Every convoy in World War Two had a designation code of two, three, or sometimes four letters which specified where the convoy was going and how. ONS 5, for example, the greatest convoy battle of the war in the North Atlantic, meant “Outward bound (from Great Britain) on the Northern route.” The convoy did not travel faster than five knots so that old ships out of mothballs could keep up. Therefore it was designated a Slow convoy. The number 5 means it was the 5th convoy in the ONS series to use this routing.
The PQ convoys, however, had a nonsensical designation. A Royal Navy staff officer at the Admiralty named Philip Quellyn Roberts gave his first two initials to the Russian convoys. While I knew the story, I will let an excerpt from the following email I received from his son, Paul Quellyn Roberts, explain in more detail how the PQ convoys to Russia and the QP convoys returning from Russia received their designations.
He left the admiralty, I believe about PQ8 or 9, so did not see the PQ17 disaster. For a time he commanded HMS Sirius, a Dido class light cruiser based in the Mediterranean…He retired in 1947 as Captain…DSO (Distinguished Service Order). I thought this might be of interest.
Paul Quellyn Roberts