Some unsung heroes from World War II finally got the recognition they deserved this week when they received a newly created award from British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Around 40 British veterans were presented with the freshly minted Arctic Star medal during a special ceremony in Downing Street on March 19.
Cameron described the award to the veterans as acknowledgement of the role they had played in “the most important struggle of the last 100 years” by risking their lives as part of convoys carrying vital supplies on perilous Arctic sea routes to the Soviet Union.
Between 1941 and 1945, 78 Arctic convoys brought more than 4 million tons of provisions and munitions to the U.S.S.R. These deliveries played a crucial role in the Soviet war effort.
More than 1,400 merchant ships and naval vessels participated in the convoys to the ports in Arctic Russia, which Winston Churchill once described as “the worst journey in the world.”
The Arctic convoys ran the gantlet of German blockades to bring supplies to the Russian ports of Murmansk (pictured) and Arkhangelsk.The Arctic convoys ran the gantlet of German blockades to bring supplies to the Russian ports of Murmansk (pictured) and Arkhangelsk.
Besides braving frozen seas and harsh weather conditions, the sailors also had to contend with attacks from German dive bombers and U-boat torpedoes.
Sailing was particularly dangerous in the summer months when the perpetual daylight of the Arctic Circle meant that the ships could never take advantage of traveling under cover of darkness. This was particularly true in the case of the disastrous PQ17 convoy, which lost 24 out of 35 ships in July 1942.
Altogether, more than 100 convoy ships had perished by the time the war ended and more than 3,000 lives were lost.
Campaigners had been pushing since the 1990s for the efforts of the convoy sailors to be formally recognized, and Britain’s ruling Tory party had pledged in opposition to introduce a special medal when in government, but it is only now that the Arctic Star has finally become a reality.
Ninety-two-year-old Commander Eddie Grenfell said he “was pleased but not delighted” to have belatedly received an award for his contribution to Britain’s war effort.
“As soon as David Cameron came to power, I reminded him of the promise. Only now has he got around to doing it,” he told “The Daily Mail.” “In the meantime, God knows how many of my Arctic convoy chums have died waiting. All because we were waiting for these bloody politicians who have never heard a shot in their lives to make up their minds.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Allied Arctic convoys to Russia during World War II
— Coilin O’Connor