‘Are you happy in the Navy?’, this was the signal passed to a neighbouring vessel by Lt Leo Joseph Gradwell during a German air raid. An Oxbridge barrister, adept in six languages, he was not quite the man one would imagine fighting the best German warships with only a yacht sailing certificate. Captain of one of the British merchant ships of the ‘scattered’ PQ17 convoy, he had a Times Handy Atlas to stay alive after being ordered to disperse at the lurking threat of the the Nazi warship Tirpitz. PQ17: well, it’s obviously an intriguing code name though quite a historic one. PQ17 was the code named convoy containing British and American ammunition, weapons and aid that were sent to the Russians to prevent the unstoppable Germans from capturing Moscow; crossing the hell rough Arctic ocean. Dating back to the venerable Second War, PQ17 Arctic Convoy Disaster has been tagged one of the most infamous naval disasters in the history of warfare. This may seem to have no connection to that of an 18-year old prat’s life. Self-confessedly, even I would have been in the dark about PQ17, like most other people, had I not stumbled upon the documentary broadcast on the BBC, presented by the legendary, albeit controversial, Jeremy Clarkson.
Time to draw the connection.