Russian Convoy Medal

‹ Return to Berlin

Russian Convoy Medal

A Soviet commemorative medal awarded to my Dad for his service in the Royal Navy during WWII. Cast in 1985, it is called the “40th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War Medal”, popularly known in the UK as the Russian Convoy Medal. Besides Soviet forces and partisans it was also made available to sailors who had taken part in the Arctic Convoys from Britain to the Soviet Union.

My Dad served on the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk on three Arctic Convoys, PQ2 to Archangelsk in October 1941 (and the return convoy QP2), and PQ14 to Murmansk in April 1942. There are now very few veterans remaining but I know personally one man who is over 100 years old and who served on HMS Pozarica during the disasterous convoy PQ17.

These convoys – merchant ships escorted by British, American and European warships – transported goods from the US and UK to the far north of Russia after 1941. The crews had to cope with intense cold which froze the tears in their eyes and the lubricants in their machines. Any man who fell in the sea would be dead within minutes. Everything was thick with ice and in winter at that latitude there’s almost 24 hours of darkness, which at least helped prevent attacks by the Luftwaffe or U-boats.

The civilian crews of the multi-national merchantmen were, like their vessels, drawn from around the world. Not just British and American but also Chinese, Brazilian and Sudanese sailors, often working for the lowest rates the ship owners could pay. Proportionately their chances of survival were less than any of the Allied armed forces. For a while any merchant sailor who survived his ship being sunk and found himself adrift in a lifeboat, would suddenly be unemployed and therefore would recieve no further pay – if he ever made it back to port.

Below; My Dad wearing the commemorative medal beneath his Campaign medals.

Dad

Britain had a complicated relationship with the USSR. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939 – the act which finally tipped Britain into declaring war on Germany – the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. The USSR had a non-aggression pact with Germany, provided aid to Germany’s war effort and Stalin would have been happy to see the Nazis defeat Britain. As a capitalist and imperialist state, Britain was very much the enemy of the USSR. Between 1939 and 1941 Britain alone stood against Nazi Germany.

Hitler’s decision to attack the USSR in June 1941 took Luftwaffe bombers away from raids on British cities. As a result the British people quickly developed a soft spot for the USSR. However there was always the possibility Stalin might make peace with Hitler. Churchill therefore needed more than warm and fuzzy feelings; he needed the Soviet Union to remain at war with Germany, so offered to transport goods under the Lend-Lease scheme.

Officially, the USSR barely acknowledged the efforts of the convoys. Given their horrific losses on the Eastern Front – some 27 million Soviet dead by the end of the war – they could be forgiven for expecting nothing less, although with battle tactics which didn’t involve hurling soldiers into frontal attacks and shooting those who turned and fled, that number would have been much lower.

It is often said that WWII was fought and won on the Eastern Front, echoing the then Soviet view that everything that happened in the West was just a sideshow. When you consider that 80% of Wehrmacht losses were to Soviet forces, it is easy to agree. The statistics are misleading though and Germany’s defence of the west employed personnel and machines which would otherwise have faced east. But also without the millions of tons of American and British equipment and supplies, it is very unlikely the Red Army, no matter what their number, would have been able to push the Nazis back to Berlin. Equally without an attack from the east by the USSR, the invasion of Europe in 1944 would have been unthinkable.

The reverse of the medal.
According to Wikipedia, it reads;
“War Participant 40 Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945”

037

SERVICE RECORDS
Although my Dad told me tales he never gave me the details, convoy numbers, dates etc. I identified those by referring to his Service Record. From this I could see what dates he was aboard certain ships, and then, referring to books and sites such as Naval-Histroy.Net, could determine where those ships were on those dates and what action they saw. The details match the dates on the document and also tie in with my memories of my Dad’s memories, which are the least reliable source of information.

