Allied Warships

HMS Britomart (J 22)

Minesweeper of the Halcyon class

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeMinesweeper
ClassHalcyon 
PennantJ 22 
ModThird group 
Built byDevonport Dockyard (Plymouth, U.K.) : Barclay Curle 
Ordered1 Aug 1937 
Laid down1 Jun 1938 
Launched23 Aug 1938 
Commissioned24 Aug 1939 
Lost27 Aug 1944 
Loss position49° 41'N, 0° 05'E
History

HMS Britomart (Lt.Cdr. Arthur James Galvin, DSC, RNR) was accidentally sunk by allied aicraft off Le Havre, France in position 49º41'N, 00º05'E.

 

Commands listed for HMS Britomart (J 22)

Please note that we're still working on this section.

CommanderFromTo
1Lt.Cdr. Eric Percival Hinton, RN28 Jun 193928 May 1940
2Lt.Cdr. John Mark Symonds Cox, DSC, RN28 May 194015 Mar 1941 (+)
3Lt. George Henry Cook, RN15 Mar 194129 Mar 1941
4Lt.Cdr. Roger Frederick, RN29 Mar 194110 Aug 1941
5Lt.Cdr. Spencer Shelly Stammwitz, RN10 Aug 19415 Jan 1944
6Lt.Cdr. Arthur James Galvin, DSC, RNR5 Jan 194427 May 1944 (+)

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Notable events involving Britomart include:


15 Mar 1941
Dive-bombed by single aircraft. Bomb struck wardroom killing the commanding officer JMS Cox (and others?) (1)

20 Mar 1942

Convoys PQ 13 and QP 9.

Convoy PQ 13 from Iceland to Northern Russia and Convoy QP 9 from Northern Russia to Iceland.

On 20 March 1942 convoy PQ 13 departed Reykjavik for Murmansk.

The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Ballot (Panamanian, 6131 GRT, built 1922), Bateau (Panamanian, 4687 GRT, built 1926), Dunboyne (American, 3513 GRT, built 1920), Effingham (American, 6421 GRT, built 1919), El Estero (Panamanian, 4219 GRT, built 1920), Eldena (American, 6900 GRT, built 1919), Empire Cowper (British, 7164 GRT, built 1941), Empire Ranger (British, 7008 GRT, built 1942), Empire Starlight (British, 6850 GRT, built 1941), Gallant Fox (Panamanian, 5473 GRT, built 1918), Harpalion (British, 5486 GRT, built 1932), Induna (British, 5086 GRT, built 1925), Mana (Honduras, 3283 GRT, built 1920), Mormacmar (American, 5453 GRT, built 1920), New Westminster City (British, 4747 GRT, built 1929), Raceland (Panamanian, 4923 GRT, built 1910), River Afton (British, 5479 GRT, built 1935), Scottish American (British (tanker), 6999 GRT, built 1920) and Tobruk (Polish, 7048 GRT, built 1942).

The RFA oiler Oligarch (6897 GRT, built 1918) was also part of the convoy.

Close escort on departure from Reykjavik was provided by the escort destroyer HMS Lamerton (Lt.Cdr. C.R. Purse, DSC, RN) and the A/S trawlers HMS Blackfly (T/Lt. A.P. Hughes, RNR) and HMS Paynter (Lt. R.H. Nossiter, RANVR). Three M/S whalers were also with the convoy, these were: Silja (Skr. W. Rigby, RNR), Sulla (T/Skr. T. Meadows, RNR) and Sumba (T/Lt. W.E. Peters, RNR).

In the afternoon of 23 March convoy PQ 13 was joined by the destroyers HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. E. Mack, DSC, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN, SO close escort) which came from Seidisfjord.

At 2030/23, the light cruiser HMS Trinidad (Capt. L.S. Saunders, RN) made contact with the convoy to provide close cover. A strong south-westerly wind had accelerated the passage and the convoy was some 40 miles ahead of its sheduled position when it was sighted by HMS Trinidad. On reaching the miridian 5°W course was altered to the eastward in compliance with Admiralty instructions amending the route, on order to avoid a U-boat area.

At 0200/24, HMS Lamerton and the RFA oiler Oligargh parted company with the convoy. They wre to make rendezvous with destroyers that were with the Home Fleet which were to fuel from the tanker.

By noon on the 24th the convoy was in position 69°20'N, 00°20'E, making good almost 9 knots. So far so good.

That night, however, a gale sprang up from the north-east and by the forenoon of the 25th it was blowing force 8, with visibility varying up to 2 miles. For the next 36 hours the gale continued unabated. By dawn on the 27th the convoy was widely scattered, and not a single merchant ship was in sight from HMS Trinidad or either of the escorting destroyers.

Throughout the 27th short visibility and heavy weather made it difficult to find the scattered units of PQ 13. HMS Trinidad was searching the area about 100 miles south-west of Bear Island, where she was joined by HMS Nigeria (Capt. J.G.L. Dundas, CBE, RN, flying the flag of flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN), sighted none for them till the evening, when two ships were located. HMS Eclipse some 180 miles to the south-westward had one ship in company. HMS Fury spent most of the afternoon finding and fueling the whaler Sumba in sesponse to a urgent appeal received from the Sumba at 1127/27. This she completed at 2041/2, and then steered to rejoin the convoy, falling in with the merchant vessel Harpalion at 0710/28, with whom she remained in company.

By this time the weather was moderating and the situation was approximately as follows. The convoy was strung out over 150 miles. Furthest east was the merchant vessel Empire Ranger by herself, some 80 miles due north of North Cape at 0800/28. About 40 miles astern of her was a group of six merchant vessels and the armed whaler HMS Silja. 35 miles astern of this group was the Harpalion with HMS Fury. A further 65 miles to the west were six merchant vessels with HMS Eclipse, HMS Paynter and HMS Sumba in company. Four merchant vessels and an armed whaler were straggling (most likely HMS Sulla had already gone down by this time though).

HMS Trinidad had spent the night sweeping to the eastward along the convoy route, sighted the Empire Ranger at 0830/28. She then turned and swept back along the convoy's track, with the intention of concentrating with HMS Fury and HMS Eclipse, in view of the possibility of surface attack of which warning had been received from the Admiralty. The Harpalion and HMS Fury were sighted at 1125/28 and 20 minutes later, with HMS Fury in company course was again altered to the eastward. Meanwhile the convoy had been located by the enemy air reconnaissance.

The forenoon of the 28th March was clear and sunny, with occasional snow patches. At 1007/28, HMS Trinidad sighted a shadowing aircraft. which she engaged ineffectively at long range. The enemy wasted no time, within about an hour their bombers arrived on the scene. In the afternoon the German destroyers Z 24, Z 25 and Z 26 sailed from Kirkenes in search of the convoy.

