MONTHLY REPORT – 1st Dec 1942 to 20th Jan 1943
had been decided that five ships of this Convoy were to proceed to the
White Sea and the remainder to the Kola Inlet; the point at which the
White Sea section was to part company being five miles North of Kildin
Without my previous knowledge, it was arranged in Moscow that a purely
Russian escort would be provided from here to take the White Sea
section to its destination. The escort eventually provided consisted
of two Russian destroyers only, which was ludicrously inadequate, and
as no British ship with RDF was with them they did not find the five
ships for some time after they had been detached, during which time
these ships were without escort.
is better that such operational matters be left to the Commander in
Chief, Soviet North Fleet, and myself to arrange.
Murmansk section of the convoy arrived in the Kola Inlet at 0800A on
Christmas Day, and the White Sea section reached its destination on
the 27th December.
Thirteen ships were ready in the Kola Inlet to form this convoy and
every effort was made to ensure a quick turn-round of the tanker
Oligarch. Who was urgently required to join, after having arrived a
few days earlier in Convoy JW51A. The latest sailing date was given by
Commander in Chief, Home Fleet as 24 hours after JW51B passed Bear
Island. It was therefore judged that the convoy could sail on the 30th
and by that time the Oligarch had been discharged, and the convoy
sailed at 1000A made up of the following:
British: Empire Scott, Empire
Galliard, Hopemount, Oligarch.
Richard H Alvey, John Walker, Campfire, Meanticut, Hugh Williamson.
Bellorussia, Isotga, Kotlin, Oka, Revolutioner.
Escorted by: Faulknor (SO), Inglefield, Echo, Eclipse, Fury, Beagle,
Gleaner, Cape Arcona, Cape Mariato, Daneman, St Kenan.
C Home Fleet’s 1126/27 December ordered one destroyer to remain in
Kola Inlet if the convoy was found to consist of less than 16 ships,
and the Boadicea was therefore detained to relieve the Bulldog, who
had been damaged in heavy weather during the early stages of the
passage of JW51B and had had to return to Iceland….
first news of that convoy after sailing was received in Admiralty
Message 1516/24 December, saying it had probably been sighted by enemy
aircraft. On the 25th it was known that the convoy had
straggled due to heavy weather, though it appeared likely that it
might be able to reform, becoming slightly delayed while doing so…
receiving the first enemy reports from Captain (D) 17 at about noon,
local time, on the 31st, the following action was taken:
1. Ships in harbour were brought to short notice. Oribi having
arrived in the Kola Inlet at 1100A/31, was fog bound on her way to
Rosta fuelling jetty.
The Russians arranged to dispose all available submarines on
the enemy’s line of retreat.
3. A force of torpedo bombers was made ready to carry out an
attack, but owing to the likelihood that they would be quite unable to
distinguish enemy ships from our own, particularly in half-darkness,
they were discouraged from their project.
4. A Russian destroyer and a tug were brought to short notice.
Information received from the Russian Staff that U-boats had been
warned of a convoy approaching their patrol positions was passed to
AIC47 at 1101A/31 December, and later that 13 enemy bombers had
crossed the coast to seaward. The Russian report of reconnaissance of
Alten Fjord showing two cruisers, three destroyers and one unknown
ship was passed out at 1240/31 December.
receiving C in C Home Fleet’s appreciation that action would be
resumed between Force R and the enemy the following day to Eastward,
the two available Russian oilers, which had been replenishing and were
standing by, were reserved from other duties in case the cruisers
Onslow’s 1958/31 December, giving the position of the convoy,
information of the action, and damage to ships was received, and
preparations were made to provide hospital accommodation and such
other help as was possible on her entry the following day.
1308/1 January the report of Russian air reconnaissance of Alten Fjord
that day was made, showing one battleship, three cruisers and six
destroyers there. It was not easy to determine the accuracy of this
visual report but no great reliance on it was felt to be justified, or
on the report of the day before.
in Harrier with Seagull and two Russian destroyers had been ordered to
meet the convoy between positions MZ and K and to take the White Sea
section on from there. In spite of very foggy conditions, MS6 and the
Russian destroyers made their rendezvous, and at 1501A/2 January MS6
reported that the Merchant ships had been detached and were
proceeding. The Seagull, who had been delayed by fog, assisted some of
the Murmansk ships into harbour.
Onslow arrived in the Kola Inlet at 0915A/1 January and proceeded to
Vaenga, where the casualties were transferred to the RN Auxiliary
Hospital, Vaenga, and arrangements were made for the ship to be taken
on hand for temporary repairs.
first Russian reports of the arrival of the convoy were received
almost simultaneously with the Obedient’s 0910/2 January, giving their
ETA and the first news of the sinking of the Achates. The convoy had
made landfall slightly to the eastward of Kildin Island, and during
its passage from there to the Kola Inlet a report was received from
the Russians that a U-boat had been ordered to attack ships straggling
astern. This was passed to the convoy as it was known that there were
two such ships escorted, it was believed, by the Bramble. The Russians
later corrected their report to read aircraft and not U-boat, but too
late to prevent much anxiety which the escorts must have felt at the
procedure laid down in KICM, Para 25, for the meeting of convoys in
fog was called into operation, but it was not noticeably effective,
the pilot boat failing to transmit any sound signal. On entering
harbour the Ballot went ashore on the North East side of Kildin
Island, but all other ships of the convoy were led safely in by the
escorts in spite of thick fog, and including the Calobes (?) which had
been hit during the action and whose steering gear had been reported
as damaged. The John H B Lathobe, one of the stragglers, anchored in
Kildin Strait, and proceeded safely into harbour later. The White Sea
section was reported in SBNO Archangel’s 0826/6 January as having
arrived without further incident.
Honeysuckle and Oxlip left harbour to give protection to the Ballot.
The Russians have removed some cargo so as to lighten the ship for
towing off, but her holds and machinery spaces are filled and it is
feared she will be lost. The crew left the ship a day or two after
grounding as there was no light or heat. They are being sent home by
the next opportunity.
Enquiries from escorts and Merchant ships of the convoy regarding HMS
Bramble’s movements disclosed only the Hyderabad’s reception of an
enemy report of one cruiser by the Bramble at 1039A/31 December. There
seems little doubt that she was sunk at about this time. Boards of
inquiry have been held into the loss of HM Ships Bramble and Achates
and the findings forwarded to Commander in Chief, Home Fleet.
Great skill and pertinacity was shown by Commander D C Kinloch (HMS
Obedient and SO of the close escort) and by the Commanding Officers of
the other destroyers in guiding the Merchant vessels of the convoy
into harbour despite darkness, very thick fog, and the minimum
effective Russian assistance.
Movement of Merchant Ships from White Sea to Kola Inlet
Apart from the crane ship ‘Empire Bard’, who after some discussion,
was retained at Molotovsk, there were five Merchant ships in the White
Sea at the beginning of the month awaiting passage to the Kola Inlet
for homeward convoy. The Harrier, Gleaner and three trawlers (the
Daneman’s defective steering and lack of Asdics rendered her
unserviceable) were available as escort and arrangements were made to
bring the Merchant ships around the coast in three groups, escorted as
far as the White Sea entrance by trawlers, and onward by the
minesweepers or by both minesweepers and trawlers. The escorts
operated from Iokanka where, under conditions of great difficulty,
they contrived to provide themselves with fuel, coal, water and
provisions, to carry out their duties.
first group, Campfire and Empire Galliard, left Molotovsk on the 6th
December and were brought through the White Sea by the three trawlers,
who were relieved by the Harrier and Gleaner for onward passage to
Kola Inlet, where they arrived on the 8th. The Hugh
Williamson and Richard Alvey formed the second group, sailing from
Molotovsk on the 10th and arriving at the Kola Inlet on the
12th, escorted by the Harrier, Cape Argona and St Kenan.
The last ship, the John Walker, who sailed on the 14th, was
escorted for the whole passage by the Gleaner, bad visibility
preventing the Cape Mariato from making her rendezvous. The arduous
independent passage of the latter is described elsewhere. HMS Gleaner
and the John Walker arrived in the Kola Inlet on the 16th….
There has been the usual difficulty of obtaining the regular reports
from the Russians in regard to the amounts of fuel oil in stock. The y
always show the greatest reluctance to divulge this information at all
and experience here has taught me to treat any statement of theirs
regarding fuel with much misgiving.
14th January I told the Russian Chief of Staff that owing
to the shortage of fuel here (on the Russian showing) it might not be
possible to fuel all the cruisers and escorts for JW52 and RA52 that
it had been hoped to bring here and that in consequence it might be
necessary to reduce the size of the next convoy (JW52). He then stated
that if the two tankers with the convoy were sunk, oil could be
brought in an emergency around from Archangel, provided Moscow agreed.
Such a proceeding was manifestly absurd as it would take about 10 days
at least to rail it round here, and the escort have only two days here
in which to fuel and sail again. So he was asked to have oil sent
round at once from Archangel, without waiting for the tankers to be
sunk. After considerable discussion it eventually emerged that there
would be 10,000 tons in the Kola Inlet on 27th December and
not 5,500 tons as they had originally told me (This does not include
surplus oil in American Merchant vessels).
truth is that the Russians have got a lot of oil (I don’t know how
much) stored in hulks, caves, and tanks hidden in various little
places in the Kola Inlet, and they guard knowledge of its existence
very carefully. As an instance of this, one of our minesweepers got
permission to go alongside a certain hulk to do her boiler cleaning.
