Novaya Zemlia, Cape Zhelaniya.
German military presence in Arctic started in the first years of XX century and accelerated during the First World War, when sea route connecting Russia and Britain, Entante allies, was established off the northern shore of Norway. German Imperial Navy ships Berlin, Grosse Kurfurst, Meteor as well as several U-boats attempted to stage first raids against Allied shipping. To facilitate this interference in 1915 Germans constructed mine storage on Ponoi Island near Kola peninsula, and in 1916 they established first submarine base in the Matochkin Shar Strait, separating Novaya Zemlia islands. In 1916 one of the Novaya Zemlia-based submarines, U-196, entered Kola Bay and shelled Alexandrovsk (now Poliarny), another submarine on September 13 1916 sunk two Norwegian and one British merchant ships in the Barents Sea.
After difficult post-war years Germans returned to Arctic somewhat in style in 1931 when Zeppelin LZ-127, hosting international research team, traveled along 13000 miles-long route Berlin - Leningrad - Archangel - Franz-Joseph Land - Severnaya Zemlia - Dikson - Cape Zhelaniya - Kolguev - Archangel - Berlin. Even if this endeavor had international status under the aegis of Aeroarctic society, founded by famous polar researcher Fridtjof Nansen, Zeppelin team was headed by German Hugo Ekkener, and consisted mostly of the German specialists, who were making detailed plans and oblique photographs of the most remote and previously unaccessible areas of the Soviet Arctic. On the last lag of this epic flight LZ-127 was scheduled to arrive to Leningrad and transfer all photo materials for the processing, but instead flew directly to Berlin. Ekkener cited bad weather conditions as a reason. Soon Soviet embassy in Berlin received apologies from Germans, who informed Soviet representatives that due to mistake in developing procedure, all photos and films were destroyed.
Zeppelin LZ-127 in flight. Germany-led international airship expedition of 1931 opened new possibilities for the Arctic research and mapping.
In 1932 German researchers visited Franz-Joseph Land on icebreaker Malygin, and in 1933-1937 German merchant ships were routinely docking in Soviet ports on Enisei and Ob rivers. Kriegsmarine was not far behind. Cruiser Köenigsberg visited Barents Sea in 1936, and year later the same route was chosen by cruiser Köln. In 1937 German scientists, participating in Novaya Zemlia research project, traveled on icebreaker Vologda, and visited Matochkin Shar Strait, Chernaya and Belushya Guba, Malye Karmakuly, Matushiha, and weather station on Cape Zhelania, all these toponyms will surface again during Operation Wunderland.
In June 1939 Soviet hydrographic expedition on the ship Murmanets entered Kara Sea. As in case of the Zeppelin trip, it was heavily stuffed with numerous research associates, affiliated with Leningrad Arctic institute. Researchers spoke German fluently and worked in separate guarded compartment, using state-of-the-art German echo sounder and sea depth recording equipment. Murmanets visited Port Dikson for “field excursion” and also delivered research parties to Nordenskiold, Sverdrup, Sidorov, Belyi, Vilkitsky and Hercules Islands.
In October 1939, just after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggressive Pact and the beginning of the Second World War, Soviet government allowed Germans to establish Kriegsmarine base west of Murmansk in Great Western Litza, with a mission to develop and protect possible sea route between Germany and Japan, and to support German naval activity in the western Arctic. This base functioned until September 5, 1940, when head of the Kriegsmarine admiral Raeder decided to transfer main German naval base to recently occupied Norway. However "Basis Nord" was only closed, but not dismantled. Even in June 1941 it still had more than 100 mothballed tractors and trucks, hundreds tons of explosives in storage, and also canned food, presumably left for German Gebirgsjäger, mountain infantry units, which were earmarked for capturing Murmansk and entire Kola peninsula.*
* [ Indeed, on July 3 1941 battalion of German mountain infantry crossed Great Western Litza River and reclaimed Basis Nord, but 3 days later was pushed back by Soviet counterattack. Soviets promptly removed trucks and mining equipment and blew up some underground facilities, but food storages were kept intact and contained, reportedly, enough food to supply two Soviet divisions for the rest of 1941.]
After "Basis Nord" was established, Kriegsmarine contemplated its next move, actual voyage of the German warship along the Northern Sea Route. Pretence for this trip was found soon. On January 2, 1940 Admiral Raeder informed Hitler that 35 German ships stuck in the East Asian ports and had to be rescued from the Allies, and for this end it would be highly advisable to receive permission from the Soviets to allow German raider to follow the safe Northern Sea Route all the way from Murmansk to Bering Strait. Permission was granted and this important mission was successfully conducted by German raider Komet in August-September 1940, supported by selected Soviet icebreakers. Komet carried not only concealed guns and oversized crew of 270, but also equipment, allowing her to change silhouette, install additional masts, change height and form of the smoke stacks and cargo derricks and to believably pose as, for example, Soviet icebreaker Dezhnev, which at that time was sent elsewhere. Komet visited German “Basis Nord” in Great Western Litza and before proceeding to the east toward Bering Strait, she landed reconnaisance parties on the shore of Novaya Zemlia, Nordenskiold Islands and practiced in monitoring and decoding the radio traffic between Soviet ships. All these preliminary activities became the foundation for the first major German naval operation in Kara Sea.
During the summer season of 1941 Hitler hoped for the quick victory, and Kriegsmarine activities in the Arctic were limited. Situation changed drastically when Allies started to supply hard-pressed Soviets with badly needed equipment and materials and Hitler ordered to concentrate all available resources against Allied shipping off the Norwegian coast. This strategy reached its peak in the summer of 1942. From July 4 to July 10 1942, using U-boats and Luftwaffe airplanes from their bases in Norway, German Navy devastated allied convoy PQ-17 during one of the most epic naval engagements of the war. Even without direct participation of the dreaded German capital ships, convoy PQ-17 was ordered to disperse and eventually lost 24 merchants from total number of 33. The very feasibility of summer Arctic convoys was put in jeopardy.*
* [ Next convoy PQ-18 was able to sail only in September, and if German attacks on the convoy were not so dramatic as in July, 13 ships were eventually lost as well.]
Suppression of Allied convoys on the western leg of the Arctic route and relative calm in the rest of July and August prompted Kriegsmarine to embark on the next Arctic project, Unternehmen Wunderland (Operation “Land of Miracles”), which was aimed to shut down Allied convoys coming to the Barents Sea along the eastern leg of the Northern Passage, or, as Soviets called it, “Northern Sea Route” between Vladivostok and Archangel off the northern shores of Asia.
In overall context of the German navy planning, Wunderland was considered as a preliminary stage of establishing control over the western Arctic, which would be followed by operations Doppelschlag ("Double blow" by two pocket battleships), Tzar (extensive mining), Wunderland-2 (follow-up) and others, still on the drawing board.
Meanwhile, after western convoys were almost shut down, Northern Sea Route was quickly becoming more important than ever for supplying Russians with Allies-made weaponry, food and strategic materials. Northern Sea Route was not only considered as safer from Axis interference than alternative route for delivery of US strategic supplies through Persian Gulf and Iran, but was also much shorter. As a result, traffic along Northern Sea Route sharply intensified, and Japanese naval intelligence constantly registered steady increase of the shipping in the major Russian ports of Petropavlovsk and Vladivostok, which were used as departure points for numerous Allied convoys, following north, to Bering Strait and then on into the Arctic.
Even before the beginning of the summer shipping season, on May 5, 1942 admiral Rolph Carls, Commander-in-Chief, Naval-Group-Command “Nord” ordered his Arctic sector commander, “Admiral of the Northern Waters” Hubert Schmundt to prepare first complete draft for the Operation Wunderland. The core idea of the operation was destruction of the Allied convoys and attacks on the major ports on the Northern Sea Route.
“Northern Waters” Admiral Hubert Schmundt. Conceived over-ambitious Operation Wunderland using only fragmentary information about Soviet activities and weather conditions in Kara Sea.
Schmundt based his ambitious plan on the presumption, that if western Allied convoys were accompanied by British and American battleships, cruisers and even aircraft carriers, eastern convoys were considered by the Russian planners as relatively safe from enemy’s interference and were protected by the weak escorts, represented mostly by vintage icebreakers, hastily armed with few 76-mm, 45-mm artillery pieces and 20-mm Oerlikons anti-aircraft guns, firepower, barely enough to ward off a lonely German submarine, usually attacking from the surface, but useless against German destroyers, not even to mention cruisers or battleships.
Star role for the Operation Wunderland was reserved for the large Norwegian-based capital ships, “pocket battleships”, but in fact heavy battle cruisers Admiral Scheer, Lützow and Hipper, which could attack east- and west-bound convoys in Kara Sea with relative impunity, relaying on the superior firepower and the strong support from reconnaissance seaplanes and submarines. According Schmundt's study, in order to inflict maximum damage in the shortest time possible, German ships had to attack simultaneously both east- and west-bound convoys in the point where they meet each other, preferably in the narrow Vilkitsky Straits, under conditions, preventing maneuvering or dispersing, and in the area, remote enough to exclude interference of the Soviet aircrafts. Finishing off convoys, German ships could attack Russians key ports along the Northern Sea Route, damage its infrastructure and effectively paralyze all movement in the Arctic waters at least up to the end of the 1942 navigation season.
Admiral Schmundt believed, that the main problem for Wunderland was not a Russian opposition, which was deemed as negligible, but poor reconnaissance data about convoys’ movement and insufficient knowledge of ice and weather conditions in the Kara Sea. Other planners on his team were more optimistic and pointed out that seaplanes and submarines would be able to provide valuable information for the raiders, and besides, capital ships, participating in Wunderland, also could clarify situation, listening radio traffic, capturing Soviet documents, maps, convoy cipher keys, and accumulating data about weather and ice conditions. Future operations would be able to take advantage of this battle-reconnaissance knowledge and become more effective.