Throughout the remainder of the day, air attacks were carried out at intervals. The eastern group of six merchant vessels with HMS Silja was dive bombed twice, the Panamanian merchant vessel Ballot being so shaken by near-misss that she dopped astern and started to abandon ship, though she subsquently reached port under her own steam.

At 1127/28, HMS Paynter was attacked.

At 1318/28, HMS Trinidad was narrowly missed by three bombs from an aircraft which dided out of a cloud. Between 1418 and 1430/28, HMS Trinidad was persistently dived bombed by Ju-88's but she sustained only some minor damage from near misses.

During the afternoon the merchant Raceland was sunk by aircraft and at about 1930/28 the Empire Ranger reported that she was sinking and abandoning ship in position 72°13'N, 32°10'E. The trawler Blackfly was sent to this position but she did not sighted any survivors.

During the hours of darkness during the night of 28/29 March, HMS Trinidad and HMS Fury cruised to the southward if 72°25'N, 30°00'E in order to cut off the enemy destroyers, should they attack either main group of the convoy. Course was altered to the east-north-east at 0200/29, in order to close the leading group of merchant ships and to locate the destroyers Sokrushitelny, Gremyashchiy and HMS Oribi (Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, DSC, RN) which had sailed from the Kola Inlet to make rendezvous which was effected at 0422/29. Around the same time, HMS Trinidad, opened fire on a U-boat which then dived to safety. This was U-378. Course was then shaped to the westward to close the group of merchant vessels that were with HMS Eclipse. Shortly afterwards they passed wreckage from the merchant vessel Empire Ranger. Four lifeboats, well stocked with ample supplies, were examined by HMS Oribi. The absence of survivors indicated that some ship must have rescued them.

The convoy group that was with HMS Eclipse now numbered eight merchant vessels. HMS Paynter and HMS Sumba were also with this group when they were found at 0630/29 in position 72°29'N, 31°48'E. The two Russian destroyers and HMS Oribi were ordered to remain with this group.

HMS Trinidad and HMS Fury altered course at 0700/29 to 105° and proceeded at 20 knots to seek the eastern group, which by now had been reduced to four ships. One ship, as already mentioned, had straggled the day before as a result of air attacks while another, the Induna, with HMS Silja in tow as the whaler had run short of fuel, got caught in heavy ice during the night and did not get clear till the following afternoon.

Meanwhile the German destroyers Z 24, Z 25 and Z 26 (S.O.) had left Kirkeness at 1330/28 and shaped course to the northward. At 2145/28, being then in approximately 72°20'N, 32°50'E course was altered to the westward to sweep along the estimated route of the convoy, at 15 knots. The destroyers were spread three miles apart. An hour later they came across the Empire Ranger's boats and picked up her survivors.

Continuing to the westward, they sighted a straggler, the Bateau at 0035/29 in position 72°20'N, 30°40'E. Z 26 promptly sank her by torpedo and gunfire. The Germans remained in the vicinity for an hour, and then, apparently thinking they were too far to the north-west, at 0140/29 set course 140°, and swept to the south-eastwar at 25 knots till 0530/29, when the turned due north up the meridian 33°55'E.

At 0820/29, they were once more on the estimated convoy route in approximately 72°22'N, 34°00'E. They altered course to 270° at 17 knots, to sweep to the westwards. This course took them directly towards HMS Trinidad and HMS Fury. The weather, which had earlier been fine, with the sky almost free from cloud and the visibility extreme, was then deteriorating and the visibility rapidly shortening.

The visibility had falled to two miles when at 0843/29, Trinidad's radar picked up an echo bearing 079°, 6.5 miles. Two minutes later the bearing changed to 092°, 4.5 miles - apparently three ships -. Captain Saunders though that they might be ships of the convoy but that he was surprised that three wounld be in this position. At 0849/29 shapes were sighted in the mist, which were identified as three foreign destroyers on approximate course 330°. As this could not be the Russian destroyers as these were further to the west fire was opened at the leading destroyer at 0851/29.

The Germans replied at almost the same moment. By 0852/29 the leading destroyer, Z 26 had been frequently hit and was blazing amidships. Fire was then shifted by HMS Trinidad to the second enemy destroyer in line. Half a minute later the wheel was put hard to starboard as it seemed likely that torpedoes had been fired and indeed two were seen later passing up the port side while the ship was still turning. The action now ceased for the time being.

Z 26, severely damaged, made to the north-westward. The other two German destroyers, who had not sighted the enemy through the mist, turned to the north-eastward to avoid torpedoes (none had been fired by the British), thus becoming separated from their leader whom they failed to rejoin for an hour.

Meanwhile, HMS Trinidad with HMS Fury astern had steadied on course 360°. At the same time radar contact was regained with Z 26 bearing 358°, 7200 yards so speed was increased and course altered to port so as to close. At 0917/29, the outline of the destroyer ws sighted fine on the port bow. HMS Trinidad, opened fire from 2900 yards. The enemy endeavoured to avoid the salvoes which were falling all round her by a continuous and violent zigzag. She did not return the fire and was apparently unable to fire her torpedoes due to damage but she was able to steam.

At 0922/29, HMS Trinidad fired a torpedo at Z 26. Two others fired shortly afterwards failed to leave the tubes due to icing. Meanwhile Z 26 was suppering a beating until at 0923/29 a torpedo was seen breaking surface 200 yards on the Trinidad's port bow. The wheel was put hard to port but it was too late and the torpedo hit HMS Trinidad between 71 and 79 stations on the port side. The ship almost immediately liste 17° to port, speed dropped to 8 knots, all communication from the compass platform failed and steering had to be shifted to the after-steering position.

Z 26 made off to the south-westward and was soon lost to view, pursued by HMS Fury, which from her station astern of HMS Trinidad had hitherto not sighted the enemy. This course took thhem close north of the approaching convoy. Visibility was then about 6 cables. The destroyers of the escort were zigzagging furiously around in order to maintain a decent speed when HMS Eclipse sighted a warship (Z 26) bearing 20° just visible in the mist. One of the Russian destroyers opened fire, but the Eclipse, mistaking her for HMS Trinidad, refrained from doing so. At this moment, 0930/29, HMS Fury appeared out of the snow ahead at high speed and for some minutes chaos reigned in the destroyer screen. HMS Fury actually fired two salvoes at HMS Eclipse before recognition. HMS Fury then turned back to rejoin HMS Trinidad, and the Eclipse, hauled round to the westward at 15 knots to follow the ship which had passed the convoy a few minutes before. HMS Eclipse had not gone far when her radar picked up an echo distant two miles, which she closed keeping the bearing about 20° on the port bow. Slowly the range decreased. At 0950/29 a ship was dimly sighted through the snow half a mile off. She was again taken for HMS Trinidad, but when the range was down to 800 yards she was recognised as a German destroyer and promptly engaged. The luckless Z 26 quickly increased speed to get away.

