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Merchant ship off Iceland forming convoy PQ16 to Murmansk

Navy's arctic heroes finally honoured

Published: 20 Dec 2012

Sailors who took part in the terrible Arctic convoys of WW2 – a mission Winston Churchill called ‘the worst journey in the world’ will finally receive a campaign medal. Prime Minister David Cameron today announced an Arctic Convoy Star for men who took part in the campaign, which delivered vital war material to the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945 – at the cost of 100 ships and 3,000 lives.

SEVENTY years after they took part in the worst naval journey in the world, veterans of convoys to Russian will finally receive government recognition for their deeds.

Prime Minister David Cameron today announced the belated casting of the Arctic Convoy Star – a full campaign medal to be worn with pride alongside other decorations for service in WW2 such as the Atlantic, Burma or Pacific Stars.

His decision follows more than ten years of lobbying by the dwindling band of veterans – thought to number between 200 and 400 and all now in their late 80s at their youngest – who claimed delivering vital supplies to the Soviet Union from 1941-45 not only tipped the balance against the Nazis, but had never been properly recognised by Whitehall, even though Churchill himself acknowledged it was “the worst journey in the world”.

Arctic veterans have always stressed that their campaign was entirely different from that in the Atlantic (keeping Britain’s sea lanes open): different aims, different conditions – and should have been recognised with a specific medal, not the Atlantic Star which was awarded when hostilities ended.

The four-year struggle to provide material to support the Soviet war effort cost the lives of around 3,000 sailors and merchant seamen – over 100 civilian and military ships were lost, with the nadir coming in the summer of 1942 when convoy PQ17 was mauled by the Luftwaffe and nine U-boats.

Following a review by senior diplomat Sir John Holmes earlier in the year, which recommended the government act as quickly as possible given the age of veterans, Mr Cameron today told the Commons campaign medals would be cast both for the Arctic men and also Bomber Command crews, similarly ignored at the war’s end. The second part of Sir John's review will report in early 2013 when MoD will set out eligibility criteria for the medal and clasp.

“I‘m very pleased that some of the brave men of the Arctic Convoys will get the recognition they so richly deserve for the very dangerous work they did,” the premier told fellow MPs.

Sir John Holmes interim report can be downloaded at the link below.


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