Disaster: Convoy PQ 17 and the Order to Scatter

Escorts and merchant ships at Hvalfjord before the sailing of Convoy PQ-17. Behind the destroyer HMS Icarus is the Russian tanker Azerbaijan, whose mainly female crew saved their ship after she was bombed and set on fire. The sea voyage to the north Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel was the shortest route for sending Allied supplies to Russia. But it was also the most dangerous owing to the large concentration of German forces in northern Norway. The convoy PQ-17 was decimated by U-boats and the Luftwaffe after a communication from the Admiralty on 4 July 1942 ordered the escort to ‘scatter’ fearing an attack by the German battleship Tirpitz. Only 11 out of the 34 ships reached Russia and in all, 153 merchant seamen died. Date: May 1942

Havalfjord in Iceland was rarely as placid as it appears in the above photo. Vicious wind storms would come howling over the mountains in the background with little or no warning. Ships typically kept steam up in one boiler in the event they started to drag their anchors because of the winds. On certain occasions, RN destroyers and corvettes had to make revolutions for three knots to simply stay in place. And being Iceland, it was cold almost all the time.

A storm brewing in Hvalfjordur – Iceland.

HMS Renown was one of the faulty battlecruisers built by the RN for speed which they sacrificed armor to achieve. HMS Hood paid the price for this design flaw as did HMS Repulse when she was sunk by Japanese dive-bombers in the Sundra Strait off Malaya with the HMS Prince of Wales. HMS Renown survived the war.

HMS Renown at anchor in Hvalfjord, Iceland (Photograph taken from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious) during the search for the Tirpitz. The battleship aft of Renown is possibly USS Texas, which arrived in Iceland in late January to escort a convoy back to British waters.

[Images courtesy of Wikipedia, Bing, and World War Two Today.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/