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The destruction of Convoy PQ17: 27 June-10 July 1942.

The most critical problem for the Western Allies in the northern European theater in 1941-42 was the urgent need to secure the war materiel being sent to the Soviet Union. Initially, the Germans did not react strongly against the Allied convoys sailing to northern Russia. However, that began to change quickly after February 1942, when the Germans redeployed almost all their heavy surface forces and a large number of U-boats from home waters to northern Norway. Attacks by the German Luftwaffe and U-boats became not only more intensive but increasingly deadly. Correspondingly, the Allied convoys suffered ever-larger losses.

Because there were no prospects for opening a second front in 1942, it was vitally important for the Western Allies to keep the Soviet Union in the war; otherwise victory over Nazi Germany would be impossible. Hence, all efforts were made to supply Russia with increasing amounts of war materiel. However, the Western Allies faced serious difficulties in supplying Russia. The routes that offered the shortest transit times were also the most dangerous. The Western Allies had three main alternatives: (1) across the Pacific to Vladivostok; (2) across the southern Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope to the port of Basra in the Persian Gulf (called the "Persian Corridor"); and (3) across the northern Atlantic to Iceland and then to the north Russian ports of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk (the Arctic route). Each of these routes had advantages and disadvantages. (1) The Pacific route to Vladivostok passed near northern Hokkaido. Hence, after Japan opened hostilities with the United States and Britain in December 1941, it could be used only by Soviet-flag ships. Plus, adding the distance from Russia's Pacific coast to the front lines in the west, this route was the longest of the three. (2) Shipping from U.S. east coast ports had to go via the Cape of Good Hope until July 1943, when the Mediterranean route was opened. The Cape route was about 14,500 miles long and required some seventy-six days to transit. (1) (3) The shortest but the most dangerous route was the Arctic option. The Germans proffered a serious threat to Allied ships by using the Luftwaffe, U-boats, and heavy surface ships based in northern Norway. The Allied problem was made worse by the very poor sailing conditions caused by extreme cold, bad weather, and ice. Despite all these difficulties, the Soviets adamantly insisted on use of the northern route because it could deliver badly needed war materiel more quickly and closer to their forces at the front. Another possible reason was Soviet fear of too strong an Anglo-American presence in Persia. (2) The decision to establish the Arctic route was made by British prime minister Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965), with the full support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945).' Admiral Sir Dudley Pound (1877-1943), the British First Sea Lord (1939-43), and Admiral Sir John Tovey (1885-1971), commander in chief (CINC) of the Home Fleet, were opposed to that decision. (4)

The single most devastating action in the resupply effort was the German attack on Convoy PQ17 in July 1942. The Luftwaffe and U-boats sank twenty-two out of thirty-six merchant ships plus one out of three rescue ships during the weeklong attacks. The planned augmentation of this effort in the form of a foray (code-named Unternehmen [Operation] ROSSELSPRUNG) by the battleship Tirpitz and other heavy surface ships was short-lived in execution because Allied forces detected the German ships prematurely. Nevertheless, the Germans achieved a significant victory against the Allies' efforts to supply their embattled Russian ally. In the aftermath, all convoys to Russia via the Arctic route were suspended for almost two months; the next convoy did not sail until 2 September 1942. During the next two years, convoys ran only during the long, dark months of winter. This resulted in much smaller losses than in 1942; subsequently, only four ships were lost, three in 1944 and one in March 1945. (5)

In operational terms, the German attack against Convoy PQ17 was a major naval/joint operation vs. enemy maritime trade. For the Allies, the defense of Convoy PQ17 amounted to a major naval/joint operation to defend maritime trade. Strategically, this operation was an integral part of the Allies' efforts to defend and preserve their military-economic potential at sea, while the Germans' objective was to destroy it.


At the turn of 1941-42, the strategic situation for the Western Allies in the European theater was very unfavorable. The Germans controlled the entire coast of Western Europe from northern Norway to the Franco-Spanish border in the Bay of Biscay. However, the Germans suffered a series of setbacks in the fall of 1941 and early winter of 1941/42 on the eastern front. Their forces were stopped at the gates of Leningrad (Saint Petersburg today) and Moscow and in southern Russia. They were forced to retreat in the battle of Moscow (2 October 1941-7 January 1942). Yet despite these reverses, the Wehrmacht's power was not broken.

Germany's invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940 radically changed the strategic situation in the northern area in Germany's favor. By obtaining control of the Jutland Peninsula / Danish Straits and Norway, Germany greatly weakened Britain's strategic position in the northern area. This loss was somewhat ameliorated by the Anglo-American occupation of Iceland in June 1941; this greatly improved the Allies' ability to control surrounding sea areas within the effective range of their land-based aircraft. They were also able to carry out raids against the German-controlled Norwegian coast. (6)

By controlling Norway, the Germans made it impossible for the British to blockade the Shetlands-southern Norway line, as had happened in World War I (when Britain and the United States established the Northern Barrage minefield). Germany also greatly weakened the British position in the Shetland-Faeroes-Iceland gap. Passage through the northern portion of the North Sea was opened up for German naval forces. (7) Control of the Norwegian coast significantly improved the effectiveness of the Kriegsmarine (navy) and Luftwaffe (air force) in their attacks on enemy maritime traffic in the northern Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea.

Nazi Germany also greatly benefited economically from controlling Norway. Among other things, the Germans obtained control of some commodities important to their war industries, including aluminum, copper, paper, and timber. Germany also gained more secure export of Swedish iron ore through Narvik. (8) Along the 1,745-nautical mile (nm)-long route from Oslo in the south to Kirkenes beyond North Cape, some two hundred thousand tons of shipping moved every day. At the same time, the political situation in Norway was difficult for the Germans. The Germans realized that the majority of the populace was pro-British. These Norwegians hoped for a British victory, and that the Germans and Soviets would exhaust themselves in the war. (9)

Hitler placed great strategic importance on Germany's continued control of Norway. He was extremely concerned about the possibility of enemy landings there. Hitler's views were shared by Admiral Erich Raeder (1876-1960), CINC of the Kriegsmarine and the Naval Warfare Directorate (Seekriegsleitung--SKL). On 10 October 1941, Hitler issued his instruction (Ftihrerweisung) Nr. 37, which assigned new missions to the German armed forces in northern Norway. The Kriegsmarine was directed to attack enemy sea traffic to Murmansk and protect German traffic in the Arctic. Army High Command (Armeeoberkommando, or AOK) Norway, the Luftwaffe, and the Kriegsmarine were directed to cooperate closely during the coming months in preparing to oppose possible enemy landings in front and on the sea flanks of the German forces. Hitler directed the 5th Air Fleet to return to Norway and establish the post of Air Leader (Fliegerfuhrer) North. (10)

On 14 December 1941, Hitler ordered a buildup of defense installations in Norway and the improvement of roads in the coastal area. He believed that if the Western Allies were successful in capturing Norway, they would be able to supply the Soviet Union regularly, thereby posing a serious threat to the German northern front. The enemy also would be able to operate in the Baltic. Information gathered by German agents as well as statements made by Western leaders and other reports in the Western press lent these views new urgency. (11)

In meetings with Admiral Raeder on 29 December 1941 and 12 January 1942, Hitler pronounced that the enemy threat to Norway required redeployment of heavy German ships as a deterrent against such a landing. On the basis of information from Swedish sources, he believed the British and Americans might land between Trondheim and Kirkenes. Hitler considered Norway to be the "Schicksalzone" ("Zone of Destiny") of the entire war. (12) At a meeting with Raeder on 22 January, Hitler stated that, from the latest information, Britian and the United States were planning to attack northern Norway. If successful, this would decisively influence the war. (13) In Hitlers view, every German heavy surface ship that was not in Norway was in the wrong place. Raeder fully agreed with that assessment. (14) Hitler demanded unconditional execution of his orders aimed at enhancing the security of the northern area. (15)

