The Russian Arctic Convoys began in 1941, following a desperate plea from Stalin. Churchill and Roosevelt saw it as vital to the Allies’ interests that Russia stay in the war and it is recognised that getting these supplies through turned the tide of battle.
American shipyards built 2,710 Liberty cargo ships between 1941 and 1945. Convoys of about 40 gathered in Loch Ewe before leaving for Russia. I find it fascinating to imagine the residents of the eastern seaboard of Skye witnessing all this as the Liberty ships made their way through the Minch. With minimal military escort, they set out on their perilous journey to Russia, keeping as far as possible from Nazi-occupied Norway and trying to hug the ice further north. This was a double-edged sword: if weather was fine, they could be spotted by reconnaissance aircraft flying out from northern Norway; bad weather, however hazardous, was a kind of safeguard, in that turbulence could throw torpedoes fired from u-boats off course.
Typically, conditions were deplorable, the crews constantly chopping ice off decks and rigging. The Germans tried everything to stop the convoys, realising that halting the supply chain could take Russia out of the war. Over 3,000 men were lost on the convoys. In the Russian navy, women also served. One female crew on a tanker that had been torpedoed off Murmansk in northwestern Russia defied the order to abandon ship, threatening the captain and first mate with a machine gun to convince them to continue the mission.
The idea to set up a Museum of the Arctic Convoys on the shores of Loch Ewe started with Peter Harrison, the current owner of Pool House. Shortly after he bought it in 1991, he noticed some men gathered nearby and went to speak with them. They turned out to be veterans of the Arctic Convoys and they explained that this place held huge significance for them. The museum now attracts more than 6,000 visitors a year.