Former RAF officer in PQ17 wartime convoy is honoured with Russian medal

George Anderson with his Ushakov Medal.
George Anderson with his Ushakov Medal.

A former RAF officer who took part in the Second World War Arctic Convoys has finally been honoured with a Russian medal for his bravery.

George Anderson, from Bedford, received the Ushakov Medal for his role in the infamous PQ17 convoy which saw many thousands of men lose their lives

The 95-year-old was part of the sea crew which operated Hurricane aircraft from the decks to intercept German reconaissance aircraft.

George said: “In 1941, the Admiralty decided additional cover was needed for the Arctic Convoys and the British Convoys. That job fell to the RAF.

“Thirty-five ships had ramps put on the bow, and the Hurricanes were propelled off by rocket.

“I was a Corporal in Four Sea Crew. The reconnaissance aircraft would approach the convoy during the day to get its position, speed and direction, and then the U-Boats came at night to blast away. The Hurricanes would be used to chase them off, of shoot them down.

“When the job was done, the Hurricane pilot would bail out and ditch the plane.”

However, George said the Hurricane cover was limited as the 35 ships converted with the take-off ramp were distributed among all the convoys. “It was impossible to have enough of them at sea.”

Convoy PQ17 set off for Archangel, in the Soviet Union, from Iceland, in June 1947, when it was perpetual daylight. It was located by German forces and attacked in July, destroying 24 of its 35 ships.

George said: “It was a very, very rough time for everybody.

“After that, the convoys were suspended for winter. When they were reinstated, they were better with aircraft carriers, improved radar and backed up by the work at Bletchley Park.”

The Russians issued the surviving Arctic Convoy troops with medals after President Vladimir Putin heard the full story of what the crews faced and the heavy losses of men, ships and cargo.

In a letter accompanying the medal Mr Putin said: “It is a privilage for me to thank you on behalf of the Russian Government for the invaluable contribution you and your comrades in arms made to defeat the Nazi Germany.

“What you did 70 years ago taking part in what Sir Winston Churchill rightly called “the worst journey in the world” was extraordinary even among what is considered to be beyond the call of duty.”

George said: “I should have gone to a ceremony to receive the medal last November but I went into hospital. So they have held on to it for all that time.

“Last week, my son went to the Russian Embassy to collect it for me. It’s a nice medal.”

The Russian medal is named after Russia’s illustreous 18th century naval commander Admiral Ushakov, who, said George, is as highly regarded as Nelson.