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Arkhangelsk pays tribute to participants in WWII Arctic convoys

The members of the Northern Convoys Club laid flowers to the monument in Arkhangelsk and presented a book Arkhangelsk: 100 War Days, devoted to events in 1941 and to the 80th anniversary of the first West Allies’ convoy arrival in the city

ARKHANGELSK, May 12. /TASS/. Members of the Northern Convoys Club paid tribute to participants in World War II convoys. The club members laid flowers to the monument in Arkhangelsk and presented a book Arkhangelsk: 100 War Days.

The book is devoted to events in 1941 and to the 80th anniversary of the first West Allies’ convoy arrival in Arkhangelsk, the Club’s member Georgy Gudim-Levkovich told TASS.

"On May 8, the date, when World War II was over in Europe, the Northern Convoys Club organizes laying of wreaths at the British Military Memorial in Arkhangelsk," he continued. "We pay tribute to the memory of our allies, who jointly with Soviet soldiers and sailors fought against the common enemy. We pay tribute to all those, who fell on the battlefields, to those, who did not return from the sea."

Seven convoy participants from the UK are buried at Arkhangelsk’s Kuznetchovskoye cemetery. The youngest was 20 years old, and the oldest was only 30. Three of them were sailors, who died at the city hospitals, another four were pilots. Their crashed plane was found in 1991, and the UK government agreed to bury the remains in Arkhangelsk.


The Northern Convoy Club studies available documents and collects all public information. Both Russia and other countries, including the UK and Germany, continue to unveil documents. "For example a website devoted to the UK merchant sailing. It has a complex system of links, and recently we have spotted there information about one of the vessels, the biggest vessel, which participated in the Dervish Convoy, - SS Llanstephan Castle. The site published a report by the vessel’s captain. He took the vessel to Arkhangelsk and afterwards reported the trip. He wrote about Arkhangelsk, how they were welcomed at the port, what problems they faced," he said.

An example of newly published information is the number of boots, the first convoy brought to the USSR. Boots were not of minor importance, as the Soviet Army was desperately short of boots. "In all the reports on Dervish, in our documents, we can see how many tonnes of footwear they brought. Funny - measuring footwear in tonnes. Anyway, Dervish brought 300,000 pairs of boots. Sufficient for 50 divisions," the expert said. However, that was not the end of the footwear story. The first convoy from the UK brought to the USSR short boots, that were something exotic, and footwear for the military was a matter agreed at the level of Soviet and US leaders, he continued.

The Soviet Union wanted high boots. "A US representative Harry Hopkins asked the UK whether they had ‘Russian boots,’ that is high boots. The UK could supply only short boots. Hopkins reported this to Roosevelt. The task was to organize production of boots using Russian patterns - high boots. They found in New York a Russian immigrant, who made the patterns and lasts. Within one month a new plant began to work and produced for the Soviet Union what had been of high demand - high boots to be worn with footcloth."

What first convoy brought

Another recent discovery is about the planes, brought during the Dervish Operation. "All sources quote that Dervish carried 39 planes, where only 15 were UK’s Hurricanes, and another 24 planes flew to the Kola Peninsula off the Argus carrier. However, Dervish, in addition to Hurricanes, had brought another 24 planes, not UK planes though. Those were the US’ Curtiss P-20 Tamahawk. Along with them, to Arkhangelsk came the US instructor, Lieutenant Herbert Zemke," the club’s representative continued. "Notably, back then, in August, the US had not entered the war, it remained neutral. Thus, I was researching further on and found out that another American Lieutenant Allison in Moscow had been waiting from April 1, for a month’s time. And, interestingly, those planes with our pilots managed to participate in the Battle of Moscow."

For the Curtis planes, the city built the Tenth Kilometer air field with wooden runways. The ground runways were sufficient for British planes, but the American fighters were much heavier. They took off from the Tenth Kilometer and flew to Vologda. Nowadays, one of the modern airports in Arkhangelsk, Vaskovo, is located in the area, where the Tenth Kilometer used to be. "This is what we have managed to find out comparing English-language and our sources," he said.

