|Les Malshinger 18 December 1925 - 1 July 2018
Les and Rose Malshinger lived in Maple Ridge, Church Road, almost opposite Peldon's Village Hall, for over 45 years. They bought the house from new in 1973 and made many friends in the village where they were to live out their days.
In the Peldon and Wigborough's Parish Magazine of September 2015, an article written by friend and neighbour, John Wakeling, told of Les's war-time experiences as a young seaman on the Arctic Convoys and piqued my interest to know more.
Born in West Ham, London, Les was the first born of Ernest Louis Carl Malschinger and Ida Clara Clifton, one of nine children. Generations back the family seem to have come from Czechoslovakia and first moved to London in 1845. Les's grandad and great grandad were jewellers but by his father's generation the family fortunes seem to have dwindled and his father (born in 1901), along with two siblings, had a spell in Lewisham Workhouse in 1908.
At the start of the war his father, a builder and decorator, was still in West Ham while his mother seems to have been evacuated, maybe with two of the children, to Somerset.
Les's naval career began at HMS Collingwood in July 1943 when he was 17. It is a Royal Navy shore establishment and was where new-entry training for 'hostilities only' ratings of the Seaman Branch was undertaken. During the Second World War from 10th January 1940, batches of about 1,000 trainees would join every three weeks for a 10 week course; a course which Les completed on 28th September 1943.
Les as a young seaman
From Collingwood, Les went to several other shore establishments for further training including HMS Victory, Portsmouth, HMS Forward just outside
Newhaven, East Sussex and HMS Eaglet at Liverpool where he was to join his first ship the colony class Frigate HMS ANGUILLA. He was to serve on
board the ANGUILLA as an Able Seaman from 15th December 1944 to 19th June 1945 and was involved in the last Arctic Convoys of the war between April and May 1945.
Known to the men as the Russian Convoys rather than the Arctic Convoys, the voyage was famously described by Churchill as
the worst journey in the world. While Stalin's ambassador, Ivan Maisky, who remained in London for most of the war called the convoys
a northern saga of heroism, bravery and endurance.
The Arctic Convoys were a monumental collaborative effort to provide aid to the Soviet Union to bolster its defences against the invading German
forces. The supplies were delivered by merchant vessels, escorted by warships and shielded by air cover. The route went through perilous Arctic
waters, and the ships sailed under the constant threat of air, surface vessel and U-boat attacks.
Russian Arctic Convoy Museum www.racmp.co.uk
The route passed through a narrow funnel between the Arctic ice pack and German bases in Norway and was very dangerous, especially in winter when
the ice came further south. Imperial War Museum www.iwm.org.uk
The Soviet Union, much of whose own armoury had been destroyed during Operation Barbarossa when Germany invaded Russia (June to December 1941), demanded war supplies from the British and Americans to maintain pressure on the eastern border of Germany. The most efficient route by sea to deliver these supplies was to the Russian ports of Murmansk and during the brief summer when conditions would allow, Archangel. Escorted merchant ships were to take vital supplies of food and military equipment, including tanks, aircraft, ammunition, weapons and telecommunications equipment.
The ship Les served on, HMS ANGUILLA, had been built by the Americans in 1943 and first named USS HALLOWELL. Transferred to the UK under the
'lend-lease' arrangement between Britain and the USA during the war it was renamed ANGUILLA (K500) by the British on 10 June 1943. It served in the
Royal Navy for the rest of the war having been launched on 14 July 1943.
HMS ANGUILLA 1944. Photo Imperial War Museum FL669.
Of the fourteen convoys HMS ANGUILLA is recorded as sailing with, sometimes joining as escort for only a day, most were accompanying supply ships destined for Britain. Merchant ships carrying commodities from South America, Africa and the Indian Ocean would travel to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where they would meet up with escort ships and be convoyed for the last leg of their journey to Liverpool.
It was not until the last weeks of the war that HMS ANGUILLA acted as escort to an Arctic Convoy and was at sea, homeward bound, when Hitler's death was announced and the war ended.