There followed a running fight in a snowstorm, the German ship making smoke and altering away whenever HMS Eclipse worked up on his quarter and opened A-arcs. The damage previously inflicted by HMS Trinidad prevented the German ship from replying to the British fire except with occasional shots which did no harm. Conditions were very severe. Spray, which swept over guns and bridge, immediately froze on anything it touched. Gundecks were icy and gun wells full of water and ice. Use of binoulares by bridge and director personnel was almost impossible.

This went on for half an hour, till at 1020/29, having by then been hit six times by 4.7" guns shells the Z 26 came to a stop, her stern almost awash and listing to port. HMS Eclipse was just about to fire her remaining torpedo into the German destroyer, when suddenly Z 24 and Z 25 hove into sight about two miles on her disengaged beam. At the same time the snow stopped and visibility increased rapidly. The two German destroyers immediately opened fire so HMS Eclipse made off at high speed to the north-westward, eventually reaching cover in a snow squall at 1035/29, but not before she had been hit aft by two shells at 1028/29 and holed above the waterline forward by two others which burst close alongside. Her main aerials were also shot away. The Germans made no attempt to follow, but stood by the sinking Z 26, which capsized at 1057/29. After rescuing survivors, Z 24 and Z 25 set course to retire at high speed to Kirkeness, where they arrived in the evening of the same day.

HMS Eclipse meanwhile find herself in an unseaworthy condition, short of fuel, and with nine wounded in urgent need of attention. She accordingly shaped course independently for Murmansk where she arrived the next day with only 40 tons of fuel remaining.

HMS Trinidad, meanwhile, after the explosion of the torpedo (It was later found out to have been her own) had turned to the south-eastward and was steering 130° at 6 knots, when HMS Fury rejoined her. Speed was slowly increased as much as due regard for the strain on her bulkheads permitted. At about 1100/29 the group of merchant ships screened by the Russian destroyers was overhauled and HMS Oribi was ordered to join HMS Fury as A/S screen. Early in the afternoon the minesweeper HMS Harrier (Cdr. E.P. Hinton, MVO, DSO, RN) also joined the screen. (The minesweepers HMS Harrier, HMS Gossamer (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Crease, RN), HMS Hussar (Lt. R.C. Biggs, DSC, RN) and HMS Speedwell (Lt.Cdr. J.J. Youngs, OBE, RNR) had departed the Kola Inlet on 28 March to patrol along the last part of the convoy route.) During the forenoon the list of HMS Trinidad had been gradually reduced and by this time she was on an even keel and making good between 12 to 14 knots. Late that night, however, priming with salt water in the feed water compelled a reduction of speed to only 2 to 4 knots, and threathened to stop her altogether. At 2315/29, HMS Trinidad was in position 70°18'N, 34°55'E, some 70 miles from the entrance to the Kola Inlet. By 0200/30, speed could be increased to 7 knots.

By the early moring the wind, which had been freshening all night, was blowing hard from the northward, with a considerable sea. On the whole HMS Trinidad weathered it well, and she reached to Kola Inlet at 0930/30. Three hours later HMS Trindidad and HMS Fury anchored at Rosta.

During 29 March 1942 the various groups and stragglers pursued their way to the east unmolested, turning to the southward on reaching the 37th meridian. Short visibility and low cloud gave protection from air attack and they were not yet in the area chosen by the enemy for submarine attack.

The western group of eight ships was escorted by the two Russian destroyers and HMS Oribi, ater their fleeting glimpse of Z 26, passed clear to the southwar of the other two German destroyers while they were searching for their leader. The four ships of the eastern group by the time surface actions were over were about to alter course to the south.

The Induna and HMS Silja did not get clear of the ice untill 1500/29. They estimated they were in approximately 72°00'N, 38°00'E and shaped course direct for Murmansk. Five hours later the tow parted and HMS Silja disappeared in a squall. Efforts to find her proved unvailing and the Induna continued her voyage alone. At 0707/30 (0807/30, German time), she was torpedoed by U-376 and sank around 0840/30 after having been hit be a coupe de grâce shortly before.

The Effingham was torpedoed by the German submarine U-456. She did not sink and a coupe de grâce missed. U-456 then lost sight of the damaged merhant vessel but she was found shortly afterwards by U-435 and she was then hit and sunk by the third torpedo fired from this submarine.

By the night of 30 March all the surviving 14 ships had arrived in the Kola Inlet except one which arrived early on 1 April. Nineteen ships had left Reykjavik on 20 March, five had been lost on passage.

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On 21 March 1942 convoy QP 9 departed Murmansk for Reykjavik.

The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Ashkhabad (Russian, 5284 GRT, built 1917), Barrwhin (British, 4998 GRT, built 1929), City of Flint (American, 4963 GRT, built 1920), Daldorch (British, 5571 GRT, built 1930), Earlston (British, 7195 GRT, built 1941), Empire Baffin (British, 6978 GRT, built 1941), Empire Byron (British, 6645 GRT, built 1942), Empire Magpie (British, 6517 GRT, built 1919), Hartlebury (British, 5082 GRT, built 1934), Kingswood (British, 5080 GRT, built 1929), Llandaff (British, 4825 GRT, built 1937), Lowther Castle (British, 5171 GRT, built 1937), Makawao (Hunduran, 3545 GRT, built 1921), Marylyn (British, 4555 GRT, built 1930), North King (Panamanian, 4608 GRT, built 1903), Pravda (Russian, 2513 GRT, built 1928), Shelon (Russian, 2310 GRT, built 1918), Stepan Khalturin (Russian, 2513 GRT, built 1921) and Trevorian (British, 4599 GRT, built 1920).

On departured from the Kola Inlet the convoy was escorted by the destroyers HMS Offa (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Ewing, RN), Gremyashchiy and the minesweepers HMS Britomart (Lt.Cdr. S.S. Stammwitz, RN), HMS Gossamer, HMS Harrier, HMS Hussar, HMS Niger (Cdr.(ret.) A.J. Cubison, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sharpshooter (Lt.Cdr. D. Lampen, RN) and HMS Speedwell.

The light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, RN) departed the Kola Inlet on 22 March to overtake the convoy which she joined later on the same day. She remained with the convoy until it reached 01°00'E and then she parted company to proceed to Scapa Flow arriving there at 1030/29.

