Halcyons in North Russia (Source: PQ17 - Godfrey
(This extract is not attributed to any person or ship but appears to
relate to HMS Gossamer’s experiences.)
Experiences of Ice at
over the bar of the River Dvina is followed by 24 miles of narrow
and very tortuous channel. Navigation is done entirely on shore
transits as no buoy mooring can stand up to the ice. The North Dvina
Light-ship is removed in winter for the same reason. When the river
is free of ice it is a two hour trip for fleet minesweepers.
encountered the first sheet of ice on 22nd October. This
was some 3 inches thick. We nosed our way through it with infinite
care, thinking ourselves to be some sort of Shackletons. However a
Norwegian officer serving in one of our ships told us, correctly,
that this was nothing. So we took to charging through it
contemptuously at our full 14 knots.
25th October the ice was a little thicker and more
widespread. Our changing tactics merely led to one engine, and often
both, having to be stopped because the condenser inlets were choked
by ice. Some tense moments resulted among the hairpin bends. The ice
was not, at this stage, thick enough to stop the ship provided one
engine could be kept running (to have both going simultaneously was
a very rare occurrence). “Bogey” for the 24 mile course had now
risen to about five hours.
Engineer officers then got really busy, assisted by some
professional advice from the Russians, and the stage was reached
where, more often than not, they could keep both engines going
provided we left the revolutions to them. They used to give from six
to eight knots. It was about this time that the Gossamer and the
Hussar tried to spend a night alongside the Norfolk on the seaward
and more ice-free part of the river. Loose lumps of ice coming down
with the tide piled up between the ships, forcing their bows apart.
Eventually six wires parted simultaneously leaving the two
minesweepers to drift down the river.
the ice got thicker we found that at some six to eight knots we
frequently stuck. Going astern and having butt at it usually enabled
us to make slow and jerky progress. When going astern failed to
unstuck us, a short burst of speed ahead was often effective,
although this was invariably followed by choked condensers. Another
discovery we made was that when butting through the ice, wheel and
engines are often quite ineffective in steering the ship. In spite
of our best efforts, the ship goes in the direction in which the ice
breaks – usually straight ahead.
get alongside a jetty also presented a new problem. Our bows would
go in, but all our efforts to coax our sterns alongside were
thwarted by a cushion of ice between ship and jetty. For this we
eventually discovered two effective solutions. One was to push the
bow into the jetty in the place where one eventually aspired to
berth the stern. By going ahead with wheel towards the jetty it was
then possible to scrape the jetty clear of ice for the ship’s
length. The other, and rather neater, solution was to approach the
jetty stern first. By moving engines ahead and astern one could
gradually disperse the ice with the wash of the propellers.
November a time had arrived when no amount of backing and filling or
of spurting could get us through the ice and assistance became
necessary. This took the form of tugs with blunt, shallow bows which
ride up on the ice until the weight of the tug breaks it. Their
method of procedure was to circle our ships (“breaking them out”)
until the ice had been loosened, when they would take station ahead
for us to follow them. The trouble about this was that, if we
followed close the lumps of ice forced down by their screws led to
the continual choking of our inlets, while if we kept our distance,
the ice had time to solidify and we frequently stuck. We always
tried to make them tow us, but this was obviously against their
principles, possibly because from time to time both ships would
stick, which meant that they had to cast off the tow and break us
out again. Our best passages at this time were accomplished when we
could find a merchantman going in the same direction as ourselves
and were able to follow her at about five cables. “Bogey” for the 24
miles had now risen to 48 hours.
of the disadvantages of ships being able to move only when within a
“lane” of broken ice is that these lanes are usually only wide
enough for a single ship. When two ships meet head on in the same
lane complete deadlock ensues as neither can give way. There is
nothing to do except to stay there until an icebreaker of some kind
comes along and widens the lane. This may not be for 24 hours or
more. When in one of these traffic blocks, particularly in 47
degrees of frost, one’s instincts are to ring off and all go below
to warm up. This, however, is fatal. One must keep jogging ahead and
astern, if it is only for a quarter of a ship’s length, or within
five minutes the ship will completely frozen-in beyond all hope of
ice became really thick by 4th November when even the
Russians admitted that a proper ice breaker was necessary.
