Operation Polyarny

(Soviet port in northern Russia)

'Polyarny' was a Soviet and British submarine campaign in the Barents Sea with boats operating to and from Polyarny to harass German shipping along the Norwegian coast (22 June 1941/December 1941).

After the German 'Barbarossa' invasion on 22 June 1941 had drawn the USSR into World War II, the Soviet navy’s Northern Fleet was operating 15 submarines from Polyarny near Murmansk, later augmented by eight boats of the Baltic Fleet. The British attempted to attack German shipping which rounded the North Cape on their passages to and from Petsamo, but routine surface ship patrols could not be maintained and the 'EF' operation of 30 July 1941 to use aircraft carriers for an attack on the northern Norwegian port of Kirkenes and the north Finnish port of Liinakhamari near Petsamo was a failure. In August 1941 the British sent the submarines Tigris and Trident to Polyarny. The submarines were to attack the German coastal traffic, and by the end of September the Soviets had 11 boats operating in the same area. The British boats were later relieved by the Sealion and Seawolf.

On 17 August, Tigris torpedoed and sank the 1,482-ton Norwegian merchant ship Haakon Jarl, and two days later Trident damaged the 4,769-ton German freighter Levante with its deck gun. On 22 August Trident torpedoed and sank the 3,030-ton German merchant ship Ostpreussen, and on 30 August torpedoed and sank the 2,931-ton German merchant ship Donau and the 8,561-ton German vessel Bahia Laura.

On 12 September, the Soviet submarine ShCh-422 torpedoed and sank the 1,459-ton Norwegian merchant ship Ottar Jarl, and one day later Tigris torpedoed and sank the 905-ton Norwegian merchant ship Richard With. On 25 September the Soviet submarines K-3, S-101 and S-102 reached Molotovsk (now Severodvinsk) from Belomorsk after departing the Baltic Sea and making passage through the White Sea Canal to reach Polyarny in October and November; L-20 and L-22 remained temporarily in the White Sea.

On 27 September Trident torpedoed and sank the German submarine chaser UJ 1201 that was escorting a convoy.

On 17 October, the Soviet submarine ShCh-402 torpedoed and sank the 682-ton Norwegian merchant vessel Vesteraalen. On 3 November Trident torpedoed and sank the German submarine chaser UJ 1213/Rau IV.

On 18 November the British submarine Seawolf torpedoed and sank the 331-ton Norwegian tanker Vesco. On 3 December, the torpedoes launched by the Soviet submarine K-3 missed the 4,713-ton German merchant ship Altkirch, and was then depth charged and damaged by the escort. Forced to surface, the submarine engaged in a gun duel with the submarine chasers UJ 1403, UJ 1416 and UJ 1708. In the course of this engagement, UJ 1708 was sunk and the other vessels turned away, allowing K-3 to return to base.]

On 5 December, Seawolf torpedoed and sank the 638-ton Norwegian merchant vessel Island, four days later the Soviet submarine K-22 laid mined in the Rolvsøysundet and two days after that shelled a Norwegian cutter, which escaped, and sank several fishing vessels which were being towed off Mylingen.

The Soviet ocean-going submarine K-1 laid a minefield off the North Cape on 27 October, and between 2 and 12 November laid minefields in the Mageroysund and Breisund. On the first and third fields there sank respectively the 1,930-ton German merchant vessel Flottbek and 1,994-tin Norwegian merchant vessel Kong Ring.

The Soviet K-23 laid minefields in the Sørøysund and off Hammerfest on 5 November, and the mines of these fields were responsible for damaging the German minesweeper M 22 on 21 November. A sister submarine K-21, laid a minefield on 11 November, and this sank the 1,774-ton German merchant vessel Bessheim.

The results achieved by the Soviet boats in this campaign were modest. Despite the fact that the Soviets lost no boat, their submarine effort was hampered by the harsh Arctic climate and inexperience, whereas the British boats gained more success. The Germans lacked the escorts required for adequate protection of their coastal traffic, which was vital to German army units operating in the far north and was in effect brought to a halt by the combined British and Soviet campaign. The Germans now faced the greater logistical problem of having to despatch supplies through the Baltic Sea to Finland, and thence overland though Finland to the Arctic front, substantially hindering German land operations in the far north.

The British officers instructed the officers of the Soviet submarine D-3 to follow their own tactics, but while the boat claimed many victories, none of these was real.