Winston Churchill described the World War II disaster of Convoy PQ17 as ‘one of the most melancholy naval episodes in the whole of the war’, and indeed it was a disaster with truly terrible consequences.
The joint Anglo-American Artic convoy to Russia composed of 35 ships was found and attacked, its Naval protection turned west to intercept what was expected to be a group of attacking enemy ships – and the convoy found itself largely helpless in the face of air and submarine attack.
Read all about it on the Wikipaedia.
Apparently the Russians had difficulty believing anyone could lose so many ships in such a short time.
Like many disasters, however, Convoy PQ 17 revealed some very brave and effective men, one of whom was Royal Navy volunteer Leo Gradwell. A barrister and a magistrate in peace time, he went against the orders for the convoy to scatter in an attempt to avoid attack, and instead sailed an adapted trawler, HMS Ayrshire and led three merchant ships of the convoy to Achangel.
For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, or DSC.
The role of the very unglamorous converted trawlers in the Royal Navy during WWII is rarely mentioned, but is commemorated in a poem here.
My thanks to reader Andre Du Preez for alerting me to these links. He tells me that his grandfather, a farmer in South Africa, was presented with an illuminated manuscript of this poem by some trawler crew who recuperated at his farm during WWII. Many troops and sailors en route between the Far East and Britain were hosted for a week or so by South African farmers, and this is the reason for his interest in the trawlers.