The fuhrer ordered deployment of additional air and naval forces to Norway. Reichsmarschal Hermann Goring (1893-1946), CINC of the Luftwaffe, was directed to reinforce the Luftwaffes forces in Norway. And these measures had to be sped up, because the danger was immediate. (16) Among other things, the Brest group (battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen) would be redeployed to Norway. Hitler also ordered deployment of additional Sboats (fast-attack craft) to northern Norway and a significant increase in heavy artillery for defense against enemy landings. (17)


During the attack on and defense of Convoy PQ17 in July 1942, the opposing naval and air forces operated in both the Norwegian and Barents Seas (see map 1); however, the majority of combat actions took place in the Barents. The 550,000-square-mile Barents Sea borders in the west on the Greenland Sea; in the north on the Svalbard Islands (of which the largest is Spitsbergen) and Franz Josef Land (Zemlya Frantsa Iosifa); in the east on Novaya Zemlya; and in the south on the Kola Peninsula and northern Norway. Jan Mayen and Bear Islands are the most important islands within the Barents Sea. The seventy-square-mile Bear Island (Bjornoya) is the southernmost of the Svalbards. Its highest elevation is about 1,760 feet. The 34-mile-long, 144-square-mile Jan Mayen is a mountainous, volcanic island partly covered by glaciers.

The weather, ice conditions, and duration of daylight in the Barents Sea and the adjoining littoral area greatly influenced the combat employment of surface ships, submarines, and aircraft. In the summer months, good visibility and low sea state generally prevailed. (18) This facilitated air reconnaissance and shadowing. At the same time, long hours of daylight made it considerably more difficult for submarines to conduct their typical night surface attacks. Lack of cloud cover made it more difficult for torpedo bombers to conduct surprise attacks. (19) However, summer visibility was frequently reduced by the presence of fog: June averaged nine days of heavy fog, August nineteen. (20) Dense fog posed a great disadvantage for the attacker because the target could remain concealed. (21)

During the winter months, gales of great violence were frequent. This often negatively affected fully laden eastbound convoys. Deck cargo such as tanks, wagons, and locomotives endangered the safety of ships, forcing them to return to a port of origin. Heavy snow and ice on a ship's upper deck and top-hamper were dangerous if allowed to accumulate, and once formed increased the bulk significantly. The westbound convoys did not carry much cargo. Therefore the light ships ballasted their bows up so as to submerge their propellers, which sometimes made them unmanageable. Escorts also suffered badly; they lost boats, davits, and men on many occasions. (22) Air reconnaissance and the use of destroyers were difficult because of high sea states. (21)

In the Greenland and Barents Seas, the pack ice affected routing of Allied ships bound to and from northern Russia. Generally, it was desirable to keep as far as possible from the German airfields in northern Norway and to evade Uboats lurking between Jan Mayen and Bear Islands. One way to do this was to take ships through the ice; however, the Allies soon learned that the thin hulls of escorts were easily damaged. Also, the ice prevented a convoy from maneuvering as a whole. (24) In general, ice was always a danger for surface ships, even outside the pack--small floes could not be detected easily--so it was preferable to leave a margin of about forty miles from the ice boundary. (25)

The pack ice and icebergs were carried down the east coast of Greenland through the Denmark Strait. The major part of the Denmark Strait was usually covered by ice. However, ice was seldom found within the hundred-fathom line, because the boundary between the northward-flowing, warm Irminger Current and the cold East Greenland Current usually overlay that line. Sometimes ice crossed that line and came within sight of Iceland's coast. (26) The ice situation in the Denmark Strait greatly affected the routing of Allied convoys to northern Russia. Generally, ice along Iceland's north coast meant that Allied ships sailing out of Reykjavik bound northeastward were unable to pass around the west and north coasts from Reykjavik, instead being routed southward. (27)


The boundaries of the pack ice in the Barents Sea changed considerably over the course of a year. From December to early June, the pack ice normally extended close to or beyond Bear Island. For example, in March the pack's southern limit was the northwestern tip of Jan Mayen Island and the west coast of Spitsbergen, and extending from there to Bear Island and to the Kanin Peninsula. (28) In April, when ice conditions were the worst, with the pack ice boundary at its southernmost, it might be necessary to route ships nearly a hundred miles farther south--leaving only about 150-200 miles to the Norwegian coast. (29) In contrast, when the pack ice boundary moved northward, it was possible to sail in a west-to-east direction in the area between North Cape and Spitsbergen. In a mild season, there was a passage of fifty miles between Bear Island and the ice edge, which allowed routing convoys farther north. (30) Doing so allowed Allied ships to avoid contact with the German surface ships based in northern Norway.

Because of the ice conditions in 1942, Allied ships had to traverse the 260 nm distance between longitudes 20 degrees E and 35 degrees E while sailing only 220-40 nm from the Norwegian coast. These conditions prevailed through the end of June. (31) In March and April 1942 the ice limits were farther south than at any other time of the year. This forced the convoys to northern Russia to pass south of Bear Island, and thus within about 250 miles of the Norwegian coast. (32) After April, the sea area gradually enlarged because the ice boundary moved north and east. Thereafter, it was more difficult for German surface ships to attack Allied convoys. In August, pack ice ran from Scoresby Strait off Greenland northward, then from Bell Strait (in western Spitsbergen) south of South Cape and Hope Island, then in a northeastern direction. (33) In June 1942, the pack ice boundaries fell between the March and August lines. (34)


The highest British naval authority was the Admiralty, led by First Lord Albert V. Alexander. (His position was the equivalent of today's Secretary of the Navy in the United States.) The Admiralty itself consisted of five sea lords plus four other high officials. The First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff was Admiral Pound. He was the highest naval official responsible for naval operations. In contrast to the Air Ministry, the Admiralty's responsibilities included operational planning and execution. The most important Admiralty divisions were Plans and Operations, Trade, and Intelligence. The work of the Plans and Operations Division was closely coordinated with the Intelligence Division. (35)

The Home Fleet was the principal operational-level command for operations in European waters. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, the Home Fleet consisted of the 2nd Battle Squadron, Battle Cruiser Squadron, aircraft carriers, cruisers (2nd, 7th, 12th, and 18th squadrons), Destroyer Command (6th, 7th, 8th, and 18th Destroyer Flotillas), submarines (2nd and 6th Submarine Flotillas), and minesweepers (1st Minesweeping Flotilla), plus the Orkneys and Shetland forces. The majority of the Home Fleet's forces were based at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys and Portland, England. Other bases were at Rosyth and Dundee in Scotland and Blyth and the Humber in England. (36)

During the war, the composition of the Home Fleet underwent significant changes because many of its heavy units were assigned to other major commands. The CINC of the Home Fleet after November 1940 was Admiral Tovey. On 26 March 1942, the U.S. Navy formed Task Force (TF) 39, initially led by Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox, to reinforce the Home Fleet. On 26 March, TF 39, composed of the battleship Washington (BB 56), carrier Wasp (CV 7), and heavy cruisers Wichita (CA 45) and Tuscaloosa (CA 37), plus eight destroyers, sailed from Portland, Maine, for Scapa Flow. One day later Admiral Wilcox was washed away and disappeared in a heavy sea. He was replaced by Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen. (37)

The Home Fleet's geographic area of responsibility was never defined. Yet it clearly encompassed the northern part of the North Sea and the waters north of the Shetlands/Faeroes/Iceland/Greenland line. The southern part of the North Sea and the English Channel constituted separate commands deploying light forces. The squarish ocean area from the northernmost tip of Scotland and southwestern tip of England extending to longitude 30 degrees W was the responsibility of the Western Approaches Command in Liverpool (moved from Plymouth on 7 February 1941). On 17 February 1942, Admiral Sir Percy Noble was appointed CINC of Western Approaches Command. Its main responsibility was the protection of convoys between North American and British ports.

