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ARCTIC CONVOYS - Part 1

by HnWCSVActionDesk

Contributed by 
HnWCSVActionDesk
People in story: 
Donald Harman
Location of story: 
Arctic Ocean
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A7146551
Contributed on: 
20 November 2005

ARCTIC CONVOYS — Part 1

Donald Harman

Joining the Navy

One of the lessons Hitler had learned from the First World War, was to avoid fighting on the Eastern and Western fronts at the same time. This would enable him to concentrate his forces on a single enemy.

To the dismay of the Western powers, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non aggression pact in 1939 making a European war almost inevitable, but in June 1941 when France had been occupied and Great Britain was absorbed in organising itself for offensive, rather than defensive action, Hitler broke the pact and invaded Russia.

Anxious to keep Russia in the war, Churchill promised his new found allies, war materials which he could ill afford to let go, and the means of getting this war material to Russia was to be the Arctic Convoys who were to make the long and dangerous journey round the north of Norway, to Murmansk and Archangel. The first convoy of ten merchant men and supporting vessels from the Royal Navy left in September 1941.

I got involved at the end of 1941, beginning of 1942. I joined the Destroyer, HMS Savage, and Savage was one of the ships which was arctized for the Norway climate. In other words all the pipes and so on were lagged.

The ship was I suppose, about 200ft long, and it had a crew of about 200. A gunnery tower where people who used to control the guns and actually sat, and an aircraft tower. In actual fact our ship was a peculiar one in a sense, that it had an experimental 4.5 inch remote controlled gun forward.

It had a speed of 30-40 knots, oil fired and it had eight torpedoes it also had on board depth charges and they were kept aft, for dropping on U-Boats, so this was the equivalent of the submarine. After they had been found by what was called Aztec which is a name given to the electronic ping, which goes out from beneath a Destroyer and hopefully strikes an object and hopefully sends a ping back, and that pin pointed, not always, U-Boats because it often pinged back on a shoal of fish or something like that and we got all excited about nothing, but that’s how the Savage and other ships of the same kind fought against U —Boats.. The Captain by his experience I suppose, decided exactly when he was over the top and dropped his depth charges.

We would watch for results, sometimes we would get bits of ship coming to the surface, oil occasionally but sometimes nothing at all, but nevertheless we had obviously frightened it, if not actually sunk it.

I was amazed how small the living quarters were, and I used to live in a rather small cabin, of which there were two bunks an upper one and a lower one and I was designated to go in the upper one.

The food was very good, I mean really stupid sort of meals. We used to have a slice of bread with some sugar on it and that kind of thing. We were never short of food really.

Trying to keep warm was a real problem when we started to go on the convoy, because the temperature was absolutely below zero most of the way so you kept warm by having arctic clothing and when you went on watch you had to dress up in all this arctic clothing some of which you didn’t discard once you were off duty because it was such a problem to get it on. Once we got the arctic clothing on we kept warm enough. We were never very warm and some of the things we had to do on board ship were in very exposed places, some of which were very cold indeed, and there was ice you had to axe the ice off the folksail before you could move ropes and so on.

The seas were enormous. The great thing was that you got informed that there was a storm. More often than not there was a storm and more often than not they would say from the Admiralty, ‘storms in all areas’, and it was diabolical, and the wind was anything from force eight to ten. Ten being the highest. It was a problem but we didn’t mind the problem so much because the rougher it was and the higher the wind, the less likely we were to see U-Boats and Fokker Wolf aircraft.

This story was submitted to the Peopple's War site by June Woodhouse (volunteer of the CSV Action Desk at BBC Hereford and Worcester on behalf of Donald Harman (author) and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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