MONTHLY REPORT – 21st Jan to 25th Feb 1943
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.
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.
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 under the Rear Admiral Commanding, 1st Cruiser
Squadron in HMS Kent arrived at 0015/26 and berthed and fuelled in
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.
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
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
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.
Formation of Convoy
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.
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
SBNO, North Russia 26th February 1943