In August 1941, the Allies launched Operation Dervish. This was the first of the Arctic Convoys, ships which sailed from the United Kingdom, Iceland and North America, and brought essential supplies to the Soviet Union.
After the successful launch of Operation Barbarossa, the USSR was in desperate need of raw materials, fuel, military equipment and food. Realising the importance of keeping the Germans fighting on two fronts, Churchill offered a helping hand to Stalin.
Though eager to cooperate, the task of shipping supplies to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel was not an easy task. Sailing up through the treacherous Northern Atlantic, the convoys were faced with some of the harshest seafaring conditions, including temperatures that reached -30 degrees Celsius, gale force 10 winds, towering seas, intense fog and drift ice. The sailors on deck also had to be wary of the continuous threat of icebergs.
If this wasn’t enough of a challenge to the 78 convoys that made the journey to the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945, the merchant vessels also faced the serious possibility of U-Boat attacks or German bombing raids.
As the convoys skirted occupied Norway en route to Murmansk and Archangel, the close proximity of German air and naval bases meant that attacks on the convoys were commonplace, and casualties were inevitable. Over 3,000 men lost their lives on the Arctic Convoys with 87 merchant ships and 18 Royal Navy ships lost.
In this documentary, Dan Snow delves deep into the history of the Arctic Convoys and reveals the ultimate sacrifice of the crews onboard the ships that made the perilous journey.