About 1400 merchant ships delivered essential supplies to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program, escorted by ships of the Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, and the U. S. Navy. Eighty-five merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships were lost, Nazi Germanys Kriegsmarine lost a number of vessels including one battleship, three destroyers and at least 30 U-boats as well as a large number of aircraft. The convoys demonstrated the Allies commitment to helping the Soviet Union, prior to the opening of a Second Front, the Arctic convoys ran in two series, following the first convoy, which was un-numbered but code-named “Dervish”. The first series, PQ and QP, ran from September 1941 to September 1942. The second series of convoys, JW and RA ran from December 1942 until the end of the war, though with two major interruptions in the summer of 1943 and again in the summer of 1944. The convoys ran from Iceland north of Jan Mayen Island to Arkhangelsk when the ice permitted in the months, shifting south as the pack ice increased. From February 1942 they assembled and sailed from Loch Ewe in Scotland and these would accompany the outbound convoy to a cross-over point, meeting and then conducting the homebound convoy back, while the close escort finished the voyage with its charges. Several convoys are particularly notable, The Dervish convoy assembled at Hvalfjörður and it arrived at its destination, Archangel, ten days later. The Commodore was Captain JCK Dowding RNR, the escorts comprised the ocean minesweepers HMS Halcyon, Salamander and Harrier, the destroyers HMS Electra, Active and Impulsive and the anti-submarine trawlers HMS Hamlet, Macbeth and Ophelia. As evidence of Churchills astute mastery of propaganda, on board Llanstephan Castle were two journalists and the artist, Felix Topolski, the crane ships from PQ16 including SS Empire Elgar stayed at Archangel and Molotovsk unloading convoys for over 14 months. In July 1942, convoy PQ17 suffered the worst losses of any convoy in the Second World War. Under attack from German aircraft and U-boats, the convoy was ordered to scatter, following reports that a battle group, only 11 of the 35 merchant ships in the convoy succeeded in running the gauntlet of U-boats and German bombers. This convoy is said to have inspired author Alistair MacLean to write his first novel HMS Ulysses, the Battle of the Barents Sea, In December 1942, German surface forces, including the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and pocket battleship Lützow sailed to intercept Convoy JW 51B. The German force was driven off by a force of destroyers and cruisers. In December 1943, Convoy JW 55B was the target of the German battleship Scharnhorst, however two British warship Forces were in the area. In the resulting Battle of the North Cape, Scharnhorst first encountered British cruisers then was sunk by HMS Duke of York, German destroyers missed the convoy which had been diverted north based on intelligence from the Norwegian resistance movement. Cargo included tanks, fighter planes, fuel, ammunition, raw materials, the early convoys in particular delivered armoured vehicles and Hawker Hurricanes to make up for shortages in the Soviet Union. The Arctic convoys caused major changes to naval dispositions on both sides, which arguably had a impact on the course of events in other theatres of war
Image: HMS Sheffield convoy
Ice forms on a 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS ''Sheffield'' while she is helping to escort an Arctic convoy to Russia.