- Contributed by
- Dundee Central Library
- People in story:
- Robert Miller
- Location of story:
- Russian Convoys
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 November 2005
Robert Miller in 1938
6 Sept. 1942
We are at anchor in a fiord in Iceland. It's Sunday, this morning the skipper read prayers. It's an unusually sunny day, and the sun warm and melting the snow on the mountains surrounding this narrow strip of water.
Eight o'clock this morning we weighed anchor, with the other big ships and destroyers. I had the afternoon watch and stood watching the ships getting into order. There were some U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. ships along with our British. The weather is rather dull and mild for our position.
The weather is much colder. I don't know whether it's due to the fact that today we entered the Arctic Circle. We passed some dark, high, steep rocks this afternoon and we went in close in, to sweep for U-Boats which were supposed to be operating in the locality. There are tons of fog and rain today and as I leant over the edge of the gun platform looking at the last land we would see for some time a beam of sunlight shone on a narrow fiord and showed it up in green which no-one thought was within a few hundred miles. We turned and came back to the convoy and did a dummy run on the escorting flying-boat, at 1900 a FW [Focke Wulf] condor circled the convoy. The Montrose opened fire and she flew off into the mist.
At dawn today 16 more destroyers, two cruisers and an aircraft carrier joined us, we are still going North and slightly to the East. We had another F. Wolf circling the convoy, we expect to contact U-Boats soon, as several were picked up by R.D.F. and by hearing them reporting positions.
6 am today it started to snow and then turned to rain, at nine o'clock we oiled at sea from the brown Ranger it snowed a little and some of the ropes froze. At mid-day the weather cleared and the sea dropped. The mess-deck is getting very damp and all the iron work is sweating. This afternoon, a destroyer on the Port column of the convoy attacked and claimed a U-Boat. I was very surprised this afternoon to see a seagull as we are only about one hundred miles from the ice fields. We drew soap and tobacco in the days, and heard about our rise, but we will get no pay for two months yet.
The German grand fleet is loafing around, somewhere south of us. According to the W.T. blokes are covering force is between us and them, the enemy force consists of three battleships, three cruisers and six destroyers. We are still going N.E. tonight we will be among the loose ice off. It snowed a little this morning and there is a bit of a gale with a fog helping out. It is pretty grim on deck, as we are washing down both sides. The convoy is still unharmed, touch wood. Tonight a four engined plane came around the convoy, it was a yank. We started bread rationing today, as Joe Stalin does not give the ships any supplies and we have got five weeks yet before we reach an English base so we have got to start early; today navigator put up a chart in the galley plot of the North Polar region and boy are we in the wilds and snowy wastes, we are at the end or beginning of men's inhibitions.
We had the morning, towards five o'clock it was quite light, at 1.30pm we which had our heads up saw a gerry plane and several destroyers opened up on it. Later went too to watch AA defence stations. It snowed rather heavy during the dogs, at 10pm too got a firing on a U-Boat and dropped a five and ten charge pattern, a sword-fish from the carrier flew back over the spot and reported a large patch of oil we also heard several explosions after the charge had gone.. We claimed it, three other destroyers claimed kills during the night.
At eight this morning we suffered our first loss, two merchantmen were torpedoed and sunk by U-Boats and sank, at eleven thirty we went to oil, at 12.15 we were attacked by 35 torpedo bombers and some JU88, to was the worst action I have been in, the first wave swept in and hit eight ships and sank them, then an ammo ship was hit on our port side she just vanished in a sheet of flame, a U-Boat slid to the surface fifty yards from us and let go two fish which we dodged, and replied with five depth charges. The action went on for an hour shells bursting, tracer flying, ships and aircraft on fire all in a hopeless mad jumble.
At six o'clock we closed up again and fired at a few trying to sneak through the screen. Again at night until 10 we were still firing and dodging around. The merchant men shot down three in this attack. All day about fifteen were destroyed we had practically nothing to eat all day and were closed up for eighteen hours of the day,
It snowed a bit this morning and froze on the deck, we had two dummy alerts, until 12.30, then it began again 18 torpedo bombers came in on the starboard side, the destroyers shot down 4 and broke up the formation the rest came through between us and the destroyer on the starboard side, we fired a shell at each as they went past, the last one had a fighter hanging on his tail so we just managed to hold back. One of them fired machine guns at us and knocked a few holes in the after screen. Then another ammunition ship went up and vanished. Two more went down as well, this lot went on for four hours and I was sweating as I loaded. We all feel tired and fed up and hungry. I went on watch at eight and I prayed hard for a spell, and we got it.
