Operation Dervish (i)

This was the British first convoy to the USSR via the Arctic route (21/31 August 1941).

As an ad hoc effort designed as much to show solidarity with the recently invaded USSR as to offer matériel assistance, the convoy had no designation in the otherwise standard letter/number sequence used for Allied convoys. The convoy’s primary military task was the delivery of raw materials and also 39 Hawker Hurricane fighters, which were loaded as 24 whole aircraft in the old aircraft carrier Argus, which had already done similar service in the delivery of fighters to Malta on several occasions, and 15 crated aircraft in one of the merchant ships. The Hurricane fighters were for the use of the RAF’s No. 151 Wing, which was to be based temporarily at Vaenga near Murmansk.

Having departed Liverpool on 12 August, the convoy of six merchant ships (1,914-ton British Lancastrian Prince, 4,747-ton British New Westminster City, 1,931-ton British Esneh, 4,817-ton British Trehata, 11,348-ton British Llanstephan Castle and 4,427-ton Dutch Alchiba), together with the 8,402-ton British fleet auxiliary oiler Aldersdale, assembled in the Hvalfjördur near Reykjavik in Iceland and sailed to the north on 21 August under the close escort of the destroyers Electra, Active and Impulsive, ocean minesweepers Halcyon, Harrier and Salamander, and anti-submarine trawlers Hamlet, Macbeth and Ophelia. More distant cover was provided by the heavy cruiser Shropshire and destroyers Matabele, Punjabi and Somali, and heavier support was offered by the fleet carrier Victorious and heavy cruisers Devonshire and Suffolk under the command of Rear Admiral W. F. Wake-Walker.

At this time the German air presence in the northern part of occupied Norway was small, and the Germans therefore did not discover the passage of the convoy and could make no effort to intercept it.

Additionally escorted in the White Sea by the Soviet destroyers Sokrushitelnyi, Groznyi, Kuybyshev and Uritskyi, the merchantman with the crated fighters reached Arkhangyel’sk safely on 31 August, and Argus successfully flew off the fighters she was carrying to reach Vaenga.

An abortive attempt was made to strike at German coastal shipping to the north of Tromsø with Victorious’s aircraft on 3 September and, after refuelling at Spitsbergen, a second attempt was made, this time sinking one ship.