The Destruction of PQ-17 to North Russia in July, 1942
Fifty years ago this summer, on June 27, 1942, Allied Convoy PQ-17, consisting of 35 merchant ships, mos tiy American, escorted by British and US naval vessels, sailed from Hvalfjord, Iceland,
Convoy Catastrophe on a voyage to deliver military materiel to the Russian armies through the northern ports of Murmansk and Archangel.
It was destined to be the most ill-fated maritime undertaking of WWII, the Allies losing 24 merchant vessels to attacks by German U-boats and Luftwaffe planes.
I became interested in this catastrophic story through a friendship formed many years later with Kriegsmarine Commander Jurgen Oesten,
a veteran German U-boat captain who, after holding two successful commands (U-61 and U106),
was named to direct a flotilla ofUboats based in Norway, and who oversaw the U-boat action against PQ-17.
I became acquainted with Commander Oesten in 1980 while researching the torpedoing
and sinking of the Liberty ship William Gaston, on which I served as US Naval gunnery officer.
I learned that our adversary had been U-861, commanded by Oesten. For the past twelve years
Oesten and I have been in periodic communication and have exchanged visits to each other’s homes.
Convoy Catastrophe In a 1991 letter, Oesten wrote me about his role in the attack on PQ-17:
Regarding your intention to write something about the convoy PQ 17, I would like to answer your questions.
I was in charge of submarine operations in these northern waters from March 1942 until
July 1943 belonging to the staff of the so-called Admiral Nordmeer.
We were working and livingfirst aboard the £-boat mother ship Tanga in Kirkenes (northern Norway), later on board the yacht Grille in Narvik.
Both these ships had good wireless stations and sufficient accommodations for staff.
Grille was designed to be Hitler’s yacht and I had, for about a year, the cabin of Minister von Ribbentrop of Foreign Affairs.
About 15 to 20 submarines were at my disposal for operations against the PQ and QP convoys.
They had their flotillas and shipyard facilities in Bergen and Trondheim.
About one-third of the hazardous.
In addition to threats from Uboats were in operation at any one time; the other two-thirds were refitting or proceeding to and from the operation theatre.
They could get fuel and torpedoes and very limited repair facilities in Kirkenes and Narvik.
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