Convoy PQ 16

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Convoy PQ 16 was an Arctic convoy sent from Great Britain by the Western Allies to aid the Soviet Union during the Second World War. It sailed on 25 May 1942, reaching the Soviet northern ports on 30 May after five days of air attacks that left seven ships sunk and three damaged; 25 of the ships arrived safely.


Arctic convoys[edit]

In October 1941, after Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the USSR, which had begun on 22 June, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, made a commitment to send a convoy to the Arctic ports of the USSR every ten days and to deliver 1,200 tanks a month from July 1942 to January 1943, followed by 2,000 tanks and another 3,600 aircraft more than already promised.[1][a] The first convoy was due at Murmansk around 12 October and the next convoy was to depart Iceland on 22 October. A motley of British, Allied and neutral shipping loaded with military stores and raw materials for the Soviet war effort would be assembled at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, convenient for ships from both sides of the Atlantic.[3]

By late 1941, the convoy system used in the Atlantic had been established on the Arctic run; a convoy commodore ensured that the ships' masters and signals officers attended a briefing before sailing to make arrangements for the management of the convoy, which sailed in a formation of long rows of short columns. The commodore was usually a retired naval officer, aboard a ship identified by a white pendant with a blue cross. The commodore was assisted by a Naval signals party of four men, who used lamps, semaphore flags and telescopes to pass signals, coded from books carried in a bag, weighted to be dumped overboard. In large convoys, the commodore was assisted by vice- and rear-commodores who directed the speed, course and zig-zagging of the merchant ships and liaised with the escort commander.[4][b]

Signals intelligence[edit]

The British Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) based at Bletchley Park housed a small industry of code-breakers and traffic analysts. By June 1941, the German Enigma machine Home Waters (Heimish) settings used by surface ships and U-boats could quickly be read. On 1 February 1942, the Enigma machines used in U-boats in the Atlantic and Mediterranean were changed but German ships and the U-boats in Arctic waters continued with the older Heimish (Hyrda from 1942, Dolphin to the British). By mid-1941, British Y-stations were able to receive and read Luftwaffe W/T transmissions and give advance warning of Luftwaffe operations. In 1941, interception parties code-named Headaches were embarked on warships and from May 1942, computers sailed with the cruiser admirals in command of convoy escorts, to read Luftwaffe W/T signals which could not be intercepted by land stations in Britain. The Admiralty sent details of Luftwaffe wireless frequencies, call signs and the daily local codes to the computers. Combined with their knowledge of Luftwaffe procedures, the computers could give fairly accurate details of German reconnaissance sorties and sometimes predicted attacks twenty minutes before they were detected by radar.[6] In February 1942, the German Beobachtungsdienst (B-Dienst, Observation Service) of the Kriegsmarine Marinenachrichtendienst (MND, Naval Intelligence Service) broke Naval Cypher No 3 and was able to read it until January 1943.[7]



This convoy consisted of 35 merchant ships: 21 American, 4 Soviet, 8 British, 1 Dutch and one of Panamanian registry. It also had one auxiliary vessel, the CAM ship SS Empire Lawrence. The convoy was led by Commodore N. H. Gale in Ocean Voice. The close escort was led by the destroyer HMS Ashanti (Cdr. RG Onslow) and consisted of the destroyers ORP Garland, HMS Volunteer, Achates, and Martin, the anti-aircraft ship HMS Alynbank, four Flower-class corvettes, one minesweeper and four trawlers. There were two support groups; a Cruiser Cover Force led by R.Adm. HM Burrough in the cruiser HMS Nigeria, and comprising the cruisers HMS Kent, Liverpool, and Norfolk, and destroyers HMS Onslow, Marne, and Oribi, and a Distant Covering Force of the battleships HMS Duke of York and USS Washington, the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, the cruisers HMS London and USS Wichita, and 13 destroyers.[8]

Convoy PQ 16[edit]

PQ 16 left Hvalfjord in Iceland on 21 May under the protection of the Local Escort, meeting the Ocean Escort on 23 May. At this time of the year the convoy would be operating in the midnight sun of the Arctic summer; this lessened the effectiveness of U-boat attack but make round-the-clock air attack more likely. It also increased the chance of early detection by German reconnaissance aircraft.[9]

On 25 May, PQ 16 met its cruiser escort, but at 6:00 a.m.was spotted by a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 reconnaissance aircraft, which commenced shadowing. That evening the Luftwaffe began attacks which continued for the next five days, until the convoy was in range of Soviet fighter cover. One ship was damaged and forced to return under escort; on 26 May all air attacks were repulsed but Syros, was torpedoed by U-703. By 27 May the air attacks began to break through; three ships were sunk and another damaged around mid-day; another sunk and one damaged in mid-afternoon. That evening two more ships were sunk, and another damaged. On 28 May, the convoy was joined by the Eastern Local escort; three Soviet destroyers and four minesweepers. Their extra fire-power enabled all further air attacks to be beaten off. On 29 the convoy divided, six ships making for Archangel, while the remainder docked at Murmansk.[10]



