New exhibition celebrating historic cooperation between Soviet Russia and its Western Allies to open inside a former secret WWII bunker in Liverpool 

On 22 February, Western Approaches HQ Museum will unveil a new permanent display to commemorate 80 years since the arduous Arctic Convoys, when sailors made the treacherous journey from Liverpool to Russia in a move that helped defeat the Nazis during WWII. 

The exhibition by education and heritage specialists Big Heritage aims to strengthen international links and celebrate the cooperation between the UK and Russia. It is part of the UK-Russia “Arctic Convoys: A Shared History” programme.  

The project has been in development since 2021, the 80th anniversary year of the first Arctic Convoy of the Second World War to set sail to Soviet Russia from Liverpool to Arkhangelsk.

An international memorandum of understanding has been signed between the Western Approaches HQ Museum, a secret underground WWII bunker based in the city centre, and the Northern Maritime Museum in Arkhangelsk, Russia. 

The exhibition by Big Heritage, located in the original convoy plotting room, where the Arctic Convoys were plotted from, aims to build deeper links between the two cities and highlight cultural links between the UK and Russia.

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

As part of ‘Operation Dervish’, the Arctic Convoys first left Liverpool in August 1941, loaded with military supplies to support Soviet efforts in fighting Nazi Germany. The ships undertook what was described by Winston Churchill as “the worst journey in the world” across freezing Arctic seas patrolled by German U-Boats, surface ships and aircraft before arriving in the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in the North of Russia. 

Dean Paton, Founder and Director of education and heritage specialists Big Heritage, Western Approach’s parent organisation, said, “The Arctic Convoys were led by men showing some exceptional bravery. After departing from Liverpool, the sailors faced incredibly arduous conditions, so we hope this permanent exhibition will honour and pay tribute to their heroism and sacrifice.

“Not only that, but this group of sailors showed the huge depth of support the city has always had for the Armed Forces.

“Bringing leaders from Russia and the UK together into Western Approaches in Liverpool is an honour for us – and shows what can be achieved when our two countries work together. This is an example of true collaboration between East and West, which needs both recognising and celebrating.” 

The Arctic Convoys saw 1,400 merchant ships make the journey between 1941 and 1945, carrying 4 million tons of supplies for use by Soviet forces fighting on the Eastern Front. They faced perils such as Nazi sea and air power, horrific weather and weeks of darkness. 3,000 people, 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy were lost.

At the exhibition launch, there will be speeches from Evgeny Tenetov, director of the Northern Maritime Museum in Arkhangelsk; Christian Duncumb, Cultural Counsellor at the British Embassy in Moscow; as well as an appearance from local Arctic Convoy veterans.

Mr Duncumb said, “This treacherous journey, and the courage of the men who made it, made an immense contribution to our efforts in ending WWII and achieving peace.

“It is hugely respected in Russia and I hope this collaborative exhibition will raise further awareness of the bravery shown. There is little doubt these men played a huge role in the shared history and efforts of the UK and Russia, and the ultimate Allied victory over Nazi Germany.”

Evgeny Tenetov, Director, the Northern Maritime Museum, said, “Participating in the exhibition of the Western Approaches HQ, dedicated to the Arctic Convoys, is an important stage of the international museum cooperation for the Northern Maritime Museum. 

“We believe that it is very important nowadays to demonstrate positive examples of collaboration in the cultural sector, and even more so — in the field of shared history: fighting fascism together was an unparalleled example of cooperation between nations. 

“Certainly, the global pandemic has had an effect on the depth of our museum work, but we hope that this is just the beginning of it. We are looking forward to collaborative research and exhibition projects, dedicated to the shared history of the UK and Russia.”

The exhibition is organised in partnership with the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy in Moscow as part of the UK – Russia “Arctic Convoys: A Shared History” programme

This programme aims to connect people, museums and universities to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the first Arctic Convoy to Russia which sailed from Liverpool to Arkhangelsk in 1941. It aims to build deeper links between the two cities and highlight the historical connections of Russia and the UK. 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.

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