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


Eastbound ships:

The eastbound ships were directed to proceed to Archangel, and not to Kola Inlet as at first ordered; the favourable ice conditions in the White Sea making this possible.

It was arranged with the C in C Northern Fleet that HMS Harrier and Gleaner, working from Iokanka, should assist in escorting incoming Merchant ships, and that the minesweeping in the White Sea would be done by Soviet minesweepers. Favourable reports were subsequently received from MS6 about the cooperation during escort movements.

The first two Eastbound ships to arrive were the Richard H Alvey and Empire Gallard. They were met by Russian escorts, and sighted by Russian aircraft, in company with their escorts, about 100 miles NNW of Cape Kanin, and within a few miles of each other, at 1050 5th Nov. They were escorted to Dvina Bar where, on 8th Nov, Richard H Alvey grounded.

The ss John Walker arrived at the Bar on 8th Nov, and on the 9th went aground. The Richard H Alvey was refloated on the 9th.

A Russian aircraft reported one Merchant ship, probably Hugh Williamson, in the vicinity of Cape Kanin at 1508 on 9th and at 2230 that day she was met by Harrier and Gleaner.

Two British trawlers, after recall from rescue patrol, were employed south of position G in searching for incoming Merchant ships. Generally bad visibility hindered this work. John Walker was refloated on the 13th November.

Local escort for the Empire Scott and Empire Sky was arranged in collaboration with the Russians in the same manner as for earlier Merchant ships, but visibility was so poor that it was not until 1730 on the 17th when Empire Scott arrived off Semi Island, on the Murman coast, that she was sighted. Russian destroyers and escort vessels brought her to the Kola Inlet, to which she had been re-routed on passage. On her arrival, the Master reported having no sight of the Empire Sky and having herself been sighted by a Blohm & Voss aircraft, upon which she opened fire. The aircraft did not attack. Nothing is known of the Empire Sky.

Westbound Russian ships:

On the 26th October the Russian Staff announced the concurrence of the authorities in Moscow to the plan for sailing independently the eight ships from Byelushaya, though the interval between sailings of individual ships was variously given as being between 25 and 40 hours. The first ship was to leave at 1400 on the 28th.    

The first Westbound ship, Mossoviet, left Byelushaya at 1415 on the 29th and it was learned on that day from the Russian staff that the total number of ships was not eight but nine. The second ship, Azerbaidjan, sailed at 1400 on the 31st.

AM1947/4 referring to active enemy air and U-boat operations along the route  and recommending the suspension of further Westbound sailings, was communicated to the Russian Staff, who took the necessary action as regards the ships in Byelushaya Bay and endeavoured to recall to tanker Donbass, who sailed at 1340/4. Their signals were probably not received by this ship, who was attacked by aircraft at 0947/5 (position 73˚ 35’ N, 48˚ 30’E) and again at 1030/7 (in position 76˚ 24’ N, 41˚ 30’E). Nothing more was heard of her.

The purport of AM 1710/6, advising the re-routing of westbound ships to eastward of Jan Mayen Island and thence to Akureyri, was conveyed to the Russian authorities, who took action in compliance.

Rescue ships in the Barents Sea

The Russians were at first disinclined to employ two submarines on rescue duty, but by the 27th October they had agreed to do this, and S101 and S102 were detailed, as well as two trawlers for the furthest North positions. Two British trawlers were allocated for rescue patrol in the southward area, being required later to act as escort for Convoy QP15.

The performance of the British trawlers when using Russian coal, deteriorated to the extent that their speed was reduced to a doubtful 8 knots and the coaling facilities at Iokanka involved considerable delays. Nevertheless, during the early stages of the operation all rescue craft were in position at the required time.

The Russian Staff reported that on the 5th November both of the Russian trawlers had been attacked by aircraft. Subsequently one of these ships failed to return and the other reached Iokanka in damaged condition.

On receipt of AM 1225/6, recommending the recall of rescue craft, the Russians were advised to withdraw their trawlers but not the two submarines and this was acted on. The British trawlers were recalled and Harrier and Gleaner were instructed not to proceed North of position ‘G’. HM Trawler Argona was attacked by aircraft at 1040A/8 in the Southern Barents Sea, but sustained no damage.

On receiving AM 0050/11, ordering the Empire Scott and Empire Sky to continue their passage, an effort was made to station two trawlers in the vicinity of the original patrol positions, but their reduced speed, and the coaling difficulties referred to above, prevented their reaching them…


Reconnaissance and Patrol of Norwegian Coast

On the 2nd November a negative reply was received from the Russian staff to the enquiry as to whether Russian submarines would be available to occupy areas 2 and 2A during the passage of QP15.

