Andrew Irwin and his crewmates cleaning guns on HMCS Algonquin, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.Library and Archives Canada
Mr. Andrew Irwin in Toronto, Ontario, October 1, 2010.Historica Canada
Andrew Irwin at 18.Andrew Irwin
"You could only do convoys up to Murmansk from, say, late September-early October through to March."
Andrew Irwin, Navigator’s Yeoman, Royal Canadian Navy, HMCS Algonquin
Well, when I first got aboard, I was in the galley, peeling spuds; and for some reason or other, I guess the navigation officer figured I could do better than that, so I became navigator’s yeoman and that meant that I was looking after all the charts and making all the admiralty changes to them that came in on a fairly regular basis. When we were operational at sea, myself and another chap who were assigned to the navigator, we would, whenever we were laying on a course, we would tell the bridge when they had to zig and when they had to zag, and so that was the prime function. It was much nicer sitting in a navigator’s cabin than sitting out in the cold on a B gun [one of the ship’s anti-aircraft guns], in watch station.
When we first went up there [on the Murmansk Run, escorting convoys of supplies to the Soviet Arctic port of Murmansk], we were doing operations up and down the Norwegian coast; and most of our work was escorting aircraft carriers that we would go up and lay off Altafjord in Norway because that’s where the sister ship, Tirpitz, to the Bismarck [German battleships], was holed up. And a real danger would happen if it was ever allowed to get out and get into the sea lanes. So it had been created inactive in November of 1942 and three two-man subs got inside and did some pretty substantial damage to it. But in the spring of 1944, intelligence had found out that they were getting ready so that they could go back to sea, so there was a concerted effort on the part of the Home Fleet to keep it holed up in there.
We did two or there runs up to the Murmansk. You could only do convoys up to Murmansk from, say, late September-early October through to March because there was, in the period in between there, between March and September, there was so much daylight that you were exposed to enemy aircraft for long periods of time; and it just wasn’t in the books to be caught in that particular situation. Once the convoys were able to have some aircraft running with them, it changed somewhat. But the biggest problem was because you’re going up around the north cape of Norway and then down into Murmansk, and you’re pretty close in shore. I mean, you’re maybe 70 miles or 75 miles off, but yeah.
“Convoy Under Fire”
I think it was in early October of 1944, just over around the North Cape [Norway]. We had aircraft on two different occasions, but it didn’t amount to very much. And, of course, we were in the position then where we had one of the small aircraft carriers with him, so they could put up some defense that we hadn’t had on earlier runs.
“Convoy in Bad Weather”
We were coming back, we did a convoy over Christmas-New Year’s of 1944 to Murmansk and coming back, we ran into a storm with force eight winds, which is getting up there. Nine and ten are the worst. We were running force eight, and we couldn’t keep the convoy together and they broke up. And then, when it subsided, we were trying to round up the ships and get them back in again. But that was the worst experience we had on the Murmansk Run. We had some aircraft problems once in a while, but that was minor compared to this one.