On 23 March most of the convoy escorts parted company to return to the Kola Inlet. The convoy continued on escorted by HMS Offa, HMS Britomart and HMS Sharpshoorter (S.O.).

The convoy had an uneventful passage except for that HMS Sharpshooter rammed and sank the U-boat U-655 on 24 March.

The convoy arrived at Reykjavik on 3 April 1942.

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Cover for these convoys was provided by ships from the Home Fleet.

At 1000/22, the battleships HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CB, CVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN, second in command Home Fleet), HMS Duke of York (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN), battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.S. Daniel, CBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Punjabi (Lt.Cdr. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN), HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstrong, DSC and Bar, RN) and the escort destoyers HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN), HMS Middleton (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN) and HMS Wheatland (Lt. R.deL. Brooke, RN) departed Scapa Flow to proceed to the east of Iceland before proceeding to a position from where to provide distant cover for the convoys. HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN) parted company at 1230/22 to return to Scapa Flow due to defects.

Later in te day the heavy cruiser HMS Kent (Capt. A.E.M.B. Cunninghame-Graham, RN) and light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral S.S. Bonham-Carter, CVO, DSO, RN) departed Scapa Flow to overtake the ships that had sailed earlier.

At 1600/23, the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN) , HMS Bedouin (Cdr. B.G. Scurfield, OBE, RN) and HMS Tartar (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN) sailed from Seidisfiord, Iceland to relief the fleet destroyers that had sailed with the Home Fleet from Scapa Flow. The destroyers were exchanged at 2100/23. HMS Faulknor, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi and HMS Onslow arrived at Seidisfiord to fuel at 2230/23.

At 0400/24, HMS Faulknor, HMS Onslow, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi departed from Seidisfiord to rejoined the fleet. A fifth destroyer was now with them, this was HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN). They rejoined at 0800/24 after which the three escort were detached to Seidisfiord.

At 0530/25, HMS Tartar, when in position 66°14'N, 02°34'W was detached to return to Scapa Flow having sustained damage in the severe weather conditions. She arrived at Scapa Flow at 2000/26.

At 1400/27, the destroyers HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN) and HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, OBE, RN) sailed from Skaalefiord, Iceland to join the Home Fleet at 1800/27 in position 63°05'N, 04°20'W to augment the destroyer screen on the Home Fleet's return passage to Scapa Flow which, given the fact that no German heavy units were at sea, was now in the proces of being undertaken.

HMS King George V, HMS Duke of York, HMS Renown, HMS Victorious, HMS Kent, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Inglefield, HMS Faulknor, HMS Onslow, HMS Echo, HMS Escapade, HMS Forester, HMS Icarus, HMS Bedouin, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi and HMS Marne returned to Scapa Flow at 0800/28. (2)

20 Jun 1942
HMS P 45 (Lt. H.B. Turner, RN) participated in A/S exercises off Scapa Flow with HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN), HMS Britomart (Lt.Cdr. S.S. Stammwitz, RN), HMS Catterick (Lt. A. Tyson, RN) and HNoMS Glaisdale. (3)

27 Jun 1942
Convoy operations PQ 17 / QP 13

Convoy’s to and from Northern Russia

On 27 June 1942 Convoy PQ 17 departed Reykjavik Iceland bound for northern Russia. This convoy was made up of the following merchant ships;

American
Alcoa Ranger (5116 GRT, built 1919), Bellingham (5345 GRT, built 1920), Benjamin Harrison (7191 GRT, built 1942), Carlton (5127 GRT, built 1920), Christopher Newport (7191 GRT, built 1942), Daniel Morgan (7177 GRT, built 1942), Exford (4969 GRT, built 1919), Fairfield City (5686 GRT, built 1920), Honomu (6977 GRT, built 1919), Hoosier (5060 GRT, built 1920), Ironclad (5685 GRT, built 1919), John Witherspoon (7191 GRT, built 1942), Olopana (6069 GRT, built 1920), Pan Atlantic (5411 GRT, built 1919), Pan Kraft (5644 GRT, built 1919), Peter Kerr (6476 GRT, built 1920), Richard Bland (7191 GRT, built 1942), Washington (5564 GRT, built 1919), West Gotomska (5728 GRT, built 1919), William Hooper (7177 GRT, built 1942), Winston-Salem (6223 GRT, built 1920),

British
Bolton Castle (5203 GRT, built 1939), Earlston (7195 GRT, built 1941), Empire Byron (6645 GRT, built 1941), Empire Tide (6978 GRT, built 1941), Hartlebury (5082 GRT, built 1934), Navarino (4841 GRT, built 1937), Ocean Freedom (7173 GRT, built 1942), River Afton (5479 GRT, built 1935), Samuel Chase (7191 GRT, built 1942), Silver Sword (4937 GRT, built 1920),

Dutch
Paulus Potter (7168 GRT, built 1942),

Panamanian
El Capitan (5255 GRT, built 1917), Troubadour (6428 GRT, built 1920),

The Russian tankers Azerbaidjan (6114 GRT, built 1932), Donbass (7925 GRT, built 1935),

The British (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) tanker Grey Ranger (3313 GRT, built 1941).

Also with the convoy was a British rescue ship
Zaafaran (1559 GRT, built 1921).

The US merchants Exford and West Gotomska had to return both arrived back damaged at Reykjavik on 30 June. The first one due to ice damage and the second one due to damaged engines.

Escort was provided by the minesweepers HMS Britomart (Lt.Cdr. S.S. Stammwitz, RN), HMS Halcyon (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Corbet-Singleton, DSC, RN), HMS Salamander (Lt. W.R. Muttram, RN), A/S trawlers HMS Ayrshire (T/Lt. L.J.A. Gradwell, RNVR), HMS Lord Austin (T/Lt. O.B. Egjar, RNR), HMS Lord Middleton (T/Lt. R.H. Jameson, RNR) and HMS Northern Gem (Skr.Lt. W.J.V. Mullender, DSC, RD, RNR) and the submarine HMS P 615 (Lt. P.E. Newstead, RN).

The convoy was joined at sea by a close escort force made up of the following warships; destroyers HMS Keppel (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN / in command of the close escort of the convoy) , HMS Offa (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Ewing, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Leamington (Lt. B.M.D. L’Anson, RN), escort destroyers HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN), HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, DSC, RN), corvettes HMS Lotus (Lt. H.J. Hall, RNR), HMS Poppy (Lt. N.K. Boyd, RNR), HMS Dianella (T/Lt. J.G. Rankin, RNR), HMS La Malouine (T/Lt. V.D.H. Bidwell, RNR), Auxiliary AA ships HMS Palomares (A/Capt.(rtd.) J.H. Jauncey, RN) and HMS Pozarica (A/Capt.(rtd.) E.D.W. Lawford, RN) and submarine HMS P 614 (Lt. D.J. Beckley, RN). Also two more British rescue ships sailed with this force to join the convoy at sea; Rathlin (1600 GRT, built 1936) and Zamalek (1567 GRT, built 1921).

