This was a German unsuccessful naval undertaking by the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, escorted by four destroyers, against Allied merchant vessels making independent passages from Scotland to the northern USSR (5/9 November 1942).
Because of the demands imposed on Allied warships numbers and dispositions by ‘Torch’, the British could not despatch the PQ.19 convoy requested by the Soviets and instead on 29 October despatched 13 laden single ships, with 230 miles (370 km) between them, from Reykjavik in Iceland to Murmansk and Arkhangyel’sk in the northern USSR. At the same time 23 unladen single ships made the return passage from the northern USSR to Iceland.
Along the route taken by these 36 independent sailers were stationed the anti-submarine trawlers Cape Palliser, Northern Pride, Northern Spray and St Elstan from Iceland, and Cape Argona, Cape Mariato and St Kennan from Murmansk.
Six of the eastbound ships were lost. On 2 November Kapitänleutnant Dietrich von der Esch’s U-586 sank the 6,640-ton British Empire Gilbert. On 4 November the first ships were spotted and reported by an aeroplane of the Küstenfliegergruppe 406. Then Junkers Ju 88 medium-range bombers of Oberst Alerich Hofmann’s I/Kampfgeschwader 30 sank the 7,363-ton Soviet Dekabrist, and the same type of aircraft from Hauptmann Erich Stoffregen’s II/KG 30 damaged the 7,176-ton US William Clark, later sunk by Kapitänleutnant Karl-Heinz Herbschleb’s U-354, and the 5,445-ton British Chumleigh, which was sunk by Oberleutnant Hans Benker’s U-625 on 16 November after having been grounded following another bomb hit on 5 November off the southern cape of Spitsbergen. Benker’s U-625 also sank the 7,455-ton British Empire Sky on 6 November.
Under the command of Vizeadmiral Oskar Kummetz, the Befehlshaber der Kreuzer, the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and the destroyers Friedrich Eckholdt, Richard Beitzen, Z 27 and Z 30 of Kapitän Alfred Schemmel’s 5th Zerstörer-Flottille were also sent to sea against this Allied undertaking on 5 November.
Aircraft of the KG 30 meanwhile continued to fly reconnaissance sorties. The British submarine Tuna and Dutch boat O-15 were stationed to the south of Bjørnøya, but sighted nothing. Additional cover was provided by three other submarines (the British Trespasser and Seadog, and Norwegian Uredd) located off Lerwick in the Shetland islands group and Stadlandet in German-occupied Norway.
On 7 November the westbound 7,925-ton Soviet tanker Donbass was located by one of Admiral Hipper’s reconnaissance floatplanes and sunk by Z 27, as was the Soviet auxiliary escort BO-78. All the other westbound ships arrived safely, the last of them during 24 January 1943.