Murmansk Run – Scant info…?

A comment just made about a post I wrote a way back on this blog…



My dad had 3 brothers and one of them 24 year old Jack Smith who was a chief engineer sailed on one of these runs and was gone over 7 months. I never heard him talk of this, but my dad did. About how dangerous it was, etc. Jack was from Mobile, Alabama and at this time I don’t know if he was with Waterman Steamship or on a Liberty ship. My grandfather would go downtown and check the list of lost ships every day to see if Jack was okay. One day, right out of the blue, he called from NY and my mother was there to witness the joy. As I remember, many of this fleet on his run were lost and few made it home. I know this is scant info, but is there anything you can add to this.

Thank you so much,

Dianne Bryars

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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2 thoughts on “Murmansk Run – Scant info…?

  1. Comment from a reader…

    Comment: In the years after World War II, a number of books were published regarding the Murmansk convoys. Among them ware David Irving’s The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17, Paul Lund’s PQ-17 Convoy to Hell: The Survivors’ Story, and Geoffrey Winn’s PQ-17 a Story of a Ship. These books covered the events related to only one convoy, a nearly disastrous convoy. There is also William Sclater’s Haida: A Story of the Hard Fighting Tribal Class Destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy on the Murmansk Convoy, the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay.

    There are many books on the topic. Search, or using keywords such as “Murmansk”, “pq”, or “convoy” and you will find them.

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