A most valuable cargo to the USSR was natural rubber. "I wondered why natural rubber was so important. T-34 tanks, production of which just began, used the Christie suspension. Every wheel is on a spring made with natural rubber - otherwise the tank wouldn’t move. Thus, the natural rubber supplies were vital. Dervish delivered 10,000 tonnes."

The club has found out what the Dervish vessels were taking from Arkhangelsk on return trips. Interestingly, the club’s representative stressed, we do not have a single photo of Dervish in the USSR, only a few images of the return convoy QP-1, however in the UK already. The convoy vessels took from Arkhangelsk wood - the main cargo of this and other return convoys. For this purpose, in Arkhangelsk was built a special deviation pavilion to adjust onboard compasses. "When sailing here, the convoys brought tanks, planes, shells, that is metal," local historian Sergei Terentyev said. "On return trips, they carried wood. Deviation was a must, as in such conditions compasses were acting up. It was not a rare occasion to see a ship turn, change courses, adjusting the compass."

In addition to the wood, Dervish brought to the UK magnesite - a supplement in making armor-and fur. Fur was a part of return trips from the USSR for all convoys. "For example, one vessel, which sank in 1942 near Iceland, had a big fur consignment. In some notes, we read that those boxes would not sink - fur is light," Gudim-Levkovich said.

First 100 war days in Arkhangelsk

Many newly found details were included in the Arkhangelsk: 100 War Days book. According to the author, Svetlana Efremova, the biggest part of the book is records of what happened in Arkhangelsk between June 22 and September 29, 1941. The book is based on documents from Russian and US archives and from local private archives.

The starvation in the city is the key topic, the author said. "Food had always been supplied to Arkhangelsk - grain does not grow here," she told TASS. "For example, in May and June, 1941, the city did not receive a train of grain, and Arkhangelsk met the war with only 50 tonnes of flour. On July 10 already there were fears of growing starvation. This is in the records."

Many facts are connected directly with the convoys. For example, the workers who built a railway line from the Economiya port, where the convoys were unloaded, to the Isakogorka railway station, received every day soup of just 50 grams of trout. At the wood plants, from where the wood was shipped to the UK, workers received a day 30 grams of flour and 3 grams of butter. "Their job was to cut the wood," the author said. "In February, 1942, when the situation was very poor, not that the limits were cut, no, the thing was - there was no food to give to people, and the local authority reported receiving a pile of telegrams, which, for example, read: The plant has stopped. As people are unable to stand up."

Sailors received food onboard, including thanks to Ivan Papanin, an outstanding Arctic explorer. "The shipping company asked him to assist in feeding people, in giving MREs to them. A certain time later, when the ships had left, the prosecution started criminal provisions, because MREs had been given before the trips began. In response to the charges, the shipping company’s representative writes it was Ivan Papanin’s order to feed the sailors, 40% of who had been suffering scurvy," the author added.

Another part of the book is devoted to Arkhangelsk residents - sailors, pilots, children, women and the local intellectual community, she said.

In summer, 2021, the club will print a leaflet, devoted to the 80th anniversary of the Dervish convoy. It will present a few new documents. The leaflet will be made in two languages - Russian and English.


On August 31, 1941, the first convoy, dubbed later on as Dervish, arrived in Arkhangelsk from the UK. It consisted of seven vessels, escorted by military ships.

Between August 1941 and May 1945, there were 78 return trips, involving 1,507 vessels and tankers (128 were sunken or damaged). To Murmansk and Arkhangelsk were delivered more than 22,000 planes, more than 13,000 tanks, 13,000 guns, 639 ships and other vital cargo, including food - all that worth more than $2 billion. The cargo satisfied about 12% of the front’s and rear’s demands.

The convoys’ Arctic route (other routes were across the Pacific Ocean and via Iran) was the shortest, though most dangerous. It was used for more than 90% of lend-lease deliveries, though as much as 15% of the cargo on that route were lost on sunken ships.