Arctic medal at last for WWII hero of Harpenden
- Credit: Photo courtesy of Alan Bunting
Russia’s ambassador to the UK has awarded a medal to a 92-year-old Second World War veteran from Harpenden, in recognition of his service on the perilous Arctic convoys.
Norman Alvey was recently presented with his Ushakov medal by Alexander Yakovenko at the ambassador’s official London residence in Kensington Palace Gardens.
His citation includes words of appreciation from President Vladimir Putin for the crucial role the Arctic convoys played as part of Britain’s help in defeating Nazi Germany.
In February 1944, Mr Alvey served as petty officer aboard HMS Chaser, an escort carrier.
It was one of a “ring” of British warships charged with protecting an unusually large convoy of about 40 merchant ships carrying vital military supplies from the UK to Britain’s Soviet allies.
The 1,500 mile route embarked upon by the northbound convoy began at the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow within the Orkney Islands.
Mr Alvey said: “The two-week-long voyage to our destination, on the Kola inlet close to the Russian port of Murmansk, took us relatively close to the Norwegian coast to avoid Arctic pack ice.
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“But that made us more vulnerable to attack from German dive-bombers and U-boat ‘wolf packs’ [when up to 20 submarines would attack such convoys en masse], guided by Luftwaffe reconnaissance planes.”
Mr Alvey added: “As we headed up beyond the Arctic Circle, one of our essential jobs was to keep the ship’s flight deck and other equipment clear of ice, using steam hoses.
“So intense was the cold that we kept all our clothes, including our boots, on for the whole two weeks.”
HMS Chaser was carrying 22 aircraft including 11 anti-submarine torpedo bombers.
Unfortunately the convoy did not get through unscathed, as Royal Navy destroyer HMS Mahratta was hit by a torpedo and sank quickly, with the loss of about 200 lives, and just 17 rescued.
Then, on the return voyage, when one of the merchant ships was also attacked and sunk, Mr Alvey witnessed convoy escort warships and planes destroy three attacking U-boats.
Earlier during the Second World War, he served on convoy operations westward into the Atlantic, helping to protect merchant ships carrying military and other supplies from North America.
Winston Churchill described the Arctic convoys as “the worst journey in the world”.