July 4th 1942, and Arctic Convoy PQ17 is under heavy attack by Torpedo Bombers flown from Luftwaffe air bases in Norway and Finland. The Navarino has already been abandoned and wallows ablaze in the water. The convoy is 240 miles east of Bear Island, and 800 miles still to go.
On the Panamanian registered freighter Troubador concern about a shortage of ammunition for the ships US Navy installed (and partially manned) defences has resulted in an inventive solution. On her deck she carries 3 M3 light tanks. These are armed with 37mm quick firing M5 guns, and the Troubadour’s hold contains armour piercing ammunition with tracer rounds, necessary against the well protected Heinkel HE-111 bombers the convoy faced. The decision was taken to break the seals on two tanks and the ammunition crates. 2 two man crews were assigned to man two of the tanks, and in this unusual manner she protected herself effectively enough to be one of the 11 merchant ships (of 36) that managed to get to Murmansk. Indeed, the Royal Navy were impressed enough by the approach as to recommend it to other ships in the convoy.
One of the more unusual tales of the Sea, it struck me in researching the story of the Arctic Convoys for my forthcoming exhibition just how inventive people are in the face of adversity. For merchant seamen and women, on their poorly (if at all) armed, and completely unarmoured ships the psychological impact of the unrelenting attacks of bombers and U-boats must have been huge. Human instinct tends to the fight or flight, and at 8 knots no ship can outrun an aircraft. It is admirable that in such circumstances creativity rather than panic rules, and I have titled the painting Desperate Measures in recognition of this.