The conditions these men endured were unimaginably harsh and according to Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin set the convoys to Northern Russia apart from any
other theatres of war. In the winter there was a continual battle against gales and ice in almost perpetual darkness. In the summer the sun
rarely set and it gave the convoys no rest from the threat or reality of attack. The huge waves ... when dashed into spray rapidly turn to ice
in the freezing air. The pitching and rolling on the violent seas meant the ships took on water which, upon hitting the cold steel, rapidly
formed rime, building moment by moment into heavy, obstinate encrustations of thick ice. [Arctic Convoys 1941 - 1945: Richard Woodman] The weight of this ice meant the risk of capsizing. In the summer months the sea ice would break up but then pack ice and icebergs would add to the danger. The sea temperature was never above 4 degrees.
Upon the convoys' arrival at or departure from the Kola Inlet approaching Murmansk 'wolf-packs' of German submarines, or U-boats, would be waiting: this became known as 'the Kola Run'.
The escorts were highly trained in anti-submarine tactics, the chief danger to the convoys being from U-boats, and during 1944 HMS ANGUILLA took part in anti-submarine exercises off Lough Foyle on the north coast of Ireland.
By the time Les embarked on a convoy to the Kola Inlet on board HMS ANGUILLA, the codenames of the convoys were the JW series (outward bound) and RA (homeward bound) followed by the convoy number.
On 16th April 1945, convoy JW 66, (the last Russian convoy of the war) outward bound for the Kola Inlet, left the anchorage in the upper Firth of Clyde immediately North of Greenock, between Inverclyde and Argyll and Bute, known as the Tail o' the Bank. This area of the firth gets its name, Tail o' The Bank, from the sandbar immediately to its east which marks the entrance to the estuary of the River Clyde.
During the war, Atlantic convoys used the area as an arrival and departure point and the anchorage was frequently crowded with ships, as many shipbuilding and repair facilities were moved to the upper Clyde area to protect them from German air raids, a hazard they were particularly vulnerable to on the south coast of England.
Prior to JW66 convoy's arrival at the Kola Inlet, knowing the area was crammed with U-Boats, the escort group including the ANGUILLA, went on
ahead setting off a barrage of depth charges, mortars and charges to keep up pressure on the U-Boats while the Russians provided air cover.
This enabled the minelayer, APOLLO, and three destroyers to lay a tethered minefield. The 19th Escort Group succeeded in keeping the enemy at bay and JW 66 safely arrived at the Kola Inlet on 25th April, nine days after its departure from the Clyde.
'a group of the lads while at Russia' - Les Malshinger
It was four days later, escorting the homeward journey of this convoy (RA 66) where the ANGUILLA was to see the most dramatic action of her war. As the convoy prepared to sail I like to think that maybe Les was amongst those men who
while fuelling and awaiting the assembly of [convoy] RA66 the escorts, corvettes and destroyers mustered their best voices and gave a concert at
the Red Navy club at Polyarnoe
(Polyarnoe was the Soviet Northern Fleet headquarters near the entrance to the Kola Inlet).
'Russian scenery' - Les Malshinger
On 29th April 1945, the 19th Escort Group again preceded the home-ward bound convoy (of twenty-six merchant-men) with the Seventh Escort Group's
corvettes following suit. Fourteen U-Boats were lying in wait beyond the mine field. Two U-Boats, U313 and U427, after attack and counter-attack,
escaped serious injury while U-307 was despatched by HMS LOCH SHIN.
What was to be the final sinking of a Royal Navy ship in the European war came when U-968 torpedoed the frigate HMS GOODALL, part of the 19th Escort Group. The attack was described by survivor, Gunnery Control Officer, Lieutenant Cyril Lovitt
torpedoes hit us in the bows and blew off the forepart of the ship back as far as the mast
Mearns History Group www.mearnhistory.org
His Commander was killed as were over 100 crew but the survivors, including Lovitt who had a broken pelvis, were hauled across to HMS HONEYSUCKLE.
The sinking of HMS GOODALL was something that Les witnessed. I found a letter he had written trying to get information about a member of the crew on board the ship that rescued some of the sailors from GOODALL after she was torpedoed. Paul Malshinger [nephew] by Email
In the early hours of the following morning U-968 was sunk in the Barents Sea north of Murmansk, killing all 51 crew members, blown up by depth
charges dropped by HMS COTTON (K510), HMS LOCH INSH (K433) and HMS ANGUILLA. ANGUILLA then scuttled GOODALL by gunfire.
