ARCTIC CONVOYS

4 Sep

One of my talks is on ‘The Voyages of Discovery’. ‘Discovery’ was built for Scott’s Antarctic expedition of 1901-1904. She was sold on after the expedition returned to England.

It was a surprise to find how many reincarnations she has had – she became a cargo vessel for the Hudson Bay Company of Canada, carrying textiles, tools & mirrors to barter for furs, she was involved in the Whaling Industry, became an oceanographic and research vessel, returned to the Antarctic with Douglas Mawson, was a training ship on the Thames and is now enjoying honourable (and relative), retirement at Dundee Point, where she is visited by thousands.

In WW1 in 1915, she was involved in supplying Archangel. Archangel was the only Russian port available to the West for the transport of supplies to Russia (the Germans controlled the Baltic, the Turkish Navy controlled access to the Black Sea via the Mediterranean). Discovery travelled in convoy via the North Sea to the Barents Sea and Archangel The approach to the White Sea was littered with German minefields. As ‘Steamer 141’ she went to Archangel between June and September 1915. Ten ships in the convoys were lost in these months. In the whole heroic strategy, 110 ships were lost, a third of the total. The courage of the seamen was phenomenal.

This transit was to be repeated in WW2. Winston Churchill called the journey the Worst Journey in the World. (a homage to Cherry Garrard’s book of this name). British and American ships supplied Archangel between 1941 and 1945. As in the WW1 the risks were terrible. The convoys sailed round German occupied Norway; the men endured freezing temperatures (minus 40°C), U boat attacks, and bombardments. The first of these convoys reached Archangel in September seventy-five 75 years ago. They provided supplies, moral support and eventually airplanes to the Soviet Union, as Hitler attacked.

These heroic men were celebrated recently in Archangel in events to mark the anniversary. Eight veterans were feted. The Princess Royal attended and visited British war graves.

No praise is too great.

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