Initially, the main mission of the Home Fleet was to prevent German naval forces from breaking out of the North Sea and operating in the Atlantic. After the summer of 1941, its focus shifted to Norwegian waters and the Barents Sea. Overall responsibility for convoys to northern Russia rested with Admiral Tovey, CINC of the Home Fleet, but Western Approaches Command provided the ships necessary for the close, direct screening of convoys.


The first convoy to northern Russia (code-named DERVISH) departed from Hvalfjord, Iceland, on 21 August 1941--only two months after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. This convoy consisted of only six merchant ships, and all reached the Soviet port of Arkhangelsk in the White Sea after a ten-day voyage. (38) On 13 September 1941, a decision was made to give a serial number to each convoy heading to or from northern Russia. " The first of the eastbound PQ convoys (named after convoy planning officer Commander Philip Quellyn Roberts) left Hvalfjord on 28 September 1941. (40) The first westbound convoy, QP1, left Arkhangelsk on 28 September and arrived at Dunnet Head, northern Scotland, on 11 October. (41) Between 1941 and 1945, forty-two eastbound escorted convoys (composed of 848 ships) and thirty-six westbound escorted convoys (composed of 735 ships), plus one eastbound and one westbound unescorted convoy, sailed the Arctic route between Russia and the West. (42)

Ports of origins for the Allied convoys to the Soviet Union were on the U.S. east coast and in northern Scotland. The American ships sailed from Philadelphia and then joined one of the transatlantic convoys in Halifax or Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada. Afterward they sailed across the northern Atlantic to a breakaway point for continuing their voyage to Iceland. The British ships were organized into convoys at Gare Loch or Loch Ewe on the western coast of Scotland. They joined American-flag ships at Hvalfjord or Reykjavik, where PQ convoys were formed. (43)

Murmansk in the Kola Inlet and Arkhangelsk in the White Sea were the principal destination ports for Allied convoys to northern Russia. Because of the influence of the Gulf Stream, the Kola Inlet is ice-free year-round; Arkhangelsk was closed to large ships for six months out of the year because of ice. (44) The port facilities in both Murmansk and Arkhangelsk were very primitive. (45)

The sea routes from Reykjavik to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk are 1,500 and 1,900 nm in length, respectively; however, the length of the convoy route to Murmansk was some two thousand nautical miles because of the need to keep as far as possible from the Luftwaffe's aircraft. Transit time for a convoy from Iceland to Murmansk was about ten days, to Arkhangelsk twelve days. (46) The merchant ships from the United States already had a long distance to traverse merely to reach their assembly points in Iceland. For example, a merchant vessel sailing out of Philadelphia had to traverse some 645 nm to Halifax or 960 nm to Sydney. Distances from Halifax or Sydney to Reykjavik are 1,940 and 1,655 nm, respectively. The PQ convoy route ran generally through the Denmark Strait (which was mined); then as far north as ice conditions allowed, while proceeding eastward; then south toward the Kola Inlet or southeastward to Arkhangelsk. (47)

Allied convoys to Russia generally varied in size between fifteen and thirty ships, although some were larger. Smaller convoys ran until early 1942, when a decision was made to increase the size of convoys bound to Russia. (48) On 26 February 1942, Admiral Tovey requested that westbound and eastbound convoys sail simultaneously so that their transits through the most dangerous areas could be synchronized. This would entail fourteen-day cycles for convoys to and from Russia. (49) A decision was made that a pair of convoys would sail starting in early March 1942, and the practice became standard thereafter. (50) In May, Admiral Tovey advocated reducing the number of convoys during the coming months because improved weather conditions would greatly facilitate operations of the enemy's reconnaissance aircraft and bombers, and because the ice boundary would not have receded northward sufficiently to avoid these attacks. (51) However, the Admiralty rejected his recommendation.

The Allied convoys were potentially subject to attack by enemy surface ships and U-boats along the entire route, and for some 1,400 miles by aircraft. (52) Both ends of the convoy route were within range of the Luftwaffe's reconnaissance aircraft. In contrast, the British reconnaissance seaplanes operated from a single base, Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands. The Germans believed that these planes were also based on the Langanes Peninsula, Iceland (see map 2). The maneuvering area for a convoy and its covering forces was limited northward and westward by ice and southward by the enemy-occupied coast. Within that convoying area the currents were uncertain, and frequent gales could disperse a convoy, driving ships many miles from their intended route. (53)

Initially, the Allied convoys to northern Russia were weakly defended from attacks by German aircraft and U-boats. This highly unfavorable situation began to change for the better in the spring of 1942. In late April, additional destroyers, corvettes, and trawlers were transferred from Western Approaches Command to the Home Fleet, bringing the number of antisubmarine (A/S) escorts for each convoy to about ten. (54) However, the Allies' continuing shortage of destroyers combined with the difficulty in refueling them limited their ability to hunt U-boats at any significant distance from a convoy. (55) Each convoy was accompanied by at least one fleet oiler for refueling the short-legged destroyers and corvettes.

Each eastbound convoy was accompanied by two submarines to discourage enemy surface attack. Several British and the Soviet submarines patrolled the areas northwest and west off North Cape. (56)

The Allies tried repeatedly to involve the Soviet Northern Fleet further in protecting convoys. Admiral Tovey in his messages to the Admiralty "pressed for strong and continuous Russian patrol activity off the Kola Inlet, to make that area untenable by U-boats, and for short-range and long-range fighter protection." (57) Tovey believed that this provision of fighter cover--both long-range (two hundred miles off the Kola Inlet) and short-range (sixty miles off), during the most dangerous part of the voyage--was both crucial and within Soviet capabilities. The Soviet Northern Fleet had sufficient destroyers and smaller A/S ships to operate farther from its bases than heretofore, and Tovey felt the Soviets should take over responsibility for defense of the convoys during the White Sea segment of the passage. Also, the Soviet submarines based in Polyarny, Kola Peninsula, could be employed for scouting and intercepting the German heavy surface ships. (58)


The British requested that the Russians not only reinforce escorts at the eastern end of the voyage by providing long-range fighters or A/S air escort but also bomb enemy airfields during convoy transits to discourage surface attacks east of Bear Island. (59) Although the Soviets repeatedly promised that they would provide adequate protection to the Allied convoys, they seldom did so in practice. (60) Formally, the Soviets took responsibility for protecting Allied convoys once they crossed longitude 18 degrees E. (61) They also conducted intensive reconnaissance of the German naval and air bases in northern Norway. The submarines of the Soviet Northern Fleet patrolled off the Norwegian coast, covering the possible deployment routes of German surface forces. (62) However, the fact was that the Soviets were unable to provide adequate protection to the Allied convoys during the most dangerous phase of the transit. (63)


The German operational command organization in the northern theater was highly fragmented. The Germans never established a true multiservice or joint command in this theater; instead, each service controlled its own forces. Cooperation was supposed to be secured through the posting of liaison officers at the main headquarters of each of the three services. The highest command echelon controlling army troops in Norway and Finland was High Army Command Norway, led by General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, from Command Post Finland in Rovaniemi, Finland. It was created from Group XXI in December 1941 and disbanded in December 1944. Army Norway was directly subordinate to the High Command of the (German) Army (Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH).

