BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

Russian and Malta Convoys Part 1icon for Recommended story

by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Contributed by 
Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper
People in story: 
Alfred Longbottom
Location of story: 
In the Mediterranean and Arctic Seas
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
02 December 2003

Russian Naval Concert Party on Board HMS NIGERIA at Murmansk 1941. Picture taken in the hangar. The Cruiser carried two Seaplanes which were launched by Catapult crewed by the Fleet Air Arm.

(Alfred Longbottom is a long-standing friend of my family. He has given me full permission to write this account of his experiences on this website.)

Alfred Longbottom of Halifax in West Yorkshire spent the Second World War years in the Royal Navy and three years on Russian and Malta Convoys as a decoder aboard the Colony Class Cruiser HMS Nigeria with a complement of 750 men. The Convoys carrying arms and ammunition, tanks and planes were vital to the allied war effort. The ships were prime targets for German aircraft and submarines, and were continuously under attack from air and sea as they battled their way to Murmansk and Archangel with their armoured escorts.

Alfred said, "Escorting those convoys was sheer murder. We were continually under attack, even after we docked at Murmansk. It was only 50 miles away from German-occupied Norway."

"Sometimes the temperatures fell to minus 40 degrees C. We were given sheepskin hoods and clothing by the Russians but they didn't keep the cold out. There was no heating on board and ice formed on the inside of the cabins...we couldn't win either way - when it melted everything got soaked. The days were long and exhausting."

Alfred remembers the PQ17 Convoy of 36 ships out of Scapa Flow in 1942 when only six arrived in Russia. In Russia the sailors saw very little of the people, except for the queues outside the bread shops and Red Army patrols.

"We used to exchange bars of chocolate with them for the Red Army badges. Russia looked a very poverty-stricken country", he remembers.

A Pedestal Convoy to Malta was so battered it was estimated so many ships were sunk on approach to the island there were 2000 men in the water at any given period.

During a particular Dog-watch Alfred says of his own ship, "It was 7.58 pm and Charlie, his friend, was almost due to relieve George who was on watch. But George rang to say he was feeling groggy and could Charlie relieve him straight away. No sooner had Charlie relieved George and he came up top - a torpedo struck and Charlie was killed. George soon felt better and was fine, but Charlie's death preyed on his mind and caused him a lot of trouble. I would have been Charlie's best man at his wedding next leave. I still have the letter I received from Charlie's fiancee."


"The Navy were trying to locate a German Station providing weather and movement of shipping news to their own ships and submarines. I was on HMS Nigeria (a colony cruiser), and before getting under weigh we had a good idea of the general area in which the Weather Ship would be found but, immediately before the incident, it is most likely we simply 'came across' her. We were not at Action Stations, always triggered off by radar contact and often the result of locating floating debris, empty lifeboats and even whales! I was on deck as HMS Nigeria sailed into proximity to a large iceberg when I first saw an orange glow in the 'iceberg', followed by splashes of water in the sea near the stern of Nigeria. Almost with disbelief, I realised the iceberg had opened fire on us with enormously heavy guns, the spashes so clearly disturbing a perfectly calm sea - like a sheet of glass. At this point I could not see a ship. It was covered from stem to stern in white canvas. Together with our two destroyer escort we had located the German Weather Ship Lauenberg and it was June 1941. (Alfred only recently discovered that on the day a copy of the Enigma Code was taken from the Lauenberg by the boarding party from the destroyers. It was not the job of Nigeria to stop or to take prisoners.) Scuttling-charges sent the Lauenberg to the bottom. I well recall seeing two lifeboats packed with her crew being rowed away from their ship to the destroyer HMS Bedouin and internment."