The RFA tanker Grey Ranger, which was to fuel the escorts, was now sailing independent from the convoy, she was escorted by the destroyer HMS Douglas (Lt.Cdr. R.B.S. Tennant, RN). Another RFA tanker, the Aldersdale, had now joined the convoy. It had originally been intended that Aldersdale would take the role the Grey Ranger was now performing but Grey Ranger had been damaged by ice to the north of Iceland so both tankers swappd roles.

Meanwhile on June 26th the Archangel section of the return convoy QP 13 had departed that port. This section was made up of 22 merchant ships;

American
American Press (5131 GRT, built 1920), American Robin (5172 GRT, built 1919), Hegira (7588 GRT, built 1919), Lancaster (7516 GRT, built 1918), Massmar (5828 GRT, built 1920), Mormacrey (5946 GRT, built 1919), Yaka (5432 GRT, built 1920),

British
Chulmleigh (5445 GRT, built 1938), Empire Mavis (5704 GRT, built 1919), Empire Meteor (7457 GRT, built 1940), Empire Stevenson (6209 GRT, built 1941), St. Clears (4312 GRT, built 1936),

Dutch
Pieter de Hoogh (7168 GRT, built 1941),

Panamanian
Capira (5625 GRT, built 1920), Mount Evans (5598 GRT, built 1919),

Russian
Alma Ata (3611 GRT, built 1920), Archangel (2480 GRT, built 1929), Budenni (2482 GRT, built 1923), Komiles (3962 GRT, built 1932), Kuzbass (3109 GRT, built 1914), Petrovski (3771 GRT, built 1921), Rodina (4441 GRT, built 1922), Stary Bolshevik (3794 GRT, built 1933)

They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Intrepid (Cdr. C.A. de W. Kitcat, RN), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. H. Eibel), the corvettes HMS Starwort (Lt.Cdr. N.W. Duck, RD, RNR), HMS Honeysuckle (Lt. H.H.D. MacKillican, DSC, RNR), the auxiliary AA ship HMS Alynbank (A/Capt.(rtd.) H.F. Nash, RN) and a local escort of four minesweepers ; HMS Bramble (Capt. J.H.F. Crombie, DSO, RN), HMS Seagull (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Pollock, RN), HMS Leda (A/Cdr.(rtd.) A.H. Wynne-Edwards, RN) and HMS Hazard (Lt.Cdr. J.R.A. Seymour, RN).

the next day (27th) the Murmask section of convoy QP 13 also went to sea. This was made up of 12 merchant ships;

American
City of Omaha (6124 GRT, built 1920), Heffron (7611 GRT, built 1919), Hybert (6120 GRT, built 1920), John Randolph (7191 GRT, built 1941), Mauna Kea (6064 GRT, built 1919), Nemaha (6501 GRT, built 1920), Richard Henry Lee (7191 GRT, built 1941),

British
Atlantic (5414 GRT, built 1939), Empire Baffin (6978 GRT, built 1941), Empire Selwyn (7167 GRT, built 1941),

Panamanian
Exterminator (6115 GRT, built 1924), Michigan (6419 GRT, built 1920),

They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Inglefield (Cdr. A.G. West, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt. A.S. Pomeroy, RN), the minesweepers HMS Niger (Cdr.ret.) A.J. Cubison, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Hussar (Lt. R.C. Biggs, DSC, RN), the corvettes HMS Hyderabad (Lt. S.C.B. Hickman, RN), FFS Roselys and the A/S trawlers Lady Madeleine (T/Lt. W.G.Ogden, RNVR) and St. Elstan (Lt. R.M. Roberts, RNR). Also three Russian destroyers (Grozniy, Gremyashchiy and Valerian Kyubishev) joined the escort of convoy QP 13 as far as 30 degrees East.

To cover these convoy operations a close cover force departed Hvalfjordur, Iceland on 30 June to take up a position to the north of convoy PQ 17. This force was made up of the British heavy cruisers HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN), HMS Norfolk (Capt. E.G.H. Bellars, RN), as well as the American heavy cruisers USS Tuscaloosa (Capt. L.P. Johnson, USN) and USS Wichita (Capt. H.W. Hill, USN). They were escorted by the British destroyer HMS Somali (Capt. J.W.M. Eaton, DSO, DSC, RN) and the American destroyers USS Rowan (Lt.Cdr. B.R. Harrison, Jr., USN) and USS Wainwright (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Gibbs, USN).

A distant cover force had meanwhile sailed from Scapa Flow late on the 29th to take up a cover position north-east of Jan Mayen Island. This force was made up of battleships HMS Duke of York (Capt. C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN, with the Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet, Admiral Sir J. Tovey, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN on board), USS Washington (Capt. H.H.J. Benson, USN, with Rear-Admiral R.C. Griffen, USN on board), aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN, with Vice-Admiral Sir B. Fraser, CB, KBE, RN, second in command Home Fleet on board), heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. A.H. Maxwell-Hyslop, AM, RN), light cruiser HMS Nigeria (Capt. S.H. Paton, RN, with Rear-Admiral Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN, commanding Cruiser Squadron 10 on board). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN, Capt. 8th Destroyer Flotilla), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Martin (Cdr. C.R.P. Thomson, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Onslaught (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Middleton (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN), HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, RN) and HMS Wheatland (Lt.Cdr. R.de.L Brooke, RN). The destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstong, DSC and Bar, RN, Capt. 17th Destroyer Flotilla), HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, RN), USS Mayrant (Cdr. C.C. Hartman, USN) and USS Rhind (Lt.Cdr. H.T. Read, USN) meanwhile arrived at Seidisfiord, Iceland from Scapa Flow to fuel before joining the Battlefleet at sea later.

Earlier on the 29th Force X, which was to act as a decoy convoy to fool the Germans, had departed Scapa Flow. This force was made up of; the auxiliary minelayers Southern Prince (A/Capt. J. Cresswell, RN), Agamemnon (Capt.(rtd.) F. Ratsey, RN) , Port Quebec (A/Capt.(rtd.) V. Hammersley-Heenan, RN) , Menestheus (Capt.(rtd.) R.H.F. de Salis, DSC and Bar, OBE, RN) and four merchant vessels (colliers ?). They were escorted by the light cruisers Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN), Curacoa (Capt. J.W. Boutwood, RN), minelayer Adventure (Capt. N.V. Grace, RN), destroyers Brighton (Cdr.(rtd). C.W.V.T.S. Lepper, RN), St. Marys (Lt.Cdr. K.H.J.L. Phibbs, RN), HMAS Nepal (Cdr. F.B. Morris, RAN), HrMs Tjerk Hiddes (Lt.Cdr. W.J. Kruys. RNethN), the escort destroyers Oakley (Lt.Cdr. T.A. Pack-Beresford, RN), Catterick (Lt. A. Tyson, RN), and 4 A/S trawlers. This force sailed eastward twice, on 30 June and 2 July, to about position 61°30’N, 01°30’E but was not spotted by the Germans.