Kriegsmarine CINC Admiral Raeder and Luftwaffe CINC Reichsmarschal Goring had operational command over all their respective forces. Raeder headed the High Command of the Navy (Oberkommando der Marine--OKM) (established 11 January 1936). The Naval Warfare Directorate, formed on 1 April 1937, had responsibility for the conduct of naval warfare as a whole. The Operations Directorate (1./SKL) was the most important of the six SKL staff directorates in 1942. The OKM also had a permanent representative at Hitlers headquarters (see figure 1). Contact with the Luftwaffe was maintained through a liaison officer to the Luftwaffe CINC. (64)


By the end of 1941, the highest operational-level headquarters of the Kriegsmarine were Fleet Command (Flottenkommando) and four naval group commands (Marinegruppenkommandos--MGKs): North, East, West, and South. Other major commands were Naval Station Baltic (Marinestation Ostsee), Naval Station North Sea (Marinestation Nordsee), and German Naval Command Italy (Deutsches Marinekommando Italien). Naval Group Command North (MGK Nord) was led (21 September 1940-2 March 1943) by General Admiral Rolf Carls (1885-1945). On 10 August 1940 it had been renamed from Naval Group Command East (MGK Ost) and moved from Kiel to Sengwarden, near Wilhelmshaven. (65) At the same time, Naval Group Command West (MGK West) was moved from Sengwarden to Paris. (66) Naval Group Command North was responsible for all Kriegsmarine activities in the German Bight, the northern part of the North Sea, the northern Atlantic Ocean (north of Scotland), and the Arctic. (67)

In 1942, the major part of German fleet forces was deployed in northern Norway. The fleet commander (June 1941-July 1944) was Admiral Otto Schniewind, flying his flag in Tirpitz. Directly subordinate to the fleet commander were the positions of commander of battleships (Befehlshaber der Schlachtschiffe--B.d.S.) (June 1941-May 1942) and the respective leaders of destroyers (Fuhrer der Zerstorer) (August 1940-May 1945), T(orpedo)-boats (Fuhrer der Torpedoboote) (August 1940-April 1942), and U-boats (Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote) (November 1939-July 1942). The post of leader of the U-boats (Fuhrer der U-Boote) had been renamed commander of U-boats (Befehlshaber der U-Boote) on 17 October 1939; the latter German term signified a commands enhanced importance. In the operational chain of command, Commander of U-boats Admiral Karl Donitz became directly subordinate to the OKM; administratively, U-boats remained subordinate to the fleet command. (68) The commander of battleships was renamed commander of the cruisers (Befehlshaber der Kreuzer, or B.d.K.) in June 1942, and the leader of the torpedo boats became leader of the S-boats (Fuhrer der Schnellboote) in April 1942.

Directly subordinate to Naval Group Command North was the Commanding Admiral Norway (Kommandierende Admiral Norwegen), led by General Admiral Hermann Boehm. The entire Norwegian coast was divided into three geographically based commands: Admiral Norwegian Polar Coast (Tromso), Admiral Norwegian Northern Coast (Trondheim), and Admiral Norwegian Western Coast (Bergen), plus Commandant of Naval Defenses Oslofjord (Horten). In accordance with Hitler's Instruction Nr. 37, the operational staff of Admiral Arctic was established on 16 October 1941, at which point Admiral Polar Coast became subordinate to Admiral Arctic. (69) Admiral Hubert Schmundt, with headquarters in Kirkenes, was the first Admiral Arctic (October 1941-August 1942). He, in turn, was subordinate to Commanding Admiral Norway. However, at the beginning of 1942 Commanding Admiral Norway proposed that Admiral Arctic should be directly subordinate to Naval Group Command North. The aim was to unify conduct of the naval war in Arctic waters. Another reason for this change in command relationships was that Commanding Admiral Norway lacked the technical means to conduct communications. (70)

After April 1942, Commanding Admiral Norway became responsible for the security of sea traffic around North Cape to the frontline forces in Finland, and for supplying Mountain Corps Norway in Finnmark. (71) Admiral Arctic was also directed to attack enemy maritime traffic, protect German coastal shipping, and conduct defensive mining of coastal waters and ports. A special naval commander was to be appointed to accomplish these tasks. (72) However, in practice it was Admiral Carls who controlled all operations in the Arctic--Admiral Schmundt essentially only transmitted his orders to subordinate commanders. (73)

On 18 June 1942, the SKL directed that Admiral Arctic be responsible for the conduct of U-boat warfare against enemy traffic and escorts in the area east of the Denmark Strait and Jan Mayen Island. The weight of the main effort (Schwerpunkt) was to be the employment of U-boats against PQ convoys; however, should an Allied landing occur, the main effort would shift to enemy transports and escorts. (74)


After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the 5th Air Fleet (Luftflotte 5), led by General Hans-Jurgen Stumpff (1889-1968), was the highest Luftwaffe command echelon in Norway and Finland. Until the end of 1941, the Air Leader North (West) in Stavanger was the principal subordinate commander of the 5th Air Fleet (see map 2). His forces were based in the area of Stavanger and Trondheim. (75) In Hitlers Instruction Nr. 37 of October 1941, the fuhrer directed that a major part of the 5th Air Fleet be transferred from Finland back to Norway. Headquarters were moved to Oslo, while an operational command post was established at Kemi, near Kirkenes. The Air Leader North (West) was in Forus/Stavanger, Air Leader Lofoten in Bardufoss, and Air Leader North (East) in Kirkenes (see figure 2). (76) After June 1941, all fighter aircraft were subordinate to the Fighter Air Leader, Norway (Jagdfliegerfuhrer Norwegen), with his staff at Forus, near Stavanger. The Air District Command, Norway (Luftgau-Kommando Norwegen) in Oslo had responsibility for all air bases and ground-based Luftwaffe units and installations.

The 5th Air Fleet's operational area (Operationsgebiet) encompassed the Skagerrak (between Norway and Denmark); the northern part of the North Sea and northern Scotland; the northern Atlantic; the Arctic Ocean; and the Murmansk front. (77) Its main missions were defending against any enemy amphibious landing; reconnoitering coastal waters; and attacking Arctic convoys, in cooperation with the Kriegsmarine. (78) Specifically, the 5th Air Fleet was responsible for cooperating with naval forces, providing security for German sea supplies, conducting offensive mining, and defending against enemy raids. In cooperating with the U-boats, the Luftwaffes main tasks were to provide reconnaissance of the operating area of the U-boats engaging enemy convoys; combat any enemy fighter aircraft posing a threat to the U-boats; and conduct joint attacks with the U-boats on the PQ convoys. In cooperating with naval surface forces, the Luftwaffe's main missions were reconnoitering the operating area and attacking sea targets within the framework of an operation. (79)

In practice, cooperation between the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine in the northern area was unsatisfactory. The major reason was that both practiced rather rigid, centralized command and control. For example, if Admiral Arctic had a need for air reconnaissance, he had to send a request to Naval Group Command North in Sengwarden; from there the request was transmitted to the 5th Air Fleet in Oslo/Kemi. This resulted in a long delay in obtaining permission. If granted, the latter headquarters then gave orders to the respective air commanders. (80) Other factors that made radio communications difficult were a lack of interoperability (the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe used different radio transmitters) and the difficult, mountainous terrain of Norway. All radio communications ran via Naval Group Command North in Sengwarden; employment of the Luftwaffe was directed from Oslo; but radio communications between Oslo and Sengwarden were inadequate. (81) Combined with the unsatisfactory technical aspect of communications, this made it very difficult to organize cooperation between the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine. After Raeder complained about the problem, Hitler issued orders to reinforce Luftwaffe units in Norway and to improve cooperation with the Kriegsmarine. The leaders of the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine discussed the problem, and decided to exchange liaison officers between the 5th Air Fleet and Admiral Arctic. (82)


