Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS WHITEHALL





HMS Whitehall 1943
HMS Whitehall after her conversion into a Long Range Escort (LRE) in 1942 by removing a boiler to free up space for more fuel
She lost her "Woodbine", her tall thin front funnel, along with the boiler




V & W Class Destroyers and Arctic Convoys

About one third of the V & W Class destroyers were converted to Long Range Escorts (LRE) by removing one of their boilers to free up more space for fuel oil to extend their range at the cost of speed. The aim was to enable them to complete an Atlantic crossing without refueling at Havelfjord in Iceland or being refueled at sea by Royal Fleet Auxilliary (RFA) tankers ("oilers"). The distance is sea miles from Glasgow to Murmansk in Northern Russia was six hundred miles less that an Atlantic crossing from Liverpool to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, but still exceeded the range of a V & W Class destroyer. Despite this more than half the V & Ws which formed part of the close escort for Arctic Convoys were unconverted.

The RFA did not have the capacity to refuel all the escorts for convoys and the Trade Division of the Admiralty chartered commercial tankers as escort oilers. They were built as conventional oil tankers not as "oilers" and had to be adopted and the merchant seamen who manned them had to be trained. They also carried a normal commercial load of oil which was discharged on arrival at Murmank or Molotovsk (now Severodvinsk), the deepwater port for Archangel in the White Sea.

The table lists the V & W Class destroyers which escorted one or more Arctic Convoys in the left hand column with links to pages about these convoys on the website of the V & W Destroyer Association. Where no link is provided  there is no page about Arctic convoys on that ship's website. The return convoys will be added later. The top row gives the code for convoys escorted by V & Ws with links to details of these convoys on the convoyweb and warsailors sites. If your family has photographs, letters, journals or stories by a man who served on these destroyers while escorting Arctic Convoys please get in touch by e-mailing Bill Forster.


PQ12 PQ15 PQ16 PQ17 PQ18 JW52 JW54A JW55A JW55B JW56A JW57 JW58 JW59 JW60 JW61 JW62 JW63 JW64
warsailors.com






WS

WS
WS

WS
WS
WS
WS

WS
WS
convoyweb.org.uk
CW
CW
CW
CW
CW


CW
CW

CW

CW

CW
CW
CW
CW



















VERDUN - see also NHN
X                                  
VENOMOUS 
  X     X                          
VOLUNTEER (LRE)
    X                              
KEPPEL - see also NHN
      X             X X X X   X X  
WALPOLE
        X X                        
MONTROSE         X                          
CAMPBELL         X                          
MALCOLM - see also NHN
        X                          
WHITEHALL (LRE) - see also  NHN
            X   X X   X X X       X
WESTCOTT - see also NHN
              X   X   X       X X  
WRESTLER (LRE) - see also NHN
                  X   X            
WANDERER (LRE)
                    X              
WATCHMAN (LRE)
                    X              
WALKER (LRE) - see also NHN
                    X X  X   X   X  



















Reuse of V&W Names


















Verulam (R28)













X




Wren (U28)
                      X          
To complete the links to Arctic convoys on  Convoyweb select the convoy from the left hand column (return convoys will be added later)
A further source worth checking is www.naval-history.net (NHN) - links are only given where there are significant differences from Convoyweb (CW) and Warsailors (WS)



Between November 1943 and February 1945 HMS Whitehall was part of the close escort for Arctic Convoys from Loch Ewe to Murmansk on the Kola Inlet in North Russia.
Return Convoy RA.59 which left the Kola Inlet on 28 April 1944 and arrived on 6 - 7 May was returning to Britain the American crew of the USS Milwaukee which was lent to  the USSR by the USN and taking 2,300 Soviet sailors to Britain to crew  a whole armada of ships ranging from the Battleship HMS Royal Sovereign to submarines and Town Class Destroyers down to MTBs being transferred to the USSR.

Only one ship was lost from the Convoy, the Liberty Ship William S Thayer. The rescue of Russian and American survivors is described below and on the website of HMS Walker. The story of the Russian submariner, Snr Lt Martinov, told to us by his grandson was published in the current issue of Warships International Fleet Review but a more detailed account will be provided on a linked page.

But this is only a small part of a much larger story on the surrender of the Italian fleet in August 1943 and the discusions between the allies on how it should be allocated. This complicated story extending over several years required 2,300 Russian sailors to go to Britain on the warships in Convoy RA.59 and spend three months familiarising themselves with the former RN nd USN warships being lent to he USSR as an interim arrangement before returning with them to Murmansk as part of Arctic Convoy JW59. On returning these elderly warships to Britain and the USA after the war ended the Soviet Union finally received its share of the surrendered Italian Fleet.

****************

Warships for Russia
 
This long complicated web page covers the period from the surrender of the Italian Fleet in August 1943 to the return of the warships transferred to the Northern Fleet of the Soviet Navy by the USA and Britain after the end of the war.  To make it easier to follow it is arranged under different headings and the following layout will enable you to go to the section of most interest to you. It may be split into separate linked pages when complete.

Click on the "chapter numbers" in blue to go to the page you want

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12


13
14

Agreement on allocation of 30% of the Italian Fleet to the USSR and the list of ships
The transfer of the Cruiser USS
Milwaukee with Arctic Convoy JW58
O
peration FZ to collect the Russian sailors
Arctic Convoy RA.59 conveys 2,300 Soviet Sailors to Scotland to collect their warships
The rescue of survivors from the
William S Thayer
Lives Saved and Lives Lost when the William S Thayer sank
Soviet Sailors in Scotland and transfer of the "Royal Rouble"
Training on Tyneside
& handover of the Destroyers
The Handover of the Submarines and the loss of V-1, the former HMS Sunfish
Passage to the Kola Inlet with Arctic Convoy JW59
The contribution of the Town Class destroyers to the Northern Fleet
Documentary Sources
Part 1:
The Grim Barents Sea by Captain Polyakov
Part 2:
Report on the receipt of ships from the English fleet (1944)
The return of the warships to Britain and the USA between 1945-9
The USSR finally receives its share of the surrendered Italian fleet

Agreement to transfer the surrendered Italian Fleet

After the Italian Navy had surrendered on 11th August 1943, and Admiral Cunningham had sent his historic signal “Be pleased to inform their Lordships that the Italian Battle Fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta”, the Allies set about discussing its disposal.

At a conference of Foreign Ministers in Moscow at the beginning of November 1943 the Russians demanded a third of the Italian Fleet, amounting to 1 Battleship, 1 Cruiser, 4 submarines and 40,000 displacement tons of Merchant shipping. to which President Roosevelt agreed without reference to Churchill, who himself considered that, as the Royal Navy had defeated the Italian Navy, the British should retain control of the Italian ships. At the Tehran Conference between November 28 and December 1 1943, Stalin repeated the demand. In anticipation of this the American Chiefs of Staff had drafted a memorandum to dampen the President’s enthusiasm for the deal, which pointed out that the Soviet Navy would be unable to man the ships, the effect on Italian cooperation in the war in Italy would be adverse, the Italians might scuttle the ships rather than hand them over, and the Italians ships would not come with spare parts and ammunition.

