PQ17 Diary

Jack Bowman

Image of Jack Bowman on Mediterranean duty (c) Bowman family archive.

Engine Room Artificer (ERA) HMS La Malouine, 1940-44 (c) Bowman family archive.

Background | 3 of 3

The absence of Tirpitz and intelligence intercepts had convinced the Admiralty that the Kriegsmarine intended to intercept PQ17 at around midnight on 4/5 July. With this in mind, just as the German bombers were departing Hamilton signalled Broome that German surface forces were close at hand, even though they had not been sighted by any allied warship or aircraft.

Then, without any solid sightings, the Admiralty in London, decided that an attack by heavy surface raiders was imminent. Therefore Pound sent the signals that sealed the fate of PQ17:

*IMMEDIATE Owing to threat from surface ships convoy is to disperse and proceed to Russian ports*

and then:

*MOST IMMEDIATE...Convoy is to scatter*

Broome immediately complied and began signalling to the incredulous merchantmen that they were to proceed independently to either Archangel or Murmansk. He was then left with the difficult decision of what to do with the close escort. The signals had not mentioned them. Broome decided that the best course of action was for his destroyers to join Hamilton's cruiser force with the premise that it would provide Hamilton with extra striking power aginst the supposed German surface threat. Broome considered the corvettes and AA ships too weak and slow to join him and ordered them to make for Archangel. It was for this decision that Broome was vilified and the Royal Navy accused by Stalin of cowardice. In reality what else could Broome have done? He, and the escorts ordered to Russia felt wretched at abandoning the convoy, a feeling made all the worse by the escorts grouping together for mutual support. With the convoy disappearing in all directions they had little choice.

What followed over the next few days of July was nothing short of a massacre by German air and submarine forces. The unprotected merchantmen were hunted down and destroyed. Of the 35 ships that had left Iceland only four reached Archangel. 23 were sunk.

The story of what happened to the merchant ships and escorts after the order to scatter is covered by Jack Bowman's diary and in many books. Paul Kemp in his book Convoy! (Cassell Military Paperbacks, 2000: ISBN 0-304-35451-1) gives a good concise account of PQ17. For more detail and excellent research David Irving's The Destruction of Convoy PQ17 (William Kimber, 1980: ISBN 0-7183-0477-2) cannot be bettered despite the controversy courted by the author.

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