For both the Allies and the Germans, accurate and timely intelligence about the enemy's order of battle (OOB), plans, intentions, and movements was essential to a successful outcome of the war in Arctic waters. The British Admiralty's Naval Intelligence Division (NID) was responsible for preparing at least daily, and often hourly, reports regarding enemy forces anywhere in the world. The Operational Intelligence Centre (OIC), created in February 1939, was the most important of NID's eight sections. It was headed by a navy captain. (83) As part of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI) worked closely with his counterparts in the War Office and the Air Ministry. (84)

The British relied on several sources of intelligence to deduce enemy intentions, plans, and movements. These included direction finding, photographic reconnaissance, captured enemy documents, prisoners of war, and signals intelligence, the last being the most important. The main source of decrypted enemy messages was the cryptanalysts at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, England. (85)

Normally, German ships did not use radio communications while at anchor in Trondheim; however, they did use radio transmissions between ships anchored at Vestfjord and Altafjord. And shore commands communicated by radio with the heavy ships when they were at sea--sending a steady stream of messages, in fact. So the absence of such signals was a good indicator that the ships were still in port or in some other fjord. (86)

Air reconnaissance of the German naval bases/anchorages and airfields in northern Norway was extremely difficult because of the long distances involved and the often-appalling weather. The British deployed submarines in the area between North Cape and Bear Island. The Allies' network of Norwegian agents, which would prove so valuable later in the war, had not yet been fully established. (87) However, the British were lucky in having some excellent Swedish sources of information on German forces in Norway. The British naval attache in Stockholm, Captain Henry Denham, established good relations with the Swedish secret service, especially Major Tornberg (assistant to Major Carl Petersen, head of C-Bureau, a unit for secret intelligence collection). The Swedes had a good source of intelligence because the Germans' telegraph and teleprinter lines to their naval, army, and Luftwaffe forces in Norway passed through Swedish territory. The Swedes were successful in tapping those lines and in breaking a number of German ciphers. Denham was often provided with the results of the Swedish cryptanalysts' work. To avoid suspicion being cast on the Swedish secret service, Denham met his contacts in a park or some other public place. All the information passed over had to be memorized until Denham could get back to his embassy and send a signal to the DNI in London. Among other things, these Swedish sources gave the first positive clue about the movements of the battleship Bismarck in May 1941. (88)

For the British, the single most critical factor in their ultimate success in the Battle of the Atlantic was their ability to read the German navy's radio messages. Yet while many of these messages were read, not all were; and the codes were generally difficult to crack. (89) But the British did break the German naval cipher HYDRA, which was used by not only the patrol vessels and minesweepers but also the U-boats based in Norway, as well as the heavy ships. (The exception was special operations, when the NEPTUNE cipher was used; the British code breakers at Bletchley Park partially penetrated it.) Major changes in the German cipher settings occurred every forty-eight hours, and minor ones every twenty-four hours. Bletchley Park largely mastered the daily changes of cipher settings; it was the major changes that caused a problem. Once a major code change was broken, the lesser ones were usually cracked quickly. (90) However, delays did occur, leaving gaps varying in length from four to forty-eight hours. (91) Hence, there were cases when the British were blind or not current at a critical moment. With regard to messages sent by landlines, the British were unable to learn anything about them unless they received the information from Stockholm. They were also unaware of German written instructions. In short, even the best intelligence sources could not be relied on to give a complete and continuous picture of what was happening, let alone what was going to happen, on the other side of the North Sea. (92)

Further, on 1 February 1942, the Germans directed all U-boat cipher operators to abandon the use of Hydra codes to tighten security. They introduced a new version of the Enigma coding machine, the Triton M4, that used four instead of three rotors. Codes generated by the Triton M4 (called SHARK by the British) were unreadable using then-existing methods of decoding. (93) It was not until late 1942 that Bletchley Park decoders were able to read these messages. (94)

The primary source of intelligence for the Kriegsmarine was the Naval Intelligence Service (Marinenachrichtendienst--MND). It was established in June 1941; the Naval Intelligence Inspectorate (Marinenachrichten Inspektion) was dissolved. (95) The Naval Communications Service (Amtsgruppe Marinenachrichtendienst--4./SKL) was one of MND's most important office groups. Its Division of Radio Intelligence (Funkaufklarung) (4./SKL/III), or B-Dienst (Beobachtung-Dienst--Observation Service), was primarily responsible for monitoring, deciphering, and evaluating enemy radio communications. (96) B-Dienst was highly regarded by the rest of the Kriegsmarine for its professionalism and the high quality of its analysis. Admiral Raeder highly praised its work. (97) B-Dienst and German Military Intelligence (the Abwehr) had a loose administrative relationship because two of the Abwehr's departments dealt with "naval matters" (Group IV: Radio Intelligence and Group V: Naval Espionage). (98)

B-Dienst played a pivotal role in the first part of the Battle of the Atlantic. (99) Generally, B-Dienst had a reasonably clear and current picture of the convoy situation. It provided essential information to U-boats for their attacks on Allied convoys. (100) It achieved a great success in March 1942 when it cracked the Allied convoy code. This enabled Donitz to receive decoded signals within twenty-four hours of their transmission. From June through November 1942, almost all orders to U-boats were based on German knowledge of decoded signals. (101)

The Germans had relatively good knowledge of the Allies' naval OOB in northern Scotland and Iceland. Most of the information came from radio intercepts obtained by B-Dienst, photographic reconnaissance by Luftwaffe aircraft, and reports from U-boats.

Initially, the Germans did not have precise information on Allied efforts to supply the Soviet Union via the Arctic route. Yet already in September 1941, the German Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht and the OKM noticed the increased importance of the convoys to northern Russia. They believed at first that supplies brought in by these convoys were solely intended for the support of Soviet forces fighting on the Murmansk front. They also thought that the Soviets, with the help of the British and Canadians, would try to capture vitally important nickel mines at Petsamo. This estimate of the situation was expressed in Hitler's Instruction Nr. 36 for winter operations in Norway, issued on 22 September 1941. (102)

However, air reconnaissance and information obtained from agents indicated that the enemy convoys were bringing in supplies to be used on the entire eastern front. The Germans also deduced that Murmansk and Arkhangelsk were the principal destination ports for the enemy convoys. German radio intercepts revealed that the enemy used convoys with a P-Q designation for northern Russian convoys; eastbound convoys were designated PQ, westbound QP. The Germans knew that the enemy had sent seven eastbound convoys (PQ1-PQ7) by the end of 1941. However, because of bad weather conditions in the Arctic, the Germans never learned the positions of or the nature of the screens for those convoys. (103)

By mid-January 1942, the SKL had a clearer picture of the operational situation. It learned that the convoys originated in Scottish ports. Yet it erroneously believed that partial convoys from the United States stopped at Seydisfjord, Iceland, and from there sailed three to four times per month to northern Russia (see map 3). The screen was composed of cruisers and destroyers, with sometimes a single aircraft carrier. (104)

In mid-February 1942, the Germans learned that the route for the PQ convoys ran from Iceland to the southern tip of Bear Island, then eastward to longitude 38[degrees]40' E, then southward to latitude 70 degrees N, where the routes to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk separated. The return QP convoys left at the same time as the PQ convoys heading to the north Russian ports. The QPs were routed eastward and southward of the PQ route. Intervals between successive convoy pairs were about fifteen days. (105)


