Halcyon Class Minesweepers

Halcyon Class Ships
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Officers of 6th Minesweeping Flotilla - Halcyon Class Minesweepers

Officers of the 6th MSF (Source: PQ17 - Godfrey Winn) 



While from time to time various convoy escorts remained in North Russia either due to damage, the need for detached duty or the advent of summer making passage dangerous. It was the practice from the earliest convoys to base ships of the HALCYON class at Murmansk to provide a minesweeping capability. Surprisingly, in view of their long-standing penchant for mine warfare, the Russian fleet appears at that time to have lacked such a basic skill.

The pattern of service was for the individual minesweepers to take passage to Russia as escorts of an eastbound convoy, and to remain on station throughout the next winter, returning home in one of the spring convoys after relief. While in Russian waters they were responsible for sweeping out the westbound convoys, and meeting the inward eastbound ones, usually some 48 hours away from Murmansk. Anti-submarine escort was also required of them, and they were required to operate as far north and east as the ice edge in the Kara Sea whenever movements took place there. There was, of course, the usual preventative minesweeping to be undertaken in the Murmansk approaches, bearing in mind that the front line was under fifty miles away for much of the period of their service.

HMS Speedwell ice coveredThe escort of convoys could assume major proportions, and it was minesweepers that were present when the cruiser Edinburgh endeavoured to return after damage, while Bramble was lost engaging a force led by the cruiser Admiral Hipper. The duties of the ships in harbour were also manifold, for apart from sweeping they provided the communications link, operated as AA guard ships, controlled shipping in the anchorages, provided advice and training to the Russians and carried out multifarious local duties.  

All this was performed by small ships with very limited facilities, which had certainly not been built for Arctic conditions. Recreational facilities ashore were almost non-existent and self-help was the order of the day. Some assistance could be given by larger ships of the Fleet which called between convoys, and the  Senior British Naval Officer, North Russia was constantly pressing for canteen stores, mails, etc to be specifically embarked for his ships and shore party.
Photo of HMS Speedwell

(Source Richard Brown - son of Sickberth Attendant HTM Brown)

As minesweepers became available to the Russians, either by transfer from the RN of suitable small craft or by provision of US built craft, the need for the Halcyons diminished, but throughout their stay the British Flag Officers were universal in their praise for the efficiency, enthusiasm and cheerful acceptance of conditions by all members of the ships' companies.    

Halcyon Class Minesweepers in Ice



Halcyon class minesweepers lead a convoy through pack ice off the Russian coast during the winter of 1941/42 with two elderly freighters astern.

(Source: Convoys to Russia 1941 - 1943 Bob Ruegg and Arnold Hague)



Arctic Star - click here to see details of this new award which was issued in October 2006

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This site was last updated 17 Januar 2012