Discussions continued, and it was eventually agreed the Italian Battleship to be transferred  would be the old Giulo Cesare, and due to the impracticality of making her ready and getting her out of the Mediterranean, Churchill offered to transfer a British Battleship.  Stalin agreed but demanded a modern King George V Class ship. In the end he accepted the old British Battleship Royal Sovereign and a cruiser,  “In order not to delay the settlement which is so vitally important to our common fight against Germany”.

The destroyers would be chosen from the 50 four-funnelled United States destroyers transferred to the Royal Navy under Lease Lend. These Town Class destroyers were named after towns common to the US and Britain. One British admiral called them the "worst destroyers I had ever seen" but their transfer contrary to the Neutrality Act contributed to America’s later entry into the war. The submarines transferred were small British boats.

THE FINAL TRANSFER LIST
HMS / USS Name
HMS Royal Sovereign
USS Milwaukee (Cruiser)

Destroyers
HMS St Albans        
HMS Brighton
HMS Richmond
HMS Chelsea
HMS Leamington
HMS Roxburgh
HMS Georgetown

Added later
HMS Lincoln              
HMS Churchill

Submarines
HMS Sunfish
HMS Unbroken
HMS Unison
HMS Ursula

Plus
USN Submarine Chasers
(11x)
Ship Adoptions
Not adopted
Not applicable


Not adopted
Chigwell, Essex
Richmond, Surrey
Devizes, Wiltshire
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Not adopted
Battle, East Sussex


Lincoln, Lincs (but changed to Wakeful)
Wanstead & Woodford, East London


Chipping Sodbury & Filton, Glouc
Amersham, Bucks
Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire
Chorley, Lancashire


Not applicable
Russian Name
Arkhangelsk
Murmansk

Russian - English
Dostoiny - Worthy
Zharkiy - Hot
Zhyvuchy - Tenacious
Derzky - Audacious
Zhgouchy - Burning
Doblestny - Valiant
Zhostky - Hard


Druzhny - Friendly
Deyatelny - Active  (sunk 16 Jan 1945)


V-1 (sunk 27 July 1944)
V-2
V-3
V-4


Not named

These Town Class destroyers have a complicated history. Six of them "served under four flags": Richmond, Chelsea, Leamington and Georgetown were transferred to the Canadian Navy before being sent to Russia and St Albans and Lincoln served with the Norwegian Navy. Six of them - and all the RN submarines - were adopted by towns in Britain after Warship Weeks in 1941-2, a successful national savings programme to raise money for building new ships. Click on the links to find out more about the wartime service of these ships prior to their transfer to the USSR.

A synopsis of their service with the Northern Fleet after their transfer based on the Russian book
The Grim Barents Sea by Captain Polyakov is being prepared and will be published on this site for the benefit of naval historians and residents of these towns.

Transfer of USS Milawaukee

USS Milwaukee  with an American crew joined Arctic Convoy JW.58 for her voyage to Murmansk where she was to be handed over to the USSR and become part the Northern Fleet. HMS Whitehall was part  of the Close Escort from 27 March with Westcott (Senior Officer of the Escort) Wrestler and corvettes Bluebell, Honeysuckle and Lotus. On 29 March they were joined by HMS Walker, Beagle, Boadicea and Keppel of the 8th Escort Group together with the sloops of the 2nd Escort Group – Magpie, Starling (commanded by Cpt Frederic "Johnny" Walker), Whimbrel, Wild Goose, and Wren.

The senior officer of the combined force was the Rear-Admiral in command of the cruiser, Diadem, a comparatively new ship and leader of the Tenth Cruiser Squadron. The escort carriers Tracker and Activity provided air cover. During this convoy six shadowing aircraft were shot down by aircraft from the carrier and four u-boat were sunk. On the 2nd April carrier aircraft carried out attacks on submarines causing damage and shooting down a Ju88 aircraft. On the next day Submarine U-288 was sighted and attacked by Swordfish Aircraft of 819 Squadron. U-288 was sunk North of North Cape by rocket attacks despite intense AA fire and manoeuvers by the submarine to avoid being hit.

Arctic Convoy JW.58 arrived at the Kola Inlet on 4 April 1944 without loss and four escorts of the Russian Navy escorted the remainder of the convoy as it continued to Archangel on the White Sea. On 20 April 1944 Milwaukee was formally transferred on loan to the Soviet Union under lend‑lease and commissioned in the Northern Fleet with the name Murmansk. Her American crew were stranded in Murmansk to wait for a life home on a return convoy. Murmansk performed convoy and patrol duty along the Atlantic sealanes throughout the remainder of the war.

Operation FZ

Arctic Convoy RA.59

HMS Whitehall left the Kola Inlet as part of the escort for Convoy RA59 on 28th of April 1944. She was a member of the 8th Escort Group led by HMS Keppel Cdr Ismay James Tyson RNR, which included HMS Beagle, Waker, Boadicea, Whitehall, Inconstant, Wrestler and Westcott. The Convoy was formed in into 12 columns with up to 5 ships to a column. A substantial number of passengers were embarked, with USN personnel mainly onboard the escorts and Russians onboard the merchant ships.

Convoy Plan RA59 (National Archives ADM 199/351)
The "Top Secret" Convoy Plan for Arctic Convoy RA.59 from the Report of Proceedings on Operation FZ by Vice-Admiral Sir Rhoderick R. McGrigor commanding the First Cruiser Squadron (ADM 199/351)
McGregor was flying his flag in HMS Diadem (F62) in the sixth column followed by the other two escort carriers HMS Activity (63) and Fencer (64)
The William S Thayer is 33, the rescue ship Robert Eden 45, the escort oiler Noreg (52) and the Commodore of the Convoy is in Fort Yukon (71)
The names of the merchant ships in the convoy are shown on Warsailors and Convoyweb


Click on links in captions to view them full size in separate windows
HMS Fencer escorting Arctic Convoy RA59
HMS Fencer was one of three Escort Carriers carrying  Swordfish Torpedo spotter planes which swung the balance against the u-boats - click to expand
HMS Fencer had steam hoses which quickly cleared the flight deck of snow and ice and the Swordfish of Squadron 824 often flew three sorties a day

Arctic Convoy RA.59
Arctic Convoy RA.59 showing sinkings - click to expand
Based on Polyakov redrawn digitally by Alexander Koralov


Swordfish of 842 Squadron from Fencer sink three U-boats with depth charges on successive days: U-277 on 1 May, U-674 on the 2nd  and U-959 on 3 May. For more about the defence of Arctic Convoys by Swordfish aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm and read about the exploits of while ...
The convoy arrives at Loch Ewe with 44 ships on 6 May 1944.