It isn’t always possible to obtain a relative’s Service Record, but you should start here if you want to try;
www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/WhatWeDo/Personne…

In the USA;
www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/

SOURCES
“Arctic Convoys”, Richard Woodman, 2004
“All Hell Let Loose”, Max Hastings, 2011
Imperial War Museum
National Maritime Museum
Naval-History.Net
www.naval-history.net/index.htm
Veterans-UK
www.veterans-uk.info/index.htm
Wikipedia
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_Medal_%22Forty_Years_of_Vic…

53 comments on “Russian Convoy Medal
  1. mick cooke says:

    nice one, Ian great story and its history as well

  2. andyholmfirth says:

    A compelling read Ian!

  3. Keartona says:

    There was something on the radio the other day about the Arctic convoys. Sounds hellish.

  4. nondesigner59 says:

    Nice composition and great info..

  5. **Hazel** says:

    This is awesome information Ian, lovely to know some of the history of your Dad and the curcumstances that he was serving in!! Thanks so much for sharing it!!!:-)

  6. SolarScot. says:

    he was a brave lad your Dad you must be very proud of him Ian.

    Dont know if you know this but up until a few years ago Berwick was still at war with Russia

  7. Neal. says:

    My wifes uncle John was on the Russian convoys, no-one knew until after he died and it came to light, he was a great character with a wicked sense of humour.

  8. Tech Owl says:

    A fantastic log Ian – nice to keep and remember

  9. Gizzardtreedude says:

    Fasicinating and meticulous work. Your summary is thought provoking. A wonderful tribute to your brave father 🙂

  10. crusader752 says:

    Beautifully photographed Ian, what a fine tribute and how proud you must feel.
    Wonderful information as always. Thanks for sharing with us! 🙂

  11. cgullz says:

    this looks tremendous! hang on, i’m off to make toast so that i can come back and make a good go at reading this!

  12. cgullz says:

    wonderful reading, amazing research as always and superbly presented. really appreciated the lead-in info in the first description, set the scene well .. i’m sure in my aviation reads i have heard of the Norfolk, though at present all my books are packed so can’t go digging about to find out more. perhaps it was something to do with transporting aircrew from Canada to the UK… one day i will find it again.

    me an boats / ships don’t go so well together, i view anyone that works on one with more than a little awe – and anyone with Navy history – well with both awe, and to be honest dread [on their behalf] as i couldn’t imagine floating about on massive oceans, in massive weather on something that in the scheme of things is so darn small. also, so darn small sitting atop nothing but alot of wet that goes down a long ways. that link to the video pretty much spells it out for me, your dad and all those young me were helluva brave.

    thanks for sharing Ian.

  13. redsnapper8 says:

    what a compelling story of past. very touching.., interesting one,, and detailed picture

  14. amyrey says:

    What a brilliant thing to have…. the medal and the service record. Must be really fascinating to for you. We know you love doing this type of research, but it has a special meaning when it is your father. Scary what these men went through at such a young age.

  15. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/29730035@N04] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyholmfirth] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/vers4763] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/27955898@N07] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/nondesigner] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/16400953@N02] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/cachelog] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/29832980@N02] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/29288836@N00]
    Thank you very much for yoour comments, much appreciated! Yeah, I am well proud of my Dad, pleased too that he told me his stories over a pint or two in the pub. Thanks to the wonder of the internet we are able to bring back to life their memories and therefore bring them back in a way too. All that makes up a person is their memory, so if we can record it we can immortalise them, or part of them.
    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/amybigkiss] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/31878512@N06]
    Cheers Amy, yeah it’s a good thing to do on a gloomy bank holiday weekend. Everyone has this history, just got to look for it. You could find out more about him Neal if the urge took you. Give me a shout if you need any help.
    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/angwickham]
    I am that way about flying Ang. At least when it’s an Airbus I am getting on, my heart sinks when it’s an Airbus, and it usually is these days. Thanks for your comments and taking time to read through it all. You may have heard of HMS NORFOLK from me going on about it!
    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/11563376@N03]
    I always thought Berwick could have held out for more on the negotiations, maybe got some territory as part of the deal. Kamchatka maybe?

  16. Billy Currie says:

    Great info and great to see the medal in such detail

  17. davidprestonimages.co.uk says:

    You must be very proud of your Dad. It’s a splendid sparkling gold medal.

