Operation Victual

This was a British naval undertaking to facilitate the passage of the JW.59 convoy to ports in the northern USSR, and of the RA.59A convoy back to the UK (15 August/5 September 1944).

The JW.59 convoy comprised 34 laden ships including two escort oilers and one rescue ship. The close escort for the defence of this convoy comprised, between 15 and 25 August, the 20th and 22nd Escort Groups with the destroyers Keppel and Whitehall, sloops Cygnet, Kite, Mermaid and Peacock, frigate Loch Dunvegan, and corvettes Bluebell, Camellia, Charlock, Honeysuckle and Oxlip. Under the command of Rear Admiral F. H. G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, additional cover was provided between 17 and 25 August by the escort carriers Striker and Vindex, light cruiser Jamaica, and destroyers Verulam, Virago, Volage, Whirlwind, Wrangler and Canadian Algonquin. Distant cover was provided, under the command of Admiral Sir Henry Moore, by the Home Fleet’s main strength already at sea in ‘Goodwood’ (ii).

Dalrymple-Hamilton’s destroyers were detached to the Færoe islands group, which they reached on 17 August. One day earlier the Soviet destroyers Derzkiy, Deyatelnyi, Doblestnyi, Dostoinyi, Zharkiy, Zhivuchiy, Zhguchiy and Zhostkoy (ex-US Navy ‘four-stackers’ transferred from the Royal Navy) departed in company with the destroyer Cassandra, and on the following day the battleship Arkhangyel’sk (ex-British Royal Sovereign being transferred to the USSR) and 11 ex-US submarine chasers also on transfer to the USSR in company with the destroyers Cambrian, Scorpion and Serapis, to rendezvous with the convoy on 20 August.

Having departed Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland, the JW.59 convoy enjoyed a comparatively uneventful passage. The weather was unusually favourable, and this and the continuous daylight enabled the escort carriers to operate their aircraft on an almost continuous basis. The U-boats, of which nine were on patrol in the Barents Sea, were not given any opportunity to approach within striking distance, and the convoy suffered no loss before reaching the Kola inlet on 24 August with the additional cover provided by Soviet fighter aircraft.

The escorts fared slightly worse. On 21 August Kite was hit by two torpedoes from Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Pietsch’s U-344, and sank immediately, leaving a mere nine survivors. However, on 22 August Fairey Swordfish anti-submarine aircraft from Vindex depth-charged and sank U-344, and two days later ships of the 20th Escort Group sank Oberleutnant Hans-Jürgen Sthamer’s U-354.

The corresponding homeward convoy, RA.59A of nine unladen ships escorted by the warships which had arrived with the JW.59 convoy, had an almost unopposed passage between departing the Kola inlet on 28 August and reaching Loch Ewe on 5 September. Only one U-boat was sighted and this boat, Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Borger’s U-394, was destroyed after attacks by Swordfish aircraft from Vindex and a 12-hour hunt by the four surviving ships of the 20th Escort Group.