I watched the Northern Lights today and I hope we don't get attack today but it is only 10.30am so I will close for now. The alarm rang at 12.30 we closed up again, some destroyers on the port bow started dropping charges, soon after high level bombing started, with all the convoy firing, defending itself, a lot of near misses were shooting up in among the convoy and destroyers this carried on until 1600, the U-Boats then came to close and were attacked, today has been a good day for us, seven bombers and no damage, we continued to attack U-Boats all day and night.
We continued to attack U-Boats from 10.00 to 3.00 then we oiled, at 10.00 H.M.S. Milltown? sank a U-Boat in a snow storm which is still in progress, 12.45, we may not get bombed today if the weather keeps up. We did not.
This morning two Russian destroyers joined the convoy, the weather milder but there is a heavy swell. The Northern Lights were lovely last and early this morning no action.
10.30 this morning we closed up for action, waves of torpedo bombers started to attack first from one side then another, at 11.45 two ships were hit a bit later one more was hit and sank, four planes were shot down at 16.00 we attacked U-Boats 19.00 four more of Joe's destroyers joined us. This afternoon we had no air support. I prayed for bad weather this afternoon and we got it and so at 13.30 the air attacks finished. Tonight the mine sweepers sweep is into the White Sea.
We entered the White Sea this morning, in the afternoon it began to blow up. At 18.00 we could not stand on the upper deck we tried to drop anchor but we could not and the ship almost turned over, the capstan gave out and all the cable ran out after an hour or maybe two, it seemed like an age, hanging on the way we were, the foe man that is drenched with the seas as we rolled, gunnels under. I went on watch and continued to get drowned all night as the seas came over the guns.
Still just holding our own again a terrible sea, at 14.00 two merchant men and a naval trawler run aground, we had a bit of an air raid as well but I only fired 6 shells when Joe's fighter came over and cheated jerry; it is still very rough with the seas still coming over.
When I came on watch this morning the weather had gone milder, the USSR pilot came aboard and took over. We went up the narrow river banked on each side by forests and good wooden buildings and small boats, after about two hours we came along side Archangel, I am going ashore tomorrow. We got 48 Ruppels to the quid. We had a few bombs dropped near a cruiser and a grounded merchant man at the harbour entrance but no damage. I hear we are here for six weeks, looks tough on us getting back this river freezes up in two months time. At 10.00pm we had an air raid but Joe's barrage is good at 01.30 we fell out.
When I got ashore at 13.30 we wandered up the main road on the Russian wooden pavements. The tram cars were coming up and down on the opposite side to us at home. The people are well dressed on the whole a lot have fur coats. The money here is very queer, kids keep offering handfuls of money for chocolate and fags. I got 30 Ruppels for a packet of Woods which cost 41/2d then I sold a bar of choc for 50 Ruppels. There is nothing to buy here, I suppose that is why everyone has tons of money. Even the trams are free, at the street corners loud speakers give out news and music. We went in the International Club and got Salmon, cheese, white bread, black bread and tea for 10 Rps. It's a fine building with a dance hall, pictures, concerts, library, draught and chess rooms. Later on we had some Beans, Beef and bread rolls and tea for 15 Rps. After this we had a sing song in a big room with a grand piano with one of the boys playing. After half an hour we all went in a concert hall and a woman read a speech in English thanking us for bringing in the convoy and then we cleared the hall and danced.
I am watch aboard today and we spent the time watching the hundreds of Russian boats sailing up and down the river, a joe boat is tied up near us, it's the latest thing I've seen in stream lining.
Ashore tonight went for a walk to the Internal, a hotel out of bounds, and met a few gents and British M.N's. It's a lovely place, a band which will play anything from Irene Sue to Chopin for a few fags, the food is good we had cutlets, cabbage soup, venison, ham, caviar, cheese and a decanter of Vodka; which tastes like gin and brandy.