    Visiting from cgullz’s photostream

  18. cgullz says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/maycontaintracesofnuts] you could be right, though i can’t confirm until i find what it was i was reading lol – it’s in my head now as a possible cross-reference to you. .. as for Airbus, i have to say i’m with you on that one .. otherwise known as the Scarebus [i know i never want to be rated on one, too many darned random ‘events’ with their computers]!

    … lovely of you David [http://www.flickr.com/photos/dppimages]

  19. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/angwickham]
    Scarebus, lol.

  20. stopherjones says:

    Amazing how such a simple photo can unlock such a wealth of personal and wider information. Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing

  21. gastephen says:

    Very nicely done. Lovely tribute.

  22. Stezzer says:

    I love the way you take so much time to write up the image and really bring it alive. This is a wonderful tribute to your father, his service and really all of those brave men who served our country back then. Nice one my friend 🙂

  23. het broertje van.. says:

    Excellent series and story here Ian!!!

    Janwillem

  24. pasujoba says:

    Excellent report Ian . and the medal set against that red looks superb . Read some books about the russian convoys , they certainly deserved medals , it was as tough as it could get !

  25. sixty8panther says:

    Dark times indeed. WWII was brutal for millions more than
    just the guys in the front lines holding rifles & grenades.

  26. jr55 (John Richardson) says:

    A very hard earned medal Ian, no wonder you’re proud of his service to his country.

  27. bazylek100 says:

    It’s very interesting to read this post, Ian. I’ve read a lot of dramatic stories about the Arctic Convoys, where Polish destroyers were involved too, and it was certainly the most dangerous theatre of the convoy war, where survivors from ships which had been attacked had even less chances to be saved than in Atlantic.
    You certainly can be proud of your Dad! It’s great to possess such precious remembrances of him, the war medals and service records.

    The reverse of the Russian Convoy Medal is worth a separate note, I think. Isn’t it a little strange that the Soviet Union didn’t win the WWII, but it won the Great Patriotic War instead, and moreover, it lasted from 1941 to 1945? 😉 Obviously, I’m aware it would have been a little embarassing for the USSR to officially admit that it entered the Second World War allied with Nazi Germany and invading Poland on 17th September 1939.
    In this context, it was also interesting to read your mention about complicated relationship between the Britain and USSR. I’m sure many people are not aware of those facts, neither they are aware of the British and French plans (in late 1939) to send troops to fight against the Soviet Union in FInland during the Winter War.

  28. Ian D B says:

    Thanks everyone for reading this and for your comments.

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/bazylek]
    Hi Robin, thank you for your thoughts. Yeah, Russians have always referred to WWII in their own unique way. It was typical of Stalin to consider anything connected to the west to be so contaminated that even the terms of reference had to be totally different. Stalin and that regime, as you know, routinely photoshopped anything that didn’t square with the official version of events.

    As for Finland, yes that is an even more complicated story, and further confusion arises from the Finnish use of their own swastika design, seperate from the Nazis… which then appeared on the Bristol Blenheim bombers and Hurricanes sent to aid Finland.

    But it is worth saying here that Churchill was also embarrassed at the end of the war, for reasons which, although not as extreme as Stalin’s, were nonetheless motivated by politics and spin. To appease the German people under occupation by British troops, Churchill played down the role of Bomber Command, did not mention the men and women or their losses. Also there were no Polish servicemen invited to attend the Victory Parade in 1946 so as to not offend Stalin , though by that time Churchill was no longer Prime Minister.

    Here’s a piece from The Economist you will know, though I didn’t; As well as the 200,000 or more Poles serving with the Allies in the west, a similar number fought under the Red Army against Germany. When the RedArmy finally took Berlin, Polish troops raised their national flag on the Siegessäule in Berlin on the same day as the Soviet flag was raised on the Reichstag.

    So with that in mind Robin, I will wish you a very happy Flag Day!

    The Economist, 1 May 2012
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2012/05/polish-...

