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Arctic Convoy PQ18: 25 Days That Changed the Course of the War

08 Mar 24

208 pages

Ken Morrison

Most readers will be well aware of the circumstances, if not the full detail, of Arctic Convoy PQ17, probably the worst Allied maritime disaster of the Second World War. However, in strategic terms, PQ18 was much more significant: it was imperative that it got through. Had it suffered the same loss of shipping, and with it the means for Stalin to continue fighting on the Eastern Front, there was a distinct possibility both that Churchill would have at the very least suspended future convoys, and that the Soviet Union would have been defeated. Consequently, it was both the most heavily defended and most heavily attacked convoy of the whole war.

This book is not an academic or rigorous study. There are no footnotes or references, merely a list of a dozen or so books on the same subject which he has read. Although he draws upon a few contemporaneous accounts of the combatants from both sides, it is written more in the style of a novel, with the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists imagined by the author.  In his own words, “I have tried to dramatise events as much as possible, to try to bring history to life”. In my view this is overdone, and soon begins to grate. That said, the narrative flows and the pace is well maintained.

There is one wonderfully serendipity moment: HMS Somali, a Tribal-class destroyer, had been torpedoed, and it having been determined that she could be saved, she was under tow by her sister ship HMS Ashanti. In order to provide power for pumps and repairs on Somali, a power line had to be rigged between the two ships. This was done by boat transfer under the command a certain Sub Lieutenant Terence Lewin. The exercise took four hours, and Lewin was awarded a DSC, and his two crew DSMs. Sadly, it was in vain as Somali sank five days later.

As is often the case, the maps are not great, and many places referenced in the text are not shown. In addition, despite Appendices listing the Merchantmen and the losses on both sides, there is no list of the warships involved.

Despite the criticisms noted, I enjoyed the book; it is a short and easy read, and some of the actions are very well described, although there are frequent repetitions. It is a book for interested lay historians.