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Surviving the Arctic Convoys (Hardback)

The Wartime Memoirs of Leading Seaman Charlie Erswell

WWII Maritime Naval

By Charlie Erswell, John R McKay
Imprint: Pen & Sword Maritime
Pages: 200
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399013031
Published: 18th June 2021

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£19.99


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  • John R McKay features as guest historian on WW2TV 
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Leading Seaman Charlie Erswell saw much more than his fair share of action during the Second World War. He was present at the 1942 landing in North Africa (Operation TORCH), D-Day and the liberation of Norway. But his main area of operations was that of the Arctic Convoys, escorting merchant ships taking essential war supplies to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel.

In addition to contending with relentless U-boat and Luftwaffe attacks, crews endured the extreme sea conditions and appalling weather. This involved clearing ice and snow in temperatures as low as minus thirty degrees Celsius. No wonder Winston Churchill described it as ‘the worst journey in the world’.

Fortunately, Charlie, who served on two destroyers, HMS Milne and Savage, kept a record of his experiences and is alive today to describe them. His story, published to coincide with the 80th Anniversary of the first convoy, is more than one man’s account. It is an inspiring tribute to his colleagues, many of whom were killed in action. No-one reading Surviving The Arctic Convoys could fail to be moved by the bravery and endurance of these outstanding men.

A worthwhile read.

Read the review here

Yachting Monthly

As featured in

Ships Monthly

Military history fans are sure to thrill to Erswell’s account of combat, and will certainly learn something new. Seafarers may get extra
enjoyment in seeing some familiar locations as they were during the 1940s, from the Arctic to the Red Sea, and in having a look at life onboard under the harshest conditions imaginable. This is a gripping account of a truly remarkable life.

The Nautilus Telegraph, 'Book of the Month', November 2021 Issue.

Leading Seaman Charlie Erswell saw much more than his fair share of action during the Second World War. He was present at the 1942 landing in North Africa (Operation TORCH), D-Day and the liberation of Norway. But his main area of operations was the Arctic Convoys, escorting merchant ships taking essential war supplies to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel which Winston Churchill described as ‘the worst journey in the world’.
Erswell served on two destroyers, HMS Milne and Savage. His story, as told to John McKay, is more than one man’s account; it is an inspiring tribute to his colleagues, many of whom were killed in action. This story of bravery and endurance gives an appreciation what it felt like to be there in such hellish, freezing cold Arctic seas while under fire from U-boat torpedoes, Luftwaffe bombs and with the ever present threat of surface raider monsters like Tirpitz and Scharnhorst lurking nearby in Norwegian fjords.
Fittingly, the book was released to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the first Arctic Convoy, which sailed from Liverpool on 12th August 1941.

Read the full review here

Julian Stockwin

This was a really enjoyable read, the book was well written and there was a good relationship between the two men. I would most certainly recommend this book to others as a thrilling read.

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UK Historian

The Arctic Convoys to the Soviets were the most arduous naval actions of WWII. The far left have always made much of how the Soviets won the war. The courage of Red Army troops and pilots was impressive, but what is frequently neglected is the part British seamen played in the epic convoy battles to supply the Soviets – Most Highly Recommended

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Firetrench

I was very eager to review this book as not only have I served in the Royal Navy but my brother also took part in Artic Convoy operations as part of a gun’s crew albeit in a ship larger than those depicted in this publication. However, he rarely talked about his experiences so I hoped that this book would give me a flavour of his time spent in this dangerous and inhospitable area.
Surviving the Artic Convoys did not disappoint, the weather, which I have experienced, the constant threat of death and destruction, the lack of sleep and decent food all laid bare. How the crews of these small ships survived the stress and conditions beggars’ belief. I also equate to Charlie Erswell’s stories of ‘Runs Ashore’ especially those of Greece and Malta but think there are many more not told.

Bob Dean, The Ton Class Association

A series of fantastic experiences, especially from his work on those Russian convoys, but no wonder veterans who survived had witnessed events that would clearly remain with him for a lifetime, and so helpful that his story has been recorded for the rest of us to learn how it felt to live through those incredible times. Very happy to recommend this one.

Read the full review here

Military Model Scene

Article: 'The story of one man's war fought in the icy waters of the Arctic has been brought to life in a remarkable new book' as featured by

Wakefield Express, 8th July 2021

About Charlie Erswell

Born in 1923, Charlie Erswell spent his childhood at Berwick-upon-Tweed. He joined the Royal Navy in December 1941 and for the next five years was in the thick of the action, as described in Surviving the Arctic Convoys.


After demobilisation in 1949, he pursued a varied engineering career. For 12 years before retirement at 65 he manufactured artificial limbs in Leeds for Roehampton Hospital, London.


He lives with his second wife, Betty in Yorkshire. Between them, they have numerous children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


About John R McKay

John R McKay served in the RAF before pursuing a career with the Fire and Rescue Service.


He is the author of seven published novels including The Worst Journey In The World, based on the Arctic Convoys. Inspired by Charlie’s war service, he feels very privileged to have helped Charlie record his story.


A keen football fan, John lives in Wigan with his wife Dawn. He has two daughters and one grand-daughter.

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