"On the 12th August, 1942, I was on the sloping deck of a torpedoed ship, and in what appeared to be a hopeless situation. Everything was out of action - the guns, radar, radio, steering, - all gone. Flames were leaping out of one of the funnels, with the diesel on fire. Down below, fifty officers and men had perished, and others were wounded - some mentally. Stationery, we were a sitting target for a further attack. Privately, I said 'good - bye' to my mother and father and my brothers, as I was absolutely convinced that I would never see them again. As a final act, our code books and other secret machines were put into sacks weighted with lead, and sent to the bottom of the Mediterranean. Suddenly there appeared on the horizon a group of Italian torpedo bombers which were flying straight towards us - their huge torpedoes clearly glistening in the evening sunshine. They flew straight through the destroyer screen, directly towards us."

"At this point, there was a loud cry from the Chief Yeoman high up on the bridge - 'For what we are about to receive ....', and immediately my thoughts went back to the little village where I used to live and the vicar saying those words before a meal at local events."

"With massive damage amidships, we could hear water rushing into the HMS Nigeria. Down by the bow, and with the stern rising, she was in danger of going down. Admiral Burrough left the ship to continue the mission in the destroyer HMS Ashanti. As the torpedo bombers got nearer, the Chaplain led a group of men in reciting the Lord's Prayer - there was nothing else we could do. A three-badge 'Stripey' next to me said, 'Keep your feet dry laddie as long as you can', (I was only 21)".

"Now the end was surely near as the Italian aircraft dropped their several torpedoes on to the water. We watched, with bated breath. Incredibly, every torpedo missed us, nor (I believe) did they strike any other ships in the convoy. This was so remarkable since we were a motionless target, simply waiting for the end."

"A few hours later, I felt a sudden vibration under my feet which reverberated throughout the ship. Engines were running! None of us could believe it but,.. and miraculously, some power was restored to the engines. This in itself was beyond our wildest dreams, and must have required tremendous skill and courage down below to bring it about."

"I believe some form of emergency steering was set up, and slowly we moved, escorted by destroyers, to start the long journey back to Gibraltar. On the way we survived another torpedo attack from a submarine but eventually reached 'Gib', and were able to bury, with full military honours, so many pals we had lost on just this one journey."


"These events had a profound effect on me - I'll admit to shedding a few tears as I wrote it! But I am not ashamed of this!"

"I have never regreted being there. Most of the friends I made were killed. I think of them often - unfortunately almost every night when I have nightmares."


At the age of 67 Alfred was awarded a medal by the Presidium of The Supreme Soviet of the USSR - the country's highest state authority. It was only given to men who served on the convoys. The medals are inscribed in Russian to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. He made 13 trips on the convoys, including the PQ17 convoy of 36 ships in 1942. Only six ships arrived in Russia as the rest were sunk.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - A2101050 - Russian and Malta Convoys

Posted on: 11 December 2003 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

To the Editor,
I have just added another part to this story. Do I submit again?
Thank you. Audrey Lewis

Message 1 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 03 December 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Thanks for Alfred's story. I often wonder at the humourous stoicism of people like the chief yeoman. It reminds me of a story from HMS Warspite where approaching aircraft were misidentified and "friendly bombs dropped!"

My father Reg Gill was on the Leinster when it ran aground off Gibraltar in July 1941 (operation Substance whilst on the way to Malta. The exact circumstances weren't clear, he was below deck and there were different stories, but journeys to Malta were terrifying. He found parts of his experience at Dunkirk unspeakable but has never suffered the nighmares symptomatic of post traumatic stress disorder that so many veterans describe.

I hadn't heard of the enigma capture Alfred described before. links

may refer to it. If you have any more details I'd be very interested.



Message 2 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 05 December 2003 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Thank you Paul for your reply to Alfred Longbottom's story. You have hit the nail on the head - when Alfred told me his story I could not imagine what agony he went through - and all the others who were there. I am sure he has not told us everything as yet - but I hope he'll tell me more. Thanks - I'll ask about the Enigma Machine.
sincerely, Audrey


Message 3 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 11 December 2003 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Paul Gill.
You will be pleased to know that Alfred Longbottom has written to me with his latest memory of the Laurenberg - in the "Weather War" you refered to in your letter. I have incerted this into the original story on my page so you will be able to read his account. "The Enigma Codes were descovered by a boarding party from the destroyer Tartar. The German ship was finally sunk by torpedo."
Alfred said he was so interested in your letter about your father and the 'Weather Wars' which I printed for him.
If I can help further - please ask.
Yours sincerely,
Audrey Lewis


Message 4 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 12 December 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Audrey, I think including the name of the ship is extremely helpful, particularly for an event as important as this was.