    May 2 is Flag Day in Poland
    Image from Wikipedia
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Poland_First_To_Fight.jpg

  29. bazylek100 says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/maycontaintracesofnuts] Thanks, Ian!

    For almost five decades the communist regime in Poland tried to diminish achievements of the Polish Forces in the West, and at the same time magnified contribution of the People’s Army of Poland, fighting on the Eastern Front under the Soviet command. Now it’s quite opposite, and you can rarely hear about battles on the East, and there are no official celebrations of any anniversaries of battles fought by the People’s Army. Moreover, in general awareness it is rather associated with the "armed arm" of the communist party than with its WWII combat trail. War in Poland didn’t end in 1945, as Armia Krajowa (Home Army) renamed to ‘Wolność i NiezawisÅ‚ość’ (Freedom and Independence) still fought its doomed war for independent state until 1949, with the last partisans surrended in late 50’s.

    The story of the flag in Berlin is of course well-known in Poland, thanks for reminding it here!
    However, and maybe surprisingly for foreigners, it has never been a cause of pride to Poles (as, for example, the flag over Monte Cassino has always been!). This is partially due to the mixed feelings about the People’s Army, but first of all because of the disastrous outcome of the WWII for Poland. With our country losing independence for fifty years, of which economic consequences are perceptible to this day, there has never been much reason to celebrate "victory" day…

    As for swastika, it was used in Poland too, just look at the pre-war regimental badge of the Polish mountain infantry (Strzelcy Podhalańscy, Podhale Rifles):
    upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/KorpusowkaPod…
    Obviously, it had nothing in common with Naizs.

  30. Eric Lomo says:

    Great shot!0

  31. Dirk Bruin says:

    Interesting story, Ian.
    Thanks for sharing!

  32. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirk_bruin_vlieland]
    Thanks Dirk!

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/bazylek]

    Robin, my apologies, I never replied to your comment. In my head I did, but not in reality!

    Thanks for your comments on Poland’s experiences while the rest of the world started a brand new life. I often feel for the Poles who were in the UK after the end of the war in Europe, they must have felt so let down and miserable, wanting to be at home and not wanting the outcome they got after the expectations of 6 years earlier. Not Churchill’s finest bit of statesmanship, though I don’t know if he could have done anything?

  33. cgullz says:

    Thankyou for sharing

    with the War Stories Group

    testing testing …

  34. cgullz says:

    Thankyou for sharing

    with the War Stories Group

    woop woop!

  35. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/angwickham]
    Thanks Ang, glad you got it sorted. Flattered you wanted to use this photo for the comment code!

  36. GregHausM.D. says:

    Amazing story! You should write a book too! I’m sure this is less known than the Burma Run. You also seem very good at unearthing relevant documents, which is necessary. I’m still on the interview phase, since I figure most participants will not be with us much longer, like my dad. I’m interviewing my mom now and it’s annoying, since I get long, maudlin stories about "Missing the Boys" and collecting scrap metal. I miss my dad’s stories about flying The Hump and almost crashing into mountains!

  37. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/vercettisworld]
    You do right to get the info while you can, difficlt though it may be! I am fortunate to work with older people and I can’t help but ask them about what they did during the war. Glad I spoke with my Dad about his past while he was still around.

  38. GregHausM.D. says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/maycontaintracesofnuts]
    You’re lucky, as long as they’re interesting! I interviewed my mom the other night after we had my son’s birthday party. She began droning on again about the most ridiculous things…how "the boys" looked in uniform, how she didn’t really know what was going on since she was a teen (unlike our generation, with Vietnam!)…and other trivia. I need to find older people who had outside interests.

    Did you ever see "Reds"? The "witnesses" that were interviewed by Beatty were excellent! Some went right for the story about John Reed, his friends, writing and stuff he did. But others wandered off on tangents, like rants about Communism or unions. Still, it was all relevant.

  39. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/vercettisworld]
    No, I never did see Reds, just looked it up on IMDb. I am compiling a list here of things I need to check out!