First contact with the enemy occurred on 1 July 1942 when escorts from convoy PQ 17 twice attacked German submarines that were spotted on the surface several miles from the convoy. These were U-456 that was depth charged by HMS Ledbury and sustained light damage and U-657 that was depth charged by HMS Ledbury and HMS Leamington, she sustained no damage. That evening convoy PQ 17 also suffered its first attack from the air. Nine torpedo aircraft approached the convoy at about 1800 hours in position 73°30’N, 04°00’E. Some dropped torpedoes but they exploded wide of the convoy. One aircraft was shot down, most likely by the destroyer USS Rowan which was en-route from the cruiser force to the convoy to fuel from the Aldersdale.

The next night the convoy ran into for which persisted until the forenoon of the 3rd. In the afternoon of 2 July, U-255 made a torpedo attack on one of the escorts, HMS Fury, two torpedoes were fire but both missed. Fury then counter attacked with depth charges but U-255 sustained no damage. At more or less the same time U-376 was also depth charged by two or three escorts, she was not damaged. Shortly afterwards U-334 was also depth charged but she also escaped without damage.

On the 3rd several U-Boats were in contact for short periods but three were driven off by the escorts in the afternoon. When the mist cleared shadowing aircraft soon regained contact on the convoy.

By the early morning of the 4th convoy PQ 17 was about 60 nautical miles north of Bear Island where it sustained its first loss. Just before 0500 hours the new American merchant vessel Christopher Newport was torpedoed by a single aircraft. Damage was serious and the ship was finished off by the British submarine HMS P 614 which was part of the convoys escort while the rescue ship Zamalek took off the crew. The ship however remained afloat and was finally finished off by U-457.

In the evening of the 4th German aircraft made a successful attack on the convoy hitting the British merchant vessel Navarino, the American merchant William Hooper and the Russian tanker Azerbaidjan. The Azerbaidjan was able to proceed at 9 knots and in the end reached port. The other two ships had to be sunk, most of their crews were picked up by the rescue vessels. William Hooper in fact remained afloat and was finally finished off by U-334.

The situation was now as follows. Convoy PQ 17 was now about 130 nautical miles north-east of Bear Island and had just come through the heavy air attack remarkably well. The convoy discipline and shooting had been admirable and a substantial toll had been taken on the enemy. Rear-Admiral Hamilton was still covering the convoy with his cruiser force some ten miles to the north-eastward, with orders by the Admiralty to do so until ordered otherwise. Some 350 miles to the westward the main cover force was cruising in the area south-west of Spitzbergen.

Now turning to the Germans. The approval of the Führer to sail the heavy ships to attack the convoy had still not been obtained. The Tirpitz and Admiral Hipper meanwhile had joined the Admiral Scheer at the Alternfjord but noting further could be done without the Führer’s approval.

Meanwhile at the Admiralty it was known that German heavy surface units had gone to sea from Trondheim (battleships Tirpitz and heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper) and Narvik (pocket battleships Lützow and Admiral Scheer) but they had not been detected at sea. Fearing an attack on the convoy by these ships was imminent the convoy was ordered to scatter at 2123/4. Shortly before that the close cover force had been ordered to withdraw to the west as it was obviously no match for the German heavy ships.

The Admiralty decision was conveyed to Rear-Admiral Hamilton in the following three signals;
Most immediate. Cruiser force withdraw to the west at high speed. (2111B/4)
Most immediate. Owning to threat of surface ships, convoy is to disperse and to proceed to Russian ports. (2123B/4)
Most immediate. My 2323B/4. Convoy is to scatter. (2136B/4)
To Rear-Admiral Hamilton these signals could only mean that further information the admiralty had been hoping for had indeed come in and was of such a nature as to render imperative the drastic measures now ordered. Actually the reason for use of high speed by the cruisers was due to the massing of enemy submarines between 11°E and 20°E and the order to scatter was intended merely as a technical amendment of the term disperse that was used in the previous signal. This could not be known by the recipients, and the cumulative effect of these three signals – especially as the last one had a more important marking as the middle one – was to imply that pressing danger was actually upon them. As Commander Broome put it he expected to see the cruisers open fire and the enemy’s mast appear on the horizon at any moment. In this belief he decided to take the destroyers of his escort group to reinforce the cruiser force, and ordered the two submarines to stay near the convoy when it scattered and to try to attack the enemy, while the rest of the escorting ships were to proceed independently to Archangel.

At 2215/4 Commander Broome passed the signal to scatter to Commodore Dowding. The convoy was then in position 75°55’N, 27°52’E. Commander Broome then departed with the destroyers of the close screen to join the cruiser force of Rear-Admiral Hamilton.

Rear-Admiral Hamilton received the Admiralty orders at 2200/4. HMS Norfolk had just flown off her aircraft on an ice patrol. He therefore stood to the eastward for half an hour while attemps were made to recall it but these were without success and at 2230 hours the force turned to a westerly course at 25 knots steering to pass to the southward of the convoy so as to be between it and the probable direction of the enemy. An hour later they passed the merchant vessels which were now on widely divergent courses.

Rear-Admiral Hamilton was much concerned at the effect of the apparent desertion of the merchant ships had on morale. Had he been aware that the Admiralty had no further information of the enemy heavy units then he himself possessed he would have remained in a covering position until the convoy was widely dispersed.

As time went on without further developments Rear-Admiral Hamilton became more and more puzzled as to what have led to the sudden scattering of the convoy. But whatever the reason, the orders for his own force were clear, so he remained his westerly course at 25 knots. Thick fog was encountered soon after midnight, which persisted with brief intervals till 0630/5. Commander Broome, equally mystified by the course of events, soon began to feel that his place was with the merchant ships but he thought Rear-Admiral Hamilton was acting on fuller information then himself. As soon as the fog lifted sufficiently for visual signalling he informed the Rear-Admiral of his last hurried instructions to PQ 17 and requested that they should be amplified or amended as nessesary.

