Halcyon Class Minesweepers

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Source: ADM 1/14347 Sixth MSF. Service in Northern Waters 1942.

(Towards the end of 1942, HMS Harrier and HMS Gleaner gained unique experience when they were placed under Russian command operating from Iokanka. The following extracts are summarised from the Report.)


Date: 31st December 1942

From: Commander A D S Jay, Senior Officer, Sixth Minesweeping Flotilla.

Report of Proceedings from 4th November to 12th December 

On 4th November HM Ships Harrier and Gleaner sailed from Archangel and at 1330 on the 5th arrived at Iokanka to take part in Operation F.B.. HM Ships Cape Aragona, Cape Mariato and St Kenan were already at sea acting as rescue ships along the route of the merchant ships. The two minesweepers were to act under the orders of Rear Admiral Abramov, commanding Iokanka base, as part of the force escorting incoming ships.

HM Ships Harrier and Gleaner  were directed to meet John Walker. They sailed at 1730 on the 5th but did not sight John Walker either on the 6th or 7th. Russian PE 111's and MDR 111's were expected but the only aircraft sighted was an HE 111 at 1315 on the 6th.

HM Ships Harrier and Gleaner entered Iokanka at daylight on 8th and fuelled from the oiler Jeliabov at the rate of 40 tons per hour. Information was exchanged with the Russian staff, among that supplied to them was: (a) a list of casualties contained in signal from the SBNO Archangel timed 1330/6th, (b) distress message from Chulmleigh read on 78 k/cs at 0708/6th, (c) distress message from Hugh Williamson read on 300 k/cs at 1248/7th.

On the 9th the Minesweepers were requested to search for a ship from whom a distress message had been received. Both ships proceeded at 1545 with the rescue tug Skval. Sokrushitelni proceeded later. At 2205 Hugh Williamson was located and escorted to Dvina Bar by HMS Gleaner. HMS Harrier parted company at Terski Orlov and returned to Iokanka. In reply to signals Hugh Williamson stated that she had made no distress message but had 'reported a doubtful aircraft'. She also reported that her compasses were 'in bad shape'. When located she was proceeding at slow speed to wait for daylight before making a landfall.

On the forenoon of 10th November, wind force 10 from SSW was experienced in Iokanka. HMS Harrier's anchors held with 5 and 4 shackles out and the trawlers did not drag seriously. Razumni and Sokrushitelni, after weighing and re-anchoring several times proceeded to sea for safety.

At 0900/13th HM Ships Harrier and Gleaner sailed to meet Empire Scott and Empire Sky whose 'farthest on' position was estimated as position F at 1200/14th. A position 35 miles south of F was reached at 1030/14th. From then until 1800/16th a patrol along the route was maintained steering northward in daylight and good visibility and zigzagging southward in dark or bad visibility, covering a width of 25 miles with a speed of advance of 7 knots. On the afternoon of 16th the wind freshened to a gale from North-East, raising a heavy sea. At 1800 I estimated that we were north of the merchant ships' 'farthest north' position and in view of this and the weather decided to steer for Kharlov and thence along the route to Kola. 

At Kola information was received that two merchant ships had been sighted by shore lookout between Iokanka and Kharlov and the minesweepers proceeded at 1300/17th in search for them. Empire Scott was duly met but as she was already being escorted by Rubin and Sapfir, the search was continued for the second ship. She was also located but proved to be Russian and HM Ships Harrier and Gleaner entered Iokanka at 0900/18th. Fuelling from Jeliabov was accomplished with some difficulty on account of the swell and would probably have been impossible the previous day.

On the night of 19th to 20th November in a final effort to locate Empire Sky, HMS Harrier patrolled the coast between Svyatoi Nos and Kharlov Island, HMS Gleaner (while taking an injured man to hospital at Vaenga) covered the section of the route west of Kharlov. 

At 2000/20th HMS Cape Argona sailed to rendezvous with Meanticut 9 miles north of Svyatoi Nos at 2200. Her instructions from me were that if Meanticut should not me sighted by 0100/21st HMS Cape Argona should proceed along the route. If 'Not met' during daylight of 21st Cape Argona was to enter Kola Inlet, report the general state of trawlers and bring back any available stores and provisions. During the night information was received that Meanticut was more than four hours late and was being brought into Iokanka by the Russian escorting trawler. HMS Cape Argona was recalled but was unable to comply because she was hove to in a north-easterly gale. During this gale, with the temperature between 13 and 30 F., ice formed to a thickness of 2 feet on her decks abreast the engine room casing. 

On 30th November the Minesweepers reached Iokanka after sweeping two Russian ships into the White Sea. By now their boiler hours were 60% above the number allowed and urgent arrangements were made for some boiler cleaning to be carried out. Because of the bad weather at Iokanka it was considered essential for safety to have steam for full speed available at short notice.

On 5th December attempts were made by Harrier to meet two Russian ice breakers and sweep them through the White Sea. At 0430 two ships were sighted but when challenged with first red then white Aldis lamp, no reply was received. Because they were 15 miles out of position and enemy destroyers had twice previously been encountered in this vicinity it was decided that to close further was an unjustifiable risk for a single minesweeper and Harrier was ordered to return to Iokanka.

Three groups of merchant ships including the Hugh Williamson, John Walker, Richard Alvey, Campfire and Empire Galliard were escorted, the merchant ships, owing to their unreliable compasses and lack of local knowledge requested the Senior Officer of the escort to act as a guide. The following signals give a good indication of the methods adopted:


TO: MS6    FROM: Empire Galliard   

Master cannot rely on his compass

TO: Empire Galliard     FROM: Harrier    

Keep directly astern of me. I will adjust my speed to yours. Reduce a little to let Campfire catch up.

TO: Campfire       FROM: Harrier    

What is your maximum continuous speed?

TO: Harrier    FROM: Campfire

10 1/2 knots

TO: Campfire        FROM: Harrier      

Then I beg you not to be so suicidal as to get astern of station again.

TO: MS6             FROM: HMS Cape Aragona    

Both these merchantmen's compasses are unreliable, course needs to be checked after alteration. I had to lead them up from the Bar.

TO: Cape Aragona     FROM: Harrier    

Thank you; I am taking guide.

TO: Hugh Williamson    FROM: Harrier    

Keep in my wake. After dark I will burn dim light which only shows directly astern. Maintain 9 knots.

TO: Richard Alvey    FROM: Harrier    

Speed 9 knots. Keep closed up.

TO: John Walker     FROM: Harrier    

Am endeavouring to lead you clear of suspected minefield. Please follow me more closely.

TO: Harrier     FROM: Hugh Williamson    

Many thanks for splendid assistance.

TO: Hugh Williamson     FROM: Harrier    

All part of Minesweepers' job. Thanks for following so well.

TO: Harrier     FROM: Richard Alvey    

Thanks for grand escort.


Following this period in Northern Waters, Commander Jay,  Lt Commander Hewitt, Captain of HMS Gleaner and seven other members of Gleaner's crew received awards.( See 'Crew' sections in Ships' Histories of Harrier and Gleaner for details.)

Extract from the award citation:

'Their work has been strenuous, weather conditions have been bad, and the usual hazards inherent to minesweeping have been encountered. Both ships have been intelligently handled and have earned much praise and respect from the Russian naval staff.'

Rear Admiral Douglas Fisher.


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