Battleship in haystack
Polar convoys from transport ships and warships were created in Iceland, circled around the arc of Scandinavia and reached Murmansk or Arkhangelsk, delivering military cargoes to the USSR (Lend-Lease). The Germans tried to prevent this as they could. From airfields in occupied Norway, torpedo bombers and diving bombers from the 5th Air Force operated on convoy ships fleet Luftwaffe. German submarines and surface ships were based at bases in Narvik and Trondheim. 16 convoys went to the USSR practically without losses, the next in line was the convoy PQ-17
PQ-17 went to sea from the Hvalfjord Bay in northwest Iceland 27 June 1942. The convoy consisted of 35 transports (of which 2 were Soviet), 3 rescue vessels and 2 tankers. The convoy was escorted directly by 6 destroyers, 4 corvette, 4 anti-submarine ships, 3 minesweeper, 2 submarines and 2 air defense ship, commanded by escort forces commander (captain of the second rank) Jack Broome. It was he who after the end of the war filed a lawsuit against the writer and historian David Irving to court and sued his 40 000 pounds sterling, a lot of money for the 60s of the last century. The short-range cover of the convoy, commanded by Rear Admiral Hamilton, were 4 cruisers and 3 destroyers, long-distance cover was provided by the metropolitan fleet - 2 battleship, 3 cruisers, 14 destroyers and 1 aircraft carrier.
At the same time, the entire fleet of the United Kingdom could not sleep well while the German battleship Tirpitz was cruising off the coast of Norway. If an experienced psychiatrist had tested the command of the British Navy in 1942, he would certainly have diagnosed Tirpitsofobiya for all officers. The reasons for this were their own; in May 1941, the German battleship Bismarck of the same type “Tirpitz” at 6 minute of battle sent the pride of the Royal Navy to the bottom of the battle cruiser “Hood”, armed with almost the same 381-mm guns of the main caliber.
In the first days after departure, 3 vessels from the convoy were forced to turn back. July 4 as a result of a German raid aviation 2 vessels were sunk and 3 damaged, among them was the Soviet tanker Azerbaijan, which, thanks to the dedicated actions of the crew, was soon returned to service. But all these “little things” did not bother Admiralty, the first lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Dudley Pound, who was constantly interested in naval reconnaissance data on Tirpitz, but the intelligence remained silent, impenetrable clouds hung over the whole territory of Norway.
The choice of Dudley Pound
In the afternoon of July 4, one of the reconnaissance planes was lucky; he was able to take a picture of the Trondheim harbor (the western regions of Norway are almost opposite Iceland), where Tirpitz usually stood. This time the parking lot was empty!
After the end of the war, Irving, and then Pikul, accused Dudley Pound, who died of a heart attack in 1943, of almost all mortal sins. The Englishman called him a stupid serviceman and mediocrity, and Pikul accused him of incompetence and cowardice. But what happens if we put ourselves in the shoes of the first lord and try to solve the accusation with an infinite number of unknowns. Data: German battleship "Tirpitz" disappeared from its parking lot. Where he is is unknown, but the worst must be assumed. Worst of all, the battleship went to sea to intercept the PQ-17 convoy. At the same time, we do not know the time when the battleship went to sea ...
So the admiral thought, making a decision about the fate of the polar convoy. He had two choices. The first to do nothing and give the convoy a calm walk to Russia, but in this case Tirpitz could first have breakfast with cruisers and near-cover destroyers, and then dine with defenseless transports. The second option gave more risk, but if successful promised to reassure the German battleship at the bottom of the sea forever. In order to do this, it was enough to “just” link the “Tirpitz” in battle with Admiral Hamilton's formation and blow it up until the main forces of the UK fleet approached.
Then Dudley Pound chose the second option. He ordered the transport ships to disperse, leave the formation as soon as possible and proceed to the northern ports of Russia alone. This practice, when the ships went to the USSR on their own more than once was used and not without success, such flights were called “drip”.
The choice of Admiral Raeder
The tragedy of the PQ-17 convoy was that Dudley Pound had solved the equation presented to him incorrectly. He could not have known that the German battleship, ordered by the commander-in-chief of Kriegsmarine, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, was relocated to Altenfjord, which was located not far from Bear Island, near which routes of all polar convoys passed. It was because of this that reconnaissance did not find a battleship in its permanent parking lot. Erich Raeder had on his hands two orders from Hitler. One ordered the polar convoy to be attacked by surface ships, the second forbade it if the admiral did not know the location of the nearest British aircraft carriers.
On this occasion, the Germans had their own naval nightmare associated with the death of the Bisamrk. Shortly after their triumph over the Khud, the battleship overtook the aircraft from the British aircraft carrier Victories. They could not send an armored hulk to the bottom, but one of the released torpedoes damaged the battleship. After that, the Bisamark was literally torn apart into pieces by the English surface fleet. Something similar was going to do with the "Tirpitz" and Admiral Dudley Pound. What Erich Raeder was going to resist with all his might. Early in the morning of July 5, the reconnaissance aircraft found the metropolitan fleet in 220 miles north-west of Bear Island and Raeder took the risk, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon of July 5 the Tirpitz escorted the 10 escort ships out to sea.
A few hours later the Germans were discovered by the Soviet submarine K-21, commanded by second-rank captain Nikolai Lunin. The boat fired a salvo of 4 torpedoes across the battleship, which most likely missed the target.
However, despite this, the submarine K-21 reported on the exit of the enemy squadron into the sea. Perhaps because of this, it was later turned into a museum, which can still be visited in Severomorsk. An hour after the release, the German squadron was discovered by an English submarine, and a little later by reconnaissance aircraft. The Germans were able to intercept all three sent radiograms, were able to decipher them and realized that they were waiting. Raeder had no choice but to return the squadron back to the base. At this moment, fate saved the Tirpitz, but it did not bring him any glory. The pride of the German fleet continued to smoke the sky of the Alten fjord until 1944, until British bombers finally "got it" there.
What happened next is well known to Russian readers. Hamilton’s security cruisers were searched for the Tirpitz for a long time, while German planes and submarines sank defenseless polar convoy ships for 3 days. Out of 32 transports, 21 vessels went to the bottom. 210 aircraft were lost, 430 tanks, 3530 trucks, about 100 thousand tons of steel sheet, rubber and various ammunition. Of the crews of the courts, 153 people died. The head of the British naval mission in the Polar Rear Admiral Fisher, at a meeting with the commander of the Northern Fleet of the USSR, Admiral Golovko, blushed and hid his eyes, although he himself did not bear any fault for the death of the convoy PQ-17.
Despite this level of loss, the death of the PQ-17 convoy is only a drop in the ocean of that big war, when escorting convoy to Malta, this level of loss was considered by the British themselves to be completely acceptable. Anyone who is interested in this topic can recommend the book by David Irving “The rout of the PQ-17 convoy”, Valentin Pikul’s Requiem for the Caravan PQ-17 and more artistic, but perhaps even the best work of Alistair Maclin’s The Polar Convoy.