Operation Scottish

This was the British naval undertaking to ensure the passage of the JW.65 outbound and RA.65 homebound Arctic convoys to and from ports in the northern USSR (11/31 March 1945).

On 11 March the JW.65 convoy of 26 laden ships including the support oilers Blue Ranger and Black Ranger, departed the Clyde river estuary for Murmansk, under the charge of Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton, who was flying his flag in the escort carrier Campania. The convoy’s close escort between 11 and 21 March comprised the destroyers Myngs and Free Norwegian Stord, sloop Lapwing, and corvettes Allington Castle, Alnwick Castle, Bamborough Castle, Lancaster Castle,Camellia, Honeysuckle and Oxlip of the 7th Escort Group. From 12 March the convoy received further support with the arrival of the escort carrier Campania, light anti-aircraft cruiser Diadem, destroyers Onslaught (turned back after suffering damage in a collision with Blue Ranger while refuelling), Opportune, Orwell, Scorpion, Zambesi and Canadian Sioux of the 2nd and 23rd Destroyer Flotillas, and corvette Farnham Castle. Further strength arrived on 15 March with the attachment of the escort carrier Trumpeter and destroyers Savage and Scourge.

On 13 March the B-Dienst radio intercept and decryption service provided better warning than had been typical with convoys of the recent past, and two days after the convoy’s departure six Schnorchel-fitted U-boats (U-307, U-312, U-363, U-716, U-968 and U-997, later joined by U-711) departed Narvik on the north-west coast of German-occupied Norway to patrol the Bjørnøya Passage as the ‘Hagen’ wolfpack, while others (initially U-995 later joined by U-313 and U-992) concentrated off the Kola inlet.

The fact that the convoy enjoyed unusually good weather until just before reaching its destination made the failure of German air reconnaissance, undertaken on a daily basis between 14 and 17 March, all the more inexplicable, and the convoy passed through the U-boats’ initial patrol line without being detected. On 17 March all the available U-boats were then ordered to concentrate in the entrance to the Kola inlet in lines of six and seven boats. On 20 March, as the convoy approached the entrance to the Kola inlet, a snowstorm put a stop to all flying from the escort carriers, and boats of the ‘Hagen’ wolfpack lying in wait were able to seize their limited opportunity after the convoy had passed through the first line at about 09.00. As the convoy passed the second line at about 12.00, Oberleutnant Hans-Georg Hess’s U-995 torpedoed the 7,176-ton US Horace Bushnell, which was run aground to save her from sinking but nonetheless became a total loss. As the convoy passed through the second line at about 12.00, U-716 missed an escort, and U-313 and Oberleutnant Otto Westphalen’s U-968 made attacks in which the latter sank the sloop Lapwing and 7,217-ton US Thomas Donaldson. The rest of the JW.65 convoy reached Murmansk on 21 March.

The Soviet navy had meanwhile carried out a British request that a channel be swept through the German minefield to the north of Kola, so making it possible for convoys to approach and leave Murmansk by a shorter and more direct route.

On 21 March a group of 12 unladen transports and three empty tankers made the first movement by elements of the RA.65 return convoy, and these were escorted from Arkhangyel’sk to the Barents Sea, which they reached on 24 March, by the Soviet destroyers Karl Libknekht, Zhivuchiy, Zhostkiy, Derzkiy and Uritskiy, patrol ship Smerch and three submarine chasers.

The first use of the new swept channel was made by the other unladen ships of the RA.65 convoy, which departed Murmansk on 23 March to create a convoy of 26 unladen ships including the support oilers Blue Ranger and Lacklan. The escort comprised the escort carriers Campania and Trumpeter, light anti-aircraft cruiser Diadem, destroyers Myngs, Opportune, Orwell, Savage, Scorpion, Scourge, Zambesi, Canadian Sioux and Free Norwegian Stord, and corvettes Allington Castle, Alnwick Castle, Bamborough Castle, Farnham Castle, Lancaster Castle, Camellia, Honeysuckle and Oxlip.

The escort’s dedicated anti-submarine ships once again went ahead of the convoy to break up the concentration of U-boats, nine of which were now lying in wait, and four destroyers put up a pyrotechnic display on the old route to divert the attention of the Germans toward this now-unused route. This scheme was clearly successful, for no U-boat even reported the sailing of the convoy until it was well on its way west. Although the Germans then despatched several U-boats in pursuit and also flew air searches, they failed to locate the convoy, all of whose ships safely reached British ports on 31 March.