Accordingly the celebrated Lenin appeared looking rather like a
battle ship of the Iron Duke class on a smaller scale. She certainly
seemed to rush through anything, leaving a wide lane in her wake.
Her main employment appeared to steam up and down so as to keep the
main channel sufficiently loose for merchantmen to move alone or
with the help of tugs. About this time we began to find it somewhat
disconcerting to have to use our sirens to remove people and even
horses from the track of our ship. It seemed strange to pass a
market on the ice in full swing only a few yards from us.
Furthermore our tactics for getting alongside a jetty no longer
worked. The only recognised method now appeared to be for the ship
to stop some 15 yards from the jetty while a tug dispersed the ice
by steaming to and fro between the ship and jetty. Even with the
assistance of two tugs, however, we only managed to get our stern
in. This was our last attempt before we abandoned the river on 13th
22nd November we were leading a convoy towards Archangel
at first light when some five miles short of the bar there was a
familiar scrunching noise and we found ourselves in thick ice. This
was something quite new, but we eventually managed to extract
ourselves and to anchor in clear water to seawards. That night more
ice drifted out of the river, surrounded our ship and dragged us for
1 ½ miles. Again we got out successfully, but had to re-enter in
order to fuel from a tanker, alongside which we spent the night. The
tanker had 90 fathoms of cable, but when the morning came we found
that the entire area of ice had drifted no less than 20 miles,
taking the tanker, the Gossamer and several other craft with it.
Except when trying to move about, we used to anchor even when
surrounded by ice. But this was probably unnecessary as the ice
always held the ship only too securely without assistance. Indeed,
when the ice did decide to drift, no amount of cable served to
prevent dragging. Moreover as the frost had cracked the cylinders of
the capstan-engine we were reduced to running the capstan by man
power, and, in consequence, had quite a struggle each time we
weighed anchor. We shall not easily forget the sight of our
resourceful First Lieutenant on the forecastle encouraging six
seamen who were digging in the ice with axes and shovels to make a
hole through which he could raise the anchor.
Source: ADM 199/624 1st &
6th MSF Report of Proceedings
Subject: ICE CONDITIONS AT MOLOTOVSK AND IN DVINA RIVER
From: Senior Officer, First MSF, HMS BRAMBLE
Date: 3rd December 1941
To: The Senior British Naval Officer, North Russia
following circumstances prompted me to report that I consider ice
conditions at Molotovsk and Dvina River were dangerous for
(a) On morning of
departure of QP2, ICARUS, ECLIPSE, BRAMBLE and GOSSAMER were iced in at Brevennick and it took two icebreakers six hours to clear a passage
for ships into the main stream.
(b) GOSSAMER, HUSSAR and
SPEEDY were delayed sailing for minesweeping prior to arrival of PQ3
for 36 hours owing to ice breakers not being provided at the time
promised. GOSSAMER and SPEEDY subsequently grounded on the bar as
Light Vessel had been removed without their knowledge. If they had
known they would have taken pilots.
(c) BRAMBLE and SEAGULL
waited six days for oil at Ekonomia, I being promised daily. Two days
before ships were due to sail SEAGULL filled up from LEDA and oil for
BRAMBLE was personally assured by Chief of Staff for the following
day. Oil eventually arrived with the ice breaker that was to take
BRAMBLE and SEAGULL out of harbour and I was given the choice of oil
or proceeding to sea. If the latter choice was taken, oil was
available at Molotovsk where there was stated to be no ice. I decided
since the icebreaker was available to proceed down harbour.