Allied planning for Convoys PQ17 and QP13 followed a well-established pattern. While the Admiralty and the Home Fleet were gravely concerned about the safety of convoys to northern Russia during the summer months, they had no choice but to send them; political reasons--support of the embattled Soviet Union--trumped purely military considerations. (106) The time of sailing of the convoys could not be concealed from the Germans for more than a day or two at most. Hence, it was clear to Admirals Pound and Tovey that sooner or later a major disaster was bound to occur. This would be so especially if convoys continued to run in the summer months, when perpetual daylight prevailed. Pound believed firmly that another sortie by Tirpitz (the first foray, against convoys PQ12 and QP8 on 13 March 1942, had failed) was inevitable. He argued strongly to the War Cabinet that convoys should be postponed until at least the following winter. However, he was overruled because of strong pressure from Churchill and Roosevelt. Preparations for Convoy PQ17 went ahead. (107)


Admiral Tovey received information in June 1942 that the enemy intended to bring out his main force to attack an eastbound convoy. This meant that enemy surface ships would be operating in the area between Norway and Spitsbergen-- where British ships would be operating about a thousand miles from friendly air bases. The British destroyers also would be too short on fuel to escort any damaged ships. (108) The only hope, Tovey argued, was to induce the Germans to use their heavy ships toward the west. This would mean that an eastbound convoy, after reaching longitude 10 degrees E, would temporarily delay its transit for twelve to eighteen hours (unless it was known that the German heavy ships were still in port, or that the weather prevented shadowing by enemy aircraft). Tovey hoped that this temporary withdrawal would tempt the German heavy ships to pursue, cause them to return to port, or force them to sail into the operating area of the British and Russian submarines. (109)

The Admiralty rejected Tovey's proposal. Yet the Admiralty's instructions issued on 27 June envisaged the possibility, under certain circumstances, of the convoy being temporarily turned back, on Admiralty orders. (110) The same document stated that the safety of the convoy against surface attack west of Bear Island "must be met by our surface forces, and to the eastward of that meridian [10 degrees E] must be met by submarines; and that the cruiser covering force was not intended to go east of Bear Island, unless the convoy was threatened by the presence of a surface force which the cruisers could fight, or in any case to go beyond 25[degrees] E." (111)

Convoy PQ17 consisted of thirty-six merchant ships (twenty-three of them American), plus three rescue ships that technically were not part of the convoy. Commodore John C. K. Dowding commanded the convoy. (112) The convoy carried 156,492 tons of weapons, equipment, and other supplies. Among weapons and equipment, 594 tanks, 4,246 motor vehicles, and 297 aircraft were on board. (113) The plan envisaged that three oilers (designated Force Q) would accompany the convoy to refuel both the destroyers accompanying Convoys PQ17 and QP13 and those with the Cruiser Covering Force. (114)

The route for Convoy PQ17 ran from Hvalfjord around the western and northern coasts of Iceland; through the Denmark Strait; past the east coast of Jan Mayen; northeast to the vicinity of latitude 75 degrees N, longitude 19 degrees E; from there due east, passing north of Bear Island; then proceeding southeast. (115) Upon crossing the longitude of the Kola Inlet (approximately 33 degrees E), the convoy route south would split, with one track leading into Murmansk and another on to Arkhangelsk. (116) This route ran more to the north than usual because the ice boundary had moved farther away from Bear Island. This increased the distance from the enemy air bases in northern Norway. (117) It also made Convoy PQ17's route longer than usual. (118)

Defenses for the PQ17/QP13 convoys were similar to those for the PQ16/ QP12 convoys. They consisted of a direct A/S screen and a "long-range escort force" sailing with the convoy, a Cruiser Covering Force for close cover, and a Battle Fleet for distant cover and support. The direct A/S screen and the long-range escort force for Convoy PQ17 were under Commander John E. Broome, RN. The direct A/S screen consisted of four corvettes, two auxiliary antiaircraft (AA) ships, four minesweepers, and four armed trawlers. The long-range escort consisted of six destroyers and two submarines (see sidebar, "Allied Order of Battle"). (119)

The Cruiser Covering Force was designated Cruiser Squadron 1 (CS 1). It consisted of two British (London, Norfolk) and two U.S. cruisers (Tuscaloosa, Wichita) under Rear Admiral Louis K. Hamilton, plus one British (Somali) and two U.S. destroyers (Wainwright, Rowan). CS 1, in turn, was organized into three divisions: 1st Division (London, Norfolk), 2nd Division (Tuscaloosa, Wichita), and 3rd Division (Somali, Wainwright, Rowan). (120) This force would provide cover as far as Bear Island. (121) The Battle Fleet, under Admiral Tovey, was composed of the British battleship Duke of York, the U.S. battleship Washington, the British carrier Victorious, the British cruisers Cumberland and Nigeria, and twelve destroyers. (122)

Tovey's plan was for the Battle Fleet to reach latitude 65[degrees]56' N and longitude 10[degrees]30' E at 0730 on 1 July. After four destroyers from Seydisfjord joined the force, the remaining fleet destroyers would be detached to Seydisfjord and the Battle Force would proceed to provide distant cover for Convoy PQ17. CINC Rosyth (Scotland) was asked to arrange A/S escort and long-range fighter escort for the Battle Force as far northward as possible. (123)

Initially, eight British and one Free French submarines were assigned to and deployed in patrolling areas between North Cape and Bear Island. (124) British submarines operating north of latitude 51 degrees N were informed that the main German units might operate from near the longitude of Bear Island to the southward of their patrol lines prior to attacking the PQ and QP convoys. Ice conditions might force the convoy to pass south of Bear Island. Hence, it was of utmost importance for the submarines to maintain accurate positions, particularly with regard to their latitude. (125) Five Soviet submarines patrolled the area north of Ingoy Island. (126)

Admiral Hamilton, in his operation order issued 25 June 1942, assumed that the Germans would be sufficiently tempted by PQ17 and QP13 to send their heavy ships to sea. After all, two enemy pocket battleships and some destroyers had been moved to more northerly ports in Norway, and more aircraft had been sent north as well. Hamilton assumed that the enemy units most likely to be encountered would be Tirpitz, Lutzow, Admiral Hipper, and Admiral Scheer, plus some ten destroyers. Because of respective speeds, the most likely combinations would be Tirpitz with Admiral Hipper and Lutzow with Admiral Scheer. (127)

In Hamilton's words, CS Is primary objective was to get PQ17 to Russia. A slightly less important objective was to bring the enemy heavy ships into action with the Battle Fleet and Cruiser Covering Force. To increase the chances of the latter action occurring, PQ17 would probably be turned back after reaching the approximate longitude of 10 degrees E, and then turned eastward again. The hope was to lure the German ships farther from their bases or keep them longer at sea within Allied submarine zones. (128)

The Battle Fleet would begin covering an area in the vicinity of latitude 71 degrees N, longitude 0 degrees E by the afternoon of the sixth day (D+6) and remain until D+8, not proceeding north of latitude 72[degrees]30' N. (129) The Cruiser Covering Force would leave Seydisfjord on the morning of D+5 to reach its covering area at latitude 73 degrees N, longitude 4 degrees E at about noon on D+6. It would remain in the area until D+8, or longer if circumstances dictated. Hamilton's intent was to avoid being drawn within close range of the enemy's shore-based aircraft or submarine concentration. (130)

In support of the operation, Allied planners envisaged the use of a dummy convoy (Operation E.S.) aimed at deceiving the Germans into believing that an attack on Norway was imminent. Hence, a group of five ships of the 1st Mining Squadron plus four colliers escorted by two cruisers (Sirius, Curacao), five destroyers, and some trawlers would sail out of Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. (131) This group would sortie several days prior to the departure of Convoy PQ17. It would pass west of the Shetlands and steer as far as latitude 61[degrees]30' N and longitude 1 degree E, hoping to be seen and reported by enemy aircraft before it turned back toward Scapa Flow. In addition, this plan envisaged bombing targets in southern Norway, thereby reinforcing the perception that the dummy convoy was heading there. (132)

