Archive for December, 2018

Early in 1953, following the death of Josef Stalin, and despite indications that dramatic changes might be taking place in the government of the Soviet Union, political and military authorities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), collectively, continued to perceive a growing threat to world peace. This was evident in the numbers and state of readiness of the forces of the Soviet Union and the Soviet satellite nations stationed in Europe – the largest military formations ever maintained by any nation, or grouping of nations, in time of nominal peace.

The speeds of newer aircraft, with which the Soviet Union’s forces already had been equipped, and the introduction into the Soviet armoury of modern, intercontinental and medium-range ballistic missiles had reduced the size of the Continent of Europe – in terms of time and air-distances – to one third of the area it had represented to military planners during the Second World War.

A number of far-reaching, practical measures had been taken during the first two years of the existence of Allied Command Europe (ACE) to defend the NATO nations against a Soviet attack. But much of the progress that had been made was of a preliminary planning and organisational nature.

NATO military leaders still lacked assurances that a sufficient number of combat-ready divisions, reserves, air-defence units , command-and-control systems, logistical systems, and other resources, which were required to guarantee a fully effective military defence of the ACE area, would be immediately available to them when needed.

As a result, beginning in 1953, a new approach to Allied defensive concepts was sought along with their progressive implementation. The Standing Group (which was made up of French, British and US representatives, and acted as Chairman on a rotating basis) subsequently issued strategic guidance to the Regional Planning Groups, and instructed them to make plans on the hypothesis that war would break out in 1954. These plans, when completed, were coordinated by the Standing Group, which then estimated roughly the total aggregate forces required to defend the NATO area. The Regional Planning Groups also produced emergency plans to be used in the event of a sudden outbreak of hostilities.

Mr Georgy Maximilianovich Malenkov temporarily assumed leadership over both the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) following the death of Stalin, and, as Chairman of the Council of Ministers in the USSR, was quick to announce that the United States had “no longer a monopoly of the hydrogen bomb.”

“On the Brink 1953: Britain’s Part in Exercise Momentum” captures the key strategies and events that took place in preparation to defend the United Kingdom from any such attack.

“On the Brink 1953: Britain’s Part in Exercise Momentum” is now available via Kindle

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The Russian Government’s request for permission to award the Ushakov Medal to British veterans of the Arctic Convoys in May 2012 was flatly refused by the British Government. The rules on the acceptance of foreign awards clearly state that in order for permission to be given for an award to be accepted, there has to have been specific service to the country concerned and that that service should have taken place within the previous five years.

It was only in a Ministerial Statement published on 17 June 2013, that The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague) announced that formal approval had been given to a recommendation for an exception to the rules on the acceptance of foreign awards to allow eligible British nationals to accept and wear the Russian Ushakov Medal. Applications and eligibility for the Ushakov Medal would be a matter for the Russian authorities.

The statement came the day after the Prime Minister (David Cameron) and President Vladimir Putin presented the first medals to Arctic Convoy veterans at a ceremony in Downing Street.

Photo: http://en.kremlin.ru

During Mr Putin’s speech (through an interpreter) he said:

“Distinguished Prime Minister, dear friends and veterans, in Russia we try to treat those who contributed to the victory over the Nazi Germany with special attention and respect, and we have governmental programmes to support and back our veterans in Russia. This is why we want to pay tribute to everybody who contributed to that victory, including our allies.”

“Therefore, we feel special respect for you and for your comrades in arms. And it’s not only about the huge volume of aid provided to the Soviet Union with your help during the Second World War; the reason is that you and your comrades in arms demonstrated unparalleled heroism during that struggle and you instilled in everybody’s minds hope that the victory over the Nazis was coming soon. And I’d like to emphasise not the titanic goals that we had in front of us back then, but I’d like to emphasise your courage and your heroism.”

“It’s hard to imagine that under the severe Arctic conditions of frosts and storms, of waves reaching sometimes five to seven metres of height, every now and then armless Arctic convoys moved along the route and reached their final destination, being in line with their sacred debt. We remember you and we believe you are heroes, and I’m humbled by the honour to be here today and to decorate you – to see and to decorate you with this Ushakov Medal. And Fyodor Ushakov is our great Fleet Commander and back in 1800, in concert with the British ally, he carried out a joint operation with Admiral Nelson. Dear veterans, I’d like to express my respect and tell you – say to you the words of gratitude and thank you from my heart. Thank you so much.”


The four-year struggle to provide material to support the Soviet war effort cost the lives of around 3,000 sailors and merchant seamen, and over one hundred civilian and military ships were lost, with the nadir coming in the summer of 1942 when convoy PQ-17 was mauled by the Luftwaffe and nine U-boats.

The Arctic convoys were renowned to be the toughest voyages, and were described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world”. In addition to the threats from U-boats, bombers and surface craft to all convoys, the main enemy was the bitter cold. After their watch, being too cold to sleep, crewmen had to keep chipping away at the ice. They were all aware that the build-up of ice had led to ships capsizing and disappearing below the surface with all hands.

The Arctic Star campaign medal was instituted in the United Kingdom on 19 December 2012, and is granted for operational service of any length north of the Arctic Circle (66 degrees, 32’N) from September 3 1939 to May 8 1945, inclusive.

The Arctic Star is awarded posthumously; the Ushakov medal is not.

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