Following the severe losses of convoys PQ 17 and PQ 18 together with demands for allied shipping and escort vessels due to Operation Torch and other activity, the western allies suspended convoys between Iceland and Murmansk in the autumn of 1942. At that time the Soviets were fighting the Germans in the battle of Stalingrad and the suspension of the convoys caused a great deal of ill feeling among the Soviet Leadership. It was decided to sail single ships independently until convoys could resume. After PQ 17 in July 1942 two Russian vessels, the Frederich Engels and the Belamorkanal, sailed in late August; both reached Russia safely. Stalin demanded further supplies and the return of Russian vessels in western ports. After PQ 18 in September it was therefore decided to let a number of ships sail independently, against normal allied naval practice. This was Operation FB.
A total of 13 ships sailed independently from Iceland, leaving at roughly twelve hour intervals between 29 October and 2 November 1942. Seven British and five American vessels took part, departing alternately. A Soviet ship also sailed in the same operation. No escort was provided though a number of warships were involved. Four ASW trawlers from Iceland were stationed along the route, and a further three from Murmansk covered the eastern end of the voyage, a reversion to the "patrol and independent sailing" strategy of World War I. Three ships were forced to turn back. Five ships were sunk, and five arrived safely.
Following Operation FB a further series of independent sailings were staged by the Soviets, involving their own ships. These were separate from the Allied effort and overlapped with the resumption of the convoy cycle in December.
Between the end of October 1942 and January 1943 twenty-three Soviet ships sailed independently, relying on the darkness of the polar night. All but one arrived safely, just one ship was sunk by a German warship in November.
In January 1943, again separate to the convoys of that month (JW 52 and RA 52 ), a further six Soviet ships were sailed independently. Four of these were west-bound, to Iceland; two were sunk and two arrived safely. Two others were east-bound to the Soviet Union; both arrived safely, though both were subsequently damaged in air raids.
Operation FB, November 1942
- Chulmleigh (British) First aground on 5 November, bombed by Junkers Ju 88 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, then torpedoed and shelled by German submarine U-625 on 6 November 1942 (the ship was already grounded on South Cape of Spitzbergen and abandoned)
- Dekabrist (USSR) bombed on 4 November 1942
- Empire Gilbert (British) - sunk by U-586 on 2 November 1942
- William Clark (USA) sunk by U-354 on 4 November 1942
- Empire Sky (British) sunk by U-625 on 6 November 1942
Soviet independents 1942
- Donbass (USSR) sunk by German destroyer Z27 on 7 November 1942
- Krasnyy Partizan (USSR) - sunk by U-255 29 January 1943
- Ufa (USSR) - sunk by U-255 26 January 1943
- Woodman p
- Bob Ruegg, Arnold Hague Convoys to Russia (1992) ISBN 0-905617-66-5
- Richard Woodman, Arctic Convoys 1941-1945 (1994) ISBN 0-7195-5752-6
- Convoy web