Actually Rear-Admiral Hamilton, who was still under the impression that enemy surface forces were in close proximity, argued that once the convoy had been scattered the enemy would leave it to their air forces and submarines to deal with it (and this was exactly what the Germans did). He feared the enemy surface forces would be ordered to deal with his force and reinforced by Commander Broome’s destroyers he felt that he could fight a delaying action, and had a good chance of leading the enemy within reach of the aircraft of HMS Victorious and possibly the heavy ships of the force of the Commander-in-Chief.

At 0700/5, while in position 75°40’N, 16°00’E, Rear-Admiral Hamilton reduced to 20 knots and at 0930 hours set course for Jan Mayen Island. It was not until that forenoon that the situation as regards the enemy heavy ships was made clear to him. Meanwhile he had to decide what to do with Commander Broome’s destroyers. Accordingly he ordered them to fuel from HMS London and HMS Norfolk. By 1630 hours the fueling of HMS Ledbury, HMS Wilton, USS Rowan and HMS Keppel had been completed. At 1740 hours a German Focke Wulf aircraft made contact and correctly reported the force in position 74°30’N, 07°40’E. Having been located, Rear-Admiral Hamilton broke wireless silence and at 1830/5 informed the Commander-in-Chief of his position, course, speed and the composition of his force. This was the first time the Commander-in-Chief was informed of the fact the Commander Broome’s destroyers with with the force of Rear-Admiral Hamilton, a fact which he regretted.

The Commander-in-Chief, having spent 4 July cruising about 150 nautical miles north-west of Bear Island, had turned to the south-westward in the early morning of the 5th, and was then on his way back to Scapa Flow some 120 nautical miles south-west of the force of Rear-Admiral Hamilton. Shortly afterwards there came news at last of the German heavy ships. The Russian submarine K-21 reported at 1700/5 the Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer and eight destroyers in position 71°25’N, 23°40’E, steering course 045°. She claimed to have hit the Tirpitz with two torpedoes. An hour or so later, at 1816 hours, a reconnoitring aircraft reported eleven strange ships in position 71°31’N, 27°10’E steering 065°, speed 10 knots. And finally HMS P 54 (Lt. C.E. Oxborrow, DSC, RN), at 2029/5 reported the Tirpitz and Admiral Hipper escorted by at least six destroyers and eight aircraft in position 71°30’N, 28°40’E steering a course of 060° at a speed of 22 knots.

Actually the cruise of the German ships was of short duration. Hitler’s permission to lauch the operation had only been obtained in the forenoon of the 5th and the executive order was given at 1137 hours. Rear-Admiral Hamilton’s cruisers were then known to be moving to the westward and Admiral Tovey’s covering force was some 450 miles away from the convoy. It seemed there would be no immediate danger for the German heavy ships provided they could approach the merchant ships unseen and engage them for a time as short as possible. But the Allied sighting reports were intercepted and the Naval Staff calculated that Admiral Tovey would be able to close sufficiently to launch an air attack before they would be able to return to port I they continued operations against the merchant ships after 0100/6. Air and U-boat attacks were meanwhile taking a heavy toll on the convoy and it did not seem that it was worth the risk. At 2132/5 orders were given to abandon the operation. At 2152 hours, while in position 71°38’N, 31°05’E the German ships reversed course and returned to Altafjord.

During the night of 5/6 July the Admiralty made three signals to the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet suggesting that the Tirpitz might be ‘reluctant to go as far as the convoy’ if the battlefleet was sighted steering to the eastward, and that aircraft from HMS Victorious might be able to attack her if she had ben damaged by the Russian submarines. The latter appeared to Admiral Tovey unlikely, for as it seemed certain that the Tirpitz, especially if damaged, would not be sailed down the Norwegian coast until adequate fighter cover and seaward reconnaissance were available. However, arrangements were made for the fleet to reverse its course if the approach of enemy aircraft was detected and at 0645/6 course was altered back to the north-eastward. An hour later an enemy aircraft passed over the fleet above the clouds but endeavours to attrack its attention by gunfire and fighters were unsuccessful. That forenoon Rear-Admiral Hamilton’s force joined the fleet at 1040/6. Weather was unsuitable for air reconnaissance and Admiral Tovey felt that nothing was to be gained by continuing to the north-eastward. Rear-Admiral Hamilton’s cruisers and eight destroyers were detached to Seidisfjord at 1230 hours and the battlefleet turned to the southward again shortly afterwards. All ships reached harbour on the 8th.

The last news of the enemy ships came on 7 July, when a British aircraft working from Vaenga, near Murmansk, reported the Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper and some destroyers followed by an oiler from a neighbouring fjord turning out of Lang Fjord in Arnoy (70°N, 20°30’E). By this time the Allied ships were well on their way home but an attempt to attack the enemy was once again made by submarines. Anticipating their return to Narvik, HMS Sturgeon and FFL Minerve had been ordered on 6 July to leave the main patrol line and to patrol to the mouth of the Vest Fjord on the 7th and the 8th, one at a time, in case the Tirpitz should pass on the outside of the Lofoten Islands, owning to her heavy draught due to possible damage. Nothing came of this, however, nor of a further patrol carried out by HMS Sturgeon on the night of 9/10 July close inshore some 70 nautical miles north of Trondheim in case of any German ships going to that port.

Now back to the ships of convoy PQ 17. The sudden order to scatter came to Commodore Dowding as an unpleasant surprise. Like Rear-Admiral Hamilton and Commander Broome he did not doubt that it heralded the immediate appearance of enemy heavy ships, and as the escorting destroyers parted company to join the cruisers, he signalled to HMS Keppel ‘Many thanks, goodbye and good hunting’ to which Commander Broome replied ‘It’s a grim business leaving you here’. It was indeed a grim business and the gravity of the situation was clear to all. Weather attack by surface craft developed in a few minutes or by aircraft and submarines during the next few days, the plight of the individual merchant ships – deprived of mutual support of their escort - was parlous in the extreme.

The convoy scattered as laid down in the instructions, in perfect order, though it must have been apparent to the ships that had to turn to the south-west that they were heading towards where the most trouble might be expected. The merchant ships proceeded mostly alone, or in groups of two or three. The anti-aircraft ships HMS Palomares and HMS Pozarica each took charge of a group, each collecting also two or three minesweepers or corvettes to act as a screen. They joined company the next day and proceeded towards Novaya Zemlya. HMS Salamander accompanied two merchantmen and a rescue ship. HMS Daniella was escorting the submarines, HMS P 614 and HMS P 615. She stood them clear of the convoy, when they separated to patrol in its wake, while the corvette went on by itself. At first the different groups spread on courses ranging from north to east, a few steering afterwards for Archangel, most seeking shelter in Novaya Zemlya. But less than half the merchant ships reached even ‘horrid Zembla’s frozen realms’, for 17 in addition to the oiler RFA Aldersdale and the rescue ship Zaafaran were sunk during the next three days by bombing aircraft and U-boats. The bulk of the losses took place on the 5th while the ships were still far to the north, six being sunk by bombs and six were torpedoed by submarines. One ship was bombed on the 6th. Four were torpedoed by U-boats off the south-west coast of Novaya Zemlya between the evening of the 6th and the early morning of the 8th.

