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Events Leading to the Loss of Convoy PQ17

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Forming of WW2 Convoy PQ17

Convoy PQ17 - World War Two Arctic Convoy Disaster

In 1942, Convoy PQ17 was a heavily defended allied convoy taking urgently needed war materials from British ports to Murmansk and Archangel in the northern Soviet Union. The convoy consisted of 34 merchant ships and 6 naval auxiliaries, and was defended by a total of 43 warships.

Convoy PQ17 sailed from Reykjavik in iceland on 27 June 1942 and was an impressive sight. As soon as the convoy was out to sea the ships formed a standard nine column convoy position and steamed ahead. The journey was expected to take from ten to fourteen days. One of the biggest problems the convoy had was sailing at the end of June meant that there was no real darkness in the Arctic at that time of year, so there was nowhere to hide. There would also be no shore-based air support. The convoy's route took them between the German-held northern coast of Norway and the slowly receeding Arctic ice sheet. They were within German bomber range at this time.

The Admiralty and the commander-in-chief, Admiral Tovey, were greatly concerned as they needed to provide enough resources to protect the large Convoy PQ17 but also had to provide ships to cover a possible breakout by heavy German ships into the Atlantic. At this time, British naval intelligence reported the Germans' intention to bring out major naval groups to attack the next eastbound convoy - PQ17 - with the support of shore-based aircraft and U-boats based in Norway.

The Germans were aware of the convoy almost from the start. Shortly after it entered the open sea, PQ17 was sighted and tracked by U-456, and shadowed continuously except for a few short intervals in fog. On July 2 it suffered its first air attack, by nine torpedo aircraft. The planes were unsuccessful, with one being shot down. Later the same evening, another attack — by 25 torpedo bombers — took place, sinking SS William Hooper. In the evening the Admiralty sent a message prefixed "Most Immediate" ordering Rear Admiral Hamilton, who was in charge of the escorting cruiser squadron, to withdraw westwards at high speed. Less than half-hour after this the Admiralty sent another "Most Immediate" message, ordering the convoy to scatter.

When the order to scatter the convoy was received, it had covered more than half of its route and lost three ships. The consequences for the merchantmen were dire, the ships were spread over a wide area, stripped of mutual protection and their trained escort. Of the 34 ships which had left Iceland, 23 were sunk and 11 made port. The total deliveries amounted to 70,000 tons out of the 200,000 tons or urgently needed war materials which had started from Iceland.

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