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Arctic Interlude

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Arctic Interlude

Independent to North Russia
  • by Harry C. Hutson
    • Merriam Press World War 2 History Series
    • Sixth Edition 2012
    • 354 6x9-inch pages
    • 103 photos
    • 43 illustrations
    • 6 maps
Arctic Interlude is the full account of a disastrous Allied Arctic operation to send merchant ships independently to North Russia from Iceland. This book tells the true story of Operation FB and in doing so fills a neglected gap in the published history of the Arctic sea war. There is a strong human element throughout, from personal recollections of those involved.
The story concerns the fortunes and misfortunes of thirteen merchant ships and their crews attempting to reach North Russia in late October/early November 1942. The ships were spaced some 200 miles apart and no escort was provided. Seven of these ships were British, five American and one was Russian.
Five reached Russia safely—two British and three American. Five were sunk or lost en route—three British, one American and the Russian vessel. Three were forced to return to Iceland—two British and one American.
For all the ships the journey was extremely hazardous. Navigation was very difficult in these high latitudes. Detection by the enemy was almost certain and the possibility of help was slim.
Four Royal Navy anti-submarine trawlers were stationed along the proposed route between the North Cape of Iceland and the South Cape of Spitzbergen. Two Allied submarines, one British and the other Dutch, were stationed near the South Cape of Spitzbergen. Four other anti-submarine trawlers, two British and two Russian were sailed from North Russian ports to cover the Barents Sea area. Two Russian submarines were deployed to the east of Spitzbergen as part of this operation. All had orders to assist any merchantman in trouble as best they could.
One of the western trawlers attacked a prowling U-boat near Jan Mayen Island. The U-boat escaped when the trawler was damaged by her own depth charges and was forced to break off the action and limp back to Iceland.
One of the two Russian trawlers was sunk in an air attack and one of the two eastern British trawlers was also attacked by aircraft. This trawler also experienced the perils of black frost and almost capsized. Crew members recall the experience. Despite these early warnings the independent sailings continued.
The decision to attempt such an operation was due to the fact that after the heavy losses sustained by the previous two convoys to North Russia, PQ-17 and PQ-18, further convoy sailings were to be stopped for three months. This decision coincided with Operation TORCH, the Allied landings in North Africa and the fact that all the heavy units of the Home Fleet, normally used to support the Russian convoys, and based at Scapa Flow, had been withdrawn to be used in support of these new landings.
Stalin, however, did not accept that these were good enough reasons to stop sending him supplies. This operation—code-named Operation FB—was an effort to placate him. There were already a number of ships fully loaded and earmarked for what would have been convoy PQ-19, therefore additional planning was minimal.
Material for the book has been gathered from sources in the United Kingdom, the United States, the USSR, Norway and Germany.
This episode in the war at sea is mentioned only briefly in official histories, usually only with a couple of sentences, never more than a paragraph. This is the first time it has been seriously researched.
Whilst almost everyone knows of the wartime convoys to North Russia and the terrible ordeals inflicted on both men and ships by the weather and the enemy, most people are totally unaware of Operation FB even though almost 20 per cent of merchant navy casualties on the Russian run during the war occurred in this one operation.
  • Acknowledgments
  • Glossary
  • Introduction
  • The Ships, the Men and Their Adversaries
  • The First and the Last of the Few
  • The Loss of SS William Clark
  • Ordeal and Rescue
  • U-703 Returns to Hope Island
  • Operation Gearbox
  • Operation Gearbox to the Rescue
  • The Five That Got Through
  • They Lived to Fight Another Day
  • Operation FB in Retrospect
  • Appendices
    • Allied Merchant Navy, Armed Guard and DEMS Casualty, Survivor and Crew Lists
    • Ship Details
    • Letters of Next to Kin
    • U-Boat Log Book Entries and Insignia
    • Official Signals and Documents for Operation FB
    • German Aircraft Involved
    • Allied Crew Documents and News Accounts
    • List of Merchant Ships That Sailed to North Russia Between August 1941 and the End of the War in Europe
    • Russian Convoy Details
    • Allied Escorts/Covering Forces on the North Russian Run, 1941-45
    • Chronology of Events, Operation FB
    • Soldier - Sailor - Survivor: Doug Meadows
The Author
Harry Hutson was well acquainted with the Arctic, having spent many years as a radio operator on Grimsby trawlers, fishing these same waters summer and winter.
His previous book, Grimsby's Fighting Fleet, was successfully published in the UK.
Harry passed away in 2002.
Review by Sir Alexander R. Glen, KCB, DSO, took part in Operation Gearbox as a Lieutenant Commander, Royal Navy, on Spitzbergen: This is a tragic, dramatic, and historic story, and the detail with which you have researched both the background and the experience of the individual ships is remarkable. The drama exceeds anything yet written about this arduous but strategically demanding route to North Russia.

Product Reviews

(1 Rating, 1 Review) Average Rating:
Arctic Interlude- Independent to North Russia
Glen Wilson (Wigan, Lancashire) 12/1/2008 4:55 AM
Fantastic book with what would seem to contain previously unprinted/unpublished material. ''A right riveting read'.' Fully recomended. Cheers, Glen.