WW II British Arctic Convoy Sailors Attending May 9 Ceremonies

In news from Interfax, a group of British veterans of the Arctic convoys of the Second world war are scheduled to arrive in St. Petersburg to participate in the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the World War II victory against Nazi Germany. Five veterans from Scotland, and five from England will arrive on May 7 to take part in various memorials and commemorations for Russia’s celebrations. 

For readers unaware of the contributions of the Arctic convoy heroes, these sailors ferried vital supplies from the United Kingdom, Iceland, and North America between August 1941, and May 1945. Some 78 convoys of ships made the treacherous passage past Nazi U Boats and icy waters to deliver much needed supplies to the Soviet Union. The cargoes of these ships varied, but included tanks, fighter planes, fuel, ammunition, raw materials, and food. The early convoys in particular delivered armored vehicles and Hawker Hurricane fighter planes to make up for shortages in the Soviet Union.

On Wednesday the director and founder of the project “the Victory Day London”, Eugene Kasavin, commented on this year’s event:

“We simply could not find a better place than historic, naval hero-city of St. Petersburg for the reunion of the veterans of the Arctic convoys and celebrate this unique anniversary, the 70th anniversary of the great Victory.”

Former chief of the defense staff and head of the British armed forces, General Lord David Richards, told reporters;

“The Arctic convoys played a crucial role in the fracture of the Second world war in favor of the allies. It is wonderful that the British veterans will visit St. Petersburg for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Victory with their Russian comrades-in-arms. This visit is important not only because of their role in the defeat of Nazi tyranny priceless, but also because it will remind all of the deep connections between our countries.”

These convoys not only provided much needed supplies for Soviet allies, but the news of their successes caused the Nazis to tie up vital air and sea power in order to disrupt them. One ill-fated convoy designated PQ 17 sailed in July 1942, and ended up suffering the worst losses of any convoy of World War II. Under attack by German aircraft and U-Boats, PQ 17 scattered when reports the world’s most powerful warship, the Tirpitz, had joined the pursuit. Ultimately only 11 of the 35 merchant ships of the convoy made it safely to port.

The British sailors are slated to visit the Piskarevskoye memorial cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony at 186 mass graves where there lay buried some  420,000 citizens and 50,000 soldiers of the Leningrad front. On the day of the victory of the British veterans will join the solemn procession along the Nevsky prospect and on May 10 will go to the Gulf of Finland on the ship together with the veterans, members of the club “Arctic Convoy”.

As a footnote on the upcoming May 9 festivities, here is a verse from the naval hymn sailors sing at ceremonies.

Eternal Father, strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,

Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep

Its own appointed limits keep;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,

For those in peril on the sea!

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