Arctic convoys of World War II

Merchant vessels assemble along the coastline near Hvalford

Merchant vessels assemble along the coastline near Hvalford

The Arctic convoys were heavily guarded military cargo ship convoy that brought 1941 to 1945 important military goods from Britain and the United States to the Soviet Union. The Western Allies n aid deliveries were associated with the onset of the German-Soviet war, in which the Soviet Union was now an ally of Britain and, from the end of 1941, the United States.
Rallying point for the convoys were usually the Icelandic bay at Hvalfjörður or a British port. The aim of the Bill were Arkhangelsk and Murmansk on the Barents Sea in the north of the Soviet Union. Especially from 1942, from the German-occupied Norway from a stronger fight against convoys. It took the German plane e, submarine s strongest and above water forces of the Navy, to the battleship Tirpitz and Scharnhorst s. The politically very important convoys were in the press on both sides of special attention, so that in particular was 1942 with contemporaries the impression that the Northern Sea Route is the most dangerous conduct of World War II. Total of 811 shipments were launched, of which 720 arrived in Soviet ports. All in all, brought the Allies four million tons of cargo, including 5,000 tanks and 7,000 aircraft. Nordmeergeleitzugsroute on in the Soviet Union They lost 13 war and 89 merchant ships. The Germans lost the Scharnhorst, three destroyers, 43 submarines and numerous aircraft.

Initial situation

As on 22 June 1941, the National Socialist German Reich attacked the Soviet Union,Britainand theUnited Statespledged to military assistance. The U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, despite theU.S.not at war, because of the Lend-Lease Act it. The ability to deliver directly to military goods to the Soviet Union Of the three available transport routes was by ship through the North Sea and the Barents Sea to the routes through Siberia or across thePersian Gulf, the shortest and fastest. Since the convoys but this close to the German-occupied northernNorwaydrove past, it was also the most dangerous way. Given the rapid German advance into the Soviet Union, but Stalin insisted on quick help, so that the British for political reasons decided to carry out theNorth Seaconvoys.

Geographical area

The North Sea occupies the southeastern ocean basins in the sea area between Greenland and Scandinavia, which forms the north-western Greenland. In the northwest, a line of limited Gerpir, the easternmost point of Iceland, the Faroe Islands on 61 Degrees North 0.53 degrees West the sea opposite the open North Atlantic. There, the boundary follows the 61 Latitude to the Norwegian coast. This line forms the border to the North Sea. In the southeast limits the Norwegian coast between 61st Latitude and the North Sea, the North Cape. Traditionally, the boundary is defined by a line to the Barents Sea from the North Cape to BearIslandand from there to Sørkapp, the southernmost tip of Spitsbergen. The slope that separates the ocean basins from the shelf of the Barents Sea, but about 16 degrees east along the north until it hits on Spitsbergen. He is thus in its southern part many kilometers southeast of the traditional border. Finally, it extends to the north of Svalbardon Jan Mayen until after Gerpir fall, following the deep threshold that separates Norwegian grönlandisches and ocean basins.
The Barents Sea is located between the island groups in northwestern Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land (Russia) to the north, Novaya Zemlya on the east and north-westRussia’s mainland and in southernScandinavia.

Climatic conditions

The climatic conditions in the North Sea and the Barents Seapresented attackers as defenders major problems.
In autumn and winter the weather in the North Sea was determined by frequent storms associated with snow and rain, which brought with it a strong visual disability. From extreme cold glaciations occurred to ships that had stability problems. It ruled prolonged polar nights with only short periods of brightness.
Furthermore, there was a shift of the Arctic pack ice boundary farther south, so that the convoys had to pass at distances from 250 to 200 nautical mile n the German-occupied Norway.
In summer, the pack ice moved further north, but now suffered long periods of brightness of the polar day there. From July increased incidence of shallow sea fog.  The targetport ofMurmansk, was ice-free all year round, but was close to the German bases. The more distantArkhangelsk could only be approached in the ice-free period from July to September.


