Halcyon Class Minesweepers Report of SBNO (extracts) - Jan-Feb 1943
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18th MONTHLY REPORT – 21st Jan to 25th Feb 1943 (Extracts) 

Convoy JW52

The last reported position of the convoy received here was in HMS Blankney’s 2305/21, which showed a speed of advance of 8.5 knots has been maintained. This speed gave the convoy an arrival time of 0700A/26 at the Kola Inlet which was passed to the convoy in accordance with the procedure laid down. 

Local Escort

It was arranged for HM Ships Forester and Icarus to carry out an A/S sweep of the approaches for Force R and afterwards escort that Force to harbour, and for the only two Russian destroyers available to provide local escort for the convoy. As it turned out, Force R’s arrival did not admit of a daylight rendezvous for the destroyers and as the whereabouts of Force R and the convoy were unknown, it appeared unsafe to let the Russians loose.

It was therefore decided to let the Forester and Icarus escort the convoy in after their A/S sweep. In effect the Icarus ran ashore on her way out of harbour (although subsequently refloated undamaged) and the Forester proceeded alone, though when the Senior Officer of the convoy signalled he was delayed 24 hours the Forester returned to harbour for no apparent reason. 

Force R

Force R under the Rear Admiral Commanding, 1st Cruiser Squadron in HMS Kent arrived at 0015/26 and berthed and fuelled in Vaenga Bay. 

Enemy Reports

From the 24th to the 26th inclusive about 30 D/F fixes of U-boats were received from the Russians and were passed to the convoy. The Russian staff assessed the number of U-Boats operating against the convoy as 13. The Russian visual reconnaissance of Alton Fjord at 1012/25 showing 3 cruisers and 5 destroyers there was passed to the convoy. 

Arrival of the Convoy

After the evasive tactics successfully employed to escape the submarines the Senior Officer of the close escort reported that he would arrive 24 hours late. It afterwards transpired that the evasion would make him a few hours late and he then thought it was necessary to arrive at the same time of day as he was originally expected; he therefore cast about intentionally to waste time. The convoy eventually entered the Kola Inlet at 1330 on 27th January 1943.

HMS Beagle escorting the Empire Portia who had lost the convoy arrived a few hours ahead of the main body. The Cornelius Marnett straggled, and in accordance with standing orders went to Iokanka, being brought round later to the Kola Inlet by Russian escorts. HMS Britomart arrived in tow of HMS Lotus having broken down just outside the Kola Inlet. 

Berthing and Fuelling

Unfortunately the signals made before their arrival for berthing and fuelling the escort were not received by all ships, and one not by the Onslaught (Senior Officer) which caused some uncertainty and delay. This was accentuated by the fact that it was dark by the time the convoy and escorts got up harbour so no fuelling took place that night. Considerable time would be saved in fuelling the escorts if the convoy were to arrive early in the day. 

Convoy RA52

Formation of Convoy 

It was found impossible to muster enough merchant ships to form this convoy by the 15th January, or even within the succeeding few days, on account of slow discharging and loading at Murmansk, and a long period of persistent for which impeded the movement of the ships. It was considered however that by the 29th which was ultimately determined as the sailing date, 16 ships would be ready in the Kola Inlet, and possibly 4 or 5 more from the White Sea. When the time came, however, only 11 ships were ready in the Kola Inlet, and the White Sea section was still being broken out of the Dvina Estuary, where the ships had been in company with the icebreakers already for four days. 

The Commander in Chief, Home Fleet, approved the proposal to send HMS Seagull home with the convoy, on account of her boiler trouble, and also gave instructions that the Onslow, returning to the United Kingdom after temporary repairs had been made to her, was to be stationed within the screen.  

Sailing of the Convoy

The convoy sailed at 1130/29, composed of the following merchant ships: Daldorch, Empire Meteor, Briarwood, El Oceano, Windrush, El Almirante, Gateway City, Beauregard, Dynastic, Greylock and Ussuri.

