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15 October 2014
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The scattering of Convoy PQ.17

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Royal Navy

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Victor Davies
Location of story: 
North Atlantic
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A4410451
Contributed on: 
09 July 2005

This story was sumbitted to the People's War website by Garry Lloyd onbehalf of Victor Davies. He has given his permission for his story to go onto the website and understands the terms and conditions of the site.

As a Royal Navy signalman in HMS Palomares, an anti-aircraft cruiser, we were escorting the ill-fated PQ.17 convoy which became one of the worst marine disasters of the war. Thirty four merchant ships left Iceland to take vital supplies to Russia through the enemy-infested Atlantic. In close protection were 21 Naval vessels, included ours.

But on the fourth of July 1942, after the German super-battleship Tirpitz,had been sent out to attack us, the convoy was ordered to scatter. It was every ship for herself. We steamed north into the Arctic heading for Novaya Zemlya, a Russian island. Fearing we were German, a weather station on the harbour spit challenged us, though they were armed with nothing more than a three-inch gun. Satisfied with our identity they let us in.

When our sister ship HMS Pozarica also found our haven I signalled her in morse code with an Aldis lamp: “Welcome to our base.” They replied: “May we anchor in your back garden?” to which I responded: “Certainly, anchor on my port bow where our guns can command the entrance.”

A dozen other merchantmen and escorts found the same sanctuary, until three days later a fog descended and we stole out under its cover heading south for the Russian port of Archangel. But we ran into pack ice, and when the fog lifted German reconnaissance planes found us. They sent in their Junkers 88 dive-bombers. There were moments when I wished I was in the army and wore khaki trousers.

Two merchantmen were damaged but we managed to reach Archangel otherwise unscathed. But of the original PQ.17 convoy of 34 merchant ships only 11 survived.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill described it as one of the most melancholy naval episodes in the whole of the war.

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