The rescue of survivors from the William S Thayer 

The convoy was routed as far north as possible, the actual track being limited by the ice edge. At 2000 on the 30th April, when the Convoy was 50 miles south of Bear Island, the United States Liberty ship William S Thayer (Master Daniel A. Sperbeck), third ship in the third column which was carrying 164 Russian and American personnel was torpedoed. Whitehall and HMS Inconstant swept up the port side of the convoy and then joined HMS Boadicea hunting a contact on the port quarter of the convoy.

The sinking of William S Thayer, times-ADM 199/351 Liberty Ship William S Thayer
On left "the narrative of events" from the Report of Cdr  James I Tyson RNR, Captain (D) of the  8th Escort Group in HMS Kepel and a widely reproduced photograph of the William S Thayer
The 8th Escort Group comprised HMS Keppel, Beagle, Walker, Boadicea, Whitehall, Inconstant, Wrestler and Westcott


The Russian officers and crew of the Dostoiny (Worthy), the former Town Class destroyer HMS St Albans,
and the submariners appointed to V3, the former British submarine, HMS Unicorn, were in the William S Thayer. They described what happened to Capt G.G. Polyakov and he included their accounts in his book about the transfer of allied warships to Russia, In the Grim Barents Sea (Murmansk, 1978):

"Zhuravlev brought sad news. The crew of Dostoiny (Worthy) were embarked in the William S. Thayer when she was torpedoed. More than twenty men had died. They were all from the Black Sea region. There were also nineteen submariners. None of us knew the Black Sea sailors, but everyone sincerely experienced this misfortune. Later, the details became known:

It was nearly 9 pm, when according to routine, they drink tea together. Almost all the officers were gathered in the wardroom. The Head of the Gunnery Section Kapitan Lieutenant Chulkov, the Head of the Electromechanical Section Llieutenant Engineer Dorofeev and the Head of the Torpedo and Mining Section,  Senior Lieutenant Molotov had been delayed. While they waited for tea they talked about tomorrow's May Day Holiday.

 In the upper aft hold, the crew members were lining up to go to the dining room, which was located in the bow hold. Having lined up the ranks, Duty Petty Officer 2nd class, Vovk, gave the command: "Left Turn!" There was a huge explosion, followed a few seconds later by a second. The floor heaved up and then collapsed. Men fell into the water along with the debris. The torpedoes had hit the forward hold and the engine room. The ship broke into three parts. The bow and middle parts of the vessel sank in five minutes, but the stern was still afloat. The officers of the Dostoiny LD Chulkov and ID Dorofeev, in the stern section immediately rushed into the hold to help. They had previously served on the destroyer Zheleznyakov and had no battle experience.

Chulkov realised that the convoy was continuing on the same course, and no help was at hand. As a precaution he ordered the gunners to stand by the stern gun and prepare it for firing - after all, nobody knew what might happen. Then Chulkov took over the leadership of the rescue team. They began to extract the  victims from the lower hold with ropes and improvised means. Dorofeev quickly examined the hold and and made sure that no water was coming in and organised the making of a raft from the hatch cover. Chulkov explained the situation to those in the stern, ordered them to wait - help should come. Life-saving equipment was dropped to those in the water.

Help came half an hour later, which seemed like an eternity. The American transport Robert Eden, which was at the end of the convoy, lowered her boats and they began to pick up the men floating in the water. The British destroyer Walker also lowered a boat and approached the starboard side of the damaged vessel. There was a big swell and it was difficult to secure alongside. Nevertheless, 70 people were  transferred to the destroyer. Another destroyer, "Deer" - Keppel? - whose approach had been delayed, circled dropping depth charges on the U-Boat.

From the water, in a semi-conscious state, they lifted the navigator of the Dostoiny, Kapitan Lieutenant Lev Lezgin, the commander of the anti-aircraft battery, Lieutenant Viktor Babiy, and several Petty Officers and Red Navy men. Kapitan Lieutenant Vladimir Bespalov, the First Lieutenant of "Worthy" was unconscious. For twenty minutes he was given artificial respiration, massaged and then regained consciousness.

Most of the Soviet sailors were saved. Eight officers, fourteen foremen and Red Navy men were killed. Eighteen people were injured and concussed. The Americans also had casualties.

All the men rescued were placed on the British destroyer Walker. The sailors of the English ship warmly welcomed the victims, shared clothes with them, fed and warmed them. When the convoy arrived in Britain (Greenock), the sick and wounded were sent to hospital.

Nobody wanted to sleep that May Day holiday eve. People had died, our Soviet people, and the sailors were upset. Deep sorrow in the soul of everyone combined with a thirst for revenge on the fascist pirates for their atrocities. Yes, and youth took its toll. On bunks and improvised "chairs" made of boxes and suitcases, officers sat with Petty Officers and sailors, talking of this and that."

The dedicated rescue ship, the Liberty Ship SS Robert Eden, reported that there were many men in the water and that the bow section had sunk. William Chisholm, an engine cadet on the Robert Eden, described his part in the rescue:

"I ended up in a motorized life boat. A sea painter wrapped around the propeller and we couldn’t use the motor. The crew was forced to row. Being from Gloucester, Massachusetts I could handle the oar. We rowed over to the aft section of the Thayer and boarded a number of the crew. The rest returned to the Eden with survivors."

Meanwhile Walker joined Keppel searching in the vicinity of the wreck (Operation Observant). At 2107 Whitehall was ordered to close and pick up survivors. As the after part did not appear to be in any danger of sinking it was decided to rescue men from the water first. Whitehall proceeded to windward of rafts and wreckage, all floating in thick oil. The whaler was lowered and Whitehall went alongside the rafts. Twelve men were rescued, and the whaler returned with 10 more.

When Whitehall arrived the men had been in the water for about 85 minutes and great difficulties were experienced in rescuing them. No one could help himself owing to the cold, none had any rope or attachment round himself that would hold a hook or rope, all were thickly coated with oil, and those that had consumed quantities of oil struggled hard when rescuers tried to hitch them to a lifeline. A few sank alongside before they could be hoisted inboard. 

All those rescued by Whitehall  came from the forward half of the ship. The American survivors were on the bridge when the ship was torpedoed and reported that there were two hits, one forward and one amidships, both on the starboard side. Just before the torpedoes hit a periscope was sighted about 400 yards away to starboard. This would indicate that the U Boat was well inside the convoy.

Boadicea joined Walker alongside the wreck. Boadicea lowered a boat and also embarked some survivors over her bows on the lee side. Walker went alongside on the weather side and embarked the remaining 49 survivors, in about 4 minutes with little difficulty. All were Russians. Walker and Boadicea were ordered to sink the derelict. Boadicea set it on fire with gunfire, while Walker steamed past and lobbed two depth charges from the Port Throwers set shallow. A beautiful straddle was achieved and the wreck sank a few minutes later.

Great credit was due to Surgeon Lieutenant G C Foster-Smith RNVR whose strenuous efforts saved many lives. Sadly six men died from exposure within an hour of rescue, and were buried at sea at 2320.  For the ten years before his appointment as CO of HMS Whitehall Lt Cdr Patrick J. Cowell DSC had been in submarines and must have been especially pleased to save the Russian submariners in the William S Thayer but saddened that Snr Lt Martinov died after rescue and had to be buried off the stern of Whitehall.

The William S Thayer was the only ship lost on return convoy RW.59 and the Germans paid a heavy price for her sinking. The  Russian Admiral Levchenko in HMS Fencer had the satisfaction of seeing three u-boats sunk by her Swordfish aircraft within two days of the loss of his men in the Thayer. And HMS Westcott and HMS Wrestler made two depth charge attacks at 2130 on the 30 April on a submerged u-boat but reported this as inconclusive.

Click on the links to read the Report of Proceedings by Lt.Cdr. Patrick James Cowell, DSC, RN, the CO of HMS Whitehall and the Report of Proceedings of Lt Cdr A.N. Rowell, the CO of HMS Walker.

Lives Saved and Lives Lost

Valentin Alexandrovich Martinov died of exposure shortly after he was rescued by HMS Whiehall and was buried at sea. He was on passage to the UK to become the Navigator of the British Submarine HMS
Unison, which was being loaned to the Soviet Navy as V3. He had previously been Navigator and Head of the Steering Department of Submarine K21 from July 1941 to December 1942 and was sent on the advanced training courses for commanding officers at the S.M Kirov, Baku, from December 1942 to September 1943,  and promoted to Senior Lieutenant.

Navy List, April 1944
Navy List, April 1944
Snt Lt Martinov
Buried at sea after rescue by HMS Whitehall
Snr Lt Valentin Alexandrovich Martinov was one of six men who died from exposure after rescue by HMS Whitehall and were buried at sea
Lt Cdr Patrick J. Cowell DSC was a former submariner himself and must have been saddened by the death of Snr Lt Martinov


In addition to Senior Lt Martinov, 22 Russian Officers and Ratings lost their lives. These included the Staff Electrical Officer to the Admiral, an Officer for Submarine V-4 (the former RN submarine HMS Ursula), three Officers for the Destroyer Dostoiny (the former HMS St Albans), and a Kapitan Lieutenant from 'SMERSH", well know to fans of Ian Fleming (who worked in Naval Intelligence so should know) as the Soviet counter espionage agency.

Admiral Levchenko and his staff were riding in the escort carrier HMS Fencer to take command of the USSR's new battleship, Archangelsk, the former Royal Sovereign. He requested that the ships assisting in the rescue of survivors from the William S Thayer telegraph the number of Russians saved. Walker's ROP includes the log of signals received in reponse to this request: Walker rescued 49, Whitehall 6 named survivors (plus two dead) and the rescue ship, Robert Eden, 34 making a total of 89 saved plus those who died after rescue and were buried at sea. In addition Whitehall rescued 10 Americans (plus four who died) and the Robert Eden 29 plus 4 who died.

"The names of those lost from the personnel of the ship squadrons of the Northern Fleet" was issued by the Staff of the Ship Squadrons of the Northern Fleet on 16 September 1944, Ref No 011P Vaenga. It contains the names of 23 who died out of the 164 Russian crew members known to be on the William S Thayer. We are hoping to hear from the families of some of these Russian sailors aboard the William S Thayer. If a member of your family is on the list of those who died when the William S Thayer was torpedoed or you recognise one of the men in the photographs taken by Albert Foulser on HMS Walker please e-mail details in Russian to  Snr Lt Valentin Aleksandrovich Martinov's grandson,  Alexander Kovalev.


Lt Martinov’s story might have been forgotten had he not left a two-month old son, Valentin. His Mother remarried Aleksander Yakovlevich Kovalev, a Soviet Naval Air Force Pilot, and Valentin took his name and became Valentin Alexandrovich Kovalev. His Mother told him his birth father’s story when he was 13. He is proud of his father and was deeply moved to learn from this website of the circumstances under which he died. His son, Alexander Kovalev, contacted us in May and sent a 51-page dossier in Russian on his grandfather’s naval service in submarines researched by his father. This has been read and translated by Lt Cdr Frank Donald RN (Ret) who learned Russian from his Mother and served in submarines for 14 years. Alex also sent some truely staggering photographs from Russian sources of Lt Martinov and Submarine K-21 which have never been published outside Russia.

The full story of Snr Lt Martinov and his service in K-21 which made an unsuccessful attack on the German Battleship Tirpitz on 7 July 1942 shortly before the disaster of Arctic Convoy PQ.17 will be told on this website by Frank Donald. In the meantime you might like to read the two page illustrated article by Bill Forster, the man behind this website, which was published in a "WW2 75 Special Feature" in the the combined June - July issue of Warships International Fleet Review which can be bought from W H Smiths and Sainsbury's or ordered online from the publisher.

Soviet Sailors in Scotland and the transfer of the Battleship

The Russian crews arrived at Rosyth by train from Greenock on 7th May.  HMS Royal Sovereign was berthed there, and some of the Russians were to live onboard. The submariners were to be accommodated in the aircraft carrier Chaser which was under repair.  The rest of the Russians, including destroyer crews were onboard liner SS Empress of Russia, an inspired choice made by the previous Captain, who had taken up an appointment in the Trade Division of the Admiralty. Captain Polyakov, a staunch communist who was then a watchkeeping Lieutenant apponted to Tenacious/Zhivuchy, wrote that on going alongside the Empress of Russia the new arrivals were surprised to meet a group of Russian speaking British sailors onboard. They turned out to be survivors from the William S Thayer, reclothed onboard the rescuing ships.

The Scotsman The new Captain of the Royal Sovereign, in charge of the transfer, was Captain Alan Thomas George Cumberland Peachey, who had been selected on the basis that he would stand up to the Russians. A group of interpreters was provided, whose duties included translating technical turnover information, and the brass tallies on machinery controls into Russian, so that replacements could be made in Rosyth Dockyard.

Peter C. Smith in his book Battleship "Royal Sovereign" and her Sister Ships (Pen & Sword Maritime, 2009) recorded the impressions made by the Soviet sailors:

There was a certain amount of "culture shock' on both sides. The Russian Officers wore medals with uniform, and pistols, at all times. Twenty Russian Officers were expected at Lunch on the Wardroom on the first day, and thirty four turned up. It was realised that fourteen had gone round again, and in future this was prevented by hiding their napkins and napkin rings after the first pass.

There were also a difference of expectations regarding bathrooms. The British were surprised that when the Russians did use the bathrooms they occupied them for hours and totally filled them with steam. In fact the visitors were probably trying to reproduce the atmosphere of the traditional Russian Banya, though there is no record of them jumping overboard afterwards.

The Russians were very suspicious that items “belonging” to them which should be transferred were being taken ashore. These included old Midshipmens’ Chests, in poor repair, which would certainly not be needed on the voyage. Eventually Admiral Levchenko made such a scene about the Chests as to permanently sour relations with Captain Peachey. Royal Sovereign was almost 30 years old, and numerous items of equipment had been fitted and removed again, so that there were countless  bolt holes where once they had been fastened. The transfer rounds with  the Russians, involving  Captain Peachey and British Technical Officers, took two weeks while these were all explained.

Alison Campsie's weekly column in The Scotsman on Sunday 19 July 2020 described the "cuture clash" between the allies - see on right.

Captain Polyakov tells a somewhat different story
in his book, The Grim Barents Sea (Murmansk, 1978):

 The joke of using the Empress of Russia had backfired, as the Russians knew that the remnants of Wrangel's White Army troops had escaped from the Crimea onboard the ship after the Civil War. They were not impressed by the worn-out decor either.

The officers were puzzled by the formal meals in the wardroom. They were baffledby the layout of cutlery for a four course dnner, and did not like the alternation of savoury and sweet courses. Lt Lisovsky put his sweet to one side to eat after the savoury, and it was promptly cleared away by the steward. He was teased about this later on.

 After three days the destroyer crews moved to North Shields on the Tyne, where they lived onboard their new ships in the Albert Dock. The destroyers had been mustered at Newcastle in January 1944, and following repairs and training they were to be formally transferred to the Soviet Northern Fleet in July.

Polyakov remained in touch with events in Rosyth, and wrote that the British plans for the handover were far too slow for the Russians, and that Admiral Levchenko insisted that the crews should be immediately accommodated in their ships. This was opposed by the British, and the Chief of Staff of Rosyth Naval Base suggested that the Admiral and Staff should move to the Empress of Russia, as Captain Peachey had complained of interference. The suggestion was ignored.

The employment of White Russians as Liaison Officers was not a success. They were despised by the Russians as, allegedly, former industrial proprietors.

The transfer and renaming ceremonies for the Royal Sovereign/Arkhangelsk were arranged for 31st May, in the presence of the Russian Ambassador Mr Gusev, and the Deputy First Sea Lord Admiral Kennedy-Purvis. The four submarines were lying alongside in the photograph below.

Arkhangelsk with the British submarines and Town Class destroyers at Rosyth
The  massive bulk of the former HMS Royal Sovereign now renamed Archangelsk dwarfes the four elderly British submarines being transferred.
Some of the former Town Class destroyers, the "four-stackers",  can also be seen on the right in this photograph taken at Rosyth


Following the transfer of the renamed  Royal Sovereign June and July were spent on familiarisation of the Russian crew and trials and workup exercises in the Firth of Forth. They may not have had a common language, but that did not prevent the British Gunnery Instructors and Torpedo Anti-submarine Instructors from getting the Russians up to speed on the new equipment. For security reasons, particularly with respect to details of state of the art radar aerials, the ship was anchored overnight well to seaward of the Dockyard.

In mid July the Arkhangelsk moved to Scapa Flow for to continue workup, where she was joined by the destroyers.


Training on Tyneside & handover of the Destroyers
As related by Captain Polyakov of HMS Richmond (Zhivuchy) in his book, The Grim Barents Sea

The destroyers had been on the Tyne since January and after three days at Rosyth their Russian crews travelled by train to North Shields at the mouth of the Tyne and joined their ships. Polyakov wrote that the ship’s company were not impressed by the layout, armament and state of the Richmond. She was lightly armed, with one 102 mm (4 inch) gun and Hedgehog forward, four 20mm Oerlikons and three tubes amidships, and one 76 mm (3 inch) gun and Depth Charge racks and throwers aft. The beam 10.9 M (36 ft) was narrow relative to the length of 95 M (311 ft) and the maximum speed was only 26 Kts. “The upper deck was in an extremely neglected state, and the sides and superstructure were covered with rust in many places”.  The ship did have Radar and ASDIC, which like the Hedgehog was new to the Russians. The Hedgehog fired a pattern of bombs ahead of the ship which enable them to attack a U-Boat without running over the top of it, losing contact in the process. The Chief Boatswain compared their “new” ship to a steamer in the comic film “Volga-Volga” (1938) and there were satirical chants of “America Gave Russia a Steamboat”, a play by N V Carol, which was performed in London as late as February 2020!

Training in use of Hedgehog
The "rocket propelled antisubmarine installation" (Hedgehog) on Zhostky, the former HMS Georgetown.
On the left, Chief of the combat artillery Division, V. Sinii
HMS At Albans
HMS St Albans was renamed Dostoiny - Worthy - on transfer to the USSR
Copyright Reserved



Captain 3rd Rank Ryabchenko summoned the officers together and instructed them to tell the crew that she was now theirs and they must get her ready for battle. He told them that the destroyers had forged keels but did not explain its significance, that they would be particularly suitable for ramming submarines. The ships become known as “Thorns” since “ship” means thorn in Russian.

The Russians were shocked by British attitudes to waste. Polyakov asked the Gunner of the Richmond to replace a torn bag for collecting spent Oerlikon cartridges. He was asked “Why do you need to collect casings? Let them go overboard.” The Russians were also shocked by the short working hours  – 0900 to 1600 with two hours for lunch. As a result, there were difficulties in getting access to all parts of the ship. The Russians turned to at 0600, worked with the British when they arrived, and tidied up and did exercises and combat training after they left. There were also problems of communication, as the British specialists and Translating Officers refused to work with Ratings. There was little technical documentation onboard, so the Russian technical officers produced their own drawings.

Admiral Levchenko inspected the Zhivuchy at the end of May and announced that “the spirit of a Soviet sailor is beginning to be felt onboard” which encouraged the crew.

As the Russians became familiar with the equipment they made greater demands on the British crew who resented it. One night when Polyakov was duty some British sailors, having done their washing, tipped their soapy water into the hold, which had been painted by the Red Navy the day before. It had to be drained and repainted, and Polyakov got it in the neck from the First Lieutenant.

When the Naval Officer in Charge at Newcastle, Rear Admiral Maxwell, visited the ship, Captain Ryabchenko informed him of the slow pace of repairs. The Admiral was not pleased but had to admit the remarks were justified, particularly as the other destroyers were in no better shape.

Two Radiometrists were sent to the International Radar School in Glasgow, which was attended by Greeks, French, Poles and Canadians. They went to the Cinema and when it was announced that “There are Russian Sailors here”,  they received a thunderous ovation.

Sea trials revealed major defects requiring additional work. The Russian Ratings got on well with the British workers, but relations with the Officers were difficult as many of them were from the privileged classes. The First Lieutenant of the Richmond, Lt Wright, allegedly owned large factories and an estate in Scotland. Warrant Engineer Liddicoat, and the Gunnery Officer, Gunner Heisterman, belonged to the ordinary people and did not enjoy privileges even after 20 years in Navy. They got on much better with the Russian Ratings.


One day when Polyakov was on duty the White Russian Liaison Office Lt Grim (formerly Grimov) appointed by the British complained that the Russian sailors had gathered the workers together on the quarterdeck and were inciting them to strike. Polyakov took Grim to the Wardroom  and instructed the Duty CPO to find out what had really happened. Meanwhile, the Russian Duty Messenger, who was aware of Grim’s tastes, provided two glasses of rum. Apparently, some English workers had asked the Senior Boatswain about working conditions in Soviet shipyards. He only had a dozen words of English and had tried to answer their questions with gestures. It became apparent that Lt Grim would do anything for a glass of rum, which was useful when looking into delays with spare parts or ammunition or translations of labels on equipment.


The Head of the Electro-Mechanical Engineering Group, Senior Lt Nikolai Ivanovich Nikolsky, got on well with Warrant Engineer Liddicoat, who was devoted to his specialisation. Liddicoat was  impressed by the high professional training of Russian technical ratings and told Nikolsky that he had "brought engineers to England, not sailors".
In time, those English and Russian speakers with an aptitude for language were able to communicate in a sort of pidgin Russian/English. Ryabchenko and Lt Wright sorted out problems over lunch using an unofficial translator.

After the transfer of the Battleship on 31st May Admiral Levchenko and the Detachment Command moved from Rosyth to Newcastle. The Admiral had a predilection for touring machinery spaces, and Ryabchenko ordered that Levchenko’s overalls should be kept in the Control Room.

Visitors from the Soviet Military Mission in London brought the latest war news and, sometimes, letters. Some included news of the deaths of relatives and friends which featured in a special issue of the ship’s radio newspaper “On the atrocities of fascist bandits against the family and friends of the crew.” Rear Admiral Kharlamov (the head of the Soviet Military Mission to the United Kingdom) visited in early June and briefed the crews on Operation Overlord, which he had witnessed from the cruiser HMS Mauritius. Polyakov commented:

 “Undoubtedly the Allied Operation was of great importance, but the Soviet people are well aware that, first of all, it pursued political and military goals that had nothing to do with the tasks of helping the Soviet Union in its single combat with German fascism!”

A rather prejudiced observation when one considers that the Soviet People had allied with Germany in September 1939, and were rewarded with Eastern Poland, the Baltic States and Finland.

Some French sailors were so thrilled by the Normandy landings that they presented a monkey and a bag of bananas to HMS St Albans / Dostoiny though how they got bananas in wartime Newcastle is not recorded. Fortunately, the monkey could be taught to eat fresh cabbage as the banana supply did not last long.

The Admiral wanted to acquaint the Russians with the cultural and historical sights of England. Some officers went to London, and after a planned visit to Madame Tussauds they persuaded the organisers to take them to Karl Marx’s grave at Highgate cemetery. Polyakov went with a party to Durham Cathedral and, as a good atheist, was somewhat scornful about the grave of St Cuthbert. The guide told them that criminals could claim sanctuary in the precinct, possibly tongue in cheek.

After two months hard work the Russian crews had made the ship’s equipment and weapons combat ready, and also chipped off 8 – 10 layers of paint and repainted, starting with red lead primer. Polyakov suggested that some of the British thought that they were painting their ships in Bolshevik colours.

HMS Richmond after transfer to the Northern Fleet The final stage was a Sea Inspection. The night before there were meetings of Party activists with the Ship’s Company. On 29 June Admiral Levchenko came onboard the Richmond, and the ship went to harbour stations. Lt Cdr Stackpole, the British CO of HMS Richmond was on the bridge, and invited Captain Ryabchenko to take command.

After leaving the Albert Dock
Richmond / Zhivuchy (on left after transfer)  headed down river towards the sea. Senior Lt Nikolsky was in charge in the Engine Room with Warrant Eng Liddicoat at his side. One British rating was in each Engine and Boiler Room, for safety reasons, in an advisory capacity. On reaching the mouth of the Tyne the ship increased to full speed. The guns, the Hedgehog and Depth Charge throwers were fired successfully.

The ship spent the day steaming to and fro at different speeds looking for defects. The bearing of the circulation pump in the second Engine Room began to over heat and was changed by the Petty Officer in charge. In the third Boiler Room a sight glass burst and the compartment began to fill with steam. The British “safety number “, instead of offering advice headed for the ladder to the upper deck. The Senior Red Navy rating disconnected the sight glass and stopped the steam escaping.

The serviceability of all systems, machinery and weapons had been checked. Admiral Levchenko was pleased with the crew, but had noticed some shortcomings, and others were reported by Officers and Senior Rates.  The Admiral gave Ryabchenko two weeks to rectify them.

Two weeks later:

 “On July 16 1944, in preparation for raising the flag, discussions were held with agitators, party activists and personnel, about the Naval Flag of the Soviet Union.”

The discussion would have been inspirational, covering the history of the Soviet Navy and its flag. The Political organisation onboard was led by the Political Officer Lt Cdr Fomin, and the Party Organiser Senior Lt Lysiy. Their duty was to motivate the ship’s company through a network of Communist Party agitators and activists. They are never mentioned in an operational context and seem to have left the Captain to get on with his job without interference. Polyakov and Lysiy were close friends, and when Lyisy took over from Lt Cdr Fomin, Polyakov deputised for him when required.

Polyakov wrote:

 “On that memorable Sunday at 1200 the flag was hoisted simultaneously on the six destroyers in the Albert Dock. Zhivuchy was the third of four ships berthed beam to beam. To starboard was Zhgouchy, to port Derzky and Dostoiny. Astern were Zharkiy and Deyatelny. Repairs were still in progress onboard Zhostky and Doblestny. Their flag hoisting was planned for 1st August.”

In attendance were the Ambassador F T Gusev, the Head of the Military Mission Vice Admiral Kharlamov, Vice Admiral Levchenko, Rear Admiral Maxwell, and the Mayor of Newcastle.

Admiral Maxwell said:

“On behalf of the Admiralty it is with great satisfaction that I transfer the ships to the valiant and courageous Russian Fleet. We wish good luck to all who sail in them”.

Polykov described how

“After the flag raising ceremony a festive dinner was held onboard the ships. Soviet sailors with true Russian hospitality, as sovereign owners of the ship, received the British guests.”

Among the toasts was one proposed by Warrant Engineer Liddicoat, “I christened my youngest daughter in the bell of the Richmond. This, according to English tradition, will bring happiness. I drink to the unsinkability of the destroyer Zhivuchy”.

“The Mayor of Newcastle, after a few toasts, was in a rather ‘cheerful’ state. Some of his compatriots tried to persuade him not to drink any more, to which he replied, smiling good naturedly ‘I have nothing to lose but this chain’, touching his massive gold chain of office”. Polyakov seems to have totally missed this Marxist allusion.

After dinner everyone poured onto the pier, where the band was playing. Admiral Kharlamov, in full dress, approached a group of Soviet sailors. As if on command several of them picked him up and tossed him in the air. Then, lowering the smiling Nikolai Mikhailovich to the ground, they surrounded Captain 1st Rank Fokin but Vitaly Allekseevich guessed their intentions and managed to dodge them.

After the celebrations the Division were given a month for operational training west of the Orkneys, based at Scapa Flow. The first to leave the berth was the Derzky, flying the Broad Pennant of the Division Commander. The ships were given a warm farewell by crowds of spectators. At the mouth of the Tyne a combat alert was declared, as U-boats were patrolling the North Sea. The destroyers head north in line ahead, with ASDIC pings audible on their bridge loudspeakers – a sound the bridge watch keepers would soon get used to.

The Handover of the Submarines and the loss of V-1, the former HMS Sunfish

The four submarines were handed over at Dundee on 26th July. The first boat to sail was V-1 (ex Sunfish). While on passage she was bombed by a Liberator of No. 86 Squadron RAF on 27 July and sunk. It was claimed initially that she had not conformed to the agreed route. However, both the RAF and Royal Navy held Boards of Enquiry into the loss of V-1 and her 50 Russian and one British Crew. Both Boards were clear that Captain Fisanovich was almost exactly where he was supposed to be, that he did not open fire on the aircraft, and did not crash dive on its approach. Coastal Command were searching for a U-Boat believed, from Enigma decrypts, to be outbound from Trondheim.

It was further found that the Liberator was at least 80 miles off track, and well inside V-1’s "Moving Haven", and that the crew ignored unmistakable signs that the submarine was friendly. Captain Fisanovich was cleared of all blame, and the RAF aircrew were held fully responsible for the incident., which was then hushed up to save diplomatic embarrassment ahead of the Yalta Conference. (National Archives files AIR 2/9279 and ADM 1/16390). The dead are listed on the Dundee Submarine War Memorial.

The fact that the V-1 had 50 Russians onboard a submarine that was complemented for 32 would indicate that the Russians had brought a number of spare hands, and that the loss of life in the William S Thayer had not been critical.


Passage to the Kola with JW59

To ensure the safe and timely arrival of Arkhangelsk (aka “Royal Rouble”) at Murmansk she was allocated a station in Convoy JW 59, which left Loch Ewe on 15 August. Arkhangelsk and her group of former Town Class destroyers left Scapa Flow on 17 August to join the convoy. A group of Russian manned Submarine Chasers (PC Boats) being transferred from the USA also joined the Convoy. Initially the Russian group proceeded independently, joining the convoy as it approached a U-Boat danger area on 20th August as shown on the chart below. Arkhangelsk took up her position as second ship in column five, in the centre of the ten column convoy.

No merchant ships were lost from the convoy but at 06.04 hours on 21 August (21 0604), the day after 
Arkhangelsk joined the convoy,  the sloop HMS Kite (Lt Cdr A.N.G. Campbell, RN) with 226 men aboard, was struck by two torpedoes from U-344 on the starboard side. The stern broke off, floated for a few seconds, then sank followed a minute later by the bow. HMS Keppel (D 84) stopped to pick up survivors but only 14 of the 60 or so survivors in the water could be rescued from the ice cold water, five of them died on board and were later buried at sea. Several eye witness accounts of her loss are linked to from Mike Kemble's website about HMS Kite.

U-344 was part of Wolfpack Trutz (Defiance) which consisted of seven U-Boats. The next day pack member U-354  sank HMS Bickerton and put the Escort Carrier HMS Nabob out of action, 170 miles south of Bear Island. They had been providing cover for JW 59, and were to have attacked the Tirpitz in Altenfiord, but were withdrawing when sighted by U-354 in search of the Convoy. Ron Rendle, a popular member of the V & W Association, was on the bridge of HMS Bickerton with Capt Donald G.F.W. Macintyre and described her sinking by an acoustic torpedo, a GNAT,  before they could stream their "cat" from the stern.

Arctic Convoy JW59
HMS Bickerton sinking
Left: Track chart showing the course taken by the Russian Group from Scapa before joining JW.50 on 20 August 1944, the position  of Wolfpack Trutz and where HMS Kite and Bickerton and the u-boats sunk - click on image to enlarge
Right: HMS Bickererton sinking after being torpedoed by U-353 on  22 August 1944

U-344 and U-354 were both sunk a few days later. U-344 was sunk west of Bear Island on 22nd August by a Swordfish aircraft from HMS Vindex (see Track Chart). U-354 was sunk north east of North Cape on 24th of August after a lengthy ASW action by the  Sloop HMS Mermaid  and the Frigate HMS Loch Dunvegan.

HMS Whitehall and HMS Walker, the two V & Ws which had rescued survivors from the William S Thayer were part of the escort for their return convoy to the Kola Inlet with their new ships. The friendly relations between the Russians rescued from the William S Thayer and the officers and men of HMS Walker did not last. Lt James Glossop  in HMS Walker was disappointed that there was no cordiality in signals or chatter from the Archangelsk to Walker during the voyage. In view of the size of the operation and the number of ships involved it is perhaps not surprising but one can be sure that the Soviet sailors rescued would never forget the two elderly V & Ws which had saved their lives.

 Once past Bear Island the Arkhangelsk group detached to make a ceremonial entry to join the Northern Fleet on 25th August 1944.

Their contribution to the War

Lt Cdr Frank Donald RN (Ret) whose father served in three V & W Class destroyers and whose Mother was born in St Petersburg with Russian as her native language has drawn on the following sources to give an account of the contribution the Town Class destroyers made after their transfer to the USSR to winning the war at sea in Arctic Russia. The main focus is on a "case study" of Dostoiny, the former HMS St Albans, but it is also covers the other destroyers and to reflect their multiple identities is titled The Ships which fought under four Flags.

