Arctic Convoy PQ.12

On the 1 March 1942 HMS Verdun and HMS  Woolston were called upon to strengthen the escort of convoy PQ.12 to the Northern Russian Port of Murmansk  (click on the link and them select PQ.12 from the column on the left). These convoys were described by Winston Churchill as 'The worst journey in the world'. Although these ships had been designed and built for working the English Channel and the North Sea the dire need for extra escorts led to the trustworthy old V&W destroyers being called upon. This convoy really put them to the test and the weather, as always, was to prove the worst enemy, as illustrated by the fact that on this convoy one of the rescue whalers iced up and capsized in the rough seas.

On the 5 March the convoy was sighted by a German reconnaissance aircraft. This was reported to the German High Command in Norway and the mighty German battleship, Tirpitz, the most modern, largest, and heavily armed battleship in the world at that time accompanied by her screening destroyers set forth to intercept. Due to the atrocious weather and a bad sighting report they failed to make contact with the convoy and it arrived in the Kola Inlet on the 12 March without loss apart from
the rescue whaler although some of the ships incurred ice damage. It is hard to imagine what the crews of the two old V&Ws endured during that convoy, for, with the exception of a duffle coat they had not been issued with any extra cold weather clothing. Wally Randall had to be taken from his action station on X Gun at the stern in a frozen state and defrosted on the wardroom table.

They sailed from the Kola Inlet
with returning convoy QP.9 on the 23 March. One U-boat was rammed and sunk by the Halcyon Class minesweeper Sharpshooter and they all arrived at Reykjavik on the 3 April, very glad to be home. The V&Ws having proved their strength and worth were to be engaged in many more of those awful convoys, but outbound convoy PQ.12 and return convoy QP.9 were only Arctic Convoys escorted by HMS Woolston.  Seventeen V&Ws took part in 59 Russian convoys (including return convoys).

Frank Witton was presented with the Ushakov Medal at the London Embassy of Russian Federation on the 12 March 2014
Photographed by Bill Forster

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