Halcyon Class Minesweepers Report of SBNO (extracts) - May 1943
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21st  MONTHLY REPORT – 1st May to 31st May 1943 (Extracts)

During this month I have been able to visit all the various places where Naval, Army and RAF personnel are stationed in this part of the world, meet them all and meet also the Russian authorities at these places and generally to be put in the picture.

As regards Polyarnoe itself I have found Naval Party 100 in remarkably good heart waiting patiently for two things, mails and (where applicable) reliefs. Being cut off from the outside world these things are bound to loom large in any community but especially so in North Russia where the said community is also cut off from the local inhabitants, contact with whom is to all intents and purposes limited to official business – this isolation had to be experienced to be believed. Thrown on its own resources the Party has got together a really talented Concert Party who entertain their fellows and the ships when they are in; a monthly magazine the Northern Light made its appearance last month (a copy of the May number is attached to the original document). Football and volley ball have started and then of course there is the cinema on two nights a week. The latter is very popular too with the Russians, and this despite the fact that the films are being shown for the N’th time. The value of this medium for showing our allies what life is like in a democratic country, the war effort in Britain etc. cannot be over stressed and I hope this point of view may be borne in mind when selecting the ‘reliefs’ for our present batch of films – reliefs which are also somewhat overdue.

Northern Light

Speaking of reliefs and the visa question which causes so much trouble, it occurs to me that the crux of this problem is that we in North Russia are regarded by the Russians as part of the Mission, whereas in point of fact we are nothing of the sort. Our duty here is operational and if the Russians could be persuaded to look upon us as such, much of the present red tape might be cut. When all is said and done we are here solely for their benefit and apart from handling the actual ocean convoys, do help them in other ways, such as, communications, sweeping mines, minewatching, escorting their local convoys, carrying oil fuel for them and so on. Personally I feel all such visa formalities should be waived for operational personnel, subject of course to any assurance and safeguard that individuals are vouched for as belonging to the services…

I find the Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Prodorov so far to be easy to work with and willing to cooperate after a somewhat shaky start due I feel to inexperience of dealing with foreigners. Anyway, if he says he will do something that thing is done and with a minimum of delay which is a big advance on the methods employed by many others. He has a somewhat reserved shy manner without being stiff and is, from all I have heard, very conscientious and hard working…

Murmansk is a dreary place to look at in these days much of the town has been destroyed and raiding aircraft still come over with fair regularity. Living under such conditions must of necessity affect our own personnel there and I feel it is a good thing that they will now be able to have a change either by the summer migration to Archangel or visits to Moscow or both. It is a matter for relief too that the merchant ships waiting convoy home have all arrived without suffering any further damage. Some of them had narrow shaves before they left the Kola Inlet. The only two ships remaining are the damaged tankers at present under repair Pontfield and British Governor.

During my visit to Murmansk I went round the docks, saw the storage facilities, had the reserve ammunition arrangements explained, and called on the naval Major General Dubrovin in charge of the port. He showed me around his headquarters (underground) and then invited me and my party to have a glass at the nearby Officers Club. This developed into many glasses, at any rate as far as our hosts were concerned, and a full luncheon as opposed to ‘bits’. This unexpected meal caused a hurried re-arrangement of the programme. Dubrovin is a jovial man and one who has looked after our ships repairing there well, though I could have done without being so well looked after at luncheon on this occasion when time was limited and business had to be done afterwards.

The hospital at Vaenga is running smoothly and while not filled to capacity, the fact that it is in existence is conducive to much peace of mind especially when one compares it with the general standard of the local Russian hospitals. While at Vaenga I also saw our reserve of provisions stored there, afterwards going on to Grasnaya by car to call on General Andriev  and to see the RAF stores ex-operation Grenadine which are in the process of being sorted prior to being either turned over to the Russians or utilised by the Navy. I found the General very affable and willing (now) to co-operate to the full. He has not always been so and in fact only a week before the Chief of Staff Polyarnoe had to be approached to ask that the obstructive tactics of the said General might be amended. The day I was there butter would not melt in his mouth.

A visit was made to Archangel the passage there in Jason and the return in Britomart with four days ashore during which Captain Maund had a full programme for me – all very interesting and instructive…. On passage there we escorted a group of merchant vessels and on the return passage escorted a laden tanker and the air cover provided was much more in evidence than is usually the case. The surface escort provided by the Russians was also on a much augmented scale; in fact every care was taken of the SBNO North Russia who thoroughly enjoyed being at sea again. While at Archangel Commander Lewis of Jason went down with pneumonia and was seriously ill for some days; fortunately he survived the crisis. The changeable weather at present is enough to try the hardiest, the thermometer has been ranging on a forty degree scale in 24 hours and is now just above freezing point with snow showers.


The second group of merchant ships to be transferred from the Kola Inlet to the White Sea were sailed on the 8th May and comprised…(10 ships). Escort was provided by the minesweepers and corvettes, reinforced by three Russian destroyers, one of whom turned back after the convoy had entered the White Sea. The Dvina Bar was reached on the 10th May, and, the ice having dispersed, escorts were able to enter the river and fuel.

The minesweepers and corvettes were recalled from Archangel on the 15th May in order to escort the third and last group of merchant ships. The convoy (5 merchant ships) arrived at the Dvina Bar on the 19th May.

As a result of a request by the Russian Staff for the transference of 8000 tons of oil from the White Sea to the Kola Inlet… and the Beacon Hill. Having loaded at Molotovsk she sailed on the 23rd May escorted by HM Ships Britomart, Bluebell and Camellia and two Russian destroyers. She arrived in the Kola Inlet early in the morning of the 25thMay where arrangements had been made to discharge her as quickly as possible. This was completed on the 28th May and she sailed on the evening of that day for Archangel., in company with the Russian depot ship Pamyat Kirova, and escorted by the Britomart and Camellia, and three Russian ships. Two Russian destroyers and Britomart remained in company for the whole of the passage … arriving in Dvina on the 30thMay…

E R Archer
Rear Admiral, SBNO North Russia

31st May 1943

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