The North Seaconvoys consisted of up to 49 merchant ships were protected by warships. For Nahsicherung Escort Groups were with destroyers, corvette s, minesweepers and other small warships available. This formed a ring around the convoy and to fend off attacks from smaller over water warships and submarines. With the flak could also air attacks will be rejected. Against the attacks of larger warships, cruisers drove a group outside of the convoy. From 1942, when the Tirpitz was stationed in northernNorway, was allowed to ride in remote backup groups also battleships. Furthermore, so-called escort carriers were used by aircraft that would take over the air backup.

When Convoy PQ 18 with 39 merchant ships, for example, three destroyers, two anti-aircraft ships, four corvettes, four armed trawlers, three minesweepers and two submarines as Escort Group were divided for Nahsicherung. Moreover, even drove an escort carrier and to protect it with two destroyers in the convoy. Fighting as escort formed a light cruiser and 16 destroyers a ring around the convoy. The remote backup formed two groups with a total of two battleships, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and eight destroyers. Reserve a group of one heavy and one light cruiser with six destroyers remained at nearSpitsbergenin readiness. A submarine group of eight submarines was on the approach route German heavy water over the armed forces. In addition, for the last phase of the Soviet Navy-conduct set yet from four destroyers and five submarines. Overall, the protection of the 39 merchant ships were ready 77 warships. Some of theNorth Seaconvoys were among the most secure convoys of World War II.

Except for the first all convoys were to distinguish one Buchstaben/Nummernkombination. In the years 1941 and 1942 was used for the abbreviation PQ and QP convoys going east for those running westward. The acronym was derived from the initials of an officer of the Operations Department of the Admiralty, the Commander Philip Quellyn Roberts. From 1943 to 1945, the corresponding abbreviations JW and RA. The numbering was continuous. PQ 1 to PQ17 inthe average distance traveled for 17 days eastward, westward to QP QP 1 12 every 22 days.


The first convoys (Dervish, PQ PQ 1 to 6) achieved without losses the Soviet Union. With them 44 shiploads of 800 fighter aircraft, 750 tanks, 1,400 trucks, 100,000 tons of ammunition and other essential goods were brought into their ports of destination. To combat the convoys more effectively, then put the German side, a change in one of the command structure. Based in Kirkenes created the Navy, the Office of the North Sea Admiral (Vice Admiral Hubert Schmundt). On the part of the Air Force under the authority responsible for Scandinaviaand Finland Luftflotte 5 was the command pilot of the leader North (East) (Colonel Alexander Holle).
In early 1942, the Air Force increased its massive attack forces. In May 1942, a total of 103 were available Junkers Ju 88, 57 Heinkel He 111 and He 115 and 30 Junkers Ju 87. In addition, there were 74 aircraft for maritime patrol. Also, the Navy moved heavy units, including the battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst, in northernNorway.  Then did the commander of the Home Fleet, Admiral John Tovey, cancel furtherNorth Sea convoys. However, he could not prevail. Tovey then said:

On the orders ofU.S.President Roosevelt should the North Sea convoys are exposed to the public especially to document the relationship with theSoviet Union. Because of the loss of 43 ships of the convoy PQ 17, PQ 18 and QP 14 was two and a half months, be in the Allied press especially. Thus among contemporaries created the impression that theNorth Seaconvoys are particularly dangerous.

After the huge losses in summer 1942, to set a any escort trains and instead had run single merchant ships without security. Of 13 ships but only five reached their destination port. Then we went to a two-month hiatus on the convoy system.


In 40 convoys that headed east, 811 shipments were organized. While 58 ships were sunk, while 33 had to turn back time a ship for various reasons. Overall, therefore, reached 720 shiploads their port of destination. In the 37 previous moving convoys with a total of 715 commercial vessels (with multiple counting) were 29 merchant ships lost. Furthermore, sunk 13 British warships.
The British sank the battleship Scharnhorst, three destroyers, and 43 submarines.

A total of four million tons of cargo, including 5,000 tanks and 7,000 aircraft brought the Allies over the Nordmeergeleitzugsroute in theSoviet Union. That was nearly 23 percent of all at that time in theSoviet Unionsupplied goods. Larger proportions were about the other two, less costly routes (Persian Corridor, Pacific route) that the Germans could not be disturbed.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress