirpitz’, two heavy cruisers, 10 destroyers and later another battleship and cruiser, plus 260 ’Luftwaffe’ military aircraft. Most of the time all these forces acted simultaneously by delivering massive strikes at the convoys.

By the end of June 1942, PQ-17, the largest and most valuable convoy in the history of the run and known particularly for the tremendous losses among the merchant ships, was formed up and ready to sail for Murmansk and Archangel. Its cargo was worth a staggering $700 million. Crammed into bulging holds were nearly 300 aircraft, 600 tanks, more than 4,000 trucks and trailers, and a general cargo that exceeded 150,000 tons. It was more than enough to completely equip an army of 50,000.

It sailed from Iceland on June 27, 1942. Thirty-five cargo ships were escorted by six destroyers and 15 other armed vessels. One ship was a catapult-armed merchantman that carried a Hawker Hurricane fighter which could be launched to intercept enemy aircraft and perform reconnaissance. Due to the threat from German surface ships, the convoy was ordered to scatter on July 4, and the escorts were withdrawn rather than risk their loss.

The toll taken on the abandoned convoy was horrendous. Only 11 of the 35 merchantmen that left Iceland finally made it to the Soviet Union. Fourteen of the sunken ships were American. More than two-thirds of the convoy had gone to the bottom, along with 210 combat planes, 430 Sherman tanks, 3,350 vehicles and nearly 100,000 tons of other cargo. More than 120 seamen were killed and countless others were crippled and maimed.

PQ-18 was the last convoy of this series which became the largest convoy formation. It departed on September 2, 1942 and was escorted by more than 30 military vessels, including 1 cruiser and 14 destroyers, as well as 2 tankers, 4 trawlers and a salvage ship. In total 51 vessels took part in this operation. 27 transport ships of PQ-18 delivered 150 thousand tons of cargo to Archangel which equaled to the total cargo amount supplied in 1941.

In November 1942 the convoys’ marking was changed for the reasons of secrecy to the following identifiers: JW for the journey to Russia and RA for the return journey.

By the end of 1942 well over a million tons of Allied shipping had been sent to the bottom of the Atlantic. 85 U-boats had gone there too. Slowly but surely the Battle of the Atlantic was turning the Allies’ way.

In January 1943 a great success was achieved. The convoy JW51B was attacked by the cruiser ’Hipper’ and the pocket battleship ’Luetzow’, but the allied escort was able to drive off the attacking forces. After this victory, convoys ran regularly, with breaks from March to November 1943 and in the summer of 1944, until the end of the war. A total of 14 convoys sailed to Russia from November 1943 to May 1945 with only 13 ships lost altogether.

U-boats were losing their effectiveness as Allied submarine-hunting techniques improved through 1944. The battleship ’Tirpitz’, always more potent as a threat than actual weapon, was finally sunk at her Tromso anchorage by RAF bombers on November 12, 1944.

The last convoy left on May 12, 1945, arriving at Murmansk on May 22, 1945. It had no losses.

Between August 1941 and the end of the war, a total of 78 convoys made the perilous journey to and from north Russia, carrying four million tons of supplies for use by Soviet forces fighting against the German Army on the Eastern Front.

In summary, about 1400 merchant ships delivered vital supplies to Russia. 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships were lost. Towards the end of the war the material significance of the supplies was probably not as great as the symbolic value hence the continuation of these convoys long after the Russians had turned the German land offensive.

On the whole these convoys delivered about 4,5 million metric tons of cargoes, which is about one fourth of western allies’ total aid. The cargoes included over 7,000 airplanes, about 5,000 tanks, cars, fuel, medicines, outfit, metals and other raw materials.

The Allied seamen showed true heroism in their long and perilous sea passages in convoys, being constantly attacked by enemy forces in the appalling weather conditions of the Arctic. The bravery of these men and women who unsparingly fought for the Victory will be always remembered and respected.

The last surviving British warship which participated in the Arctic Convoys is HMS Belfast, moored on the Thames opposite the Tower of London. Victory Day commemorations and award ceremonies for UK veterans of the Convoys are held aboard. In 2010 a restoration project for HMS Belfast was conveyed by a number of Russian companies.