    The advantage of talker to older people here is that Britain was a war zone so people’s stories are inevitably linked to the realities of war. A woman in a care home reminiscing about being taken up by some American lads in a Flying Fortress and she was airsick and the engines stank to high heaven, and another who was a ‘land girl’ working on a farm and was surprised to discover the road from the station to the farm crossed the busy runway of an American airbase etc.

    I keep banging on about this, but it is the last chance to see! We have had that generation with us all our lives and now they are leaving us.

  40. GregHausM.D. says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/maycontaintracesofnuts] Great! I have a list, too, but only get titles intermittently. Things are so bad here, economically, that lowly DVD’s are luxuries.

    I think it’s great that you "bang on"! (Don’t use that phrase in the states, tho’!). We are losing them–the older gen–like flies (my mum is 85, I may have said), so the ones who remember it better are even older. I’ve heard of the "land girls". They were like the agricultural "Rosie the Riveters". I’m sure they have stories to tell, like my dad’s "almost wife"! I would LOVE to interview her!

  41. Ian D B says:

    Bang on, Lol. I shall bear that in mind! Yes you are right, Rosie the Riveter and the Land Girls were much the same. I just googled Rosie the Riveter, there are some superb colour photos from 1942 on wikipedia including (thinking of your Dad) this one of a C-47 being built.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Riverting_team2.jpg

  42. pasujoba says:

    The medal will still be given wont it Ian ? Even if Posthumously !

  43. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/pasujoba44]
    I expect so. I shall probably apply, but to be honest it is good just to see them being recognised, actually having a medal doesn’t mean that much. My Dad’s campaign medals are not really his. You may know that WW1 medals had the name and number and occupation of the recipient engraved in the edge? WW2 medals did not, and when he received his medals, my Dad was so disgusted by what he considered to be a cheap award that he "threw them in the drink" so he told me. In later years he decided to get the others he had earned and apply for the one above and he then started to take more pride in his past, joined the Royal Naval Association, went on anniversary marches etc and wore his medals with pride.

  44. pasujoba says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/maycontaintracesofnuts]
    Think its right that you apply Ian . out of respect for your Dad and it also shows respect for all the other sailors who deserved the medal . Now we need to persuade the government that the European bombing campaign deserves a campaign medal too. If the take up for claims of this award is large it can only help with the other .

  45. cgullz says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/pasujoba44] ditto dude. DO apply. DO DO DO.

  46. Reflective Kiwi %-) says:

    Gosh Ian.. A lot of family history to reflect on this month then eh! %-)

  47. southseadave says:

    I can tell you are very proud of your Dad. A very informative posting. The latest medal has been too long coming.

  48. EverydayTuesday says:

    A wonderful tribute. Very interesting information.

  49. mick cooke says:

    great story ian interesting ,
    and a father to be proud of like all the men and women who served our country
    take care

  50. Tony says:

    Hi Ian,

    Great page. My grandad served on the Norfolk and served on her during the Russian Convoys – during which he was awarded a DSM.

    Sadly he passed away during my teens so I never really got to speak to him in detail about the trips. I’m now trying to trace his service history – you never know they both may have served on the same ship. His name was Arthur Perkins but was known as either ‘Harry’ or ‘Pop’

    I’d like to keep you posted on my progress so please feel free to email me with your contact details.

    Many Thanks

    • Marcus says:

      Hi

      My Grandfather also served on the Norfolk during the Scharnhorst action and was awarded the DSM too. I have a photo of L/S Arthur Perkins outside Buckingham Palace after their investiture. Let me know if you would like me to email you a copy.

  51. Ian D B says:

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks for your comment, good to hear from you. Interesting to read he was on Norfolk and possibly at same time as my Dad!

    That colour film clip is well worth viewing. The internet is terrific, it’s a shame my Dad died just as it was taking off, he would have loved it. As a result of having all this stuff on the internet I have met with one of his old oppo’s (Shiner Wright who was with him on HMS Fame and who sadly died just a couple of months ago)

    My e-mail address is IanDB@gmx.com

    Good luck with searching for your grandad’s service records and do please let me know how you get on.

    Ian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*