Convoy RA 55A
Convoy RA 55A was an Arctic convoy during World War II. It was one of a series of convoys run to return Allied ships from Soviet northern ports to ports in Britain. It sailed in late December 1943, reaching British ports at the end of the month. All ships arrived safely.
RA 55A consisted of 23 merchant ships which departed from Kola Inlet on 22 December 1943. Close escort was provided by the two destroyers, Westcott and Beagle, a minesweeper and three corvettes. There was also an Ocean escort, comprising the destroyer Milne (Capt. IMR Campbell commanding) and seven other Home Fleet destroyers. A cruiser cover force comprising Belfast (V.Adm R Burnett commanding), Norfolk, and Sheffield also followed the convoy from Murmansk, to guard against attack by surface units. Distant cover would be 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, which at the time of RA 55A’s departure was trailing the Murmansk-bound convoy JW 55B.
RA 55A was threatened by a U-boat force of eight boats in a patrol line, code-named Eisenbart, in the Norwegian Sea, and a surface force comprising the battleship Scharnhorst and five destroyers was also available, stationed at Altenfjord.
RA 55A sailed from Kola with its escort on 22 December 1943, two days after JW 55B had sailed from Britain. The Admiralty were aware of the threat of a sortie by Scharnhorst and Adm Fraser was placed in overall command of the operation, co-ordinating the movements of both convoys and the various escort forces. On 25 December 1943 Fraser received intelligence that Scharnhorst had sailed; RA 55A was diverted north, to avoid detection, and later that day, was ordered to dispatch four of the supporting destroyers to reinforce JW 55B. The destroyers Matchless, Musketeer, Opportune and Virago were sent, later taking part in the Battle of the North Cape, which saw the destruction of Scharnhorst.
RA 55A itself was not sighted by any Axis forces, and cleared the danger area without further incident. It was met on 30 December 1943 by the western local escort, two minesweepers and two corvettes, and arrived safely at Loch Ewe on 1 January 1944.
The 23 ships of RA 55A arrived in Britain without loss, while the German attempt to attack the convoy had led to the loss of Scharnhorst, their last operational capital ship in Norway.an action in which RA 55A’s escorting destroyers had played a significant role.
Cruiser cover force
Distant Cover Force
- Kemp (1993) p163
- Clay Blair : Hitler's U-Boat War [Volume 2]: The Hunted 1942-1945 (1998) ISBN 0-304-35261-6 (2000 UK paperback ed.)
- Paul Kemp : Convoy! Drama in Arctic Waters (1993) ISBN 1-85409-130-1
- Paul Kemp : U-Boats Destroyed ( 1997) . ISBN 1-85409-515-3
- Axel Neistle : German U-Boat Losses during World War II (1998). ISBN 1-85367-352-8
- Bob Ruegg, Arnold Hague : Convoys to Russia (1992) ISBN 0-905617-66-5
- Bernard Schofield : (1964) The Russian Convoys BT Batsford ISBN (none)
- RA 55A at Convoyweb