Halcyon Class Minesweepers Report of SBNO (extracts) - August 1943
Nov 1941
Dec 1941
Jan 1942
Feb 1942
Mar 1942
Apr 1942
Jun 1942
Aug 1942
Sep 1942
Oct 1942
Nov 1942
Dec 1942
Jan-Feb 1943
Feb-Apr 1943
May 1943
June 1943
July 1943
Aug 1943
Sep 1943
Oct 1943
Nov-Dec 1943
Dec 43-Jan 44
Feb 44
Mar 1944



24th MONTHLY REPORT – 1st August to 31st August 1943 

This month has been one in which the state of British and US merchant ships in North Russia has come to the fore. Originally planned to be sailed for the United Kingdom in September there have been indications that the policy was to be amended in favour of leaving these ships out here for a considerably longer period. I pray and trust that effect will not be given to this. There can be no doubt that the personnel who man these ships are very discontented and the only wonder is that there have not been more manifestations of this. That there have not speaks volumes for the Masters and shore authorities who have done all in their power to keep the men occupied and provide what little recreation they can. Even as it is we have had a murder, more than one suicide, several Soviet citizens suffering from nose bleeding, quite a number of mental cases and widespread stomach trouble.  

I have been struck by the reaction of those who pass through Russia for the first time and their unanimous remark ‘Good God do the people at home know about this state of affairs?’. I feel sure that Their Lordships do know from reading the various reports that go back. The situation can be summed up very briefly, our life is akin to that of a concentration camp but with the difference that those in one of those establishments at least know who their warders are and what to expect. With us, under a perfect orgy of hand shaking whenever a meeting takes place and many toasts to the unity of the Allies etc, it is left to the individual to spot the wrong ‘uns and to gauge who is behind the various pinpricks or attempted knock-out blows. There is, too, the apparently inexhaustible supply of Soviet laws, one to meet any contingency (as required) to bolster up any move against us. I have asked for a copy of these laws on more than one occasion but so far have not been supplied with it. Presumably there is a law which governs the questioning of the coxswain (Russian) of my barge after I make a trip in her, no doubt another which permits the grilling (twice weekly) of the Manageress who controls the female catering staff of our Navy House. I hope those employed in listening-in to our telephone conversations are not having too dull a time for this is one law (British) which is known and obeyed – no reference to our allies, at least no truthful reference. 

August has seen some progress in the ‘pass’ offensive. Such a document is needed for entering any establishment, docks etc using the road and so on – a different pass for each. One thus accumulates, after varying degrees of difficulty, a considerable number of such documents, there is apparently no general pass. That the sentry cannot in many cases read the pass does not really affect the issue, on occasions one of Messrs Gieves bill’s (duly receipted of course) has passed muster. At any rate we can now visit our own ammunition dumps, we can use the road from Murmansk to Vaenga, we can visit the aerodrome at the latter (a great concession as British planes were using it), the only thing we cannot as yet do is to use the only road out of Polyarnoe for exercise beyond the one mile barrier. The presence of mines is the reason given but this does not prevent local traffic using it, and we persevere in our efforts to extend the limits of the concentration camp. 

The employment of some of the merchant ships in carrying cargoes for the Russians from Archangel to Kola Inlet was a welcome move, giving these ships something to do. At least it was welcomed at first but as the operation proceeded several unsatisfactory features became all too evident. 

To begin with the poor quality of the Russian coal supplied made it impossible for some of those ships to proceed at more than 6 ½ knots and only then at the expense of extreme physical hardship to the firemen who finished the 2-3 day trip completely exhausted. Suspension of the operation till better coal was obtained resulted in the ‘discovery’ of some Silesian which was almost as good as British coal and sailings were resumed. 

Again, once the ships were discharged in the Kola Inlet the Russians lost all interest in them and proposed that they should return to the White Sea with a quite inadequate escort. I objected and it was only by dint of asking to see the Commander in Chief that a sufficient escort was made available. This decision was reached hurriedly I feel as at the time he was preparing a flowery speech on Anglo-American-Soviet co-operation to be delivered that afternoon at the presentation ceremony of American decorations to five officers and men of the Northern Fleet by Admiral Duncan, the US Naval Attaché. At least he had the grace to blush as he made his speech. 

