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Arctic Convoys 1941-45: 'The worst journey in the world'

Previously unpublished photographs reveal the treacherous journey to Russia undertaken by Allied naval and merchant ships during World War Two

Winston Churchill called the Allied Arctic convoys to Russia between 1941 and 1945 “the worst journey in the world”. Tomorrow sees the opening of an exhibition marking the gruelling conditions under which sailors transported tanks, fighter planes and ammunition to Russia, is due to open at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Other vital cargo carried to the Soviet Union included raw materials and food. More than four million tonnes of supplies were transported in total during a four year period. But the cost to human life was high. By May 1945 the mission had claimed 104 merchant ships and 16 military vessels and the thousands of seamen they carried.

Attack from German U-boats and aircraft was not all the Arctic convoys had to contend with. They had to deal with severe cold, storms, fog, ice floes and waves so huge they tore at the ship’s armour plating. The exhibition will include some never-previously-displayed photographs, paintings by war artists and clothing worn by sailors. Pieced together, these objects give insight into a huge military undertaking which has been largely forgotten in post-1945 years.

Arctic Convoys, 1941-1945 is at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich from 21 October 2011- 28 February 2012, www.nmm.ac.uk