The necessity for effective air reconnaissance of Alten Fjord was frequently pressed but it is almost certain that it was lacking. Of the three PRU Spitfires turned over to the Russians, only one was operational and it was probable that weather conditions were on the whole unfavourable.

In view of the possibility of a sortie by enemy surface forces the Russians sailed submarine K3 for patrol in area 2A, which was not occupied at the time.


The following 30 merchant ships were assembled at the Dvina Bar to sail in the convoy.

British: Temple Arch (Commodore Meek), Empire Tristram, Dan-Y-Bryn (Vice Commodore), Empire Snow, Empire Morn (CAM Ship), Empire Baffin, Goolistan, Ocean Faith.

American: Virginia Dare, Sahale, Nathaniel Green, Exford, William Moultrie, Patrick Henry, Essex Hopkins, Schoharie, St Olaf, Hollywood, Charles R McCormick, Ironclad, Neanticut, Lafayette, White Clover.

Russian: Andre Marti, Thilisi, Petrovsky, Belomorkanal, Friedrick Engels, Komiles, Kusnetz Lesov

and the Rescue Ship Copeland.

The ocean escort from Archangel was provided by HMS Ulster Queen, Halcyon (SO), Salamander, Britomart, Sharpshooter, Hazard, Camellia, Bryony, Bergamot and Bluebell.

Two Russian destroyers provided additional local escort as far as 74˚30N and HMT St Keenan sailed from Iokanka to join the convoy off Cape Gorodetski. She was unable to maintain the requisite speed due to the poor quality of the Russian coal and, in accordance with previous orders, returned to harbour….

Captain (D)8 in Faulknor, with Intrepid, Icarus, Impulsive and Echo, who had fuelled in the Kola Inlet, sailed from there at 1400/19 in order to join the convoy…

Four D/f fixes of U-boats were received here from the Russian staff on the 20th and 21st, all ahead of the convoy, and these were passed to the escort.

 Heavy weather was encountered in the Southern Barents Sea, and persisted for many days, causing all ships to become widely separated. Signals were received from escorts during the concluding days of the convoy’s passage indicating the extent of the disorganisation.


The British Tanker Hopemount was lent to the Russians and sent along the Siberian Coast as far as the Tikse Bay to fuel the small flotilla of Russian destroyers coming round here from Vladivostok.

On the 11th October she had got back as far as Yugorski Strait and was kept there to fuel Russian escort vessels who were engaged in bring back to the White Sea and Kola Inlet the large number of Merchant ships being evacuated from the Kara Sea for the winter.

On 26th November the Hopemount arrived at Iokanka where she is being used to fuel small British and Russian vessels escorting ships from the White Sea to the Kola Inlet for the winter (oil is inaccessible for small vessels in the White Sea in the winter). It appear that the Hopemount’s propeller has been damaged and that her bow has been damaged by ice and that she can only do 6 knots, but so far it has been impossible to get details. The ship is shortly coming to the Kola Inlet, when a full inspection and report will be made. 

Permits, Passports and Visas

In addition to the ever present trouble of securing visas for the entry into Russia of the Naval staff necessary for convoy operations, regulations have been made which make it almost as difficult to get out of the country as it is to get in to it. These regulations involve completing a four page declaration form, producing five photographs of passport size, giving 14 days notice of intention to leave so that the matter may be referred to Moscow, reporting in person to the police in Murmansk for scrutiny of documents, and finally having obtained an exit visa, embarking only in the presence of a representative of the NKVD. Although these regulations have been in the background in a milder form for some months, they were enforced without notice at a most inconvenient time just as a draft for the United Kingdom was about to embark. They are, of course, most inconvenient generally as the 14 day’s notice, or even 4 days which is the absolute minimum, may result in relieved personnel missing the opportunity of return to the United Kingdom, on occasions when their reliefs arrive at short notice, or without notice as they frequently do. Also the trip to Murmansk from Polyarnoe under winter conditions may involve an absence of three or four days.

The entry visa and exit visa are in addition to a registration card which everyone is now being provided with and to sundry local passes all of which have photographs. It is extraordinary that we should be subject to so much control (and presumably, suspicion) when in the country for the sole purposes of assisting it. I trust that the Russians in the United Kingdom are subject to similar vexations and humiliating formalities… 

Douglas Fisher
Rear Admiral SBNO, North Russia     

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