Leo Gradwell DSC RNVR against orders, led three merchant ships from the disaster of Convoy PQ 17 int
Leo Gradwell DSC was a British barrister, a magistrate and a Second World War Royal Navy volunteer, who in July 1942 against orders, led his own RN-adapted trawler HMS Ayrshire and three merchant ships from the disaster of Convoy PQ 17 into Arkhangelsk, Soviet Union.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gradwell was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a lieutenant. He was given command of the anti-submarine warfare adapted 575 long tons (584 t) Middlesbrough-built trawler MS Ayrshire, renamed HMS Ayrshire (FY 225), with a crew of volunteer fishermen.
Attached as part of the defensive net around Convoy PQ17, on receiving the third order to scatter on 4 July 1942, Gradwell concluded that as he was heading north to the Arctic ice shelf, he might as well take some merchant ships with him.
Leading his convoy of Ayrshire and three merchant vessels – the Panamanian-registered Troubador, the Ironclad, and the American-registered Silver Sword – he proceeded north using only a sextant and the Times World Geographic Pocket Book, as his vessel lacked charts for this part of the Atlantic. On reaching the Arctic ice pack, the convoy found itself stuck fast, so the ships stopped engines and banked their fires.
Gradwell arranged a defence, formulated around the fact that the Troubador was carrying a cargo of bunkering coal and drums of white paint: the crews painted all the vessels white, covered decks with white linen, and arranged the Sherman tanks on the merchant vessels decks into a defensive ring, with loaded main guns.
After a period of waiting, and having evaded the reconnoitring Luftwaffe aircraft, finding themselves unstuck they proceeded to the Matochkin Strait in Novaya Zemlya.[
They were found there by a flotilla of corvettes that escorted the four-ship convoy, plus two other merchant vessels, to the Russian port of Archangel, arriving on 25 July. Appointed Distinguished Service Crosson 15 September 1942, he later went on to command the ASW adapted whaler HMS Thirlmere (FY 206).
The Distinguished Service Cross
Temporary Lieutenant Leo Joseph Anthony Gradwell, R.N.V.R.
Mention in Despatches
Temporary Lieutenant Richard William Hilary Elsden, R.N.V.R
Temporary Sub-Lieutenant John. Francis Aylard, R.N.V.R.
Temporary Sub-Lieutenant Albert James Woods, R.N.V.R.
Acting Petty Officer John Morrison, X-77iiC, R.N.R.
Leading Seaman James Alfred Gower, X.20044A, R.N.R.
Acting Sub-Lieutenant Nigel Dixon, Royal Navy, H.M.S. Ayrshire.