The Arctic Convoys

WWII Hoy Then & Now - RN Recreation Centre, Lyness

WWII Hoy Then & Now – RN Recreation Centre, Lyness

Entertainment, Supply, Repair & Training

As the war wore on into 1941, the naval presence ashore on Hoy continued to increase as more and more of the base facilities were completed. The number of personnel borne on the books of the various base ships at Longhope and Lyness consistently totalled 12,500 from the end of 1940 onwards with further increases in population occurring whenever a warship disembarked crew for shore leave (TNA: ADM116/5790 p. 213). Lyness had quickly become a small town not only with accommodation and messing facilities but also a wide range of recreational amenities to keep shore and ship personnel fit and entertained. The Royal Naval Recreation Centre (NMRS: ND39SW 20.12) was central to the vital tasks of maintaining morale and providing rest and relaxation. Like much of the base, it grew from humble beginnings at the outbreak of the war and by 1941 housed a 900 seat cinema, a stage for live performances with backstage dressing rooms, a billiard room and an educational centre offering lectures and handicraft workshops (TNA: ADM116/5790 p.358-359). Performances by visiting celebrity artists were a regular occurrence and the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) arranged classical and local talent concerts (ibid.). Inter-service badminton tournaments and boxing matches took place from 1943 onwards and the dances, which could cater for up to 250 couples, were also an incredibly popular event (ibid.). By 1943 the average number of personnel attending activities at the recreation centre was conservatively estimated at 1800 per day (ibid.). With the loss of HMS Hood on 23rd May 1941 and the Axis invasion of Russia a month later on 22nd June 1941, maintaining morale and providing rest for Home Fleet crews became all the more important.


Codenamed Operation Barbarossa, German forces opened what became known as the eastern front, capturing Minsk and surrounding Smolensk on the road to Moscow in a matter of weeks. Russian losses in men and material were immense. On the 12 August the Anglo-Soviet Mutual Assistance Pact was signed in Moscow and on the same day the first convoy to Russia codenamed ‘Dervish’ set sail from Liverpool carrying much needed supplies of fuel, tanks, aircraft, ammunition and other equipment to the beleaguered Russian forces (Farrington, K., 2011 p.137). Through the perilous icy waters of the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic Ocean, merchant seamen ran the gauntlet of German U-boats, battleships and bomber aircraft as they made for the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel on the Baltic coast.

The heavily laden merchant vessels travelled in convoys that were escorted by destroyers, cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers operating from Scapa Flow. Provisioning and maintaining ships of both the British and US Fleets involved in this escort work remained a high priority right up until 1945 and placed a heavy demand on the naval facilities on Hoy. The Torpedo and Paravane Depot at Lyness (HY40 / NMRS: ND39SW 20.11) resupplied over 860 torpedoes and 500 paravanes to escort vessels and the Fleet Repair Base workshops (NMRS: ND39SW 134) were constantly kept busy rectifying the damage inflicted by enemy action and the harsh arctic conditions (TNA: ADM116/5790 p.148-171 & 196).

Ice forming on HMS Sheffield whilst escorting an Arctic convoy to Russia. © Crown Copyright. IWM (A6872)

Ice forming on HMS Sheffield whilst escorting an Arctic convoy to Russia


With the majority of escort vessels requiring refuelling and sometimes rearming whilst at sea, priority was also given to training merchant seamen in how to defend the Royal Fleet Auxiliary oilers and ammunition carriers that accompanied the convoys from air attack (TNA: ADM116/5790 p. 272). Training courses in aircraft recognition and anti-aircraft gunnery were carried out for the DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship) personnel and for this a specialised training complex was developed at Rinnigill (ibid.). In addition to being a major naval stores area, RAF Hydrogen production facility and radar repair centre, Rinnigill formed a large training complex consisting of 5 synthetic trainers and a firefighting school which were used by the Royal Navy to prepare ship and submarine crews for combat at sea. Site HY57 and HY58 provided DEMS personnel with invaluable target identification and tracking experience through state of the art combat simulators.


HY57 served as a Role, Yaw, Pitch, Alter Course (RYPA) trainer where a manually operated platform simulated the movement of hard chine or round bilged vessels. Trainees would operate various representations of ship-based anti-aircraft guns and endeavour to fire .22 ammunition at a target card whilst the platform was moved under them (TNA: ADM 1/17563). HY58 taught the principles of eyeshooting fast moving aircraft targets in a quarter sphere dome which represented the arc of the sky. Moving target images were reflected on the dome interior by a cam-actuated reflecting mirror attached to a 35mm projector which the trainee would endeavour to track using a mock-up ships anti-aircraft gun (ibid.).


© Source: Lindsay, G.J. & Dobney, K. (2014). Legacies of Conflict: Hoy & Walls Wartime Heritage Project, Wartime Development Document. Island of Hoy Development Trust.


FARRINGTON, K., (2011). Handbook of World War II: An Illustrated Chronicle of The Struggle For Victory. London: Anness Publishing Ltd.

THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE UK (TNA), (1945). ADM 1/17563 Synthetic Training Devices of the Royal Navy – Descriptive List. Unpublished Archive Document.

THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE UK (TNA), (1937-1946). ADM116/5790 Main Fleet Base – Scapa Flow: Inception, Development and History. Unpublished Archive Document.


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