Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

Arctic Convoy PQ8

The Story of Capt Robert Brundle and the SS Harmatris

Michael Wadsworth

2010, Pen and Sword
ISBN 1848840519
Hardcover, 208 pages

Type. Historical narrative
Pros. Strong narration and good personal perspective
Cons. Nothing major

Arctic Convoy PQ8 is a personal recollection and research by the grandson of Capt Brundle and as such has a slightly more personal feel than many history books. If anything, this makes it more interesting. Wadsworth explains the origins of the Russia convoys in late 1941 and his grandfather's ship, the SS Harmatris, role in the massive operations. The ship first joined convoy [PQ4] but shortly after leaving Iceland she had a fire and had to be sailed to the UK. After repairs to both ship and cargo she re-sailed as part of the small convoy PQ8 on 26 Dec 1941, this time reaching Murmansk, with Capt Brundle elected Convoy Commodore.

Near the end of the run to Murmansk the SS Harmatris was torpedoed three times, abandoned, re-boarded and finally made it to Murmansk. The ship and crew was stuck there for the next 8 months while the massive damage to the ship was repaired - while under near constant Luftwaffe air raids.

When the repairs were done in Russia the ship returned as part of convoy QP-14 in Sept 1942, with every ship taking home a number of survivors from previous convoys. The hard times by no means over.

Of particular interest are the parts explaining the hardships the Allied men faced in the northern Russian harbours during the sometimes very long time between convoys and the way home again. Although the Soviet Union and the Western powers were allies the relationship was sometimes needlessly rigid. Simple matters such as captains not being allowed to visit other ships from the same convoy and small things like that.

Photographs are numerous and show the ship Harmatris, the state of the damage of the ship, related ships and also the general conditions on the route; weather, attacks and the like.

The end of the book covers quite well the end of the Russia convoys, the losses suffered by both sides, and demonstrates the amount of supplies brought over this route during the war. Wadsworth's research is first-rate and the book is easy to follow.

I enjoyed the book and it does its job well: telling the story of a single ship on the highly dangerous convoy route while also telling of the major incidents and explaining this theatre of war.

Review written by Guðmundur Helgason.

Published on 12 Sep 2010.

This title is highly recommended.

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