World War II Air Operations in the Archangel Region
Seventy-six years ago, on 15 September 1944, several British Royal Air Force Lancaster heavy bombers took off from the Yagodnik Airfield near Archangel on a mission to attack the large
German battleship Tirpitz that was hiding in a Norwegian fjord. This mission was one of many examples of the close cooperation between Allied air forces in northern Russia during World War II.
The first Allied Convoy (code named DERVISH) into Archangel on 31 August 1941 delivered 15 British Hawker Hurricane fighter planes packed in crates. These aircraft were rapidly unloaded and reassembled by British and Russian personnel on Kego Island (across the Northern Dvina River from the center of the City of Archangel). A few days later, RAF pilots flew the aircraft 300 miles north to Vaenga Airfield near Murmansk where they flew alongside Russian aircraft to counter German air attack and ground advances on that city from northern Finland.
By 1942, Russian forces had established a more substantial airfield on Yagodnik Island just south of the city of Archangel near the current Mayle Kareli Outdoor Museum of Wooden
Architecture. Russian reconnaissance and fighter aircraft based there played a large role in the defense of northern Russia. For example, the Russian 2nd Air Group out of Yagodnik discovered the Allied ships that had survived ill-fated Arctic Convoy PQ 17 near Novaya Zemlya in July 1942 and then helped the Russian Navy escort the ships safely into Archangel (including the American ship SS Silver Sword, captained by Clyde Colbeth from Chebeague Island Maine).
The existence of the German battle fleet (lead by Tirpitz) in northern Norway had haunted the Arctic Convoys for several years in the War and London was determined to sink her. The British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force had tried to attack Tirpitz many times but without success.
By the summer of 1944, the British and Russian air forces had devised a new plan (code named Operation Paravane) that would utilize elite squadrons of RAF heavy bombers flying from Yagodnik Airfield near Archangel. Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower personally approved the plan. On 11 September 1944, 37 Lancaster bombers left England, flew over neutral Sweden and most of them landed at Yagodnik (some crash landed at Kego in bad weather). Russian ground crews rapidly repaired and refueled most of the bombers; and on 15 September, 27 bombers took off for the long flight to northern Norway. The plan worked. The RAF found Tirpitz at anchor and, using massive bombs, inflicted the first significant damage on Tirpitz. The Lancasters then flew back to Yagodnik for refueling and most eventually arrived back in Britain by 21 September.
The Germans moved Tirpitz south to another fyord on the Norwegian coast for repairs; however, this move put Tirpitz within range of Lancasters flying directly out of Scotland without refueling. The RAF finished the job and sank Tirpitz on 15 November 1944. Today, in 2020, there are monuments at Kego and at Yagodnik that honor the brave Allied air and ground crews
that contributed so much to victory in the War.
(From the Archangel Regional Museum)