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NATO warships remember worst Arctic convoy of WW2 with commemorations in Iceland

NATO warships remember worst Arctic convoy of WW2 with commemorations in Iceland
29 June 2017
Seventy-five years after an ill-fated formation of merchant vessels and warships mustered in these same waters, today's guardians of the sea lanes form up in an Icelandic fjord to remember convoy PQ17.

Of the 35 ships which set out to deliver aid to the USSR via the northern tip of Europe, only 11 reached their destination.

The rest were sunk by German air and sea power in what was the very worst of 78 convoys dispatched by Britain and her allies to the Soviet Union to help sustain the Eastern Front and prevent Nazism from overrunning Europe.

Between the first Arctic Convoy in August 1941 and the end of the European War in May 1945, 85 merchant ships were sunk, as well as 16 Royal Navy escorts, while the Germans lost a battleship, several destroyers and at least 30 submarines in trying to strangle the lifeline to Murmansk and other ports in northern Russia.

In all the convoys delivered nearly four millions tonnes of goods to the Soviets - trucks, aircraft, jeeps, food, fuel, ammunition, raw materials - accounting for a quarter of all the Allied aid for Moscow during World War 2.

Three quarters of a century later and NATO warships and air power - including RFA Wave Ruler, a Merlin helicopter from 820 NAS and HMS Sutherland (once she's completed escorting HMS Queen Elizabeth on initial trials in the North Sea) - sailed in formation through Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjord), just north of Iceland's capital Reykjavik, for a service of commemoration attended by the ambassadors of Britain, Russia and Germany and Iceland's Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

Led by Iceland's Coastguard vessel Tyr, a wreath laying was held mid-fjord while the other vessels circled, before sailing into the capital to prepare for a large-scale anti-submarine exercise, Dynamic Mongoose.

Michael Nevin, the UK's ambassador to Reykjavik, described the commemoration as a "moving show of solidarity".

Anton Vasiliev, the Russian ambassador to Iceland, told dignitaries aboard the Tyr: "This is a rare - and extremely important act. We are showing the global community that we are all together, remembering an important period in our history, showing that we stand together, fighting against the real challenges that we face today."

More than a dozen warships and submarines are involved in the second of NATO's key annual sub hunts (the other, Dynamic Manta, took place in Sicily in the spring), which is now under way off Iceland's south coast. It runs until the en of next week.

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