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‘Ghost fleet’ created for virtual commemoration of Arctic convoys

HMS Honeysuckle comes alongside carrier HMS Trumpeter in the Kola Inlet, March 1945
7 May 2021
A convoy will appear at Loch Ewe on Sunday May 9 as a virtual tribute to WW2 heroes who braved ‘the worst journey in the world’.

A virtual memorial event is planned on the remote Scottish inlet, belatedly marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazism which sailors on the Arctic convoys helped deliver.

The sheltered waters of Loch Ewe to the west of Ullapool in northwest Scotland were a key staging post for convoys to the then Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945.

Today, still used by the Royal Navy for training, the loch is home to an Arctic convoy museum and, on the opposite shore at Cove, a memorial overlooking the inlet’s mouth, which many ships and sailors passed through – never to return.

A memorial event for thousands of brave British and Allied seamen will go ahead this May, to honour those who travelled “the worst journey in the world” in WWII.

The event will honour sailors in the Arctic Convoys, who braved German U-Boat attacks, fields of ice, and sub-zero temperatures to transport food and other critical supplies to Britain’s wartime ally, Russia. The shipments allowed Russia to resist the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and were essential to the eventual defeat of Hitler.

The 75th anniversary commemorations last May would have seen 500 guests hear speeches from Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys, Prince Michael of Kent, and the Russian Consul General – but the pandemic pulled the rug from under proceedings.

A large-scale open air event is still planned at the site, earmarked for May 2022 hopefully when life has resumed some form of normality.

These brave sailors, who endured unimaginable conditions, freezing weather and under almost constant enemy fire, deserve to be remembered for their heroism and sacrifice.

John Casson

But at 2pm on May 9 this year, a virtual tribute will be staged – available for all to watch online via Facebook and YouTube – featuring roughly 200 silhouettes of merchant and warships of wartime vintage, each engraved with the name of a veteran, which you can add by making a donation to the museum.

In addition, guest speakers including Prince Michael of Kent and Russia’s Consul General in Edinburgh, Andrey Yakovlev, have filmed commemorations for the tribute, a bugler will perform live from the loch and there will be a history of the bitter voyages to Murmansk and the Kola peninsula.

Between the summer of 1941 and the defeat of Germany in May 1945, 78 convoys delivered more than four million tonnes of supplies: tanks, fighters, trucks, fuel, ammunition and food.

The cost was the lives of more than 3,000 merchant and Royal Navy sailors. Some 85 merchant ships and 16 Royal Navy vessels were lost, running the gauntlet of the German surface fleet, U-boats and Luftwaffe, and contending with horrific weather. Small wonder it was branded “the worst journey in the world” by Churchill.

"These brave sailors, who endured unimaginable conditions, freezing weather and under almost constant enemy fire, deserve to be remembered for their heroism and sacrifice,” said John Casson, co-chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoy Project and Museum, who is organising the memorial event.

“While our commemorations were halted in 2020, we are determined this year to honour the veterans and show our thanks to them and to their families for their incredible efforts. We will remember them."

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