Halcyon Class Minesweepers Report of SBNO (extracts) - March 1942
 
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Source: ADM 199/1104

OPERATIONS

Further sweeping operations in the White Sea off Cape Kachkovski, where Russian sweepers exploded three mines in February, have not been possible owing to the area being ice covered. We have at present therefore to rely on the efficacy of the searching sweep completed by the Russian sweepers in this area.

On 5th March HMS Niger and Speedwell went to search for the Russian destroyer Gromki who had run out of fuel when returning from escorting convoy QP8 and was drifting. They provided an A/S screen for her at daylight on 6th March when she was in tow of a tug.

A/S patrols have been carried out in the approaches to Kola Inlet when minesweepers were available. These are hampered by the inconvenient system of the Russian staff who are always uncertain at what time Soviet submarines will return from patrol. A/S patrols receive so many warnings that they are shy of quick action. I have endeavoured for six months to convert the Chief of Staff to saner methods, without result.

Local escorts for PQ and QP convoys and stragglers have been provided.

Murmansk has been raided on three occasions- 

    (a) on the night of 15th-16th March, when three or four enemy aircraft dropped 12 bombs on the dock area. HMS Niger had a narrow escape when the ship's store close alongside was destroyed, but no actual damage was done to shipping. 

    (b) at 11.35 on 24th March, when five JU88 and three ME109 dropped 18 bombs, seriously damaging SS Lancaster Castle and causing some damage to the Port Office, to railway crossings and destroying two boxed aircraft. 

    (c) at 17.05 on the same day, when eighteen Ju87 and an unspecified number of Me110 dropped more bombs. Subsequent Russian reports have given the number of enemy aircraft as being over 100, but although this figure might be questioned, there seems to be no doubt that Russian Hurricanes, attacking from below out of the sun, shot down five Ju87 and one Me110.Two Hurricanes made forced landings but the pilots of both machines are safe.   

The most important Russian air operation was a two fold daylight attack on Luostari (Petzano); 24 Hurricanes taking part in the first sweep, 22 in the second some three hours later. The enemy is reported to have lost 12-15 aircraft, possibly more. Two Russian aircraft were lost and three more made forced landings behind their side of the lines.  

CONVOYS

Convoys have been discharged without serious interference from air attacks. The only raids of any importance were on the night of 15th-16th March and on 24th March. In the former, the bombs dropped are said to have been 100 kilos. The jetty to which HMS Niger, Gossamer and Hussar were hit and a shed blown to pieces, covering the minesweepers with splinters and debris.  

Hitherto convoys have been sailed so as to form up in the failing light before dark, relying on fighters to keep enemy reconnaissance from reporting their progress down the 25 miles of the Kola Inlet. The convoy has been able, therefore, to be about 70 miles from the coast by daylight. In April. the all night twilight of the spring commences, when it is dark only from 220 until 0200. If the convoy was delayed sailing until dark it would therefore be not more than 30 odd miles from the coast by daylight. It would be unwise relying on fighter protection being adequate, in my opinion, at such a short range from the enemy's aerodromes at Petsano and Kirkenes. I therefore intend to continue to sail convoys about 1800 so that they may be 60 miles from the coast by daylight, when the April fogs may give them some cover and make them more difficult to find; these fogs are said to be frequent.

Convoy QP9 left the Kola Inlet on 22nd march with a total escort of one British destroyer, one Russian destroyer, seven British minesweepers and a Russian torpedo boat two miles astern of the rearmost ships. The latter should have been accompanied by a wide screen of Ml's but these failed owing to alleged bad weather conditions.

In order to maintain a certain volume of W/T traffic after a convoy sails, a number of dummy messages are made. 

WEATHER

From 12th-21st March there was a considerable amount of ice in the Kola Inlet and in Vaenga Bay where HMS Kenya was icebound throughout her stay until 22nd. For a few days Polyarnoe harbour was covered with thin ice but in the bays ice was 3-4 inches thick and solid below Murmansk. This held up all traffic except in tugs, minesweepers or larger craft. At the end of the month the temperature rose to about 25F.

A strong westerly gale on 6th March caused ships to drag. The metal sheeting on the roof of my quarters was blown off, windows blown in, aerials broken down and both central heating and electricity failed.

CONCLUSION

Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the recent work of the Minesweeping Flotilla, consisting of HMS Harrier (Senior Officer), Niger, Gossamer, Speedwell and Hussar, under the command of Commander E P Hinton, DSO, MVC, Senior Officer, 6th Minesweeping Flotilla. These ships have been escorting QP and PQ Convoys in most severe weather conditions and expected every form of attack be the enemy at distances up to 300 miles from the base. They have little rest except when cleaning boilers, and can seldom berth alongside or obtain relaxation. Their work, especially when meeting convoy PQ13, has been extremely well done and reflects credit on all concerned.

Signed N Bevan
Rear Admiral, Senior British Naval Officer, North Russia             

Polyarnoe, 1942

 

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