Because of the insufficient data about convoy movements, Kriegsmarine planners had to relay mostly on the educated guessing. Their main dilemma was associated with Novaya Zemlia (New Land) Islands, which consists of two large islands, separated by narrow Matochkin Shar Strait and plays a role of a giant dividing barrier between Barents and Kara Sea. They had to figure out where convoys would usually go after they left Murmansk and Archangel: through Kara Gates Strait, or turn first to the north along the western shore of Novaya Zemlia, and then pass Cape Zhelania on the way to Port Dikson or directly to Vilkitsky Strait via Yedinenia Island. After careful analysis and considerations they came up with plausible solution that main route for the convoys was much shorter variant along the western shore of Novaya Zemlia. This conclusion, however, proved to be erroneous. Russians based Northern Sea Route on more practical notion, that summer ice conditions are not so harsh and more predictable on the longer route off the mainland shore than along Arctic's “north shortcut” off northern shores of Novaya Zemlia, very close to the border of the Arctic pack ice. This Kriegsmarine's “armchair strategizing” was destined to become the main reason for the unsatisfactory results of the operation Wunderland even before it started.
Operation Wunderland, August 1942
According Schmundt's plan, German capital ships had to be supported by 7 submarines, 3 were allocated for gathering data for the ice conditions to the north and north-east of Novaya Zemlia, and 4 submarines had to shield participating battle cruisers from attacks of the Soviet North Sea Fleet from the west, and also for staging diversionary raids against Soviet forces in Belushya Guba, weather stations on Novaya Zemlia and shipping in the eastern part of the Barents Sea.
Expectations reigned high, but in June Schmundt was forced to scale his plan down. During the raid on PQ-17 convoy, pocket battleship Lützow hit a sand bank near Storboenfeuer, was moved to Lo-Fiord, and then returned to Kiel docks for repairs. Hipper also had to be left behind in Narvik to continue threaten convoy routes and the only capital ship, able to take part in Wunderland was “pocket battleship” Admiral Scheer.
Nevertheless, Scheer’s battle capabilities were more than sufficient to ensure Wunderland’s success. Heavy battles cruiser Admiral Scheer was launched at Bauwerft Reichsmarinewerfert in Wilhelmshaven on April 1, 1933 and officially joined Kriegsmarine on November 12, 1934. As other sister pocket battleships, she combined decent speed 26 knots, produced by 8 powerful diesel engines, with massive firepower, provided by six 280mm main guns, eight 150mm guns and six 105mm guns, as well as 8 torpedo launchers, and could cover 18000 miles without refueling. The idea behind the design of Admiral Scheer and other “pocket battleships” was to ensure that they would be able to outrun enemy battleships and outgun enemy cruisers of the era, while raiding the world’s most important ocean routes. These expectations were fulfilled when Scheer, under capable Theodore Crancke, took part in major German raid in 1941-1942, sinking 16 ships in Atlantic and Indian oceans. Her experienced crew could easily double success of this raid, now in Arctic.
Scheer fires on the British merchant ship, 1941.
Before operation, newly appointed Scheer's captain, Meendsen-Bohlken received briefing on the Kara Sea conditions and Russian Naval tactics from von Baumbach, former naval attaché in the German Embassy in Russia. Since so much depended on accurate decoding of the Soviet radio traffic, Scheer’s crew was joined by Kriegsmarine Funkaufklärung (radio intelligence) team under captain Disterweg, most of its members spoke Russian fluently.
Admiral Scheer's wartime captains (from left): Meendsen-Bohlken (12 June 1941 - 28 November 1942), E. Thienemann (April 1944 - April 1945), R. Rothe-Roth (February 1943 - April 1944 ), and the crew.
In the beginning of August German Naval attaché in Japan received important intelligence from Japanese Combined Fleet HQ in Tokyo, that on July 16 large US convoy with 20 merchant ships arrived to Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky. On July 26 it left Petropavlovsk and on August 1 passed Bering Straits, going north. According Japanese radio traffic monitoring service, convoy counted 19 merchant ships and was accompanied by 3 icebreakers, totalling around 75,000 brt. According German and Japanese estimations, convoy could pass Vilkitsky Strait and enter Kara Sea on August 22 or 23. These estimations were another example of “office strategizing”. First, due to extremely harsh ice condition in Laptev Sea, targeted westbound convoy moved very slowly and in fact reached Vilkitsky Straits not on August 22, but on September 22, exactly one month later, after Scheer had long gone. Second, this convoy, named SME-18 (Special Mission Expedition-18) had only 6 merchants and 2 icebreakers, but included heavy destroyer Baku and destroyers Razumny and Raziarionny, which were transferred from the Pacific to enforce Russian Northern Fleet. Unfortunately for the Russians all these ships were not battle-ready and couldn’t do any harm if ambushed by Scheer: to make ships as light as possible, all guns and torpedo launchers with ammunition and torpedoes were transferred to one of the convoy's merchant ship.
Soon Germans received another major reason for excitement. On August 15 Luftwaffe reconnaissance planes detected large convoy, which left Archangelsk a week before and turned to the east, to Belushya Guba, obviously bearing to Vilkitsky Strait, which it most likely would pass also around August 22-23. Both convoys were accompanied by almost all icebreakers, which Chief Administration of the Northern Sea Route (GUSMP), had in its disposal, and would present one giant target, more than 50 ships in total. If Kriegsmarine wanted to stage successful naval raid against Russian shipping and sink both convoys at once in the narrow strait, effectively paralyzing Northern Sea Route, it was time to act now.
Preliminary moves of operation Wunderland began 3 weeks before Scheer left Narvik, and were conducted by German U-boats, with main attention focused on Belushya Guba, a move, designed to distract Soviets from the Admiral Scheer’s raid in Kara Sea. First action occurred on July 27 1942, when German submarine U-601 under Captain-Lieutenant Grau attacked Malye Karmakuly near Belushia Bay and shelled two anchored seaplanes, three living and two storage huts. On August 1 she torpedoed Soviet merchant Krestianin, loaded with coal, which was approaching Belushya Guba Bay without escort. Ship sunk in three minutes, 7 sailors and passengers died in the attack, others were barely able to reach Novaya Zemlia in boats.
Germans chose Belushya for the reason. Before Soviets planned to use Belushya for their own Novaya Zemlia Naval base, German submarines had chosen Belushya Bay for the rest and refueling and knew area intimately. In 1941 Germans even contemplated to construct all-weather runaway and establish radio station on Mezhdysharski Island, just south from Belushya Guba, but these efforts were delayed by increasingly strong Soviet presence in the area.
On August 8 U-601 entered Kara Sea with the mission to gather information about Soviet shipping, ice and weather conditions and took key position off the north point of the Novaya Zemlia. Six days later new German submarine U-251 under command of Captain-Luetenant Timm also entered Kara Sea and proceeded to Dikson area. Two more submarines, U-209 and U-456 were preparing to stage diversionary raid against targets along the western shores of Novaya Zemlia, getting as much attention as possible from the Russian White Sea Naval Group, and distracting it from the anticipated main events in Kara Sea and Vilkitsky Strait.
On August 17, after unsuccessful hunting in Kara Gate and Ugorski Shar Straits, U-209 at last got her chance to leave a mark on the Arctic Naval War. This mark was destined to be exceptionally gruesome. On August 16, one day before, NKVD representative in Chabarovo, small port on the south shore of Ugorsky Shar Strait, authorized departure of two ocean tugs, Komsomolets and Nord, which were to tow barge P-4, lighter Sh-500 and tug Komiles with malfunctioned engine to Naryan-Mar. Lighter was loaded only with construction materials, but barge carried locked-in 300 inmates from Norilskstroi Gulag concentration camps. According long standing practice, NKVD, considering itself as a separate and independent power inside the state, hadn’t bothered to informed White Sea Naval Command about departure and as a result, slave caravan left harbor without escort, even if minesweepers T-54 and T-62 were easily available and stayed in Chabarovo.
At 7:00 am on the next morning in 2 miles from the north shore of Matveev Island, near the western entrance to Ugorski Shar Strait, U-209 discovered slowly moving ships. Staying submerged on periscope depth, U-209 commander Captain-lieutenant Brodda saw Komsomolets with P-4 in tow, behind her was Nord with Komiles and Sh-500.
U-209 appeared on the surface and first shelled P-4. Fire started immediately, inmates, hastily released from the hold, and their guards began jumping overboard to escape flames. All inmates wore black jail uniform and Germans mistakenly took them for the Red Army soldiers. When U-209 was finishing off P-4, Komsomolets casted off trailing line and attempted to leave the area. Radist Kozhevina promptly reported to Chabarovo about U-boat attack. Komsomolets's move was noticed and Brodda ordered to turn the gun and fire on the tug. After several direct hits from 88-mm gun tug caught fire and began to sink. Brodda was certain that Komsomolets was doomed and resumed fire on P-4. At 07:10 U-209 launched torpedo from the distance of 600 meters, which didn’t explode. Next torpedo, launched at 07:15 was also a dud. Careful check of torpedo firing settings didn’t clarify the reason of the malfunctions. At 07:20, leaving P-4 to burn, U-209 followed Nord, which Germans originally took for the coast guard vessel. Nord, meanwhile, taking advantage of U-209 being busy with Komsomolets and P-4, was able to bring Komiles and Sh-500 closer to the shore of Matveyev Island, cast off the line and leave to the direction of Ugorski Shar. At 8:00 U-209 approached the helpless ships, standing near the shore and shelled Komiles. Crew rushed overboard and was able to reach the shore. Next came turn of the coal lighter. At 8:05 running low on shells, U-209 launched torpedo from the distance of 300 meters, but again it didn’t explode. At 8:10 Brodda had no choice but to shell Sh-500 and after several hits cargo lighter slowly went down.
