The focus of this book is on two arctic convoys, the outgoing PQ8 and the homecoming QP14, separated by eight months in time, but that both contained the SS Harmatris and the author's grandfather, the ship's master. The Harmatris was badly damaged during PQ8, but managed to reach Murmansk, where she was stranded while the crew carried out essential repairs. Wadsworth used the story of the Harmatris as a frame for a broader account of the arctic convoys, and for stories of the merchant ships, naval escorts and U-boats and aircraft involved in the long struggle in northern waters.
Captain Brundle's long journey took place just as the scale of the convoys was increasing - PQ8 contained eight ships and was protected by seven escorts, while QP14 contained twenty ships and was protected by a peak of forty escorts, amongst them the escort carrier HMS Avenger. In between came the tragedy of PQ17, an outgoing convoy that was ordered to scatter in the mistaken belief that a strong German surface fleet was approaching fast, and that suffered very heavy losses as a result.
At its worst this approach can result in a rather scatter-gun text, as seen towards the end of this book, in the chapters that follow Brundle's safe return to the UK, and which thus lack the strong framework present for most of the book. At its best (and for most of this book) this approach is very effective, allowing us to focus on one human story amidst the thousands generated by the arctic convoys, while also looking at the broader context of events, the technical and tactical developments that were made on both sides, and the increasing scale of the effort involved.
1 - A Garden Shed called Murmansk
2 - 'My Merchant Navy' (King George V)
3 - Over the Top of the World
4 - Fire Amidships
5 - Three Torpedoes and Two Air Attacks
6 - Murmansk and Archangel: Bombing and Food Shortages
7 - A Costly Return: QP-14
8 - Other Ships, Other Convoys
9 - 'Home is the Sailor'
Author: Michael Wadsworth
Publisher: Pen & Sword Marine