When Convoy PQ 16 was assembled off Iceland Churchill declared it would be worthwhile if even 50 per cent got through; despite the losses the majority of the ships of Convoy PQ 16 did arrive, most ships to Murmansk (30 May 1942) and eight ships to Archangelsk (1 June 1942). The convoy was such a success in terms the delivery of war material that the Germans made greater efforts to disrupt the following convoys. The Heavy Lift Ships from Convoy PQ 16 including SS Empire Elgar stayed at Archangelsk and Molotovsk unloading ships for over 14 months. In The Year of Stalingrad (1946) the British war correspondent Alexander Werth described his participation in Convoy PQ 16 on SS Empire Baffin, which was bombed but reached Murmansk under its own power.


Eight merchant ships were sunk, six by air attack, one by U-703 and one by a mine. Two U-boats were damaged by the escorts and the Royal Navy claimed the certain destruction of a Junkers Ju 88 by the Hawker Sea Hurricane of P/O Hay (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) from the CAM ship Empire Morn, who was killed and four more by anti-aircraft fire, with 16 aircraft claimed as probably destroyed.[10]

Ships in the convoy[edit]

The following information is from the Arnold Hague Convoy Database.[11]

Merchant ships[edit]

Name Flag Tonnage (GRT) Notes
Alamar (1916)  United States 5,689 Sunk by aircraft
Alcoa Banner (1919)  United States 5,035
American Press (1920)  United States 5,131
American Robin (1919)  United States 5,172
Arcos (1918)  Soviet Union 2,343
Atlantic (1939)  United Kingdom 5,414
RFA Black Ranger (A163)  United Kingdom 3,417
Carlton (1920)  United States 5,127 Damaged by near-misses. Towed back to Iceland by Northern Spray.
Chernyshevski (1919)  Soviet Union 3,588
City Of Joliet (1920)  United States 6,167 Sunk by aircraft
City Of Omaha (1920)  United States 6,124
Empire Baffin (1941)  United Kingdom 6,978 Damaged by near-misses.
Empire Elgar (1942)  United Kingdom 2,847
Empire Lawrence (1941)  United Kingdom 7,457 Sunk by aircraft. Carried a catapult and one Hawker Sea Hurricane
Empire Purcell (1942)  United Kingdom 7,049 Sunk by aircraft
Empire Selwyn (1941)  United Kingdom 7,167
Exterminator (1924)  Panama 6,115
Heffron (1919)  United States 7,611
Hybert (1920)  United States 6,120
John Randolph (1941)  United States 7,191
Lowther Castle (1937)  United Kingdom 5,171 Sunk by aircraft (aerial torpedo)
Massmar (1920)  United States 5,828
Mauna Kea (1919)  United States 6,064
Michigan (1920)  Panama 6,419
Minotaur (1918)  United States 4,554
Mormacsul (1920)  United States 5,481 Sunk by aircraft
Nemaha (1920)  United States 6,501
Ocean Voice (1941)  United Kingdom 7,174 Convoy Commodore
Damaged by bombs but reached port safely
Pieter De Hoogh (1941)  Netherlands 7,168
Revolutsioner (1936)  Soviet Union 2,900
Richard Henry Lee (1941)  United States 7,191
Shchors (1921)  Soviet Union 3,770
Stari Bolshevik (1933)  Soviet Union 3,974 Damaged by bombs but reached port safely
Steel Worker (1920)  United States 5,685 Reached port but was later bombed in harbour and sunk.[12]
Syros (1920)  United States 6,191 Sunk by U-703
West Nilus (1920)  United States 5,495
HMS Alynbank  Royal Navy Escort 23–30 May AA ship

Close Convoy Escort[edit]

Name Flag Ship Type Notes
HMS Hazard  Royal Navy Minesweeper 21–30 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Lady Madeleine (FY 283)  Royal Navy ASW Trawler 21 May; Western Local Escort
HMS St Elstan (FY 240)  Royal Navy ASW Trawler 21 May; Western Local Escort
HMS Retriever (FY 261)  Royal Navy ASW Trawler 21–25 May; Western Local Escort
HMS Northern Spray (FY 129)  Royal Navy ASW Trawler 21–26 May; Western Local Escort
HMS Achates  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–30 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Ashanti  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–30 May; Ocean Escort
Senior Officer Escort
HMS Martin  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–30 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Volunteer  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–30 May; Ocean Escort
ORP Garland  Polish Navy Destroyer 23–27 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Honeysuckle  Royal Navy Corvette 23–30 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Roselys  Royal Navy Corvette 23–30 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Starwort  Royal Navy Corvette 23–30 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Hyderabad  Royal Navy Corvette 23–30 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Seawolf  Royal Navy Submarine 23–29 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Trident  Royal Navy Submarine 23–29 May; Ocean Escort
HMS Bramble  Royal Navy Minesweeper 28–30 May; Eastern Local Escort
HMS Gossamer  Royal Navy Minesweeper 28–30 May; Eastern Local Escort
HMS Leda (J93)  Royal Navy Minesweeper 29–30 May; Eastern Local Escort
HMS Seagull  Royal Navy Minesweeper 28–30 May; Eastern Local Escort
Grozni  Soviet Navy Destroyer 28–30 May; Eastern Local Escort
Kuibyshev  Soviet Navy Destroyer 28–30 May; Eastern Local Escort
Sokrushitelny  Soviet Navy Destroyer 28–30 May; Eastern Local Escort
RFA Black Ranger (A163)  United Kingdom Fleet Oiler Force "Q"
HMS Ledbury  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–30 May; Force "Q", escorted RFA Black Ranger