Force R sailed at 1430 on 30th January.

Local Operations

The Russian Staff reported, late on the 20th January, that a U-boat had been sighted, and later attacked by A/S craft, off Cape Gorodetski. They asked that the British minesweepers might search the area, and the channel to southward, as minelaying was suspected.

HMS Seagull accordingly left the Kola Inlet on the 21st accompanied by two corvettes to provide her with A/S protection while sweeping. Boiler trouble in the Seagull made it necessary for MS6 in the Harrier to proceed the following day, but the Seagull’s defects were temporarily remedied at Iokanka and both minesweepers carried out a search on the 23rd and 24th, finding no mines.

These four ships were then kept at Iokanka to provide escort for merchant ships coming from White Sea ports to join convoy RA52. But the merchant ships were delayed by ice, and Harrier and Seagull and the corvettes were recalled to the Kola Inlet where they arrived on the 27th to refuel and join the escort of that convoy… 

Motor Minesweepers at Archangel

Three of these craft arrived at Archangel in September having come out with PQ18. They were turned over to the Russians shortly afterwards and the British crews returned home. Since then these craft have done no operational work whatever, and their activities have been confined to a few practice sweeps in the Dvina approaches. 

On 4th February, at my request, the SBNO Archangel asked the Russian Naval Staff there what service he had in view for these minesweepers and was told that they would be used in the Dvina Estuary ’when clear weather comes’.

The inactivity of these minesweepers is particularly unsatisfactory in view of the fact that since their acquisition (in full working order) by the Russians, I have been asked for, and have acceded to many requests for them for sweeping operations to be carried out in the Eastern part of the Barents Sea from Nova Zenlya to the White Sea. 

Tankers in Convoy

I have noticed that the RFA Oligarch has been camouflaged in order to make her appear more like an ordinary cargo ship. This has been done most cleverly and even at close range defeated the Ministry of War Transport representative who boarded her on arrival recently to ascertain the nature of her cargo.

I strongly urge that as many as possible of other tankers coming to North Russia be similarly disguised in order to prevent them being selected at a distance as the most attractive targets for U-boats and torpedo bombers. 


The continued refusal of the Russians to grant visas for certain personnel to be employed in North Russia is a matter of great concern to me. In addition to essential staff for which application has not been originated from here on account of the visa situation, 15 staff are outstanding on account of definite refusal of visas. There is also the hospital unit for Archangel.

Coupled with the delay by Depot in providing reliefs for ratings discharged home for one reason and another, the result is that the Interpreters, signalmen and W/T operators are shorthanded and for long periods they have to work in two watches. This is inefficient for the service and bad for the individuals.

I am constantly informed that the matter is being discussed at the highest level, which make it all the more unsatisfactory to know that officers ad men of the Royal Air Force are allowed to come and go with no passports, visas or restrictions whatever. I refer in particular to the RAF officers and men who have recently arrived at Grasnaya as an advance party to the 500 RAF officers and men who are coming out in connection with the Hampden and Catalina squadrons shortly. Why the Royal Navy should be treated in one way and the Royal Air Force another is not clear to me, and is particularly galling to those of my officers and ratings who are working shorthanded. 

Customs and Passports

Enclosure No.1 is a translation of a letter dated 21st February from the Chief of Staff, Northern Fleet. The allegations contained in it are mostly untrue and in other cases explainable, while it is only in the last few days that the full force of the Customs regulations has been notified. Although these regulations may conceivably have been in existence before this, they were certainly never brought to my notice.

The restriction upon ships and boats proceeding alongside British merchant ships in the Kola Inlet is one which as practised by a soviet official, will prove and are proving equally obnoxious and humiliating…. 


These incidents form a pattern from which it is evident that a change of policy towards the British has been initiated. It is thought that the policy has been dictated from a high level and that the Naval Commander in Chief and his Chief of Staff have had little, if any, hand in it (although this of course is not certain). 

Douglas Fisher

Rear Admiral
SBNO, North Russia    26th February 1943

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