Operation EV

This was the British naval undertaking to support the passages of the PQ.18 and QP.14 convoys to and from ports in the northern USSR (2/18 September 1942).

The 39 laden ships of the PQ.18 convoy, together with three ships bound for Iceland, departed Loch Ewe escorted by the destroyers Campbell, Malcolm, Eskdale and Farndale, and anti-submarine trawlers Arab, Duncton, Hugh Walpole, King Sol and Paynter. One ship had to turn back. From 6 September the escort was strengthened by the destroyers Montrose and Walpole. Serving as rescue vessels for the convoy were the motor minesweepers MMS-90, MMS-203 and MMS-212, which were being delivered to the Soviet Northern Fleet.

Six ships joined the convoy from Hvalfjördur when the PQ.18 convoy departed Iceland on 8 September, at this time with a close ocean escort comprising the destroyers Achates and Malcolm, auxiliary anti-aircraft ships Alynbank and Ulster Queen, corvettes Bergamot, Bluebell, Bryony and Camellia, and minesweepers Gleaner and Sharpshooter, which took the convoy right through to Arkhangyel’sk.

The convoy was also accompanied by the submarines P614 and P615 between 9 and 17 September; and the anti-submarine trawlers Cape Argona, Cape Mariato, Daneman and St Kennan joined the convoy on 9 September and also went through to Arkhangyel’sk. Other submarines involved in the undertaking were Shakespeare, Unique and Unrivalled, which patrolled in a covering position between German-occupied Norway and the convoy, and Sturgeon, Tigris, Tribune, Unshaken and Free Norwegian Uredd, which patrolled off the exits of the Norwegian fjords against the possibility of sorties by German surface warships.

On 13 September the QP.14 convoy departed from Arkhangyel’sk with 20 unladen ships, several of them carrying survivors of the PQ.17 convoy which had been hit so hard by German air attack and the U-boats of the 'Eisteufel' wolfpack. The eastern local escort force comprised the Soviet destroyers Kuybyshev and Uritskyi and the British destroyers Blankney and Middleton, corvettes Dianella, Lotus, Poppy and Free French Malouine, auxiliary anti-aircraft ships Alynbank, Palomares and Pozarica, minesweepers Bramble, Britomart, Halcyon, Hazard, Leda, Salamander and Seagull, and anti-submarine trawlers Ayrshire, Lord Austin, Lord Middleton and Northern Gem. Some of these escorts joined the PQ.18 convoy.

The Germans were ready to sortie against the PQ.18 convoy. The heavy cruiser (ex-pocket battleship) Admiral Scheer, heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, light cruiser Köln and destroyers Z 23 and Z 27 had already, on 10 September, moved from Narvik to the Altafjord. Their movement was reported by the submarine Tribune and attacked by Tigris, whose five torpedoes exploded behind the ships. The submarines also reported a sighting of the battleship Tirpitz at Narvik. The German ships were supplemented in the Altafjord by the destroyers Richard Beitzen, Friedrich Eckholdt, Z 29 and Z 30.

On 12 September German reconnaissance aircraft located and reported the convoy of 39 freighters, one rescue ship, one tanker, three minesweepers and two fleet oilers with the ships of the close escort.

Further strength had been added to the convoy’s support element in the form of the escort carrier Avenger with the destroyers Wheatland and Wilton.

The convoy’s close support comprised Rear Admiral R. L. Burnett’s group with the light anti-aircraft cruiser Scylla, and destroyers Onslow, Onslaught, Opportune, Offa, Ashanti, Eskimo, Somali, Tartar, Milne, Marne, Martin, Meteor, Faulknor, Intrepid, Impulsive and Fury, and Vice Admiral S. S. Bonham-Carter’s covering group with the heavy cruisers Norfolk, London and Suffolk. Distant cover was provided by Vice Admiral B. A. Fraser’s force with the battleships Anson and Duke of York, light cruiser Jamaica, and destroyers Keppel, Mackay, Montrose and Bramham. The rescue ship Copeland was part of the convoy, and stationed at Spitsbergen was a force for the relief and resupply of the escort comprising the heavy cruiser Cumberland, light cruiser Sheffield, and destroyers Eclipse, Amazon, Bulldog, Echo, Venomous, Windsor, Worcester, Cowdray and Oakley.

On 12 September the destroyer Faulknor sank Kapitänleutnant Heino Bohmann’s U-88 near Bjørnøya. On 13 September Korvettenkapitän Reinhard von Hymmen’s U-408 and Koevettenkapitän Hans-Joachim Horrer’s U-589 sank the 7,191-ton US freighter Oliver Ellsworth and 3,559-ton Soviet Stalingrad. In the course of several air attacks, bombers of Oberstleutnant Erich Bloedorn’s Kampfgeschwader 30 and torpedo aircraft of Major Werner Klümper’s I/KG 26 and Hauptmann Möller’s III/KG 26 sank the 4,432-ton Wacosta, 4,826-ton Oregonian, 4,885-ton Macbeth, 5,441-ton Africander, 6,209-ton Empire Stevenson, 7,044-ton Empire Beaumont and 3,124-ton Sukhona. The 7,177-ton freighter John Penn was also sunk by aircraft during the same day.

On 13/14 September Hawker Sea Hurricane fighters from Avenger shot down five German aircraft for the loss of four of their own number.

During the night of 14/15 September Korvettenkapitän Karl Brandenburg’s U-457 torpedoed and damaged the 8,992-ton British tanker Atheltemplar, which was later abandoned. In the afternoon, in a renewed attack, the I/KG 26 lost 12 aircraft and seven crews and the III/KG 26 eight aircraft and seven crews, but hit the 6,049-ton freighter Mary Luckenbach, which exploded. The destroyer Onslow, supported by Fairey Swordfish aircraft of the FAA’s No. 825 Squadron from Avenger, sank Horrer’s U-589.

On 16 September a deterioration of the weather prevented air activity, but on the following day the Germans again located the convoy, though an attack by the KG 26 had to be broken off. Brandenburg’s U-457 was sunk by the destroyer Impulsive.

On 18 September aircraft of the KG 26 and KG 30 made further attacks, although only in conditions of poor visibility, and KG 26’s aircraft suffered several torpedo failures. A Sea Hurricane from the CAM-ship Empire Morn shot down two Heinkel He 115 floatplanes. The convoy, whose escort had by now been strengthened by the arrival of the Soviet destroyers Gremyashchiy, Kuybyshev, Sokrushitelnyi and Uritskyi and the British minesweepers Britomart, Halcyon, Hazard and Salamander, lost the 5,446-ton freighter Kentucky; the 6,458-ton freighter Troubador was bombed and damaged, was beached in the Kola Inlet, and was later broken up.

In overall terms, therefore, the PQ.18 convoy lost three ships (19,742 tons) to U-boat attack, together with one other (8,939 tons) damaged, and also lost 10 ships (55,915 tons) to air attack.