In June 1942, arrangements were made with the Soviets to deploy a few PBY-2 Catalina aircraft (No. 210 Squadron) to Arkhangelsk for reconnoitering the sea area between Altafjord and Convoy PQ17 on 1-3 July as the ships moved eastward; but the resulting patrol encountered nothing remarkable. (133)

Rear Admiral Geoffrey J. A. Miles, head of the British military mission to Moscow, informed the Admiralty on 16 June that the people's commissar (minister) of the navy, Admiral Nikolay Kuznetsov, promised that all Soviet resources would be concentrated on convoy protection. Kuznetsov had not been satisfied with the Soviet air effort for Convoy PQ16, but was optimistic about better results in the future. He promised to talk to the Defense Committee again to get more long-range fighters. In addition, in the future, some bombers, instead of being used to bomb aerodromes, might be used to help long-range fighters. As many long-range Hurricane fighters as possible would be sent to the air base at Ponoy before Convoy PQ17's arrival. (134)


German plans for the employment of heavy surface ships against a PQ convoy were based on several "appreciations" (staff studies) prepared by various naval commands during the winter and spring of 1941-42. As was the custom in the Kriegsmarine (and in the German Wehrmacht in general), the highest command echelon, Naval Group Command North, issued an "operational instruction" (operative Weisung), while the subordinate commanders issued "operation orders" (Operationbefehle). The Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe prepared their separate operational plans for the attack on Convoy PQ17. However, each plan envisaged close cooperation with the other service.

On 4 June 1942, Admiral Carls issued his operational instruction for employing the Trondheim and Narvik groups (designated the 1st and 2nd Combat Groups, respectively) against the next enemy PQ convoy. The picture, as the instruction anticipated it, was as follows. Because the Allies ran the PQ/QP convoys at fourteen-to-fifteen-day intervals, the next convoy was expected in the Jan Mayen area on 20 June. Generally, the PQ convoys sailed in column formation, with four to five merchant ships in each column. The screen usually consisted of one cruiser in the midsection and three to four destroyers some 5,500 yards ahead of the convoy. Individual destroyers and any other escorts secured the convoy's flanks. The previous enemy convoy had sailed close to the flock ice boundary. A heavy security group that included a carrier had been positioned eastward of the Jan Mayen-Faeroes area. (135)

The operational instruction of 4 June established two chains of command, one for the first phase (deployment of the combat groups to their "jumping-off" positions) and another for the second phase (deployment from the jumping-off positions to the attacking positions). In the first phase, Naval Group Command North at Sengwarden would exercise operational control of the Trondheim group, while the fleet commander in Tirpitz would exercise tactical control. For the Narvik group, operational control would be in the hands of Admiral Arctic on board the S-boat mother ship Tanga, while tactical command and control would be exercised by the commander of cruisers in Lutzow. (136) In the second phase of the operation, overall operational control over both surface forces and U-boats would be in the hands of Commander, Naval Group Command North. Admiral Arctic would retain operational control of the S-boats in the Kola Peninsula area.

After the forces were assembled, tactical command and control would rest in the hands of the fleet commander. The headquarters of Admiral Arctic would serve as radio repeater for the U-boats. Direct control of the U-boats by the fleet commander was not envisaged. (137)

The operational instruction of 4 June specified the composition of the Trondheim and Narvik combat groups for the pending operation. The Trondheim group would consist of Tirpitz, Admiral Hipper, two destroyers, and three torpedo boats. The Narvik group would consist of Lutzow, Admiral Scheer, and six destroyers. Besides the Trondheim and Narvik combat groups, Admiral Carls envisaged employing three U-boats northeast of Jan Mayen by 10 June. Their mission was to obtain early contact with the next PQ convoy and its heavy covering forces. Additional U-boat groups would be deployed in the area between Jan Mayen and Bear Islands. (138)

Operationally, ROSSELSPRUNG was simple in concept but difficult in execution. Almost everything depended on a timely and covert joining of the two combat groups, followed by their unobserved movement toward the anticipated position of Convoy PQ17 (see map 3). Specifically, the Trondheim group would move to its jumping-off position of Gimsoystraumen in Vestfjord; at the same time, the Narvik group, directed by Commanding Admiral Arctic, would move to its jumping-off position at the northern exit of Altafjord, in the skerries (rocky islets) of Soroya. Both groups were to be ready to sortie within twenty-four hours after leaving their bases for their jumping-off positions. Destroyers and torpedo boats would be fully refueled. After the joining of the two combat groups, the torpedo boats would be refueled at Altafjord and remain there in a three-hour ready-for-sortie status. The destroyers' short radius of action imposed limits on their speed during the operation. (139) The danger of torpedoes was posed by not only the enemy surface forces and aircraft but also submarines; the latter had been used to screen the previous PQ convoy. On a signal from Commander, Naval Group Command North, both groups would sortie from their respective jumping-off positions so as to arrive at a meeting point determined by Commander, Naval Group Command North. (140) Breaking off the action, if necessary, either would be ordered by Commander, Naval Group Command North or would result from an independent decision of the fleet commander. (141)

The situation would require massing German forces rapidly and keeping the duration of the operation short. The primary mission was the quick destruction of the enemy's merchant ships. However, the heavy surface ships could merely neutralize the enemy cargo ships; their actual sinking should be left to the U-boats and Luftwaffe. Among the enemy ships, sinking the tankers would be especially important. It also would be desirable to capture several enemy ships. Attacking the convoy, not the enemy heavy covering group, was the primary mission of Tirpitz and Admiral Hipper. (142)

The enemy convoy would be detected by establishing U-boat patrolling lines. After the U-boats detected the PQ convoy, the Luftwaffe would be responsible for maintaining continuous contact. The Luftwaffe would also search for the enemy heavy group in the area of the Shetlands-Faeroes-Iceland-Jan Mayen line. If the Allied heavy covering group was not detected, it would be critically important to reconnoiter the sea area some 250 nm around the enemy convoy. The Luftwaffe was also tasked with reconnoitering the areas of Reykjavik, Scapa Flow, and the Firths of Forth and Moray in Scotland. (143)

On the day the combat groups sortied from Trondheim and Narvik, the Luftwaffe would reconnoiter the quadrant of offshore waters up to two hundred nautical miles from the coast running northeastward from latitude 62 degrees N to the longitude of North Cape. On the day of departure from the jumpingoff positions, the Luftwaffe would reconnoiter the truncated strip of waters two hundred nautical miles offshore from the latitude of the southern tip of Lofoten to the longitude of North Cape. (144)

In accordance with the fiihrer's instruction of 14 March 1942, Naval Group Command North requested that the 5th Air Fleet assign three squadrons of Focke-Wolfe (FW) 200 Condor long-range reconnaissance aircraft, four squadrons of Blohm & Voss (BV) 138s, and several Kettes (three-plane "chains") of bombers and Junkers (Ju) 88 fighter-bombers for air reconnaissance. (145) However, the 5th Air Fleet informed Naval Group Command North on 19 June that its request could not be fulfilled. In the 5th Air Fleets view, the attack on Convoy PQ16 in late May 1942 had clearly showed that the Luftwaffe itself was capable of inflicting heavy losses on enemy convoys (aircraft had sunk seven ships, U-boats only one), but that the prerequisite for doing so was not to weaken the 5th Air Fleet's already inadequate forces by assigning them other tasks. (146)

