© Liverpool war museum

In 1941, the first Arctic Convoy of the Second World War set sail to Soviet Russia from Liverpool to Arkhangelsk. To commemorate the 80th anniversary of this historic event, the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy in Moscow, together with partners, is organising a wide programme of activities connecting people, museums and universities in Liverpool, Arkhangelsk, and other Northern regions of Russia and the UK. The programme aims to build deeper links between Liverpool and Arkhangelsk and highlights the historical connections of the two countries. 

The Arctic Convoys: A Shared History programme encompasses a museum exchange programme between Western Approaches HQ Museum in Liverpool and the Northern Maritime Museum in Arkhangelsk; a literary competition on the theme of the Arctic Convoys; an online museum conference involving 20 leading British and Russian institutions; and an art residency for three UK artists in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, in partnership with Inversia Festival. 

The programme involves creating artistic collaborations and longer term links between the museums of Northern Russia and the UK, as well as organising student exchanges between higher education institutions in Liverpool and Arkhangelsk. 

The Arctic Convoys: A Shared History programme is delivered by the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy in Moscow in partnership with the Big Heritage, the Western Approaches Museum, Liverpool John Moores University and Northern Maritime Museum in Arkhangelsk. 

Museum Exchange

On 22 February 2022, Western Approaches HQ Museum in Liverpool is opening a new permanent display on the Arctic Convoys, located within the actual convoy plotting room. The project is concurrent with the Northern Maritime Museum’s exhibition Destination Port: Arkhangelsk exhibition, and marks the beginning of the partnership between the two museums.

Literary Competition

As part of a wider Arctic Convoys: A Shared History programme of events, and ahead of the opening the new display, Western Approaches HQ have held a literary competition on the theme The Second World War: Artic Convoys (1941-1945). The contest was open to all, and 65 submissions, including short stories and poetry, were received in less than two months. The winners were announced on 27 January 2022.

Online Museum Conference

On 8 February 2022, Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy in Moscow, Western Approaches HQ in Liverpool, and the Northern Maritime Museum in Arkhangelsk are holding a one-day virtual museum conference Break the Ice: New Connections across the North. Bringing together a diverse range of museums, cultural institutions, and practitioners from the UK and the Russian North, the conference will mark the Arctic Convoys anniversary and propose ways of engaging with the Arctic in a broader context, exploring memories of historic events and looking at the region’s present and future. The conference is open for attending online upon registration

Art Residency

In February 2022, the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy, in partnership with Inversia Festival are organising an art residency entitled Stories from the North: Female Voices. The residency’s core focus is on women, their roles and perspectives in the region’s past and present. UK artists Die Hexen, Sami El-Enany and Su Shaw have been selected to visit Murmansk and Arkhangelsk and participate in the residency programme online. The objective of the residency is to open up the discussion, invite new and alternative perspectives on the Arctic, and inspire future artistic collaboration between the participating artists and local artistic community in the Russian North. Learn more.

Arctic Convoys / Historical Context 

Arctic Convoys were the main theatre of the war at sea during World War II. They played a crucial role in providing strategic supplies to the Eastern Front between 1941 to 1945, significantly contributing to Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany. It was an operation of an unprecedented scale, with more than 40 countries and representatives of a dozen fleets taking part.

The journey by sea through the Arctic was the most direct albeit the most dangerous route to transport supplies to the Eastern Front. Convoys were at constant threat from the German U-boats, aircraft ships, and surface ships, as well as severe weather conditions of the Arctic Ocean. They would be beset by pack ice, strong currents, freezing temperatures, ferocious storms and mountainous waves that would freeze once they hit the deck. Living for days on end in a cold, permanently wet environment took its toll of both crews and ships. 3000 people, 85 merchant ships and 16 Royal Navy ships were lost during the operation.

The Arctic Convoys remain an enduring symbol of shared history, heroic cooperation and peoples’ sacrifice in the joint fight for life and freedom.