While alongside there was considerable bombing activity in the
neighbourhood and the Commanding Officer of the minesweeper
investigated the contents of the hulk and found it was full of
aviation spirit. There was considerable excitement in the Russian
Naval Headquarters when later they discovered that the minesweeper had
had been to the wrong hulk and had discovered one of their fuel
caches. But these small storages are (I am sure) only fitted with hand
pumps and I do not think that the fuel can be extracted from them at
more than 15-20 tons per hour at the most….
Destruction of Russian fighters by allied vessels.
Russians have been considerably agitated over their fighters being
shot down by the close range fire of British and American Merchant
vessels in the Inlet, the score to date being 2:1:0. The German level
bombers come over on good flying days at a height of 14,000 feet or
more, with very occasional dive bombing attacks down to 2,000 to 3,000
feet. When there is an alarm the Russian fighters take of from Vaenga
(though sometimes they are already in the air) and cross the Inlet at
a low height. They then frequently gain height over the Inlet, from
any direction, and above the Merchant vessels at anchor. If this
happens during an enemy attack when bombs are dropping, the Merchant
vessels invariably open fire on the Russian aircraft, and I have every
sympathy with the ships.
the complaints of the Russian Naval Staff I have made the obvious
reply that if the Russian aircraft will circle at a low height over
the Merchant vessels during an enemy air attack they will invariably
be fired on and they would be immune if they were to fly at a height
at least that of the enemy aircraft and between the Kola Inlet and the
enemy air bases. I was fortunately afloat in the Inlet on one of these
occasions and had a good opportunity of watching an American bring a
low flying Russian Hurricane down with her Oerlikon.
KICM’s lay down that ships in the Inlet are not to open fire at night,
nor by day until the shore batteries open fire, and this is fairly
well complied with…
defence of the Kola Inlet
is estimated that German air dispositions in North Norway enable about
10 day bombers, 15 fighters, and 13 specially fitted night bombers to
operate at one time in bombing attacks on shipping and harbour works.
The Russian fighter strength is quite unknown, but it is possible that
their number is about equal to the German. Their effectiveness,
however, is vastly inferior.
Accurate warning devices are almost certainly not in use while the
principal failing of the Russian fighters is their apparent lack of
direction and of knowledge of fighting tactics. During daylight enemy
air raids, it is the exception rather than the rule to see Russian
fighters in combat with the enemy; not that they have engaged him
between his base and the Inlet, but because if off the ground they are
generally cruising aimlessly around at a low height and as often as
not close to the ships which are being bombed. The Russians have a few
night fighters, but it is not considered that they are effective, and
no instance is known of any aircraft having been brought down by
Since convoys have started using the Kola Inlet this winter, enemy air
attacks have been on a low scale and far below those of last autumn
when no convoys were using Murmansk. It seems fair to assume that this
relaxation by the Germans is caused by their need for aircraft on
other fronts and may therefore only be temporary. If that is so, I
fear that with only Russian fighters (even if increased in numbers) we
shall suffer considerable damage to Merchant ships in the Inlet and to
the docks and stores in Murmansk.
Russian A/A batteries put up a large volume of fire but this is in
itself not a sufficient deterrent. The Russians of course may increase
the quantity and quality of their fighter strength here when the days
lengthen and the weather improves, but it seems unsafe to rely on
this. I therefore strongly urge that consideration be given at an
early date to the establishment at Vaenga of at least one squadron of
British fighters as being the only means of protecting from air attack
the valuable vessels and cargoes in the Kola Inlet. Experience last
year showed not only the immense value of these aircraft themselves,
but they set a standard which is emulated at the time by the
Reserves of Stores
Following is a summary of the present situation regarding reserves of
stores available in the Inlet:
6 Mark IX 21”
ready for issue (A reserve of 8 was approved but 2 were lost in
‘A’ Base spares for
types 271, 282 and 286 partly complete
Base spares for
types 123, 128 and 129 complete – as approved.
for 1000 men for one month – this will be brought up to 1000 men
for about 3 months by shipments in JW52
MWT: Fairly large
quantities are now arriving in Murmansk
for 500 survivors is available, except bedding, of which there
is none and none obtainable from the Russians.
MWT: A quantity
is available but there does not appear to be sufficient warm
certain amount of dry provisions, but not in large amounts, still have
to be issued to ships, five destroyers and three trawlers having been
supplied in the past three weeks. The situation in this respect is,
however, considerably better than last year and ships proceeding to
North Russia stock up well before sailing. The Russians continue to be
able to supply meat, fish and bread to ships in small quantities, but
reserve of clothing was drawn upon for Achates survivors and for
Onslow which had lost much bedding and other gear as a result of the
fires on the mess decks. Several trawlers which came out with PQ18 in
September have had to be supplied with Arctic clothing, their bases
having apparently thought that they would not be in these waters for
long, and Northern Gem in JW51 was sent out with NO Arctic clothing
whatever and our emergency survivor’s stock reduced to the extent of
kitting up the whole ship’s company.
Admiral SBNO North Russia