On 14 June, Admiral Schniewind, the fleet commander, issued a six-and-one-half-page operation order entitled "Employment of Fleet Forces in the Northern Area against a PQ Convoy." The mission was simple: an "attack on Convoy PQ17." (147) In keeping with the overall operational instruction, Schniewind's operation order divided fleet forces into three elements: the Trondheim group, the Narvik group, and the U-boats (see sidebar, "German Order of Battle"). The Trondheim group consisted of Tirpitz, Admiral Hipper (with the fleet commander embarked), and five destroyers (in contrast to the two destroyers envisaged in Carls's operational instruction). The Narvik group had Lutzow, Admiral Scheer, and six destroyers. Three U-boats were stationed northeast of Iceland beginning on 10 June. Other available U-boats, "probably three to four," would be in the attacking position between Jan Mayen and Bear Islands. Any other U-boats available later would be stationed off Bear Island. At the time the operation order was issued, there were only two destroyers in Trondheim (Ihn and Lody); four other destroyers were to be transferred from Germany to Norway within the next few days. There were also two or three torpedo boats in Trondheim to serve as escorts for the Trondheim group. (148) In the skerries area of Vestfjord and in other coastal waters, the Germans would deploy minesweepers and submarine chasers. The U-boats would follow a route through Andfjord. One former fishing steamer (Schiff 31) would be employed to escort the U-boats. (149)

Upon issuance of a coded signal from Naval Group Command North, the fleet forces would sail out to their jumping-off points: 1st Combat Group from Trondheim to Gimsoystraumen-Vestfjord; 2nd Combat Group from Narvik to the northern entrance of Altafjord (the area of the skerries off Soroya). Each group was to be at its jumping-off position and combat-ready within twenty-four hours after leaving its home base. (150) About five hours prior to the sortie of the combat groups, Air Leader Lofoten and Air Leader North (East) would conduct reconnaissance in the quadrant encompassed by latitude 68 degrees N and longitude 25 degrees E, up to two hundred nautical miles off the coast. Within the effective range of the Luftwaffes fighter aircraft, close air support would be provided during all phases of the operation. (151)

Admiral Schniewind reiterated that the operational situation would require quick massing and concentrated employment of forces, leading to quick destruction of the enemy. The primary objective was destruction of the enemy's merchant ships; the convoy's screening ships were to be attacked only if they threatened the accomplishment of the operational objective. The main objective would be accomplished faster and more effectively if the U-boats and the Luftwaffe provided reliable reconnaissance. The most favorable conditions for the attack would be in the sea area east of Bear Island, between longitudes 20 degrees and 30 degrees E. (152)

In his intent (Absicht), Admiral Schniewind directed that suppression of the strongest enemy force would be the responsibility of the 1st Combat Group. As soon as Convoy PQ17 was detected and located, the combat groups would take up their stations. Yet this should be carried out as late as possible, so as to reduce the time available for the enemy to react. (153) The enemy should be attacked on the bow sectors and from the east; the enemy was to be encircled only when his combat power was broken up. (154) If the enemy's close screen consisted of no more than two cruisers, the attack could be conducted from two directions from the outset; this would result in quicker destruction of the convoy. (155)

Schniewind stressed that an engagement with superior enemy forces should be avoided. The operation should be executed quickly so as to be completed before an enemy force composed of battleships and carriers, and presumably located in the Laeroes-Iceland area, would have any opportunity to intervene. The operation could be canceled by the fleet commander or by order of Naval Group Command North. (156) If enemy heavy forces were encountered during the attack on the convoy, the action should continue only as long as the conditions for success were favorable. (157)

On 2 June, Admiral Schmundt (Admiral Arctic) issued his operation order for redeployment of the pocket battleship group from Narvik to Altafjord. In addition to Liitzow, Admiral Scheer, and the six destroyers, the Narvik combat group included the 6th S-boat Flotilla (seven S-boats) plus one supply ship. (158) Close air support of the Narvik group through its arrival in Altafjord would be provided by Luftwaffe fighters based in Bardufoss and Altengaard (near Altafjord). Air reconnaissance would be aimed primarily at detecting enemy carriers in the sea quadrant between latitude 67 degrees N and longitude 26 degrees E, up to two hundred nautical miles off the Norwegian coast. Higher-density reconnaissance would be conducted between latitudes 69 degrees and 79 degrees N and longitudes 14 degrees and 19 degrees E. Air reconnaissance would be conducted during the entire time of the redeployment of the Narvik group. (159)

On 11 June, Admiral Schmundt directed three U-boats, organized into the Eisteufel ("Ice Devil") group, to take up patrol positions in the Denmark Strait to watch for the first sign of PQ17. These U-boats' primary mission was detecting and then tracking the enemy convoy. Surface ships of destroyer size and larger could be attacked only when positively identified as hostile. In any uncertain situation, such as thick weather, all attacks on enemy warships were prohibited. The German ships were also directed not to attack enemy submarines, but otherwise "to act as though submarines they meet are hostile." (160)

The 5th Air Fleet issued an operational order for its forces on 14 June. In general, the Luftwaffe was responsible for air reconnaissance and the close support of naval forces. The subordinate commanders were directed to use all their available forces in attacking the PQ convoy. (161) Upon executing the order for Operation ROSSELSPRUNG, Luftwaffe aircraft would be employed in a three-hundred-nautical-mile-wide strip off the Norwegian coast. Specific area responsibilities were as follows: Air Leader North (West) from latitude 62 degrees N to a line crossing from the southern tip of the Lofoten area to the southwestern tip of Jan Mayen Island; Air Leader Lofoten from a line touching the southern tip of the Lofoten area to a line connecting North Cape to the southern tip of Spitsbergen; Air Leader North (East) from the line from North Cape to the southern tip of Spitsbergen to longitude 30 degrees E. (162)

Air Leader North (West) was responsible for providing cover for the Trondheim group, while Air Leader Lofoten would provide cover for the Narvik group. (163) Fighter protection would be organized by the commander of fighters, Norway, in cooperation with the fleet commander at Trondheim, and Air Leader Lofoten in cooperation with the commander of cruisers. (164) After the PQ convoy crossed longitude 5 degrees E, Air Leader Lofoten would be responsible for the sea area to three hundred nautical miles off the Norwegian coast from a line connecting the southern tip of Lofoten and the southwestern tip of Jan Mayen to a line connecting the southern tip of Spitsbergen and North Cape. Air Leader North (West) would be responsible for the sea area west and southwest of the Lofoten-Jan Mayen line (see map 4). (165)

In the meantime, discussion at a meeting between Admiral Raeder and Hitler on 6 June focused on operations in the Arctic. Hitler was informed about the pending operation in which Tirpitz was envisaged to participate. His agreement was lukewarm at best, but he did not reject the idea. Hitler was unclear about the form in which the operation would be conducted, but felt it should not be a risky undertaking for heavy ships in any case. After the meeting, Raeder directed Admiral Krancke, OKM's liaison to the fuhrer's headquarters, to explain to the fuhrer once again that the SKL placed great importance on the operation, but that it would require sufficient Luftwaffe air cover; it could not be successful otherwise. (166)

Hitler formally approved the plan for ROSSELSPRUNG on 9 June. However, Raeder failed to respond forcefully to Hitler's remark that he now saw "great danger for heavy ships by the (enemy) aircraft carrier." This meant that the enemy carrier must be located prior to the attack on the convoy and eliminated as a threat to German heavy ships. The SKL was allowed to move the Trondheim group to Altafjord, but then had to await orders to attack. Such orders could come only following Hitlers approval. Raeders failure to act energetically--to confront Hitler and get him to lift his restrictions on the employment of the heavy ships-- was the key element in the ultimate failure of ROSSELSPRUNG, notwithstanding the German forces' overall success against Convoy PQ17. (167)
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Title Annotation:pp. 83-114
Author:Vego, Milan
Publication:Naval War College Review
Geographic Code:0NORT
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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