This afternoon we made a rifle range on the dock side and later the officer in charge decided to move it because as it was too small, I expected this before we finished it, after a few more hours work we moved it, I am on duty watch.
We were messing around the banks of the river today sorting out a few spars for the whaler, the river is jammed full of logs and spars of all lengths and sizes, the men under punishment are made to saw up the logs for the galley as we are running short of wood. The food selection is grim aboard ship and we go ashore for a good feed.
Went to the Club had big eats, braised steak, ham, cheese, 20 Rupples. I sold two packets of cigs for a hundred Rupples and chocolate for 50. I went in the pictures with Jock Lamb and two Russian girls called Olga and Linda both could speak a little English, they asked us to take Russian lessons which incidentally are free each night at six. The girls here are very friendly and there are tons of them, later on we went in the dance some fox-trots, waltzes and Russian folk dances we had some good fun doing their dances.
The ships company got a concert up and put it on at the Club. I was watch on board so I don't know how it went down.
Went to the Club at 13.30 got big eats and went to the pictures to see the Great .............with two girls who asked us to take them in one was called Zola and Roxanne, Roxy smiled and said yes every time I swore at the Russian ............... She said she was a doctor and her friend was on an emergency course at college.
At ten o'clock tonight we had a raid, the barrage is very good and I don't think any bombs were dropped.
We moved up the river to oil, I got ashore and had my supper in the club, with curly, at eight o'clock a raid started and in Archangel every one must get off the street, the only people allowed about are police men and women who are armed as always with revolvers. We sat in the shelter singing, due to the Vodka and a woman in uniform came in and said the building over the shelter was on fire and would the navy volunteer to do some fire fighting, well we got up, the barrage was roaring away and light mobile guns were racing down the muddy roads cracking away, the whole town looked to be on fire, the buildings here are all made of wood so it just spread and spread. The fire was going like mad in one place and so we started to get some houses empty, I ran in a house which was just starting to burn to help an old woman to get her things out, the rooms are very clean and well furnished, each person having her or his own room, I helped her and a girl to get out, soon I was joined by the Russian girls who worked with me after giving me an axe to smash through from one room to the next as the whole block were flats, we had a good time and worked hard. Later as I helped a girl whose house was burned down to carry some gear to her friend's barn, I was drenched with water so she gave me some Russian clothes. And took me in her friends house soon I left at 4.30am and reported in the dockyard 6½ hours adrift but I was excused.
This morning I went to the sick bay to get my hand bandaged up, as it is burnt a bit, I hear we are returning to the U.K. tomorrow so I bought two sets of Russian stamps for 30 Rl. from the post office and a cartridge belt for 15 Rl., I still have about 50 Rl. left over. We left Archangel at 09.00 and arrived at Murmansk.
Today we left Murmansk for home at eight knots we had got three soldiers in the mess who are going home on leave, (they are sick), all quiet today.
We turned South East today, I reckon today is the most vital day in our return, at 10.00 a jerry reconnaissance plane came into view and dropped flares, he circled round the other destroyers and us three times just out of range and then flew away, we waited all day for the torpedo bombers but God was with us. I watch the sun setting in the west us dashing straight at it.
As soon as it got light today we could see the snow covered mountains of Iceland and they were the best thing I have seen in a long time, as the light grew I could see the fiord which we eventually entered. We tied along side an oil[er] with the Acanthus? next to us.
[PQ18 is added here in another hand, presumably referring to the codename of the convoy].
Robert Miller via Dundee Central Library
EDITOR’S NOTE: A.B. Robert Miller died in 2003 and this story was transcribed from his notebook by kind permission of his daughter, Mrs. Mary Jamieson. The notes were obviously written under conditions of extreme stress and discomfort and, as a result, are quite difficult to decipher in places. The spelling and grammar are variable but are, with a few exceptions, reproduced as he set them down at the time. The names of some of the ships as spelt by Mr. Miller do not appear to match known British warships, and the nearest approximation in Jane’s Fighting Ships is suggested in these transcripts.
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