Cruiser Cover Force[edit]

Name Flag Ship Type Notes
HMS Kent  Royal Navy Heavy Cruiser 23–26 May
HMS Norfolk  Royal Navy Heavy Cruiser 23–26 May
HMS Liverpool  Royal Navy Light Cruiser 23–26 May
HMS Nigeria  Royal Navy Light Cruiser 23–26 May
HMS Marne  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–26 May
HMS Onslow  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–26 May
HMS Oribi  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–26 May

Distant Covering Force (Home Fleet)[edit]

Name Flag Ship Type Notes
HMS Victorious  Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier 23–29 May
HMS Duke of York  Royal Navy Battleship 23–29 May
USS Washington  United States Battleship 23–29 May
USS Wichita  United States Heavy Cruiser 23–29 May
HMS London  Royal Navy Heavy Cruiser 23–29 May
HMS Blankney  Royal Navy Escort Destroyer 23–29 May
HMS Eclipse  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–29 May
HMS Faulknor  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–29 May
HMS Fury  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–29 May
HMS Icarus  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–29 May
HMS Intrepid  Royal Navy Destroyer 23–29 May
HMS Lamerton  Royal Navy Escort Destroyer 23–29 May
HMS Middleton  Royal Navy Escort Destroyer 23–29 May
HMS Wheatland  Royal Navy Escort Destroyer 23–29 May
USS Mayrant  United States Destroyer 24–29 May
USS Rhind  United States Destroyer 24–29 May
USS Rowan  United States Destroyer 24–29 May
USS Wainwright  United States Destroyer 24–29 May

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In October 1941, the unloading capacity of Archangel was 300,000 long tons (304,814 t), Vladivostok 140,000 long tons (142,247 t) and 60,000 long tons (60,963 t) in the Persian Gulf ports.[2]
  2. ^ By the end of 1941, 187 Matilda II and 249 Valentine tanks had been delivered, comprising 25 percent of the medium-heavy tanks in the Red Army, making 30–40 percent of the medium-heavy tanks defending Moscow. In December 1941, 16 perent of the fighters defending Moscow were Hawker Hurricanes and Curtiss Tomahawks from Britain and by 1 January 1942, 96 Hurricane fighters were flying in the Soviet Air Forces (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily, VVS). The British supplied radar apparatus, machine tools, Asdic and commodities.[5]


  1. ^ Woodman 2004, p. 22.
  2. ^ Howard 1972, p. 44.
  3. ^ Woodman 2004, p. 14.
  4. ^ Woodman 2004, pp. 22–23.
  5. ^ Edgerton 2011, p. 75.
  6. ^ Hinsley 1994, pp. 141, 145–146.
  7. ^ Hinsley 1994, pp. 126, 135.
  8. ^ Woodman 2004, pp. 465, 145–146.
  9. ^ Woodman 2004, pp. 146–148.
  10. ^ a b Woodman 2004, pp. 149–158.
  11. ^ "Convoy PQ.16". Arnold Hague Convoy Database. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Convoy PQ.16". Convoyweb. Archived from the original on 21 November 2010. Retrieved 10 February 2009.


  • Clay, Blair (1996). Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters 1939–42. I. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-35260-8.
  • Edgerton, D. (2011). Britain's War Machine: Weapons, Resources and Experts in the Second World War. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9918-1.
  • Hinsley, F. H. (1994) [1993]. British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations. History of the Second World War (2nd rev. abr. ed.). London: HMSO. ISBN 978-0-11-630961-7.
  • Howard, M. (1972). Grand Strategy: August 1942 – September 1943. History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series. IV. London: HMSO. ISBN 978-0-11-630075-1.
  • Kemp, Paul (1993). Convoy! Drama in Arctic Waters. London: Arms and Armour Press. ISBN 1-85409-130-1.
  • Ransome Wallis, R. (1973). Two Red Stripes. London: Ian Allen. ISBN 978-0-7110-0461-0.
  • Schofield, Bernard (1964). The Russian Convoys. London: BT Batsford. OCLC 906102591.
  • Woodman, Richard (2004) [1994]. Arctic Convoys 1941–1945. London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-5752-1.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]