Documentary Sources

Capt G.G. PolyakovIn the Grim Barents SeaCaptain G.G.Polyakov (left) served with the Northern Fleet as the CO of Tenacious, the former HMS Richmond, and described the contribution made by the foreign warships to the war in his book The Grim Barents Sea (Murmansk Book Publishing House, 1978). Sadly, it has not been translated since he conveys the atmosphere of the time, the suspicion of the Soviets for their Western Allies as well as including input from Admiral Leverchenko and other prominent officers in the Northern Fleet. Russian speakers can read the book online and Google translate conveys something of its style and content to others. Peter Smith's book on the Royal Sovereign mirrors Polyakov by recording western prejudices and suspicions of our Soviet allies.

It seems that the C in C Northern Fleet, Admiral Arseni Golovko, did not entirely appreciate  the largesse that Stalin had bestowed on him. In the introduction to chapter fourteen of his memor With the Red Fleet, he wrote:

“We have at present enough forces not to have to strip one sector to deal with an emergency in another. In the past year since my last report to Supreme Headquarters the Northern Fleet has received a considerable complement of torpedo-carrying bombers, fighters and Stormovik aircraft, as well as a substantial number of ships of various classes. We have received more trawlers, large submarine-chasers, destroyers, MTBs and submarines. Over and above this, we have obtained from the Americans on a reciprocal basis a rather old, but modernized, cruiser, and from the British a battleship (as an advance on the trophies accruing from division of the Nazi fleet to compensate us for war damage to our country). The main thing is not, of course, these two “steamers” as our Northern sailors sarcastically dub the English battleship and American cruiser. The latter is, in truth, obsolete. It is sufficient to mention that it has four tall funnels and the external design of a warship of the First World War. The important thing is that we now possess twice the number of light forces – particularly escort and patrol ships than we did last year.”
With the Red Fleet (Moscow, 1960)
English edition: With the Red Fleet: The War Memoirs of the Late Admiral Arseni G. Golovko (London: Putnam, 1965)

Despite these disparaging remarks by the C in C of the Northern Fleet the Germans took the threat of these two large outdated warships seriously and were determined to sink Arkhangelsk in the same way that Gunter Prien in U-47 had sunk the battleship Royal Oak in Scapa Flow. On a dark night in  September 1944, Herbert Zoller took his Snorkel fitted U-315 towards the entrance to the Kola Inlet but found, to his horror, that the Soviets had strung an anti-submarine net across the entrance to the Inlet, in which U 315 became firmly entangled.  They tried to break free again and again, all through the night, but to no avail. The submarine was trapped but a last try was made, and the submarine finally broke free. Zoller decided it was impossible to penetrate the defences, and returned to base.

It would appear that while the Arkhangelsk and Murmansk were of little use to the Northern Fleet, the destroyers and submarines were a valuable addition. Even if you are unable to read Russian you could research the story of these Town Class destroyers transferred to the Northern Fleet by searching the Google translation of the Russian text online for the name of the ship, in both Russian and English e.g. search for Dostoiny and Worthy if you want to know about the former HMS St Albans. Her CO was Yevgeny Adrianovich Kozlov, who who was relieved by Captain 3rd Rank Nikolai Ivanovich Nikolsky in November 1944. Kozlov went on to become an Admiral.

Regretfully, Google has withdrawn their translation service for websites but I downloaded the translation as a Word document days before its withdrawal and Frank Donald has used his knowledge of Russian to tell the story of the part played by HMS St Albans after she joined the Northern Fleet at Murmansk.

Report on the receipt of ships from the English fleet (1944)
 

The most authoritative source on the transfer of the warships to the USSR and the part they played in the war after they joined the Northern Fleet at Murmansk is in the Central Naval Archive of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation which contains over two million documents and is one of the largest archives in Russia on the Great Patriotic War. The whole document is 110 pages in length and is not available on the Internet and access to the archive is restricted. Russian speakers with a serious interest in consulting original source material on the transfer of the warships to the USSR should contact the Archive to enquire about access.

Report on the receipt of ships from the English fleet (1944)The front cover and nine further pages, relating to the torpedoing of the William S Thayer and the death of Russian sailors was supplied to Alexander Kovalev, the grandson of Senior Lt Martinov, by the Russian historian and author, Miroslav Eduardovich Morozov, and can be seen as a PDF by clicking on the image of the front cover on the right:

Pages 16 - 17 (pages 18 - 19 are omitted)
The outfitting of the transports for passage of the complete Command of personnel for the ships being transferred.
Preparation and departure of the Command for England.

Page 20
Passage of the Command to England

Pages 21 - 26
Torpedoing of the William S Thayer at 2010 30 April 73 53N 18 30 E, followed by an analysis of the ASW operations of the convoy (including mention of two Bluhm and Voss A/C, ineffectiveness of asdic search)
Followed by description of sinking of the William S Thayer, help given by Robert Eden and two destroyers, analysis of losses and list of dead.


Their return and disposal after the war

HMS Royal Sovereign remained on loan to the Soviet Navy until 9th February 1949, when she was handed back at Rosyth, and reverted to her original name. She was sold for scrapping at Inverkeithing. Between 1955 and 1957, part of her gun turret mechanism was reused in the construction of the 250 foot (76 Metre) “Mark 1” Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire. The Murmansk was returned to the USN at Deleware on on 17 March 1949 and her crew were returned to the USSR on the Russian freighter Molotov. She was scrapped in December 1949.

Murmans on return to USA in 1949 as USS Milawaukee - for scrapping
The tug, USS Achigan (YTB 218), at Lewes, Delaware, is taking Soviet sailors from the USS Milwaukee (CL 5) on 17 March 1949.
The crew is being transferred to the Russian freighter Molotov for transport back to Russia.
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, George D. McDowell Collection.


HMS Churchill (Deyatelnyi) was the only one of the former Town Class destroyers which was sunk. On 16th January 1945 she was torpedoed and sunk by U-956 while escorting a White Sea convoy. The others were returned to Britain between 1949 - 52, reverted to their former names, put on the Disposal List, sold to the British Iron & Steel Corporation (Salvage) Ltd. (BISCO) and then allocated to a ship breaker's yard.

HMS Leamington (G19)
HMS Leamington (G19) prior to her transfer
HMS Leamington in Gift Horse
Trevor Howard on the bridge of HMS Ballantrae in the film "Gift Horse" (1952) after her return


HMS Leamington (above) had a brief reprieve when she was chartered from the breakers and refurbished to take part in a British film ’Gift Horse’ starring Trevor Howard and Richard Attenborough being shot in the English Channel. She was renamed HMS Ballantrae for her role in the film based on the St Nazaire Raid of March 1942 when HMS Campbeltown, sister ship of the Leamington, rammed and blew up the lock gates at St Nazaire. It can be seen in full on YouTube.  HMS Leamington was adopted by Leamington Spa after a successful Warships Week in 1942

The USSR finally receives its share of the surrendered Italian fleet




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