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GHOST SHIPS - Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: "The Ghost Ships of Archangel" by William Geroux. The Arctic Voyage That Defied the Nazis by William Geroux

The Second World War saw the allied forces of Britain, America and Russia allied against the Nazi regime of Germany. As part of the alliance the provision of supplies to Russia by their allies necessitated the transport of war material from the UK to Russia via Iceland to Murmansk by sea. This was known as the Murmansk ‘run’. Giroux has written a readable, entertaining book on the subject focusing on one of the convoys on the ‘run’. During the war hundreds of ships sailed from UK to Russia and back. They were attacked by surface raiders, submarines and aircraft. As a defensive mechanism the ships travelled in convoys with a screen of support ships, to fight off attackers and rescue sailors from ships that were sunk. The seas they travelled through were freezing and at times mountainous. Exposure to the sea resulted in death from exposure after a short time. A dangerous occupation. The book focuses on convoy PQ17 which left Iceland on June 27th 1942, and dispersed under fear of attack on July 4th 1942. The book follows the adventures of a group of 3 merchant ships with one support armed trawler from the convoy which limped into Murmansk on after hiding in the ice flows, and by circuitous route whilst under constant threat of attack. The book provides diplomatic insight, as well as strategic analysis while focusing on the individuals who went thru the ordeal, how they came to be there and what happened to them. Maps help readers follow story. Anecdotes entertain the reader also. Stories of seaman gone mad or stealing the whisky from the cargo, and sad tales of whales killed mistaken for submarines for example. Some seamen did well out of the situation with pay and bonuses, so it was not wholly a misfortune for some though wouldn’t do it for quids myself. The convoy lost 24 of the 35 ships. 22 of them sunk with the loss of hundreds of lives. This was a huge loss though the Allies did succeed in delivering more than 4 million tons of supplies between 1941 and 1945 to Russia. Artillery, tanks, planes, essential materials, and food helped the Russians resist the Nazi invasion. Of course, once the ships and seamen reached Russia they then had to return. This often proved equally hazardous. This book, a recent acquisition of FMI library, is one of the many excellent books in the collection of a military history theme. NF

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