My father has an habit of adding crucial snippets ..just after I think he's said everything!

If this becomes edited as I suspect it will, then there is already a reference to the Lauenberg (sic), in one of the BBC history websites. links which they may wish to link.

Please thank Alfred and tell him I've read his story thoroughly.

Best wishes



Message 5 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 15 January 2004 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Audrey, Alfred might be interested in my discussion with Peter at


I'd asked Peter to have a look as I know he is very knowledgable about Ultra. I had hoped he was going to put a note here for you as he's done all the hard work of finding a reference. At this stage of the war Bletchley definitely didn't want an enigma machine as it already had copies. Another one, particularly if the Germans found out might have been embarrasing!
Far more important were the code books and HMS Nigera and Alfred completely succeeded in this vital task.



Message 6 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 20 January 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Paul, Thank you for your reply. Sorry I did not pick it up earlier. Alfred is so pleased he has been useful. I will look up further on the site you gave me and make some comment later.
I have a book from the library on the story of the enigma machine - "Enigma the Battle for the Code" by Hugh Sebag Montefiore. Do you know it?
I am passing on your messages to Alfred to get his reaction. Then I will get back to you.
Good wishes


Message 7 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 20 January 2004 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

I'll see if Peter has heard of it.



Message 8 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 21 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Audrey

What a magnificent story! Brave men like Alfred Longbottom on those dreadful Russina convoys received so little recognition after the war.

Regarding the German weather ship Lauenburg you may be interested in this site links

I haven't read Simon Sebag Montefiore's book on the Enigma, but he is a dependable historian. His biographies of the Russian Prince Potemkin and of Stalin are both very highly praised.

Kind regards,


Message 9 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 26 January 2004 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Audrey, there is one further question I would like to ask Alfred. What was the crew told about the Enigma and when were they told? I appreciate its rather a long time ago!

My father was always deliberately given wrong information except about expected casualties where he had a 'need to know' and maybe even the captain would have been unaware of the significance.


Message 10 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 28 January 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Paul, I wrote to Alfred and his reply included another piece of information (like your father) "I well recall seeing the two lifeboats packed with the crew of the Laurenburg being rowed away from their ship."
When I ring him again I will ask your question 'when were they told about the enigma machine etc.'
Alfred was so pleased to get your latest information on the weather ship. His remark was "It is quite remarkable that so much detail is recorded about a single isolated incident which occured more than 60 years ago."
I am so grateful to you for filling us in with so much detail. The story was new to me - that is Alfred's story. He was so reluctant to tell his story at first -I had to prize it out of him! I'm glad I did.
Will be in touch again.


Message 11 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 04 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

It's me again Paul.
I have spoken to Alfred and he tells me he did not know about the Enigma Code until recently. I have included this in his story. Perhaps you could read it and tell me if I have anything else to correct. I am most grateful to you for supplying me with so much information.
The book 'Enigma' is brilliant! - and the UK BBC History TV channel excellent. I am learning so much about WW2 and the men and women who did so much for us.
All good wishes.


Message 12 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 05 February 2004 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Audrey. You shouldn't ever think you've completed a story! The police say that no matter how many times they ask witnesses to describe what happened, there is always more useful information they could have extracted.

The Laurenburg incident is historically important. Please thank Peter for the extra details not me! The only remaining questions are :-

Was Alfred on deck at any time before the action started? If so, could he personally see it was a ship and not an iceberg or did someone else realise that?

Does he know whether the radar identified it. I would expect fewer reflections off an iceberg but it might not be clear on the old displays and radar details were very highly classified.

Why were the crew not captured?



