The long series of arctic convoys were one of the most costly elements of the war at sea during the Second World War, pitting naval and merchant shipping against some of the most deadly seas in the world, as well as German air, U-boat and surface attacks as the convoys were forced to take a route close to the German occupied coast of Norway. The costs were high, but during the key years of the war this remained the best way to get large scale military aid to the Soviets, and a successful convoy could equip an entire Soviet army!
I’m not sure I entirely agree with the first part of the title - the arctic convoys are really quite well known, and the pictures of frozen ships amongst the most iconic of the Second World War. However the author does cover areas of the subject that are much less familiar, including the convoys that got through before the Germans really began to attack them, the Soviet contribution to the escort efforts and the convoys themselves, the return convoys, and the fighting along the Soviet Arctic coast.
For me these are the most valuable sections of the book, taking us away from the familiar convoy battles. Perhaps the most interesting sections cover the battles between Soviet and German forces along the Soviet Arctic coast, which often saw German naval forces operating some way to the east of the famous convoy routes, into the Kara Sea. There is also interesting material on the Soviet contribution to the attempts to defend the convoys, and on the fate of Soviet merchant ships that formed part of the convoys. The author is also very strong on the human cost of the convoys, putting names and stories to many of the dead, and following the survivors on some remarkable epics of Arctic survival.
The result is a book that provides a much wider picture of the naval war in the Arctic than is often the case, especially when it comes to the Soviet experiences of the arctic convoys.
1 - Briefing
2 - Skirmishing - August 1941-March 1942
3 - Arctic Shooting Gallery - March 1942
4 - Fateful Voyages - April-June 1942
5 - White Nights - May 1942
6 - Apocalypse - June-July 1942
7 - Task Forces - July-September 1942
8 - An Autumn in Hell - September-December 1942
9 - German Götterdämmerung - December 1942-May 1945
10 - A Few Final Words
Author: Michael G. Walling