I was inspired by Jeremy Clarkson’s BBC4 programme about the disastrous PQ17 convoy in July 1942 to add a new scene to my Stalin play, Barbarossa and the Latvian Gambit:
BEGINNING OF EXCERPT
Scene 1. The need for Anglo-American aid
May 6, 1942: Promised military supplies have failed to arrive.
(Stalin at his desk. Enter Poskrebyshev, Stalin’s personal secretary.)
Ah, Alexander Nikolaevich, is there news from Churchill about the promised military supplies?
It would appear that the Anglo-American convoy has not left Hvalfjordur, in Iceland. Weather conditions are very unfavourable. And it seems they are worried about attacks from the Hitlerite battle cruiser, the Tirpitz, which is based in Trondheim, in Norway.
Bastards! They promised to get their convoys through as soon as the ice began to break up. How many of their ships are in Iceland?
Ninety, I understand, Tovarish Stalin.
Ninety, eh? All with valuable cargoes, no doubt.
(Thinks for a moment.)
I think this is a time for diplomatic language, however.
Send this message to Premier Churchill:
I have a request for you. Some ninety steamers loaded with various important war materials for the U.S.S.R. arc bottled up at present in Iceland or in the approaches from America to Iceland. I understand there is a danger that the sailing of these ships may be delayed for a long time because of the difficulty to organise convoy escorted by the British naval forces.
I am fully aware of the difficulties involved and of the sacrifices made by Great Britain in this matter. I feel however incumbent upon me to approach you with the request to take all possible measures in order to ensure the arrival of all the above-mentioned materials in the USSR in the course of May, as this is extremely important for our front.
Accept my sincere greetings and best wishes for success.
How does that sound, Alexander Nikolaevich?
Excellent, Tovarish Stalin.
Scene 2. Churchill replies
(Fade up on scene as before, Stalin at his desk, Poskrebyshev standing in front.
May 9, 1942: Churchill asks for Soviet air and sea support.
Churchill has been asking what protection we can offer his convoys.
No doubt. As usual, we are to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.
Well, what have we got?
Our Northern Fleet, commanded by Rear Admiral Arseni G. Golovko, consists of eight destroyers, seven frigates, fifteen submarines, fifteen patrol boats, plus several torpedo boats and minesweepers.
The Northern Fleet Air Force has 116 aircraft – but they are mainly older models.
H’mm. We can’t do much with that. But we mustn’t let them know our weakness up there in the Arctic.
Send him this:
I have received your message, and am writing to thank you for the promise to arrange for maximum delivery of war materials to the USSR. We quite understand the difficulties which Great Britain is overcoming, and those heavy sea losses which you are suffering while accomplishing this big task.
As for your suggestion for the Air Force and Navy of the USSR to take more effective measures for protection of transports in the area mentioned by you, you may not doubt that on our part all possible measures will be taken immediately. It is necessary however to take into consideration the fact that our naval forces are very limited, and that our air forces in their vast majority are engaged at the battle-front.
Please accept my sincere greetings.
Scene 3. PQ17 convoy leaves Iceland
June 27, 1942, 4pm: PQ17 convoy leaves Iceland bound for Archangel
(Scene as before)
Tovarish Stalin, the Anglo-American convoy PQ17 has left Iceland.
About bloody time too. How many ships?
The convoy consists of 35 ships loaded with 297 aircraft, 594 tanks, 4246 lorries and gun carriers and additional 156,000 tons of cargo.
They are escorted by four cruisers, three destroyers and two British submarines. There are also two tankers which would fuel the ships when needed, one of them the Soviet tanker, Azerbaijan.
That’s the one with a female crew, eh? Courageous lasses, brave Soviet women.
Well, Churchill is certainly delivering on his promises at long last. Send him a message of thanks.
July 4, 1942: The order is given for the convoy to scatter.
DISTORTED RADIO VOICES:
Cruiser Force withdraw to the westward at high speed.
Owing to threat from surface ships, convoy is to disperse and proceed to Russian ports.
Convoy is to scatter.
Scene 4. The PQ17 disaster
(Stalin’s office, as before.)
Is he mad, this so-called First Lord of the English Admiralty?
What’s the bastard’s name?
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound GCB OM GCVO GBE RN, Tovarish.
Pound? I’d pound him if he was in my navy. I’d have him shot.
And what happened to this convoy when he ordered it to scatter?
Twenty-four out of a total of thirty-three ships were sunk. Some of the surviving vessels have anchored off Novaya Zwemla.
Novaya Zemla? An unhabited island! What good is that to us? They need to get to Archangel, and as soon as possible.
Never mind the fucking ships. What about their cargoes?
A total of 3,350 motor vehicles, 430 tanks, 210 bombers and 99,316 tons of general cargo including FADAF sets and ammunition have been lost. The Soviet tanker, Azerbaijan, lost her cargo of linseed oil when she was damaged. But her crew managed to save the vessel.
So is there no good news?
One unconfirmed report, Tovarish Stalin. It’s said that one of our K-class submarines actually hit the Tirpitz with a torpedo. Four torpedoes were fired and two explosions reported. But the Hitlerite vessel was not sunk, despite this.
Our submarine’s commander?
(Consults a paper)
Captain Nikolai Lubin, Tovarish.
He and his crew must be suitably rewarded. See to it, Alexander Nikolaevich.
And now, I have some personal matters to attend to, if you will excuse me.
I need to talk to my daughter.
She is waiting outside, Tovarish Stalin. I will send her in.
(He leaves. Enter SVETLANA, a pretty red-head, aged 16, accompanied by her nurse, an elderly babushka.)
END OF EXCERPT
I am hoping to produce the play in June, on the anniversary of the German attack on the USSR, of June 22, 1942. I am still looking for a suitable venue, and also need to start casting.
Anyone want to play Stalin?
NOTE: The script of the full play (one of a series of nine about the death and life of Stalin), can be viewed at http://houstonmedia.tv/Downloads/StalinPlays-Barbarossa&theLatvianGambit.pdf.
(Acrobat PDF format)