Convoy JW 55B

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The Scharnhorst

Convoy JW 55B was an Arctic convoy sent from Great Britain by the Western Allies to aid the Soviet Union during World War II. It sailed in late December 1943, reaching the Soviet northern ports at the end of the month. All ships arrived safely.

During the voyage JW 55B was approached by a German force centred on the battleship Scharnhorst; no contact was made with the convoy, but Scharnhorst was sunk, in the Battle of the North Cape, by the battleship HMS Duke of York (17) and a handful of Royal Navy light surface combatants.

Ships[edit]

The convoy consisted of 19 merchant ships which departed from Loch Ewe on 20 December 1943. Close escort was provided by a force of two destroyers and three other escort vessels. There was also an Ocean escort, comprising the destroyer Onslow (Capt J A McCoy commanding) and seven other Home Fleet destroyers. The convoy was also accompanied initially by a local escort group from Britain, and was also joined later by the ocean escort of convoy JW 55A, out of Murmansk. A cruiser cover force comprising Belfast (V Adm R Burnett commanding), Norfolk, and Sheffield also followed the convoy, to guard against attack by surface units. Distant cover was provided by a Heavy Cover Force comprising the battleship Duke of York, the cruiser Jamaica and four destroyers under the command of V Adm Bruce Fraser.[1]

JW 55B was opposed by a U-boat force of thirteen boats in a patrol line, code-named Eisenbart, in the Norwegian Sea. A surface force comprising the battleship Scharnhorst and five destroyers was also in readiness, stationed at Altenfjord.

Action[edit]

JW 55B departed Loch Ewe on 20 December 1943 accompanied by its local escort, of two minesweepers and two corvettes, and its close escort. Two days later, on 22 December, it was joined by the ocean escort, while the local escort departed. At the same time the Cruiser Force, from Murmansk, and the Distant Cover Force, waiting at Akureyri, in Iceland, also put to sea, taking station in the Norwegian Sea.

Also on 22 December the convoy was sighted by a patrolling German aircraft, which commenced shadowing; a succession of aircraft were able to maintain contact over the next few days, sending accurate reports of course and speed to the surface force at Altenfjord. On 25 December the convoy was also sighted by U-601, an Eisenbart boat, and later that day Adm. Bey, in Scharnhorst, received permission to sortie with his force. That evening U-716 came close enough to fire on one of the escorts, and U-701 was depth-charged.

Also on 25 December JW 55B was joined by the ocean escort of JW 55A, which was accompanying the returning convoy RA 55A. Fraser was concerned that a German surface force would reach JW 55B before he would, and ordered the convoy to reverse course. In the event this proved too difficult, but the convoy was slowed to 8 knots in order to assist the meeting.[2]

Scharnhorst was unable to make contact with JW 55B, but on 26 December was intercepted, first by Burnett’s cruisers, then by Fraser’s heavy units, and sunk, in the Battle of the North Cape, only staying afloat long enough to score two minor hits on both Duke of York and destroyer Saumarez.

Meanwhile, contact by the U-boats had been lost, and no further contact with JW 55B was made by the Eisenbart wolf-pack.

On 28 December the convoy was met by the eastern local escort force, three Soviet destroyers and two minesweepers, and arrived at Kola without further incident on 30 December 1943.

Conclusion[edit]

The 19 ships of JW 55B arrived at Murmansk without loss, while the German attempt to attack the convoy had led to the loss of their last operational capital ship in Norway. Thereafter, until Tirpitz was returned to active service, the Allied Arctic convoys were under no serious threat from the German Navy's surface forces.

Ships involved[edit]

Allied ships[edit]

Name Flag Tonnage (GRT) Notes
HMS Belfast (C35)  Royal Navy Cruiser cover force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Light cruiser
Bernard N Baker (1943)  United States 7,191
HMS Borage (K120)  Royal Navy Escort 20 Dec - 22 Dec. Corvette
British Statesman (1923)  United Kingdom 6,991
Brockholst Livingston (1942)  United States 7,176
Cardinal Gibbons (1942)  United States 7,191
HMS Duke of York (17)  Royal Navy Distant Cover Force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Battleship
Fort Kullyspell (1943)  United Kingdom 7,190 Commodore
Fort Nakasley (1943)  United Kingdom 7,132
Fort Vercheres (1942)  United Kingdom 7,128
HMS Gleaner (J83)  Royal Navy Close escort 20 Dec - 29 Dec. Minesweeper
HMCS Haida (G63)  Royal Canadian Navy Ocean escort 22 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Halcyon (J42)  Royal Navy Escort 28 Dec - 30 Dec. Minesweeper
Harold L Winslow (1943)  United States 7,176
HMS Honeysuckle (K27)  Royal Navy Close escort 20 Dec - 29 Dec. Corvette
HMS Hound (J307)  Royal Navy Escort 20 Dec - 22 Dec. Minesweeper
HMCS Huron (G24)  Royal Canadian Navy Ocean escort 22 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Hussar (J82)  Royal Navy Escort 28 Dec - 30 Dec. Minesweeper
HMS Hydra (J275)  Royal Navy Escort 20 Dec - 22 Dec. Minesweeper
HMS Impulsive (D11)  Royal Navy Ocean escort 22 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
HMCS Iroquois (G89)  Royal Canadian Navy Ocean escort 22 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Jamaica (44)  Royal Navy Distant Cover Force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Cruiser
John J Abel (1943)  United States 7,191
John Vining (1942)  United States 7,191
John Wanamaker (1943)  United States 7,176
HMS Matchless (G52)  Royal Navy Escort 25 Dec - 26 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Musketeer (G86)  Royal Navy Escort 25 Dec - 26 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Norfolk (78)  Royal Navy Cruiser cover force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Heavy cruiser
Norlys (1936)  Panama 9,892
Ocean Gypsy (1942)  United Kingdom 7,178
Ocean Messenger (1942)  United Kingdom 7,178
Ocean Pride (1942)  United Kingdom 7,173
Ocean Valour (1942)  United Kingdom 7,174
Ocean Viceroy (1942)  United Kingdom 7,174
HMS Onslaught (G04)  Royal Navy Ocean escort 22 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Onslow (G17)  Royal Navy Ocean escort 22 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Opportune (G80)  Royal Navy Escort 25 Dec - 26 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Orwell (G98)  Royal Navy Ocean escort 22 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Oxlip (K123)  Royal Navy Close escort 20 Dec - 29 Dec. Corvette
HMS Saumarez (G12)  Royal Navy Distant Cover Force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Savage (G20)  Royal Navy Distant Cover Force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Scorpion (G72)  Royal Navy Distant Cover Force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Scourge (G01)  Royal Navy Ocean escort 22 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Sheffield (C24)  Royal Navy Cruiser cover force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Cruiser
HNoMS Stord (G26)  Royal Norwegian Navy Distant Cover Force 23 Dec - 27 Dec. Destroyer
Thomas U Walter (1943)  United States 7,176
HMS Virago (R75)  Royal Navy Escort 25 Dec - 26 Dec. Destroyer
HMS Wallflower (K44)  Royal Navy Escort 20 Dec - 22 Dec. Corvette
HMS Whitehall (D94)  Royal Navy Close escort 20 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer
Will Rogers (1942)  United States 7,200
HMS Wrestler (D35)  Royal Navy Close escort 20 Dec - 29 Dec. Destroyer.

Axis ships[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kemp (1993) p163
  2. ^ Kemp (1993) p164

References[edit]

Coordinates: 72°15′36″N 28°40′48″E / 72.2600°N 28.6800°E / 72.2600; 28.6800