P-4 was still burning in the distance and U-209 moved closer to finish the job. Almost out of shells, at 09:20 Brodda ordered to launch one more torpedo from the distance of 320 meters. This time it exploded and barge quickly went down. Brodda noticed that one ship escaped and decided to leave the area, going north, to the shores on the Novaya Zemlia. At 13:40 he informed Narvik about the sinkings in the area with coordinates AT-8762.
Crews of U-209 and U-880, 1943
As soon as Chabarovo learned about Matveyev Island massacre, minesweepers were ordered to pick up survivors. At 11:40 T-54 and T-62 met Nord, which turned back and joined the rescue force. At 15:40 ships picked up Komiles survivors and also found Komsomolets, which eventually reached the island with only 5 crew members on board alive from original compliment of 19. From the total amount of 328 only 23 were rescued, not one of the inmates or guards from P-4 survived the ordeal.
On the next day, August 18, Archangel party committee was informed about the sinkings and demanded from North Fleet Command to curtail German attacks against the Soviet shipping. Ironically, on the very next day, August 19, U-209 attempted to enter Belushya Guba, but was spotted by motor boat Poliarny and two Soviet minesweepers T-39 and T-58. Firefight promptly erupted and was stopped only when Soviet coast guard ship SKR-18, former armed icebreaker Fedor Litke, left Belushuya Guba and came to the rescue, but U-209 proudly left the area without submerging, making 18-knots, twice faster than aging SKR-18. Then, on August 21, near Matochkin Shar Strait U-456 attempted to attack the same SKR-18 and minesweeper T-57, which were returning to Belushya after unsuccessful patrolling.
Admiral Golovko, Commander of the Northern Sea Fleet had enough of this German meddling. Heavily contested Belushya needed urgent reinforcements. Multiple sinkings and embarrassingly frequent demonstrations of German U-boats prompted Soviets to reinforce Belushya shore defenses with naval guns from Port Dikson. German strategy of distraction Soviet forces from Kara Sea worked as advertised.
Admiral Golovko, caught off guard by the Operation Wunderland.
After preliminary U-boat campaign time had come to put Admiral Scheer into action. Weather conditions remained the major concern and German planned this part very carefully. Besides submarines and the whole network of stations, stretching from Spitzbergen to Novaya Zemlia and even to the mouth of Lena River (remnants of the German weather station and U-boats supply depot were found there only in 1980s), five Blohm und Vosse BV-138 seaplanes, able to stay in the air for 12 hours without refueling, were to cover large swatches of sea along the most important shipping routes. However, harsh Arctic conditions struck an unexpected blow against this vital part of the whole operation. When one of BV-138 met with “milk cow” U-255 and after refueling was about to return to Tromse, both engines malfunctioned. Submarine tried to tow precious seaplane, but heavy waves damaged one of the sponsons and BV-138 had to be abandoned. On the same day second BV-138 crushed on landing near Norwegian coast and was also damaged beyond repair.
German BV-138 3-engine reconnaissance seaplane
Still, ice conditions report, transmitted by U-601 to Kriegsmarine HQ in Narvik on August 15, looked promising and Germans decided to proceed with Wunderland. On August 16, at 15:00 Admiral Sheer, accompanied by destroyers Z16 Friedrich Eckoldt, Z15 Erich Steinbrinck and Z4 Richard Beitzen left its anchorage in the Bogen Bite. Reaching Bear Island in complete radio silence, Scheer’s captain Meendsen-Bohlken partied with his escort and proceeded full speed to the east.
Admiral Scheer in the Arctic, heavily romantisized (and not quite accurate) take by contemporary artist.
Foggy and cloudy weather with very low visibility favored Scheer's run accross Barents Sea. In the evening of August 18 Scheer entered Kara Sea and lowered Arado seaplane on the water. It was time to start reconnaissance flights. At 23:40 Scheer successfully met U-601 and received the updated information about ice conditions. However when commander of U-601 captain Grau mentioned that so far, contrary to German expectations, he hadn't observed any shipping along the western coast of the Novaya Zemlia, Meendsen-Bohlken was still not convinced and decided to check situation for himself. Sheer turned to the south-west, to the Cape of Zhelaniya, then east to the Island of Yedeniniya, following presumable route of the Russian ships, but soon had to navigate around two large ice fields and Sheer eventually was stopped dead by the solid wall of ice across her route, impregnable barrier, which made her turn back to the west. U-601’s information was valid: heavy Russian shipping in this area, envisioned by Kriegsmarine staff never materialized and all day was spent without any gains. Even worse, in the end Arado’s compass malfunctioned and one more day was lost for repairs.
Sheer lowering seaplane on the water
After moving away from the heavily iced area in the east, Sheer turned south and at the evening hours of August 20 met with another submarine, U-251, which also so far hadn’t spotted anything. Meendsen-Bohlken was left with only one viable option, to follow the shore line of Taymur peninsula, reach Vilkitsky Strait and wait for the convoys, which hopefully would soon come his way.
Admiral Scheer in 1941 as seen from Scheer's Arado seaplane.
This decision proved to be correct. In the midday on August 21 Arado at last reported that long-anticipated west-bound convoy was located just in 60 miles from Scheer’s current position, to the east of Mona Island, and moved slowly bearing south-west, almost exactly towards the battlecruiser. According Arado’s observer, convoy included 9 merchants and 1 large icebreaker with two smoke-stacks.
Arctic convoy PQ-17, photographed from the German reconnaisance plane, July 1942
If number of the ship in convoy was reported accurately, information about convoy’s bearing was completely wrong. Germans were waiting for the west-bound convoy from Petropavlovsk, and Arado’s crew, in order to avoid detection, observed ships for a very short time and from the maximum range. As a result, both pilots were unable to determine the exact course and produced biased information, which better concurred with original German estimations. In fact, “west-bound” convoy, sighted by Arado, was bearing east, not south-west, moving away from the Sheer’s position. This was the same convoy, “3d Arctic”, which left Archangel on August 8 and was observed by Luftwaffe planes on August 15. After short anchorage in Belushya Guba, merchant ships, 2 tankers and icebreaker Krasin passed Kara Gates, on August 18 they visited Dikson and proceeded to the east. Later convoy was joined by second icebreaker Lenin and British tanker Hope Mount. To name this group of ships “convoy” would be exaggeration, since, as usual practice for the east-bound convoys, it was not protected by any true naval ships and if only Scheer chose to pursue her target, it could sunk all or most of the ships, operating around the clock, even in the night hours, since at the end of August light day in the Arctic is still very long. Instead, Meendsen-Bohlken decided to take position near Ermak sand bank, getting ready to meet convoy after it would pass the Mona Island and found itself before the muzzles of Admiral Scheer’s naval 280-mm and 150-mm guns.
Still, Meendsen-Bohlken was worried about the exact route which Russian convoy may choose and ordered Arado's pilot to clarify previous information, but seaplane soon returned back, reporting that large fog area moves from the east, completely covering position where convoy was sighted previously. All night Scheer was waiting for the convoy in vain. At last radio traffic monitoring service reported that convoy was slowly moving away from the Sheer’s ambush in north-eastern direction. Only then Meendsen-Bohlken understood his mistake and ordered to pursue convoy, but precious time was already wasted.
By the morning hours of August 22 Sheer reached Nordenskiold Archipelago and Arado took off again. Unable to find convoy, seaplane crew decided to investigate ice condition along the route to Vilkitsky Strait. Meanwhile German radio service found a key for one of the Soviet messages. It stated that convoy was moving north-east making 5 knots and was about to enter Vilkitsky Strait.
Arado in flight
5 knots seemed like almost a walking speed, however the task to intercept and destroy convoy was not easy due to unpredictable movement of the ice fields. Distance between convoy and battlecruiser was closing painfully slow. On August 23 Arado again found elusive convoy, which was now positioned on anchorage near Helland-Hansen Island. Next two days Sheer continued to move east, along the relatively narrow strip of water, sometimes just several miles wide. At this point stock of aviation fuel was all but depleted, and Meendsen-Bohlken decided to put Arado’s flights on hold, making mistake, which became obvious soon enough. While Sheer was approaching Russky Island, wind changed direction and Sheer soon found herself surrounded by menacingly closing heavy ice, which could eventually crush the ship. German cruiser was no icebreaker, ice wouldn’t push her up, but rather would apply side pressure with enough force to deform steel body and cause dangerous leaks. Fortunately for the Germans, wind changed direction again and after several hours of skilful maneuvering Scheer was able to find her way to the clear water and continue pursuit, even if her speed sometimes dropped just to 1.5-2 knots. Still, Meendsen-Bohlken tenacity didn’t pay off: on August 25 at 5:30 am Arado made its eleventh and last flight. During the harsh landing it struck large chunk of floating ice and could not be repaired, so captain ordered to dispose the seaplane, firing couple of short bursts from 20mm aircraft gun. Without this helpful flying companion, any hopes to find and attack convoy quickly faded and Meendsen-Bohlken sounded a retreat. If only he knew that Russian ships were literally cornered: 3d Arctic convoy was stopped dead in the water, since harsh ice conditions in the Laptev Sea completely blocked convoy's way to the east.
Route to the west was much easier for Scheer, this time water was almost free from ice. By 11 am cruiser passed Nordenskold Islands and reached Beluha Island, where in the first time during the Operation Wunderland, Scheer’s lookouts reported that at last an enemy’s ship had been spotted.