By the 7th of July, most of the escort, the rescue ship Zamalek and five merchant ships, the Ocean Freedom, Hoosier, Benjamin Harrison, El Capitan and Samual Chase, had reached Matochkin Strait. Commodore Dowding, whose ship the River Afton had been sunk by a U-boat on the 5th, arrived in HMS Lotus, which had rescued him and 36 survivors, including the Master after 3.5 hours on rafts and floats. After a conference on board HMS Palomares, these merchantmen were formed into a convoy into a convoy and sailed that evening, escorted by the two AA ships, HMS Halcyon, HMS Salamander, HMS Britomart, HMS Poppy, HMS Lotus and HMS La Malouine and three A/S trawlers. The Benjamin Harrison soon got separated in fog and returned to the Matochkin Strait but the remainder were still in company when the fog temporarily cleared during the forenoon of the 8th, and course was shaped to pass east and south of Kolguyev Island. It was an anxious passage, much fog and ice was encountered and U-boats were known to be about. From time to time boatloads of survivors from other ships already sunk were encountered and picked up. A remainder of the fate that might be in store for any of them. During the noght of 9-10 July some 40 bombers carried out high level attacks on this small convoy. The attacks lasted for four hours, the Hoosier and El Capitan were sunk by near misses some 60 nautical miles north of Cape Kanin. Four aircraft are believed to have been shot down. The attacks ended at 0230/10 and half an hour later two Russian flying boats appeared. The surviving ships arrived at Archangel the next day, 11 July. Three ships out of thirty-seven were now in port, not a very successful convoy so far. Things were however not that bad as Commodore Dowding thought at that moment. The rescue ship Rathlin with two merchant ships, the Donbass and the Bellingham had arrived on the 9th, having shot down an aircraft the day before, and before long the news of other ships sheltering in Novaya Zemlya came in.

At his special request, Commodore Dowding, despite all he had been through, left Archangel in HMS Poppy on 16 July, in company with HMS Lotus and HMS La Malouine, to form these merchant ships into a convoy and bring them to Archangel. After a stormy passage they arrived at Byelushya Bay on the 19th. There 12 survivors from the merchant Olopana were found. During the day the coast was searched and in the evening the Winston Salem was found agound and later the Empire Tide was found at anchor. The next morning Motochkin Strait was entered and five merchant ships were found at anchor, the Benjamin Harrison, Silver Sword, Troubadour, Ironclad and the Azerbaidjan. A Russian icebreaker (the Murman) was also there as was a Russian trawler (the Kerov). Also, one of the escorts of convoy PQ 17 was found there, the British A/S trawler Ayrshire.

Commodore Dowding wasted no time. A conference was held that forenoon and in the evening all ships sailed, the Commodore leading in the Russian icebreaker Murman. The Empire Tide, which had a lot of survivors from sunken ships aboard joined the convoy early the next day. The Winston Salem was however still aground with two Russian tugs standing by. Much fog was encountered during the passage which was uneventful except for two U-boat alarms. The escort was reinforced by HMS Pozarica, HMS Bramble, HMS Hazard, HMS Leda, HMS Dianella and two Russian destroyers on the 22th. The convoy arrived safe at Archangel on the 24th.

Four days later (on the 28th) the Winston Salem was finally refloated. She managed reached harbour as the last ship of the ill-fated PQ 17 convoy making a total of 11 survivors out of a total of 35 ships. It was realised afterwards by the Admiralty that the decision to scatter the convoy had been premature.

The disastrous passage of convoy PQ 17 tended to throw into the background the fortunes of the westbound convoy, QP 13. This convoy of 35 ships sailed in two parts from Archangel and Murmansk and joined at sea on 28 June under Commodore N.H. Gale. Thick weather prevailed during most of the passage, but the convoy was reported by enemy aircraft on 30 June while still east of Bear Island and again on 2 July. No attacks developed, the enemy focus was on the eastbound convoy. That afternoon the ill-fated convoy PQ 17 was passed.

After an uneventful passage, convoy QP 13 divided off the north-east coast of Iceland on 4 July. Commodore Gale with 16 merchant ships turned south for Loch Ewe while the remaining 9 merchant ships continued round the north coast of Iceland for Reykjavik. At 1900/5 these ships formed into a five column convoy. They were escorted by HMS Niger (SO), HMS Hussar, FFL Roselys, HMS Lady Madeleine and HMS St. Elstan. They were now approaching the north-west corner of Iceland. The weather was overcast, visibility about one mile, wind north-east, force 8, sea rough. No sights had been obtained since 1800/2 and the convoys position was considerably in doubt. At 1910/5 Commander Cubison (C.O. HMS Niger) suggested that the front of the convoy should be reduced to two columns in order to pass between Straumnes and the minefield off the north-west coast of Iceland. This was the first the convoy Commodore had heard of the existence of this minefield. Soon afterwards, Commander Cubison gave his estimated position at 2000/5 as 66°45’N, 22°22’W and suggested altering course 222° for Straumnes Point at that time. This was done. About two hours later, at 2200 hours, HMS Niger which had gone ahead to try to make landfall leaving HMS Hussar as a visual link with the convoy, sighted what she took to be North Cape bearing 150° at a range of one mile and ordered the course of the convoy to be altered to 270°. Actually what HMS Niger sighted was a large iceberg but this was not realised for some time. At 2240/5 HMS Niger blew up and sank with heavy loss of life, including Commander Cubison. Five minutes later a last signal from her, explaining her mistaken landfall and recommending a return to course 222° was handed to the convoy Commodore. But it was too late, already explosions were occurring amongst the merchant ships. The westerly course had led the convoy straight into the minefield. Considerable confusion prevailed, some thinking that a U-boat attack was in progress, other imagining a surface raider. Four ships were sunk, the Heffron, Hybert, Massmar and the Rodina and two were seriously damaged, the John Randolph and the Exterminator. Good rescue work was carried out by the escorts, especially the FFL Roselys which picked up 179 survivors from various ships. Meanwhile HMS Hussar had obtained a shore fix, led out the remaining merchant ships, which reformed on a southerly course for Reykjavik where they arrived without further misadventure.

Sources

  1. Personal communication
  2. ADM 234/369
  3. ADM 173/17407

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.


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