Murmansk Run

HMCS Athabaskan was part of the Murmansk Run.

The Murmansk Run (source)

Beginning in the late summer of 1941, a total of 41 Allied convoys sailed to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangel during the war. The Arctic convoys delivered millions of tons of supplies from the United States, Great Britain and Canada, including aircraft, tanks, jeeps, locomotives, flatcars, rifles and machine guns, ammunition, fuel and even boots. From the beginning, Canadian merchant sailors served on Allied ships making the runs. These ships departed North American ports such as Halifax or New York and sailed to the northern Soviet Union, usually via Iceland or Great Britain. This route became known as the Murmansk Run. The Germans threw the full weight of their air force and navy against the convoys as they neared the coast of occupied Norway. Attacks by more than a dozen enemy submarines (known as U-boats) and hundreds of planes simultaneously were common. Indeed, more than 20 percent of all cargo on the Murmansk Run was lost and one convoy lost 24 of 33 ships at a cost of 153 lives. It was so dangerous that strict orders were given that no merchant ship was allowed to stop, even to rescue sailors who fell overboard. These unfortunate men had to be left behind.

Harsh weather and the Arctic ice pack took a toll as well. Many of the runs took place in the winter to take advantage of the almost constant darkness in the northern seas. The temperatures were frigid, the winds strong and the waves sometimes 25 metres high. Sea spray would often freeze immediately on the ships’ upper surfaces, creating a heavy coating of ice which could cause a ship to capsize if not quickly chipped away. Using onboard equipment and even walking on deck in such conditions was a great challenge.

Beginning in October 1943, Royal Canadian Navy destroyers and frigates also became involved in the Murmansk Run as convoy escorts. They participated in about 75 percent of the subsequent convoys until the end of the war a year and a half later. Remarkably, no Royal Canadian Navy ships were lost.

This is the medal awarded by the Russian government to sailors who took part in the Murmansk Run.

It belongs to a sailor.


Tom McCulloch’s Murmansk Run Medal, issued by the Russian government to sailors who ferried war supplies from Allied ports to Northern Russia during the Second World War.

Tom McCulloch

His story is here.

This is also a very interesting story about a sailor aboard the Athabaskan who was also made a prisoner like Jim L’Esperance.

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3 thoughts on “Murmansk Run

  1. There was a great programme on UK TV a week ago about the run you mention in which 24 ships were lost. This was the result of a very poor decision by the British Chief of Staff in the War Office who was suffering from a brain tumour!

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