In the middle of the month a request was made for a tanker to be lent to go to a place called Byelusha Bay in Nova Zamblya. An enquiry as to what for, why there and details of protection (if any) that would be given elicited nothing more than that I could rest assured everything would be all right, she would be wanted until November and that she might be taken, at the discretion of the SO of the Russian escort, to Yugorski Shah. This rather staggering news is akin to being told that the ship might be taken to an open anchorage in say, the West of Scotland (Byelusha Bay) or to a strait such as Menai (Yugorski Shah) known to be mined, and that according to how the SO of the escort felt about it. Further tender but pressing enquiries resulted in the project being dropped for the blatantly untrue reason that as the tanker was required for the fuelling of soviet destroyers escorting Allied convoys and as the said tanker would have to go home in the first convoy, it was not practicable. The latter fact was known to the Russians from the beginning. 

The tanker Pontfield which has been under repair for many months was eventually completed and sailed for a White Sea port at the beginning of the month. Before doing so steering trials were necessary and it was proposed to carry these out in the entrance to the Kola Inlet. This project raised a local storm as the area was most unsuitable owing to the presence of an enemy observation post on the coast near the eastern end of the Ribacki (?) Peninsular, a post which could call up aircraft to attack the tanker. The existence of this post had never been disclosed and the incident is only quoted as an example of the reluctance to pass on any such information until their hands are forced as the result of some request from us.  

Despite any impression to the contrary that may have been gained relations with the Soviet Naval Staff continue to be good and the exchange of gifts marks such important milestones as the signing of the Anglo-Soviet Alliance etc., whisky and tobacco on our side, vodka and a particularly poisonous liquid masquerading under the name of ‘Port Vino’ on theirs. 

The siege of North Russia has been raised, two destroyers running the blockade and bringing in much looked forward to mails and stores but no reliefs; the latter fact caused many long faces…. 

Finally but by no means least, the dearth of reliefs is the most pressing problem. Of the 176 borne on the 30th August, 152 are due or overdue for relief. The former number is now six less by reason of those sent home on 31st August without relief, three by Admiralty order, the remaining three on medical grounds (anxiety state).    

The situation is deteriorating, numbers are dropping, efficiency and morale is lower and with the best will in the world personnel are becoming dispirited due to the uncertainty of their position. These officers and men have given exceptionally good service, they fully realise the efforts made to relieve them but now the time has come to face the fact that with the dreary winter ahead it is more than probable that further men will have to be sent home on medical grounds. Nine months is the accepted limit of service in this climate, at this latitude, living on tinned food. The Medical officers serving here have reported their concern in the above sense. Negotiations are now proceeding in Moscow as to the total number of British required in North Russia but whether the agreed total be this or that, surely there is some means of bringing pressure to bear on the Russians to force them to allow say 100 reliefs to be sent out immediately, so that an equivalent number can be sent home. Some officers and men are nearing completion of their second year, and many have eighteen months service in out here, or double the time recommended as a limit.     

It has been a poor summer, only a short spell of warm weather, plenty of rain and abnormal periods of W/T blackout, the latter has made the work of operators more trying and has interfered with reception of BBC programmes.  

The Russians have taken great interest in the Sicilian campaign and invasion of Italy; so have we as the treatment meted out to us has depended largely on the position of the Eighth Army. May they have a quick passage through Italy. 

E R Archer
Rear Admiral, SBNO North Russia

7th September 1943

Home | Nov 1941 | Dec 1941 | Jan 1942 | Feb 1942 | Mar 1942 | Apr 1942 | Jun 1942 | Aug 1942 | Sep 1942 | Oct 1942 | Nov 1942 | Dec 1942 | Jan-Feb 1943 | Feb-Apr 1943 | May 1943 | June 1943 | July 1943 | Aug 1943 | Sep 1943 | Oct 1943 | Nov-Dec 1943 | Dec 43-Jan 44 | Feb 44 | Mar 1944

This site was last updated 17 Januar 2012