Veterans who risked their lives to supply Russia with vital resources in the Second World War were at the centre of a special commemoration event in Liverpool today.
The Ministry of Defence, together with Liverpool City Council and The Royal British Legion, invited veterans of the Arctic Convoys to a day of events in Liverpool to mark the 75th anniversary.
A reception at Liverpool Town Hall, followed by a ceremony on board a Royal Navy destroyer moored at the city’s Cruise Terminal, saw tribute paid to those who endured what Winston Churchill once described as “the worst journey in the World”.
The many brave members of the Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy who took part in the mission to supply the Russian Front during the war, from the UK through the Arctic Circle to the Russian ports of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, were honoured and represented by 35 veterans and their families.
Their heroism was remembered, as well as the sacrifice of more than 3,000 men who lost their lives on the convoys. Conditions were among the worst faced by any Allied sailors, and the loss rate for ships was higher than any other route.
Today’s events in Liverpool are part of a year of commemorations in the UK and overseas to mark the 75th anniversary. Defence Minister Earl Howe, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, and the Lord Mayor of Liverpool Councillor Roz Gladden, all attended the reception, hosted by the Royal British Legion, which included music from the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, Plymouth.
To mark the occasion, Royal Navy destroyer HMS Dragon was moored at the Liverpool Docks and veterans were invited to tour the ship, hosted by the Ship’s Company.
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones said:
The veterans of the Arctic Convoys braved pursuit by unseen enemy vessels and some of the worst weather imaginable to bring supplies to the Russian front line at the height of the Second World War. I am delighted to see these heroes and their families honoured in Liverpool for the 75th anniversary of their very first mission.
Defence Minister Earl Howe said:
It is a privilege to be here in Liverpool once more to meet some of the brave members of the Armed Forces and Merchant Navy who endured treacherous conditions to fulfil a mission that proved vital to the Allied war effort. Facing down both perilous weather and U-Boats, their determination and sacrifice should never be forgotten.
Roger Ellison, 89, a Merchant Navy Arctic Convoy veteran and retired Liverpool marine pilot, said:
I’m really happy to be joining other veterans from the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy. I set sail on 31 October 1944 sailed to Murmansk, Russia, from Pier Head Liverpool on RMS Scythia, an armed troop ship but a Cunard White Star vessel so this anniversary in October is very important to me. During the voyage we encountered some of the very worst weather imaginable, but the real heroes were those who undertook several passages on convoy, and those who did not return.
The month of October marks 75 years since the first Arctic Convoy set sail direct from Britain and arrived in Arkhangelsk, Russia.
The convoys provided Russia with considerable resources. Over the course of the Second World War, convoys delivered between 3.5 and 4 million tons of cargo of all kinds, from thousands of tanks and aircraft to vital fuel and machinery.
The cargo was delivered on rough seas that were often occupied by U-Boats. Convoy losses on the route were very high, and 5.7 per cent of ships which sailed were lost compared with the overall convoy loss during the war of 0.33 per cent.
In 2012, to honour those who served on the convoys, the Arctic Star was instituted by the British Government. To date 18,050 Arctic Stars have been issued.