This was the last confirmed sinking of a U-Boat in the Northern theatre of war and later that day (30th April) unknown to either side of this engagement, Hitler, was to commit suicide in his bunker.
As for convoy RA66, it was to steam unmolested, in 'exemplary' order, through the Barents and Norwegian Seas and round Cloch Point [Firth of Clyde],
heading for the Tail 'o the Bank on VE Day, 8 May 1945. The war in Europe was over. [Arctic Convoys 1941 - 1945: Richard Woodman]
When I approached Les's nephew, Paul, for information he said Les didn't talk much about his time on the Arctic Convoys except to say "it was bloomin' freezing"!
Following his initial naval training at Portsmouth Dockyard his first ship was HMS ANGUILLA which he joined in Liverpool on 15th December 1944
and remained with her until 19th June 1945.
Thereafter he mainly served on HMS LAUDERDALE which is the ship he spoke more about than any other and had a few photos of. The only photos I found
of his time on ANGUILLA are attached [see above] and simply states on the back; "Russian scenery" and "A group of the lads while at Russia" The latter shows
some of his shipmates wearing what I assume to be typical cold weather gear at the time.
In total 104 Allied Merchant ships and 18 warships were sunk in the Arctic Convoys and 829 merchant seamen and 1,944 navy personnel killed.
From August 1945 to May 1946 Les served on HMS LAUDERDALE then, at the Firth of Forth, he joined HMS ACUTE which had been deployed for mine clearance. He served on board HMS Acute between 30th May 1946 and 22nd October 1946 taking part in operations off the Dutch coast in September and October before returning to Portsmouth. Les was released from the Royal Navy on 24th December 1946.
I think Les enjoyed his time on HMS LAUDERDALE more than any other ship. He told me that the ship was actually en route to Japan to assist the war
effort there, but half way there the War Office sent a signal that Japan had surrendered so he spent the rest of the war based in the Mediterranean
and Indian Ocean which must have been preferable to the Arctic Ocean and with no risk of getting torpedoed etc! Paul Malshinger by Email
Moving forward in time nearly seventy years, Les was finally given recognition for the extraordinary contribution he had made to the Allied War effort and was awarded a medal by Russia for his part in the Arctic Convoys. A covering letter thanked him for his
invaluable contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany and for the comradeship in arms of the people of Britain and the Soviet Union at a critical point in their history
On November 27th 2015 Les attended a ceremony at Colchester Town Hall along with twenty three other Arctic Convoy veterans and was presented with the Ushakov medal for the part he played in WW2. This medal was created in 1944 and was awarded to veterans
for personal courage and valour shown during World War 2 while participating in the Arctic Convoys.
The medal with the inscription ADMIRAL USHAKOV
The medal Les received was named after Fyodor Ushakov, an 18th Century commander, who never lost a battle and is the patron saint of the Russian Navy.
On 27 November Attaché of the Russian Embassy Mr Vadim Retuynskiy, Attaché of the Russian Embassy Mr Oleg Shor and Assistant Naval Attaché Commander Dmitry Sharapov presented the Ushakov medals to British veterans of the Arctic Convoys at a ceremony in Colchester.
Participants of the ceremony, which took place at Colchester Town Hall, were warmly welcomed by Madam Mayor of Colchester.
Speaking on behalf of the Russian Government, Mr Vadim Retuynskiy thanked the veterans for their invaluable contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Over 100 guests, including veterans' families, representatives of the local authorities and press took part in the ceremony.
Russian Embassy website rusemb.org.uk
Les at Colchester Town Hall with his Ushakov Medal
Peldon History Project
Peldon and Wigboroughs Parish Magazine Sept 2015 John Wakeling
Russian Arctic Convoy Museum www.racmp.co.uk
Imperial War Museum www.iwm.org.uk
Arctic Convoys 1941 - 1945: Richard Woodman
Russian Embassy website rusemb.org.uk
Leslie Louis Malshinger Service Record
In addition to the Ushakov Medal shown above, Les received other medals, all of them long after the end of WW2:
USSR medal and certificate to commemorate 40th anniversary of end of WW2, received March 1994
Arctic Star instituted in 2012 and awarded to veterans of the Arctic Convoys
Russian medal to mark the 70th Anniversary of the ending of Second World War in 1945
The inscription is "The Patriotic War" and "1945 2015".
Les with the 70th Anniversary Medal