Operation FT (iii)

This was a British naval operation to ensure the safe passage of the JW.54A, JW.54B and RA.54B convoys to and from ports in the northern USSR, and to return the JW.54B convoy’s escorts to the UK (15 November/9 December 1943).

On 15 November the JW.54A convoy of 19 laden ships, together with the Soviet minesweepers T-116 and T-117 and three submarine chasers, departed Loch Ewe on the western coast of Scotland with under local escort of the destroyers Brissenden, Termagant and Free Polish Burza, which remained with the convoy until 18 November.

Ocean escort from 15 to 24 November was provided by the destroyers Inconstant and Whitehall, corvette Heather and minesweeper Hussar, supplemented between 18 and 24 November by the destroyers Impulsive, Onslaught, Onslow, Orwell and Canadian Haida, Huron and Iroquois. Cover between 18 and 24 November was provided by the heavy cruiser Kent and light cruisers Bermuda and Jamaica, and in the same period distant cover was provided by the battleship Anson, US heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa and the US destroyers Corry, Fitch, Forrest and Hobson.

Submarine cover was the task of Satyr, Sceptre, Sea Nymph, Storm (relieved by Seadog on 23 November) and Venturer, and the local escort for the last stage of the passage was provided by the Soviet destroyers Razumnyi and Razyaryonnyi.

Despite the fact that its passage had been detected by the B-Dienst, the German naval radio intercept and decryption service, the convoy arrived in the Kola inlet without incident on 24 November. Eleven of the ships then proceeded to Arkhangyel’sk under the escort of the Soviet destroyers Razumnyi and Razyaryonnyi, two British minesweepers and a corvette, strengthened off Yokanga by the Soviet destroyers Groznyi and Gromkiy and three minesweepers.

The following JW.54B convoy, of 14 laden ships and one rescue ship, made the same passage between 22 November and 2 December. Here the local escort between 22 and 25 November was the destroyers Middleton, Saladin and Skate and the minesweeper Speedwell; the ocean escort from 22 November to 3 December was the destroyer Beagle, corvettes Dianella, Poppy and Rhododendron, and minesweeper Halcyon supplemented from 23 November by the destroyers Hardy, Saumarez, Savage, Scorpion, Scourge, Venus and Vigilant, which had been returning independently from Arkhangyel’sk.

Cruiser cover was the task of the heavy cruiser Kent and the light cruisers Bermuda and Jamaica, and distant cover of the battleship Anson, light cruiser Belfast, and destroyers Ashanti, Matchless, Musketeer and Obdurate. Off the northern coast of the USSR the escort was bolstered by the Soviet destroyers Razumnyi and Kuybyshev, and three minesweepers.

On 26 November the homeward-bound RA.54B convoy of 10 unladen ships, departed Molotovsk with the local escort of three Soviet minesweepers, British minesweepers Hussar and Seagull, and British trawler Lord Austin, strengthened off Yokanga by the Soviet destroyers Gromkiy and Groznyi. The ocean escort between 27 November and 9 December was the destroyers Inconstant and Whitehall, corvette Heather and minesweeper Harrier, supplemented from 28 November by the destroyers Impulsive, Onslaught, Onslow, Orwell and Canadian Haida, Huron and Iroquois. Cruiser cover was provided by Kent, Bermuda and Jamaica, and distant cover by the battleship Anson, light cruiser Belfast, and destroyers Ashanti, Matchless, Musketeer and Oribi.

The ‘Eisenbart’ wolfpack had meanwhile been strengthened by the arrival of U-277, U-307, U-354, U-360, U-387, U-636 and U-713, but only U-307 sighted even the escorts, and then only for a short time, on 28 November. The U-boat was immediately depth-charged and damaged.

The RA.54B convoy reached Loch Ewe on 9 December without suffering any loss.