Old Russian icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov (1380 tons displacement, length 76.5 meters, original speed 13 knots) was Arctic work horse and one of the most well-known ships along the Northern Sea Route. As sealing steamer ship Bellaventure it was constructed by D & W Henderson in 1909 for Canadian company, but in 1915 ended up with Russian White Sea Naval Group, supporting winter convoys and distributing military materials from Britain and USA. In 1916 icebreaker was renamed after Alexander Sibiryakov, pre-first world war Arctic merchant and researcher. The name stuck and ship wasn't renamed after the revolution, as many other "old-regime" named Russian ships, both military and civilian.
Bellaventure/Sibiriakov before the First World War
Lovingly nicknamed “Sasha”, Sibiryakov proved herself during the risky voyages of 1921, delivering Siberian wheat to Archangelsk. In July-October 1932 Sibiryakov, under captain Voronin, even found a piece of international fame, passing Northern Sea Route in one navigation season, adventure, which at that time was considered impossible.
Sibirakov near Novaya Zemlya islands, 1933.
During this epic voyage Sibiryakov was on the verge to be crushed by the ice fields in East Siberian Sea, but Arctic-hardened crew was able to extract ship from potentially death trap. When ship was approaching Bering Strait, her propeller, damaged previously by the ice, gave way and sunk to the bottom, but crew created a makeshift sail and ship was able to reach clear water on October 1 and successfully accomplish the voyage, being towed by November to Petropavlovsk.
Makeshift sales on Sibirakov, 1933.
After the start of the war, Sibiryakov was armed with two 76mm naval guns, two 45 mm guns and two 20 mm anti-aircraft Oerlikons and her crew was joined by 32 gunners. During the first war year Sibiryakov was employed mostly in the White Sea as part of logistic "Ice-6" Naval group, carrying troops, artillery shells, food rations, and evacuating wounded.
On August 23 1942 Sibiryakov’s captain Anatoly Kacharava received an order to deliver 350 tons of supplies for the weather stations on Severnaya Zemlia, as well as the crew and construction materials for the new planned station on Cape Molotov. Ship was loaded with bulky supplies, logs for the weather station huts, weather station equipment, canned food, several cows, teams of polar dogs, large cargo boat - “kungas”, in local parlance, for delivering supplies to the unprepared shore and on top of it, 300 barrels of gasoline fuel, stored on deck. Sibiryakov had crew of 47 sailors, 32 gunners, 23 civilians (mostly personnel of weather stations) with 2 officers of the White Sea Naval Command in charge, 104 in total. On August 24 Sibiryakov left Port Dikson and started the voyage, which would become her last.
Sibiryakov crew: Chief Bochurko (let) and 2nd officer, leutenant Elimelach
Nobody could foresee looming disaster. For 9 days Sheer operated in Kara Sea unnoticed and Kacharava received no warnings, despite at least three ominous reports, filed by the North Fleet HQ. First, on August 24 captain Mond, chief of the British naval mission in Archangel informed commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, admiral Golovko, that several days previously Sheer left West-Fiord in Norway for apparent raid in western Arctic, and her current position remained unknown. Second warning was the unusually heavy radio traffic between German submarines, picked up by Soviet stations. Third was the sighting of Arado seaplane by Soviet polar station on the Geyberg Island in Nordenskiold archipelago. Station crew transmitted highly detailed description of the airplane, which looks completely unfamiliar and didn’t resemble anything they had seen so far in the air. Besides, unknown reconnaissance airplane was obviously ship-based, since it was quite small, had only one engine and couldn’t stay in the air for long. However station report was put on hold as all other messages, and no action was taken. Commander of the Soviet Northern Fleet, admiral Arseny Golovko still couldn’t contemplate the idea, that German raider might try to venture into remote and inhospitable Kara Sea.
Kacharava was only notified that German U-boat shelled weather station on Cape Zhelaniya (it was U-255), burned 4 storage huts, but didn’t inflict serious damage on the station equipment and soon submerged and left the area. However Cape Zhelaniya was far from Dikson, enemy’s U-boats activities were registered occasionally since the start of the war, and Sibiryakov’s departure was not delayed.
By midday on August 25 Sibiryakov, on course to Cape Olovianny on Severnaya Zemlia, approached three islands, Beluha, Centralny and Dolgy, which already became visible on the horizon in the clear and cold Arctic air. Crew was going to have launch, but at 13:17 senior signalman Alexeyev reported that he observed smoke of an unknown ship. Ship sightings were rare in the Arctic waters and passengers came up to the deck to find out which ship they had met. Kacharava ordered his radioman Sharshavin to request identification. Three messages were sent, but unknown ship was silent. “Large capital ship”, reported Alexeyev. “Yes, battleship or cruiser”, replied Kacharava, observing the ship with his binoculars. “Here goes the bridge, massive gun turrets… Emergency message to Dikson in clear: “Battleship near Beluha Island, country of origin is unknown”. Kacharava was puzzled: there was no reason to sail in friendly waters without any flag. “Request again the name, country”.
Sibiryakov's crew: signalman Alexeyev, radioman Sharshavin, gunner Nikiforenko, stoker Vavilov (Vavilov's photo was made in 1960).
At that moment Meendsen-Bohlken faced difficult dilemma. He could open fire immediately and quickly sink an old icebreaker, but now, when Arado was lost, he needed desperately all information about ice conditions and convoys' movement he would be able to get from the Russians. Scheer turned in the direction of the icebreaker to make harder silhouette recognition, old trick, used routinely during the previous raid across Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, identified herself as “Tuscaloosa” and hoisted American Navy flag.
But this trick didn’t work. Due to signal mistake from the German part, misunderstanding from the Russian, or both, Sibiryakov signalmen red the name of the ship not as “Tuscaloosa”, but as Japanese-sounded “Siyasima”. What was Japanese heavy cruiser doing under American flag in the middle of the Arctic? And still, why there was no flag hoisted before?
Even if Alexeyev got the name right and Kacharava knew that American cruiser Tuscaloosa occasionally visits Barents Sea and in fact entered Kola Bight in the evening hours of August 23 and on the next day left Murmansk, it was physically impossible for the American cruiser to be near Beluha Island on August 25, as far away as 1300 miles from Murmansk.
Kacharava ordered general alarm and crew run to the battle stations. Guns were quickly prepared for action, fire crew connected water hoses, ship medics deployed makeshift hospital to treat wounded. Ten minutes later battleship signaled first message in Russian: “Who are you and where are you going?” A minute later next message was transmitted: “Report ice conditions in the Vilkitsky Strait”. Now Kacharava knew exactly that this ship was German and what it was interested in. “Set course to Beluha Island. Full speed!” He decided to win more time and hopefully, move closer to the nearest piece of land before Germans will open fire.
At 13:38 Kacharava ordered his radioman to send message in clear to Northern Sea Route Command in Port Dikson that unknown battle cruiser hoisted American flag and approaching fast. Dikson replied immediately that there was no American or Japanese ships in the area, ship in question could only be an enemy’s raider, and Sibiryakov should act according standing battle orders.
Germans, carefully monitoring radio messages from Sibiryakov understood at once that their disguise hadn’t worked and demanded to stop radio transmission immediately. Again, they hadn’t received any answer. In response Sheer hoisted Kriegsmarine battle flag and ordered Sibiryakov to stop the engine.
Short discussion on Sibiryakov’s bridge followed. Situation was desperate. Beluha Island was still 10 miles away and aging icebreaker, having maximum speed 8.5 knots, could reach it only in more than an hour, and at the same time, distance between the ships was too large for 76 mm Sibiryakov’s guns, so Scheer would be able to open fire from the safe distant and sink slowly moving ship without a chance to receive even a scratch in return.
Still, Kacharava and his crew decided to fight. In 13:40 Dikson received a message: “Enemy ship is closing on us, we will fight”. In 13:49 Sharshavin sent one more message, most likely on his own initiative: “Shooting has started”, and the last message, several minutes later: “…continue to fight…”. Last two messages were not received by Dikson, since powerful Sheer’s radio transmitter jammed all frequences, but it was already too late. At 14:07 Dikson sent message to all Arctic stations: ”Fashist battlecruiser in Kara Sea, icebreaker Sibiryakov is under attack. All ships are to stop radio transmissions immediately”. At last, nine days after beginning of the "Wunderland" Russians received a word about German operation. All convoys en route were instructed to steer clear from the dangerous area or stay in ports under protection of shore batteries. Dozens of Arctic stations started to call Sibiryakov, but ship went silent.
… To support her orders, Scheer fired one blank shot. That was the final warning.
“Open fire”, ordered Kacharava to his gunnery officer Nikiforenko. "Battery, distance…, percussion fuses…, aim at superstructure…, load…, open fire”, ordered Nikiforenko. Sibiryakov’s guns fired. Distance was still too large and thin water fountains from Sibiryakov’s 76 mm shells rose in the air way short of the German battle cruiser. However, as Nikiforenko saw in the rangefinder, German sailors, accustomed to enjoy the spectacle of the sinking, had to clear the deck, and cruiser’s dreaded 280 mm guns began to move, adjusting the aim. Kacharave ordered: “Smoke screen, helm to port, course for Beluha Island, full ahead”.
First German salvo slightly overshot the target. Meendsen-Bohlken and his gunners were bewildered by this pathetic resistance and couldn’t foresee that small Russian ship would fight back. Usually picture was different. After first salvo merchant was supposed to stop the engine and hastily launch the lifeboats, before next Scheer’s salvo, fired on stationary target, would finish it off.
Still, close explosions shook the ship. Phone line between bridge and the guns was broken and Nikiforenko run to the guns on the stern. Splinters cut down fore-top-mast and destroyed radio antenna. Transmission was interrupted, but soon resumed, when Sharshavin switched to backup radio. Return fire continued. Guns firing, commands, screams, sounds of the frightened animals, noise of overworked engine created mayhem.
At 13:53 Scheer’s next salvo landed right on target: 305-kg shell struck the gun platform on the stern. Explosion was enormous. High in the air Kacharava saw pieces of boxes, trunks, boats, spent shell cartridges. Stern gun was destroyed instantly, gun crew perished in the blast.
The last fight of icebreaker Sibiryakov, August 25, 1942, 14:00.
Third salvo again straddled the icebreaker, this time hitting the bow. Hot splinters pierced barrels with gasoline fuel, standing on deck, many exploded, quickly spreading fire. Kacharava was heavily wounded and felt unconscious, his arm was heavily damaged and bleeding.
Sibiriakov on fire. Beluha island is on the background. Photo was taken from Admiral Scheer.
Fourth salvo was fatal. Massive shells went through the deck and exploded below, damaging the boiler and making gaping holes in the hulk. Sibiryakov’s engine went silent and ship stopped dead in the water. At 14:05 second in command leutenant Elimelach ordered to leave the ship, launching the only undamaged lifeboat. Not everybody heard or followed this order. Some left on board or were unwilling or unable to leave the ship, wounded or cut out by the wall of fire.
Sibiryakov lying dead in the water after the battle. Boat with survivors is on the right. Photo was made from the approaching Scheer's launch.
Enormous column of smoke completely obscured ship. Closing on her victim, Scheer waited more than 20 minutes when flames began to subside. Sibiryakov was visibly low in the water, but still was refusing to sink. Miraculously, the last survived gun continued firing. Meendsen-Bohlken decided to deliver coupe de grace and at 14:28 ordered the last salvo from the point blank range of just 2.2 miles, which at last silenced Sibiryakov. In total Sheer gunners fired 27 shells in 6 salvos and counted 4 hits.
Before the battle started, Kacharava ordered his chief Bochurko to scuttle the ship, preventing Germans to seize and search the icebreaker. Receiving the word that Kacharava died, and German launch was approaching, Bochurko decided to act and descended in ship bowels, never to be seen again. Minutes later Sibiryakov was scuttled and at 15:00 ship went down, quickly disappearing under the water.
August 25, 15:00. Sibiryakov is scuttled and going down. Photo made from Scheer's launch. Several survivors from Sibiriakov are visible on the foreground, some still wearing life jackets.
Meanwhile, still hoping to get information they needed, Germans decided to capture survivors and lowered the launch, which quickly approached lifeboat with Russian survivors. Stoker Matveyev, who was in the boat, threw an axe into the German officer, but was shot on the spot. According to German sources, some sailors refused to be rescued, jumped overboard and were left behind in the ice-cold water for certain death. Several Germans jumped into the captured Russian boat and beaten up reluctant survivors with guns butts, forcing them to board the German launch. Altogether from original number of 104, Germans picked up 22 survivors, including wounded and unconscious Kacharava, radioman Sharshavin and head of the planned weather station on Severnaya Zemlia, Zolotov.
Meendsen-Bohlken was disappointed. Sibiryakov made Scheer’s presence in the Arctic known. Russians were warned in the most deadly manner, convoys would certainly start to react to the danger. Captured crew members could only tell the name and destination of the ship. Since Sibiryakov wasn’t part of any convoy, no new information on other ships was obtained. Kacharava was still unconscious and was taken for the regular crew member, his real identity was revealed much later. Also, as it turned out, Zolotov, unlucky head of the polar station, was geologist, not meteorologist per se and he didn’t know much about the general conditions of the weather and ice in the area, nor he was aware of the current forecast, information, that would be the most valuable for the Germans.
At 15:45 Germans intercepted radio signal from the chief of the Western Sector Command HQ of Northern Sea Route Main Directorate Mineev, where he warned that enemy’s auxiliary cruiser* operates in the Kara Sea. Soon Sheer's signalman saw Russian seaboat, apparently looking for Sibiryakov, which at that time didn’t notice Germans. But it was time to leave the area.
* [By all means, Scheer was not just an "auxiliary cruiser". Russians still didn't know what ship they were dealing with. Even in their first book about Acric naval war, published in 1946, they mentioned Admiral Scheer only as probable culprit]
Incredibly, Meendsen-Bohlken still stubbornly hoped to meet Soviet convoys on the non-existed route Cape Zhelaniya - Dikson and ordered to turn north-west. But Kara Sea was empty. During the night Scheer’s lookouts saw only occasional ice fields and by the morning hours of August 26 Meendsen-Bohlken decided that after surprise was lost, he will be unable to intercept any Russian ships in the open sea. Much more promising was an idea to attack a port. There he could find not only merchant ships on the anchorage, but also capture senior commanders, enemy’s headquarters with all documentation about convoys’ movements, detailed maps of the area, weather forecasts, naval codes and other troves of information.
Pre-war photo study of Admiral Scheer
Meendsen-Bohlken could choose between two most important centers of the Northern Sea Route in Kara Sea: Amderma and Dikson. Germans erroneously believed that Amderma was the key center for unloading Allied convoys because of the constant Luftwaffe bombing sorties against Murmansk, but if it was true, Amderma would be most likely well protected by shore batteries and besides, it was situated uncomfortably close to the Russian naval and air bases. Remote Dikson looked like much more promising target. Besides, careful analysis of Russian radio traffic during Sibiryakov’s ordeal, just completed by Disterweg team, indicated that Dikson functioned as a hub of Arctic support network, transmitting orders to other ports and ships, and because of its signature characteristic, most likely hosted Western Sector Command HQ. If Port Dikson would be devastated by heavy bombardment and searched by a heavily armed landing party, the main aim of the Operation Wunderland, namely, suppressing the navigation along Northern Sea route, could be still attainable despite all previous disappointments and misfortunes.
While Germans were procrastinating in the middle of the Kara Sea, searching for Soviet ships far from their actual routes, researching radio traffic and weighting their options, Soviets HQ were overloaded with tons of inaccurate and hassle information. Suddenly remote Kara Sea was filled with entire German fleet, including everything Kriegsmarine could possibly put afloat. According one message enemy’s cruiser opened fire on Cape Zhelania station on the morning of August 25, another cruiser sunk Sibiryakov later on the same day, yet another fast-moving cruiser passed weather station on Cape Cheluskin at 1:40 am on August 26, bearing east, presumably chasing the same Soviet convoy which was unsuccessfully hunted by Scheer the day before. People’s Comissar of the Soviet Fleet Admiral Kuznetsov ordered to restore complete control of the situation along Northern Sea Route and employ all possible measures to strengthen defense. At 14:30 head of Northern Sea Route Command (GUSMP) Papanin contacted Commander of the Northern Fleet admiral Golovko and demanded to put long-range bombers of the Naval aviation in the air and aggressively search for the German raiders.
However, the whole system of Soviet communication and control was so cumbersome and complicated, that all measures and panic orders brewed down to the planning of some trivial and ineffective steps: two seaplanes were sent to search for the raiders in the entire Kara Sea, having size slightly less than 1 million sq km.; one submarine received ridiculously-sounded order to “search for the Germans to the east of 80 meridian”; two more submarines were planned to take positions in Kara Gate Strait and to the north off Cape Zhelaniya. Seven long-range bombers were planned for Amderma and ten old MBR-2 seaplanes were earmarked for transfer to Port Dikson and Cape Cheluskin, but only “after weather conditions will improve ”. Allies had to be notified about the raid and strongly advised to send capital ships to deal with the threat, presumably from Scapa Flow; more streamlined system of communication and control of the shipping was to be introduced. In theory, all these and other measures sounded reasonable, but they needed weeks and even months to be implemented, and even after that they could be only partially effective. All day of August 26 was spent in discussions, planning, writing and trasmitting orders and counter-orders, and all this time, east-bound convoy, closely "followed" by cruiser-ghost was left to its own devices. If this “convoy chasing cruiser” was real, she could sink convoy long before any defense measures took effect.
Northern Sea Route Command at New Dikson found itself in precisely the same helpless position as east-bound convoy, facing gloom perspective to fight strong enemy only with meager resources it had in its disposal. Luckily for the Russians, a year ago, in July 1941 Head of the GUSMP, legendary Ivan Papanin contacted Admiral Kuznetsov and asked to enforce Dikson defenses with “some guns”. Papanin was a truly remarkable figure. After his well-publicized stint as a head of the first research station on the North Pole in 1937, Papanin, who was no researcher, but NKVD associate, developed personal connections with Stalin and military brass and was able to submit his requests directly to the Soviet leaders.
Ivan Papanin (on the right) and his North Pole resarch station team in 1937. If not Papanin's personal connections with the Soviet leaders and stubborn insistence on transferring "some guns" to Dikson in 1941, port would be undefendable.
And so a year before the Wunderland, in the end of summer 1941 Port Dikson defenses were enforced with two batteries: #226 naval with two 130-mm guns, and #246 anti-aircraft with two 45mm guns. Later another heavy battery #569 joined Dikson defenses. It was equipped with two heavy 152-mm siege guns, 1910 design, which miraculously survived two wars and revolution, and were delivered from the stock of Archangel military district.
In the beginning of August 1942, before Sheer’s raid, Russians decided to construct new naval base in Belushya and according Golovko order from August 22, who was now very concerned about increasingly active U-boats in the Belushya Guba area, batteries ##226, 246 and 569 were earmarked for the relocation to Novaya Zemlia. In the morning hours of August 26 auxiliary naval vessel SKR-19, former icebreaker Dezhnev, arrived to Port Dikson to pick up guns, ammunition and crews and deliver this cargo to Novaya Zemlia naval base, effectively gutting Dikson defenses. If not radio transmissions from Sibiryakov, on August 26 heavy 152-mm guns would be also dismantled and loaded on the deck of SKR-19. Now all 130mm guns of #226 and #246 and all ammunition were already transferred to the barge, and only two heavy guns of battery #569 without shells were standing in the open on the cargo terminal. If only Scheer chose to attack Port Dikson immediately after Sibiriakov's sinking and without wasting 24 hours, the whole operation Wunderland could have a very different outcome.
In fact, preparation for Dikson defense started only in the evening hours of August 26. Self-appointed Dikson’s “War counsel” convened for a meeting on board of Dezhnev. Its decision was to form two groups of local militia under heads of the Dikson polar station Sidorin and Statov. Women and children were to be transported to the small hunters' settlement on river Lembrovka, GUSMP secret documents were to be stored there as well and prepared for burning on the short notice. Meanwhile, lieutenant Kornyakov, commander of the battery #569, acting on his own initiative, ordered to unload 152-mm shells for his guns from the barge back on the pier and selected volunteers for the gun crews from local longshoremen. Key commanding figures of the defense, commissar Babintsev from the White Sea Naval Group and captain of SKR-19 senior lieutenant Gidulianov decided to strengthen port defenses and just before midnight left port on the motor boat to check the shore line of Cape Kretchatik on Dikson Island as the best place to install 130-mm batteries. Boat was accompanied by port tug Molokov and a barge with both 130-mm guns and ammunition in tow.
Dezhnev had the same light armament, as Sibiryakov: four 76-mm guns, four 45mm guns and four 20-mm Oerlickons aircraft guns, which was not even remotely effective to fight pocket battleship. Naval forces were not markedly enhanced when later in the evening of the same day Port Dikson defenses were joined by the merchant ship Revolutioner of North Sea Route command, armed with only one 76-mm gun, one 45-mm gun and two anti-aircraft Oerlikons, but loaded up with large timber cargo. To make matters even worse, the third and the last vessel in Port Dikson was unarmed cargo ship Kara, stocked with several hundreds tons of ammonal, powerful explosive, used for mining and creating canals of clear water in the ice fields.
All these activities were in progress, when at 01:05 am on August 27, militia lookouts, standing near the former position of gun battery #226 in the north-western corner of the Dikson Island caught a glimpse of the dark streamlined silhouette of Admiral Scheer, moving to the south along the western shore of the island. Former battery position retained phone line and lookouts immediately contacted Dikson. Alarm was sounded and Port Dikson radio station began transmitting frightening news in clear.
After enemy's approach was reported, two lookouts picked up the only available rifle with single 5-cartridges clip and run along the shore, keeping Scheer in sight and, as a last resort, getting ready to open fire on a possible German landing party. Indeed, if Meendsen-Bohlken was only aware, that Dikson island with GUSMP HQ and radio station was not protected by any naval guns from the west, his landing party could capture the island without much interference. Instead he chose to attack Dikson Island, Port Dikson on the mainland and ships in the Inner Harbour simulataneously. Dezhnev, standing near Conus Island coal terminal, in the middle of the Inner Harbor, under command of Gidulianov’s second in command, lieutenant Krotov, began to move away from the terminal, but hadn’t enough time to take more safe position under the shore protection. In 25 minutes Scheer reached Heymen Bight, passed Skuratov navigation station, marking the entrance to the South Harbor, and found herself in 4.5 miles distance from the port.
According Dezhnev’s backup helmsman Schneider, "Signalmen reported that large capital ship appeared in Heymen Bight. All eyes turned to the south, to the South Harbor entrance. I also turned and in the light bluish haze I saw silhouette of the streamlined and unusually long ship. The hulk was extended horizontally above the water, battleship-style. Her high massive fore-castle and smoke stack, slightly oblique, also reminded a battleship."
Admiral Scheer in August 1942.
Official GUSMP after-action report specifically stressed the impressive skills of the Scheer’s navigator, who was able to find his way in hazy weather with all navigation lights out, using the only safe passage available, courtesy of the mysterious Murmanets expedition of 1939. However, this information, gathered more than 2 years ago, related only to the hydrographical data and couldn’t help to assess current condition of Dikson defenses, locate positions of the naval batteries, if there were any, and estimate garrison strength and overall plan of defense.
Meendsen-Bohlken decided to take Dikson island with well-armed, 180-men strong landing party, supported by 280-mm and 150-mm naval guns of the cruiser, and didn’t foresee any serious opposition. At the most Germans could predict some disorganized and inaccurate fire from 1-2 merchant ships, several light guns of shore defenses and counter-attacks of Port Dikson garrison, which, according their estimates, consisted of the half-company (50-60 soldiers) of NKVD border guards troops, armed with rifles and, perhaps, couple of machine-guns. In fact garrison had also two 37mm anti-tank guns, one 76mm anti-aircraft gun, one 75mm field howitzer and included not only border guards, but also approximately 300-men strong local militia, armed with rifles, carbines and hunting guns. However light artillery and hunting guns were not nearly enough to survive for long under the 280mm naval guns, firing at point-blank range and it seemed unlikely that these rag-tag force may pose any serious danger. In any case, in order to minimize exposure of the landing party boats to the enemy’s fire, Sheer had to launch landing operations as close to the GUSMP Center as possible, and so enemy’s artillery should be suppressed first.
Since Port Dikson already started hectic radio transmissions, Germans knew that element of surprise had been lost and they must count on the shock effect of the heavy naval bombardment.
Meanwhile Dezhnev at last left coal terminal and Krotov changed speed from slow to full ahead, turning ship towards enemy. He decided to approach Scheer more closely and delay attack against the port by desperate gunfire. If damaged, ship could be sunk between Pirozhok Island and Vega shallows to make entrance to the Inner Harbour more difficult or even inaccessible for Scheer. When Dezhnev was passing the pier, Schneider saw artillery crews and volunteers longshoremen, which "as ants clang to the guns" and were trying to manually maneuver the heavy, unwieldy artillery pieces into firing position.
Icebreaker Dezhnev (SKR-19) in winter harbor.
When distance decreased to 4 miles, Krotov, who wanted to buy as much time as possible, ordered his signalmen to send message to Scheer, asking to identify herself. This time Germans were not inclined to play "Tuscaloosa routine" again, and in response, at 01:37, as soon as Scheer’s fire control got visuals on the ships in the port, battlecruiser opened fire.
Dezhnev bow guns fired back, then Krotov slightly turned port to open Scheer for the guns on the stern. Gunners targeted not the steel hulk, but the bridge, for-castle and rangefinders, their only chance to inflict at least some damage. They claimed later that observed several bright flashes from hits on the cruiser’s superstructure, but German sources don’t mention any. Soon Dezhnev was bracketed by two first salvos and got hit by the third. Heavy shell struck Dezhnev between 3d and 4th cargo holders. In just 8 minutes Dezhnev received 4 hits from 150-mm guns. At first Germans used armor-piercing shells, which almost harmlessly went through Dezhnev’s hulk, but soon gunners understood their mistake and switched to the high-explosive shells. Heavy shells damaged rangefinder, both 76 mm guns, heavy machine gun, splinters made many underwater holes, the biggest, found later in the hulk, was 2x2 feet in size. Splinters also produced some leaks in the coal storage compartment, which were inaccessible for the quick repairs. In total, 6 members of the crew were killed instantly, 1 more died later the same day, and 20 sailors were wounded. Dezhnev put smoke screen and started to move slowly to the entrance of Samoletnaya Bay, which provided better protection from the murderous fire of the heavy naval guns. At 01:46 Dezhnev discontinued the battle. She already took tons of water and her captain Gidulianov, after urgent return on board of his ship, was determined to prevent capsizing. At 01:52 ship run aground and became stationary target with almost all her armament out of action. Damage control party could only report that it would take at least 3 hours to cover all holes and pump the water out.
Dezhnev before the war
Dezhnev out of the picture, Scheer concentrated her fire on “Revolutionary” (under command of captain Panfilov), barely visible through the smoke screen. In 5 minutes this Russian ship took 3 hits, which started fire on the deck and wooden bridge, damaged several compartments inside the ship, and, most importantly, destroyed steam line, powering anchor-winch, preventing ship from weighing the anchor, and making her another sitting duck, easy target for German gun practice.
Luckily for the Russians, Scheer hadn’t been able yet to observe third ship, Kara, heavily laden with explosives and with few members of the crew on board, still invisible behind the protection of the rocky shore and Dezhnev’s smoke screen. Even one well-placed shell would be enough to produce huge explosion and completely obliterate port and defense forces. That hadn't happened so far, but obviously, Kara’s discovery was only a matter of minutes.
Russians found themselves on the verge of complete annihilation. All their naval forces were out of action and it seems nothing stood between German landing party and command center of the Northern Sea Route.
In this critical moment of the whole Operation Wunderland Kornyakov’s 152-mm guns opened fire. No hits were registered, but Germans classified battery as naval 130-mm, not regular field 76-mm guns, and high columns of sea water rose in the air uncomfortably close, some in less than 600 yards distance from the cruiser. Kornyakov positioned his guns not on the pier itself, where they would make clear silhouettes on the light water background, but near the place where Port Dikson pier was connected with the shore, on the dark background with black rocky outcrops, making guns much less visible. Because of this position, murky haze of the late summer Arctic night time, fog and smoke screen, Germans couldn’t locate the guns quickly enough and decided that risk to continue the shootout was too great. Nobody knew how many guns Russians had in their disposal and where they were located. Perhaps it was only ranging fire, but what will happen when Russians finish zeroing in on target? There was no point to start a head-on battle between highly valuable, unsupported lone cruiser thousands miles away from Narvik and shore batteries, most likely heavily camouflaged, protected by armor plates and hidden somewhere in the rocks. Thus, in a split second tables were turned on Germans and Meendsen-Bohlken decided that it was the right time to disengage.
Port Dikson panoramic photo, 2008. 1. Entrance to the South Harbor. 2. Dikson Island. 3. Inner Harbor. 4. New Dikson, place of the former GUSMP HQ and radio center. 5. Kornyakov's battery position. 6. Dikson cargo terminal. 7. Monument to the Dikson defenders. 8. Conus island. 9. North Harbor.
If only Germans knew that they were dealing with two vintage siege guns pre-first world war design, not entrenched in any gun towers, not protected by any steel armor and impenetrable rocks, but standing in the open, without any camouflage, firing blindly through the smoke and fog without any rangefinders or any observation posts, being serviced by poorly trained crews and untrained, even if enthusiastic volunteers, under the command of inexperienced lieutenant from backwater Arctic shore defenses. If only Germans decided to continue maneuvering in the South Harbor five to ten minutes more, until smoke screen disappeared, they would be able to locate the battery, standing in the plane sight, and silence it with one or two accurate salvos.
Battery of 152-mm guns 1910/1930. This heavy siege gun was based on original French design of 1910 and was developed to fire on stationary targets, mainly fortified positions. Maximum elevation of 45 degrees and 50-kg shell provided a good punch, but gun was notorious for its large weight (7.8 metric tons) and limited horizontal sector of fire.
But Meendsen-Bohlken was well aware of the fate of the heavy cruiser Blucher, sunk by the antiquate Norwegian gun battery in Oslo-Fiord on April 9 1940, as well as the end of the battleship Bismarck in May 1941, which received a hit in the fuel tank and later another hit in steering compartment, enough for the British to close in for the kill. He thought that if Scheer would attempt to move closer, sooner or later she could be hit by the unknown shore batteries and any damage, even minor, in the middle of inhospitable Arctic may prove eventually fatal.
The main problem for Kornyakov was not yet cruiser’s return fire, but how to handle enormous recoil at unprepared artillery positions. Guns’ spades were sliding on a slippery surface and weighting almost 8 metric tons artillery pieces were being thrown by recoil so far back, that crews had to use small port truck, luckily found on the pier, to return guns into position. Later spades were blocked by logs and rate of firing somewhat increased.
At 01:46, after battery #569 fired on Scheer 40 shells, Meendsen-Bohlken ordered to disengage, put smoke screen (which some jubilant Russian eyewitnesses assumed to be a result of a direct hit) and in 4 minutes Scheer disappeared behind the Cape Anvil. In 11 minutes Germans fired 25 280-mm shells, 21 150-mm shells and 32 105-mm shells, heavily damaged 2 ships but still hadn’t produced any decisive results.
Battle for Port Dikson. August 27, 1942.
Meendsen-Bohlken was still certain that even now, when enemy’s heavy artillery remained unsuppressed and landing part of the operation had to be aborted, his trump card, an accurate fire from the large distance could still overcome defenses, or at least inflict heavy irreparable damage on port facilities. Moving north along the shore line of Dikson Island, from 02:14 to 02:19 Scheer hit the Great Bear Island weather station, firing 226 105-mm shells. Kornyakov’s battery again opened fire, aiming at the sounds of Scheer’s guns and reddish glare of the distant salvos, but, not surprisingly, hadn’t hit anything. Then, between 02:19 and 02:45 76 150-mm Scheer’s shells felt on the north shore of the Dikson Island, hitting power station and New Dikson radio center. Second attack on the port started at 02:31, when Scheer’s fire control team again got visual on the Port Dikson, as well as on coal terminal on the Conus Island. It was time to put main guns into action. Russian 152-mm guns responded, but again, blindly and highly inaccurately. At 02:43 Scheer stopped firing to access inflicted damage to the port infrastructure and Meendsen-Bohlken was apparently satisfied: diesel oil depot and coal storage on Conus Island were hit and burning fiersly, rising sky-high column of black smoke, several radio masts were cut by splinters or toppled over, radio center and its power station were also burning, as well as several buildings in the settlement. At 02:46 Scheer, moving east, at last became visible from Port Dikson, and Russian open-site fire became more accurate. At 02:48 Scheer again opened fire, hitting port facilities and several homes in the Old Dikson. During that stage of bombardment Scheer spent 52 280-mm shells and 24 150-mm shells, battery #569 responded with 50. At 02:57 Meendsen-Bohlken received report that 20% of ammunition on board were already spent, but fire from Russian 152-mm battery continued relentlessly and Scheer’s captain at last decided to put smoke screen and disengage. Scheer turned sharply starboard and disappeared in the vastness of Kara Sea. Battle for Port Dikson was over.
Admiral Scheer. In 1942 forecastle was rebuilt to make it less visible from the distance. Camouflage pattern was designed with light color painted bow and stern to make battle cruiser appear shorter and smoke stack lower. Compare this picture with the camouflage shown on artist's impression above.
From the German point of view Dikson battle could be considered a moderate success. Destruction was spectacular. 2 ships were heavily hit with one running aground, port installations, New Dikson solar oil storage, radio center and weather station on the Great Bear Island were destroyed. Dikson’s radio went silent. Fires raging, smoke columns high in the air, it looked like the hub of the Northern Sea Route was put out of action for a long time. On top of the optimistic observation reports, Germans soon intercepted the Soviet message that Soviet ship Valerian Kuibyshev was lost and Meendsen-Bohlken assumed that she was on the Port Dikson anchorage as well, even if in reality Kuibyshev was sunk on August 24 by U-601 to the north-west of Dikson, all crew perished, wreck was founded only 2 weeks later.
In fact, the permanent damage inflicted by the bombardment was negligible. Port was not taken, and no vital information about the Northern Sea Route was captured. Steel radio masts were promptly fixed and erected, power station remained intact, since German shell hit only barrels with spent oil, stored nearby, fires on Conus Island were soon extinguished. Port Dikson resumed regular transmissions in 2 days, even before Scheer reached Narvik, Revolutionary was repaired in 3 days, Dezhnev in 6. Miraculously, except 7 sailors from Dezhnev's crew nobody else was killed by Scheer’s shells. Icebreakers Litke and Taimyr were urgently sent to Port Dudinka on Enisei River and in 3 days brought to Port Dikson enough fuel to supply the next Arctic convoy without any delay.
Bombardment over, Scheer proceeded to the north-west, where Meendsen-Bohlken planned to contact U-255 and using her radio, sent after action report to Admiral Schmundt’s HQ in Narvik, asking also for a new seaplane to replace his lost Arado. However, U-255 was nowhere to be found, ironically, luckily for Scheer, since U-255 did see Scheer from the distance but decided that it was enemy’s cruiser. Meendsen-Bohlken had to leave Kara Sea in order to contact Schmundt by his own radio station, breaking mandatory radio silence in more safe area. On August 28, when Scheer was in the south-west from Franz-Joseph land, she received radio message from Schmundt. Admiral ordered to return to the Kara Sea, continue to search for the enemy’s ship the western part of Kara Sea, and attack Port Amderma. From Meendsen-Bohlken's point of view this order was meaningless: after sinking of Sibiryakov and bombardment of Port Dikson chances to find Soviet ships in the open sea or catch Amderma defences unprepared were negligible. Also western part of the Kara Sea was much closer to the Soviet air bases and risk of being located by seaplanes and getting under air attack from top-mast bombers and torpedo planes was much greater. Also it was reasonable to assume that Russian submarines could patrol now Kara Gate Strait and Ugorski Shar Strait near Amderma, as indeed was the case.
Facing this unrealistic order, which had to be implemented in more and more deteriorating operational conditions, Meendsen-Bohlken didn’t confirm that he will follow, but reported destruction of Port Dikson and suggested instead to search for enemy’s shipping in Spitzbergern area, much closer to Narvik, or return to the eastern part of Kara Sea, but only after receiving new reconnaissance seaplane. Schmundt interpreted these messages as a hint to some problems, which Meendsen-Bohlken didn’t want to mention because enemy could intercept these messages and alter counteraction plans accordingly. As a result of this radio exchange Schmundt ordered Meendsen-Bohlken to return to Narvik. Retreat was uneventful. On August 28 at 20:00 Scheer again met with her escort destroyers near Bear Island and on August 30 at 13:00 Scheer entered anchorage at Tielzund in Schemen-Fiord. At 17:00 Scheer was visited by Schmundt, who was visibly upset: Port Dikson radio station resumed radio transmissions.
Soon Scheer was discovered on the anchorage and photographed by British reconnaissance planes. Admiralty informed relieved Soviets that since all German capital ships were found on the anchorage in Norway bases, Kara and Barents Seas were at last free from German raiders.
During Operation Wunderland both sides demonstrated sharp difference in style: German operations were boldly and ambitiously planned, relentless and punctual, but overall conservative in implementation. On the contrary Russian approach was cumbersome, careless in operational planning and heavily relayed on the improvisations for the last-minute survival, but in general undeterred by German superiority in operational planning and concentrated naval firepower.
Wunderland's results were also interpreted differently. In their after-action analysis Germans came to the conclusion that operation turned out to be more of the adventure on the high seas, than properly thought-out naval operation and they would need more information and more resources: more participating capital ships, more submarines, more seaplanes, more dense network of observation posts and weather stations. Core of the next Kriegsmarine effort in the Kara Sea, Operation Doppelschlag (Double Blow), was planned for not one but two capital ships, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper, which could be directed to intercept convoys in eastern and western parts of the Kara Sea respectively.
Soviets analyzed results of the Wunderland with their trademarked uninformed optimism: if this unexpected assault was warded off regardless, new German encroachments would also fail. If Germans hoped that Soviets will reverse their priorities and transfer to the Arctic more powerful forces, which could be used elsewhere, they would be disappointed: forces in Kara Sea were not reinforced in any large numbers. Only in August–September 1943, a year after Wunderland, Soviets installed additional batteries on the Nansen island and Michailov peninsula on Taimyr, a year later, in 1944, near east entrance to the Yugorski Shar Strait, on cape Cheluskin in Vilkitski Strait, and on Russky island in Nordenskiold Archipelago. Novaya Zemlia Naval Base in Belushya Guba, and Kara Naval base on Dikson Island were not fully operational even by the summer season of 1944. Network of the observations posts continued to be underdeveloped: if on the Barents Sea shore distance between observation posts was 30 km, on the Kara Sea mainland shore average distance was about 100 km, on Novaya Zemlia it increased to whopping 700 km, so, if no radio was available, results of the observations were reported by messengers and reached Soviet headquarters in 3-5 days, becoming useless for the analysis of the high-paced events of modern warfare.
Cumbersome bureaucratic control system was also left mostly untouched. More important for the Soviet was their new addition to the Pantheon of heroes, now the crew of the icebreaker Sibiryakov. But the fate of the surviving members was very different from what was painted by the official propaganda makers, authores of “Variag of the North” saga.
On September 26 1942, sailors of the Soviet timber ship Sacco, passing near Beluha island, saw a strange bearded man, wearing rags, who was desperately waving large white flag and obviously trying to attract their attention. Sacco stopped the engine, but was unable to launch a rescue boat because of the high waves. Radioman reported the sighting to Port Dikson and got everybody at GUSMP HQ highly agitated. Stranded man could be only a sailor from the icebreaker Sibiryakov, sunk by Admiral Scheer in August. Fortunately, Soviet seaplane of pilot Kaminski was in the air at this moment not far from Beluha and Dikson ordered to pick up survivor or drop some food and note for the man, asking him to hold on until he could be rescued. Seaplane wasn't able to land because of the stormy conditions, but pilot dropped a bag with cacao powder, condensed milk, bread, medications and warm winter clothes with a note, promising to rescue the stranded man as soon as the storm subsides. Only 3 days later one of the most experienced polar pilots Cherevichny approached the shore and picked up the man, who couldn’t wait, jumped to the icy water and start swimming to the seaplane. Soon he was treated from malnutrition in the hospital and told his incredible story.
He was indeed a member of Sibiryakov crew, stoker Nikolai Vavilov. He was on board of the burning icebreaker with two other men, sailor Safronov and gunner Dunayev, and couldn’t escape in time, cut off by the flames and almost suffocated by smoke. When Sibiryakov went down, sailors were sucked by the huge water malstroem. Safronov and wounded Dunayev drowned, but Vavilov managed to catch the piece of wood, and soon appeared on the surface, alone in the middle of the Arctic. He was about to give up, when he saw an empty lifeboat, survivors from which had been transferred recently to the Scheer’s launch. Vavilov managed to reach the boat and pull himself out of the water. In the boat he found dead body of the fellow stoker Matveyev with gunshot wound.
When Scheer disappered on the horizon, Vavilov decided to use his only chance to survive and to reach Beluha island, still five miles away. On his way to the island he found and rescued blind polar dog, heavily burned, and collected some floating debris, including a bag with wheat middling. He also checked emergency supplies box under the bench and found invaluable emergency kit with three cans of food, two axes, a loaded handgun, a compass, sleeping bag, some clothes, matches, a bucket, a flask with water and couple of signal flares. When Vavilov reached Beluha, he unloaded all his treasures on the shore and started his polar odyssey, which lasted 34 days.
Beluha was completely deserted and Vavilov found only the ruins of the old lighthouse. His situation soon became desperate. Heavily burned dog didn’t survive for long, boat was crushed by the waves during a stormy night, and after all his food and matches gone, Vavilov was preparing to give up and die when he saw Sacco’s silhouette on the horizon.
Officials visited Vavilov in the Port Dikson hospital, but he could only tell that ship went down and he was the only survivor. Hopes of Sibiryakov’s crew relatives, who thought that now, after Vavilov was miraculously saved, rescuers can find other survivors, quickly vanished.
Only in 1945 fourteen Sibiryakov POWs, transferred from Narvik to Germany, were liberated by the Red Army, eight died in captivity. radioman Sharshavin joined Red Army, but was killed in the closing days of the war.
Kacharava survived German concentration camps and returned to the Arctic as captain of much more modern ship Levanevsky. He received his award for courageous battle with Scheer only in 1960, delay was explained by his former POW status.
Icebreaker Sibiryakov also received her award, completely unpredictable for the old sealing steamer: according standing orders, ships of the Russian Navy are to pay military honors in the place of Sibiryakov’s last battle with Scheer (76.12N, 91.30E).
Admiral Scheer, which never lost a battle, remains the only German capital ship, fought in the Soviet Arctic. After Admiral Raeder couldn't retain Hitler's trust, new Kriegsmarine commander, Admiral Denitz shifted priorities in favor of U-boats, limiting role of remaining capital ships. Admiral Scheer actively participated in desperate defense of the Baltic coast in 1944-45, but in February 1945, when gun barrels were completely worn out, she was transferred to Deutschen Werke in Kiel for repairs. On April 10 1945 Scheer was heavily hit during the night raid of the British bombers and capsized, being partly scrapped after the war. By 1950 only her central part remained in the Deutschen Werke basin, which soon was filled up by sand and rubble. Now her last resting place is under a parking lot near Marinearsenals in Kiel.
Admiral Scheer capsized in Deutschen Werke basin, Kiel, after heavy night bombing on April 9-10 1945. Two unfinished U-Boat series XXI are on the foreground.
Wilhelm Meendsen-Bohlken commanded Admiral Sheer until November 1942, then was transferred to Meditteranean. From July 1944- till May 1945 he served as Flottenchef of the Kriegsmarine Flottenkommando, On May 23 1945 Meendsen-Bohlken was detained by Amricans and charged in war crimes, including mistreating of Sibiriakov POWs, but was found not guilty and released in December 1946. Retired as a Vice-Admiral and died in Koln, in 1985.
For many years after the war Admiral Golovko felt himself embarrassed for his role in Wunderland and was trying to shift blame in his memories on Papanin, reprimanding him for allegedly inaccurate observation reports of GUSMP weather stations.
Modern Port Dikson, still proudly calls itself the Capital of Russian Arctic, but its population decreased from 5000 (1985) to 690 (2008) when Northern Sea Route Command and supporting units and facilities were transferred to Murmansk.
Leutenant Nikolai Kornyakov died in 1976 and according his last wish was buried in Port Dikson.
152-mm 1910/1930 siege gun from the collection of Artillery Museum in Saint Petersburg, modern view
If you like to read more about the Arctic Convoys and the US Coast Guard operations in the World War II, Allworldwars is pleased to recommend two books of the great author and friend of our website, Michael G. Walling, "Forgotten Sacrifice" and "Bloodstained Sea", available now at amazon.com in paper and Kindle versions.
Hitler called Norway the “Zone of Destiny” for Nazi Germany because convoys from Churchill's Britain and Roosevelt's United States supplied Stalin’s Soviet Russia with critical equipment and foodstuffs during the darkest days of the German invasion. The words "Murmansk Run" conjure visions of ice-laden ships and thoughts of freezing to death in seconds. For five long years, thousands of men and women fought ferociously in the coldest corner of hell on earth. Some fought for survival, some struggled to help others survive, and some sought to crush their enemies. If man-made death didn't get you, the Arctic's weapons of ice and cold would. These natural weapons killed regardless of whose side you were on or how just was your cause. No one escaped unscathed. Author Mike Walling captures the Arctic convoys’ bitter essence in Forgotten Sacrifice.
Through eyewitness accounts based on hundreds of interviews with crew members, personal diaries, notes, and letters; and each cutter's patrol reports Walling plunges you into the thick of the battle, re-creating some of the most desperate encounters and harrowing missions of the Second World War. Told largely in the voices of the men who lived it, this unforgettable tale is peppered with humorous and ironic anecdotes about life aboard ship during wartime. You'll meet the liberty-craving crew members who painted their entire ship in less than an hour; the ship's mascot who became canine-non-grata in Greenland; and the crew whose vessel was mistaken for the German battleship Bismarck and attacked by the Royal Navy. Complete with dramatic photographs of the Coast Guard in action, this book brings this epic drama to vibrant and pulsing life.
Michael G. Walling
After graduating from Montclair State College with a BA in Biology, Mike served in the U.S. Coast Guard for six years as a commissioned officer and a senior petty officer. Most of his sea-going experience was in the North Atlantic and include 2 trips to the Arctic.
His assignments included buoy tending, search and rescue missions, drug and fisheries law enforcement, and oceanographic operations. As part of the Boarding Party and Prize Crew on two cutters he participated in the seizures of a Panamanian drug-runner and a Cuban fishing boat. His decorations include the U.S. Coast Guard Achievement Medal (Operational) for counter-drug operations, Arctic Service Medal, Sea Service Medal, the National Defense Medal, and USCG Cutterman's Insignia.
His current project is a book for Osprey Publishing: Forgotten Sacrifice, The Arctic Convoys in World War II. Forgotten Sacrifice captures for the first time the true essence of these convoys and serves it to the reader in a book seemingly made from crystalline Arctic Sea ice yet actually composed of Allied and Soviets survivors' memories and, sometimes, memories left behind by those who didn't survive.