Eyewitness Accounts of the World War II Murmansk Run, 1941-1945

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This work is a collection of American eyewitness accounts of one of the most hazardous military operations of World War II - the Murmansk Run. From 1941 to 1945 convoys of U.S. merchant ships transported cargoes to the northern Russian ports of Murmansk, Archangel, and Molotovsk. The itinerary included the U.S., Canada, Scotland, Iceland, and the USSR. The convoys faced numerous mortal threats, often simultaneous, on their way to Russia. While in the USSR, crew members then had to contend with the many peculiarities of the Soviet environment. This work is a contribution to scholarship in that 1) the often unvarnished accounts are based on interviews conducted with both Merchant Marine and Navy veterans of the convoys; 2) the accounts detail not only combat operations, but also describe the interaction of U.S. personnel with the populace of Stalin’s Russia; 3) only one account in the collection has been previously published; and 4) the book includes previously unpublished photographs of wartime Murmansk. The collection should be of interest to libraries in the U.S, Canada, U.K., and Russian Federation, as well as to the general reading public.


“Without a doubt, one of the most cataclysmic events of the twentieth century was World War II. It began with Britain and France declaring war on Germany after its invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 ... The conflict became truly world-wide and horrendous in scope with the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. That country, hoping for at least another year of peace under the pact, was, owing to the purges, late mobilization, and poor military planning, unprepared for the German blitzkrieg. Many Western observers discounted the likelihood of Soviet survival ... American assistance to the successful resistance at Moscow and Leningrad in 1941 may have been crucial to the outcome of the whole war ... The whole lend-lease story has been obscured by being in an undramatic backwater of the war, by Soviet denials of its importance to their war effort, and by simply not being on the center of military and subsequent historical attention: Stalingrad, Midway, D-Day, Kursk, etc. But lend-lease to Russia may have been the most important contribution to the Soviet march to Berlin, providing most of the trucks and boots that moved the Red Army to and through its many battles ... Dr. Mark Scott has revived a “lost front” of World War II. It is recounted as dramatically and as personally by its participants as by those more celebrated American war heroes who served the same cause at D-Day. Certainly, in any consideration of who won the war, those seamen of the Arctic can claim their place. Their history has now been recorded in their own words.” – (from the Preface) Professor Norman Saul, University of Kansas

“ ... It is no exaggeration to say that the war was won and lost between the beginning of the German Operation Barbarossa in 1941 and the spring of the trap of Operation Uranus by Red Army forces at Leningrad in the fall of 1942. It is precisely in that crucial period that the Murmansk run proved so vital ... The collection is noteworthy for the range of voices it captures ... it is vigorously oriented toward the serving ranks of those who plowed the perilous passage to bring vital resources to the Soviet Union ... Together with data about, for example, prostitution and fraternization and other intimate aspects of wartime collaboration, these memoirs add measurably to our knowledge of the social history of wartime Russia ...” – Professor Thomas D. Sanders, United States Naval Academy

“Convoy duty in the North Atlantic conjures up images of ice and storms mixed in a deadly cocktail with German wolf packs and dive-bombing torpedo planes that attack out of nowhere. That nightmarish scene is all true, but it also true that convoy duty was about the people who did it. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, these men risked their lives to help save a part of the world that was starving, struggling to survive in wartime, and desperately in need of help. This book is about the infamous ‘Murmansk Run.’ It is truly a story of historic proportions, and Dr. Scott tells it very well ...” – Capt. Bob Brannon, U.S. Navy, National War College, Washington, DC

“Dr. Mark Scott has gathered a fascinating collection of eyewitness accounts of the Murmansk run, the main artery available to the Allies to supply their isolated partner, the Soviet Union ... Drawing on interviews and experiences of sailors of all ranks who made the dangerous trip, Dr. Scott has presented a very valuable oral history source of a little-known and generally unstudied theater of World War II ...” – Professor Jamie Cockfield, Mercer University, Georgia

“ ... In addition to life in wartime Russia, the harrowing experiences of sailors navigating the Arctic under the deluge of German bombs and submarines are prominent throughout the text. While not at all surprised to read about the fear of these sailors, this text also reveals the attitudes of the merchant and naval sailors toward each other and their mission. No one questioned the need to sail ships on these dangerous Arctic voyages, but the interface between military and merchant always suffered from moments of tension. The extreme risk of being on one of those convoys exhibits the courage of the men who delivered enormous tonnage of often volatile cargos ...” – Professor John Steinberg, Georgia Southern University

"Mark Scott's volume is a timely reminder that the generation which fought in World War II is passing away ... The reader is offered an outsider's perspective on wartime life in the Soviet Union. The respondents' descriptions of bartering, dancing, and socializing with the Soviet population are of great interest to the culturally inclined historian of the USSR ... Eyewitness Accounts is a valuable historical resource which draws our attention to an underexplored and intriguing topic." - The Russian Review

"The subject [of this monograph] is of incalculable importance to scholars with an interest in the period, and the work contains data unavailable from any other source. Relatives and friends of World War II seafarers will also find it fascinating. ... Scott's work is both an indispensable asset to academic maritime libraries and an exhilarating read for amateur enthusiasts." - International Journal of Maritime History

Table of Contents

Preface by Norman Saul
Virgil Sharp: “Evaporated by a Torpedo”
Donald Murphy: “A Hellish-Green Light”
Sam Hakam: “First Blood: Convoy PQ-16”
Francis Brummer: “PQ-17: Left to Die”
T.L. Hostetter: “In Coffin Corner with PQ-18”
Ned Hecht: “Trapped in the Arctic Twilight”
Edward Higginbotham: “Seals and Ice”
Dick Brown: “Lost in a Savage Sea”
George Sandiford: “Snow-Covered Hills and Sunken Masts”
Earl Carter: “A Lucky Situation”
Admiral Samuel Frankel: “Memories of Wartime Murmansk”
Joseph Richardson: “The Francis Scottsky, Moonshine, and Timmy”
General James Boswell: “Arkhangel at War, 1941”
Francis Brummer: Sledding to Archangel”
Captain John Le Cato: “The Forgotten Convoy”
Sam Hakam: “Hot Pants in Murmansk”
Donald Murphy: “Insured to Murmansk and Back”
John Le Cato: “Animosity Between Friends”
Virgil Sharp: “Meeky Mause, Amerikanski?”
Earl Carter: “An Unusual Pinup”
Dick Brown: “Sober in Murmansk”
George Sandiford: “Living it up at the Arctica Hotel”
Captain John Le Cato: “Haggling with the Gum-Gum Boys”
Francis Brummer “Frozen to Death”
John Sheridan: “Saved by Snow”
Earl Carter: “An Uneventful Crossing”
George Sandiford: “Norwegian Rescue”
Virgil Sharp: “A Tooth for Two Beers”
John Sheridan: “May 9, 1945: V-E Day in Murmansk
Captain John Le Cato: “Beyond Propaganda”
Notes, Bibliography, Index

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