(d) LENIN broke BRAMBLE
and SEAGULL out of the ice and they followed astern of her down river
without trouble till arrival in the sea reaches, where they both
stuck. LENIN then towed BRAMBLE to roadstead and returned for SEAGULL.
Ships left Ekonomia at 0900, and SEAGULL was not clear of ice until
(e) BRAMBLE proceeded to
Molotovsk and stuck in thick ice six miles from shore. She was towed
clear by Russian collier who stated that ice was very thick ahead. An
American Naval Attaché, two Russian pilots and an interpreter were
transferred to the Russian collier, and it has since transpired that
they had to remain for five days.
(f) Following damage has
been sustained by ships due to ice and limitations of ice breaker
strained aft causing leak into tiller flat
GOSSAMER: A/S 60% out
SPEEDY: A/S 100%
out of action and chipped propellers
of damage to fore peak; original damage was sustained in very bad
weather on passage from UK.
All ships sides show
signs of slight corrugation and all ships have suffered from choked
condenser inlets continually.
(g) The long sea time put
in by all ships in bad weather, long hours of darkness, and difficult
navigation, throws a considerable strain on Commanding Officers,
especially with the limited experience of the majority of their
officers. It is necessary if the ships are to continue to operate
efficiently that Commanding Officers should have adequate rest on
return to harbour. This they will not get if they are to be concerned
with possible damage to their ships, failure to fuel, and doubts as to
being ready for sea when required. Every one of my commanding officers
has said that they would rather be at sea continually than return to
the uncertainties, troubles and worries of Archangel.
2. There appears to me to be
no reason why either Dvina or Molotovsk should be used by escorts. The
difference of distance between Murmansk and the swept channel and
Archangel and the swept channel is not great. In fact, allowing for the
time that would be necessary to get in and out of the ice, at Molotovsk,
ships can get a longer stand off by fuelling at Murmansk.
3. Should the ice breaker
service fail to work with absolute certainty and to an accurate
timetable, which with the varying conditions, appears to me to be out of
the question, the only alternative if escorts are to fuel at Molotovsk
is for them to anchor in a completely open roadstead where steam would
have to be kept continually.
4. With the advance of
winter, conditions are obviously going to get worse, and although a
slight thaw may have temporarily improved conditions at Archangel and
Molotovsk, and although the Russian Navy taking over control of ice
breakers may improve the efficiency of the organisation, I have no
reason to alter my opinion that Archangel approaches and Molotovsk are
quite unsuitable for escorts, an opinion which I have held and not
hesitated to express since my arrival in North Russia.
On 14th November
I reported to the Commander in Chief, Home Fleet that the main troubles
were berthing, fuelling and harbour movements consequent on limitations
of icebreaker service, which were then acute; that the river should no
longer be used by escorts and that Molotovsk was not likely to be
satisfactory for long. This was at a time when ice conditions were only
5. A general analysis of the
work carried out by the minesweepers is attached.
1. In addition to
minesweeping of swept channel escorts have been provided as
SEAGULL, SPEEDY, LEDA, GOSSAMER, HUSSAR
SEAGULL, SPEEDY, LEDA
SEAGULL, SPEEDY, GOSSAMER, HUSSAR
SEAGULL, HAZARD, HEBE, SHARPSHOOTER to Orlov then BRAMBLE and
SPEEDY, LEDA TO United Kingdom.
2. The following
passenger service has been carried out:
GOSSAMER, HUSSAR, SPEEDY
- RAF Officers and ranks, Murmansk to Archangel
SEAGULL - Russian
general, RAF Officers and ranks (ex Bedouin) Orlov to Archangel
BRAMBLE - Captain Maund,
three officers and ten ratings, Murmansk to Archangel
BRAMBLE - American Naval
Attaché, Archangel to Molotovsk.
GOSSAMER - Russian
Officer, Archangel to United Kingdom
3. Since the arrival of
PQ2, LEDA has been employed as W/T ship for SBNO Archangel.