Message 13 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 05 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

I have been asking Alfred a lot of questions since I delved into the site you suggested.Thank you so much for your help. Alfred has confirmed he saw the life boats from the Laurenburg. He did not know what the operation was then - it is only recently he has got to know the full details. It has shocked him that so much is known about it after 60 years.
I have included the above in the latest copy of his story for you to see. Paul is asking if Alfred could remember anything more on the iceberg. I will get in touch with him and ask a few more questions. Paul reminds me that no story is ever finished.
Thank you again for all your help.


Message 14 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 05 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


Thank you for your kind words of appreciation. I enjoyed re-reading Alfred's great story, but could I make a suggestion?

You say, in parenthesis, "Alfred only discovered that on that day a copy of the Enigma Code was captured." I think you can make much more of that sentence Eileen. That capture probably shortened the war by several months, and I think readers of Alfred's story, who may not know that, ought to be told.

The code book was of IMMENSE importance. Hollywood made a film about the capture of a U-Boat and its Enigma machine - it looked much more exciting than a notebook, I suppose. But the fact is that the machines were well understood but prefectly useless without the code books to set the rotors.

As Paul reminded you 'no story is ever finished', so get cracking :)

Kind regards,



Message 15 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 10 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Thank you for the information re Alfred. I will try to put in more details into his story. I am getting more information from him from time to time -so it looks as if I have some work on my hands. The digging is proving to be a good thing! Will keep going. Thanks a lot.


Message 16 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 10 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Thank you for your promptings. I sent on your letter to Alfred who was most grateful. He has given some answers to your questions in his letter. I will let you know what he says. As I told Peter, the digging has proved worth while. Alfred has started to read more about his time in the Navy - in fact, I think, it has helped him to understand what part he played at that time in the cold waters. You're right - there is much more to his story.
Thanks for your prodding - the answers are coming soon.


Message 17 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 18 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

For Peter and Paul,
I have been in touch again with Alfred Longbottom. He was delighted to be asked questions about his time in the Navy. These are the answers to Paul's.-
1.Alfred was on deck before the action started, and during the action. he say's "We were not even at 'Action stations'. The sea was so calm it was just like a sheet of glass. He adds more in reply - (I have put it into his story.)
2.Before they set sail they had a good idea of the general area in which the Laurenberg would be found.
3. The crew of 22 were captured.
I am about to enter this information more fully into Alfred's story. I hope you will forgive me for not putting it all in this message. Perhaps you would be kind enough to look at Alfred's story again for your full answers.
I am so grateful to you for asking the right questions of Alfred. Each time he remembers more of his story.


Message 18 - HMS Nigeria

Posted on: 18 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Audrey

I look forward to reading the expanded story. By the way, did I mention this link? links

Regarding the crew, I'm trying to find confirmation but I think the captain drowned.


Message 1 -

Posted on: 11 December 2003 by J.K.DIXON

I served aboard the Destroyer H.M.S.Leamington, an Ex U.S.A. 4 Piper Destroyer, as they were often reffered to, from the 15/7/1942 to the 12/8/1942. The Leamington was part of the screening escort for the Convoy PQ17. Little did I know that I would serve aboard H.M.S. Nigeria, as an AB, sixteen months later, from 7/12/1943 to 25/5/1944. Like Alfred Longbottom,I put pen to paper and started to write the experiences of my time in the R.N. My son's wife creates Web Sites professionally and so put one together for me.


Message 2 - Russian and Malta Convoys

Posted on: 04 February 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear J.K.Dixon,
Please forgive me for not picking up your letter earlier.
I was delighted to get your news about your adventures in the North seas. Like Alfred, you must have many stories to tell. What a pity you and Alfred did not meet. When I have finished writing this I will read your story and write again.
At the moment I have been reading the book 'Enigma, the Battle for the Code by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore. It is a good read and also full of relevant information about that period of war.
Thank you so much for the contact. Alfred will be interested to get your news. I am in contact with him by telephone. It has been difficult to get his story, I had to prize it out of him.
All good wishes,

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Royal Navy Category
Mediterranean and European waters Category
North Atlantic and Arctic Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy