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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 13:26 GMT
Veterans honoured for Arctic convoys
Veterans
The heroism of the former sailors was praised
British war veterans who kept open supply routes for the Russians amid perilous conditions in the Arctic, have been honoured for their bravery.

Some 17 Second World War veterans were presented with medals for their bravery in ensuring the safe passage of essential supplies to Russia.

The honours were presented by the Russian Ambassador who paid tribute to the "hero" sailors at a ceremony in London on Thursday.


It's always nice to think they appreciated what the lads did

Ron Skeates, 78, veteran

At least 3,000 British men and women died during the convoy missions that proved crucial in the battle against Hitler.

Ambassador Grigory Karasin presented veterans with the 50th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 medal, at a ceremony attended by British Foreign Office officials.

'Freezing cold and frightened'

He said: "It is our duty to say to the world that many years ago they were heroes.

"We will never forget the heroic efforts you have made."

Since 1995 Russia has awarded medals to about 2,500 veterans of the northern convoys, he said.

Receiving the award with his wife and family, Ron Skeates, from Lincoln, said: "It's always nice to think they appreciated what the lads did."

The 78-year-old, already a recipient of the Atlantic Star medal, said many men did not survive the arduous trips and those that did were pleased to receive the honour.

"If you were there in the freezing cold and frightened, you would have earned it," he added.

The British sailors risked their lives by carrying food and equipment to help their former Allies in the Soviet Union fight the war on the Eastern front.

Surprise attack

Thursday's event is one of many held each year at the embassy since the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.

It involves former Royal and Merchant Navy veterans as well as commercial sailors.

The Arctic convoys began in 1941 after Hitler's Germany launched a surprise attack - Operation Barbarossa - on the Soviet Union.

The young sailors came under heavy enemy fire from the Luftwaffe and German U-boats.

Andrew Garrett, 78, from Gateshead, was a stoker on board a convoy to Russia.

'Proud'

Speaking at the ceremony, he said the below-zero temperatures were harsh and the work was dangerous, but he added: "I am very proud today. It's beautiful for Russia to recognise what we did."

Only last year British and Russian war veterans gathered in the Russian city of Archangel to mark the 60th anniversary of the convoys.

HMS Belfast, now moored on the River Thames near Tower Bridge in London, was at the forefront of the convoys and provided close range, heavy cover for the ships.

A total of 75 convoys made the trip between August 1941 and the end of the war, carrying four million tons of supplies, including 5,000 tanks and 7,000 aircraft for the Soviet forces on the Eastern Front.

More than half of the ships were sunk before reaching their destination.

During the war, the British merchant navy lost more than 30,000 men, and some 5,150 Allied merchant ships were sunk.

See also:

31 Aug 01 | Europe
12 Nov 00 | N Ireland
09 May 00 | Europe
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