Edinburgh Castle War Museum to do 10 month exhibition on Arctic Convoys

From the 24th May this year [2013] to March 2014, Edinburgh Castle War Museum is paying tribute to the men of World War II’s Arctic Convoys, repeatedly sailing vital supplies to the northern Russian ports of Murmansk on the Kola Inlet and Archangel on the White Sea.

These convoys sailed through conditions that were the worst that both the German air and naval armed forces and nature herself could throw at them.

Eyelids would freeze shut. Continually forming ice had to be continually chipped away from deck rails, decks, equipment and superstructures to stop the top-weight of it capsizing ships. The U-boat wolf packs too often found easy pickings in the convoys and the passage to the north Russian ports brought the convoys within the flying range of the Luftwaffe.

Captains and navigators on the bridges could not see through frozen glass – leading to the invention of the Kent Clear View screen for ships.

The attrition rate was frightful, in sunk ships, lost cargoes and lost men.

66,000 men sailed in the 78 convoys 78 convoys. 3,000 of them died in the 85 merchant ships and 16 navy escort ships that were destroyed and in others that were attacked. This was the cost of the 4 million tonnes of supplies delivered to a crucial ally in that conflict.

Only 200 of the veterans are alive today.

Many of the convoys gathered in Scotland before setting off on those terrible Arctic passages -leaving from the Clyde and from Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, with naval escorts often from the base at Scapa Flow in Orkney.

There is a memorial to the convoys near Lyness on the Isle of Hoy in Orkney; and another at Cove on Loch Ewe, unveiled by the Scottish Russian Convoy Club on 11th September 1999. There is a growing Russian Arctic Convoy Museum there, resolved to commemorate in situ the links of that loch with these unique efforts to see Britain survive that war.

The Edinburgh Castle War Museum has arranged to have on loan some of the collections from Russian museums and from the Imperial War Museum, along with material held in Scotland – diaries, letters, photographs, uniforms and memorabilia.

This follows in the wake of the decision prised from the oddly reluctant UK Government over 67 years of resistance to persistent campaigning, to award a medal – it is to be the Arctic Convoy Star – to the veterans of this phase of wartime activity.

The Ministry of Defence is currently working on eligibility criteria for this medal, with decisions to be announced later in the year.

A central decision is whether to award the medal posthumously, given the length of time it has taken to make this necessary recognition and the fact that so very few veterans are still alive.

Should MoD resistance to this recognition now seek to limit it to those still living, it will arouse continuing wrath.

We have also to hope that they move in time to have the medal awarded and in place to allow those with the right to wear it and the ability to be present, to appear in the Remembrance Day Parade to the Cenotaph in London this Autumn.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • I have applied for the Arctic Star medal on behalf of my late father who served on HMS Dido. The MOD have not had the courtesy to even reply to my application that was sent.
    They are still treating these war heroes as unimportant, and although my father is no longer with us his family deserve to receive his medal to honour his memory. It would also acknowledge the terrors and demons that he experienced during this horrific period in time, which unfortunately haunted him until the day he died.

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    tom stevenson June 1, 2013 9:32 am Reply
    • This is very shoddy. A simple acknowledgment of receipt of your application would have reassured you that the matter was in hand.
      Have you been in touch with Jacky Brookes at the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum at Loch Ewe.
      If you haven’t, use this email: info@russianarcticconvoymuseum.co.uk
      She will be very interested to have what you know of your father’s story and we’re sure she would remind the MoD of the nature of their responsibilities.

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      newsroom June 1, 2013 10:41 am Reply
  • my father alexander MacLennan was a Marconi radio officer on ships sailing in convoys to Russia during WWII. like many people he did not dwell on his wartime experiences but did mention the appalling weather conditions and his horror of seeing ammunition ships exploding. If medals are to be issued to relatives our family would very much like to have one. It seems ridiculous that the medal is only now being issued long after most participants are dead and buried.
    My other interest is that one of my colleagues was a medical officer on HMS when she was torpedoed on its way to
    Russia. After his rescue he spent several months as a doctor in a hospital set up for our men in Russian. He commented on the appalling level of poor cooperation from the Russian hierarchy. Another complaint was that he received no pension for his war services and commented that in this respect he would have fared much better had he joined the SS.

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    william jardine maclennan June 2, 2013 5:05 pm Reply
    • You will be entitled to have the Arctic Star Medal your father ought to have had.
      Go to this link where you will see an application form for it: http://www.veterans-uk.info/arctic_star_index.htm
      If you have not been in touch yet with Jacky Brookes at the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum project at Loch Ewe in Wester Ross [many convoys gathered and sailed from there], she would be very interested to hear from you and to know what you know of your father’s and your colleague’s story.
      Use this email: info@russianarcticconvoymuseum.co.uk

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      newsroom June 2, 2013 5:51 pm Reply

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