An Arctic Convoys Museum exists in Scotland: http://www.russianarcticconvoymuseum.co.uk/ 


Update: Book about HMS Belfast “The Last Witness” published in 2010


Comments: 26

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29.09.2016 13:27 - George Milne

Having just returned from Arkhangelsk and St. Petersburg for the Dervish 75 commemorations, I wish to thank, on behalf of the UK delegation (which included two British RAF veterans who were on Dervish and six others, two of whom travelled from the US), all the Russian authorities who made the trip possible. It was an outstanding demonstration of gratitude and kindness with wreath-laying, receptions, gifts, free accommodation and above all friendship. As chairman of the Scottish multi-site museum project at Loch Ewe, I wish to tell Michael Davies, and any other relative of an Arctic Convoy veteran, that we would be very pleased to receive information about anyone who was involved in those convoys - at sea or on land. Please contact our emails: info@theracmproject.org - or - marketing@theracmproject.org - or - look at our websites: www.theracmproject.org - or - www.russianarcticconvoymuseum.co.uk

15.09.2016 15:56 - Michael Davies

Recently I have completed assembling my grandfather’s papers and have had 100 copies printed for his grandchildren & great grandchildren and a few places with which he was associated. Called A Parson’s Son. 257 pages about half are Annexes / Appendices. He was Admiral Sir Harold Burrough 4th July 1888 to 22nd October 1977. He had a remarkable career in the Royal Navy which included commanding (or being closely associated with) PQ3, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17. I may have a spare paper copy of his story – else I am very willing to send anyone a pdf copy via Dropbox – all I need is an email address.

24.08.2016 21:56 - simon macintyre

My father Lieut.Commander Clive Macintyre who served on HMS Nigeria and currently resides in Guernsey recently had a visit at home from a representative from , the Russian embassy in London,who personally presented him with his medal. The details of my father's story,allbeit a synopsis,can be found on the BBC website( bbc/guernsey )

21.06.2016 11:26 - John langton

I recently attended a ceremony with my father, Henry Langton MM, were he received the Ushakov Medal in recognition for his service in the Merchant Navy on the North Atlantic Convoys, which took place at Warrington Town Hall. Can I take this opportunity to thank you, on his behalf, in honouring him and the many thousands of Veterans you served to defeat the Axis powers during WWII.

15.06.2016 14:48 - David McWhinnie

My father served in the Arctic Convoys but didn't apply in time to receive the Ushakov Medal. Will there be a further opportunity for him to apply?

17.02.2016 04:55 - Wayne R Aves

I received information that the Usahkov Medal is only being awarded to surviving Arctic Allied Convoy veterans and not those have already passed away. Can you please tell me why the living survivors are being honoured but none of the veterans that have died. I think that this is unfair to the relatives of the veterans that have died as they deserve the right to have the medals on their behalf and share in this great honour.

03.02.2016 08:28 - Wayne Richard Aves

My father Cyril Richard Aves (now deceased) served on the HMS Farnham Castle K413 deployed to Arctic Allied Convoys. I am trying to find out if my father is entitled to the Usahkov Medal. He has received other medals commemorating the end of the Great Patriotic War and it would be an honour to receive the Usahkov Medal on his behalf at our annual ANZAC Day service. Wayne R Aves Brisbane Australia

21.10.2015 16:25 - tim driver

my father leslie driver served on board hms argus in ww2. on the russian convoys, after seeing what murmansk was like and the people, as my dad was an accomplished pianist , he persuaded the captain to allow him , the royal marine musicians and any other crew that could play to give the local russian military a dance band night, they played in a warehouse, where a large number of seats had been gathered, at first no one did anything until a high ranking officer got up and dance with a young lady,,he stopped after a few seconds and shouted to the other guests why were they not dancing, the other audience then got up and danced,,, apparently a good night was had by all, and all the musicians went back to the argus with VODKA ...

14.09.2015 12:26 - alan simmons

My father served on HMS Edinburgh which was sunk by German torpedo whilst on one of the Murmansk runs escorting a convoy. He survived and spent several months in Russia before returning to the UK on a sub ( Trident ). Famously the gold bullion the ship was carrying was recovered a few years ago. Might there be any other survivors from that sinking? And might any historians want to hear his story as although aged 94 he still has vivid memories of this action and his time at the Normandy Landings.

08.09.2014 16:50 - Camelia Nunn

On Thursday, 4th September, 2014, I had the great honour to accompany my uncle, Walter Ross, to the Russian Embassy in London, where he received The Ushakov Medal from Mr. Alexander Kramarenko, Minister - Counsellor. The presentation ceremony was very moving and it is no exaggeration to say that we were treated like Royalty by Mr Kramarenko and his Staff. Contrast this to when my uncle was awarded The Arctic Star Medal, by the British Government, which was merely sent to him by post.

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