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Honor denied: UK won't let WWII vets accept Russian bravery medals

Honor denied: UK won't let WWII vets accept Russian bravery medals
Three thousand British sailors who braved arctic conditions and enemy bombers to deliver vital supplies to the Eastern Front during WWII have been denied medals for bravery offered by Russia for their outstanding service.

­The UK Foreign Office said this week that British veterans who served in the legendary Arctic convoy during World War II may not accept the Ushakov Medal for Bravery.

Officials stated that if the medals were accepted, it would violate the law as the service took place more than five years ago and the veterans are in line to receive British medals for their duty.

The Foreign Office added that it "very much appreciates" Russia’s bid to honor the Britons' "brave and valuable" service.

The decision has been met with anger and scorn in some quarters. An e-petition has been created on the Downing Street website asking the government to reconsider, as many former navy men feel let down.

“The one the Russians are offering now is a special state award for outstanding courage during World War II,” eighty-five-year-old Ken Reith told the Courier, adding, “I would prefer to get the Russian medal, to be honest, because at least it is being given with heartfelt gratitude instead of the one we’ve been fighting for from British bureaucrats for almost 70 years.”

Despite promises from Prime Minister David Cameron last year to honor the Arctic Convoy troops, none have yet received medals.
Some of the veterans value Russian recognition over that of the UK. “The Russian government wants to give us a bravery medal, not a campaign medal. There is a big difference,” Lieutenant Commander Roy Francis told the Daily Mail.

“Arctic convoys were renowned to be the toughest voyages. In addition to the threat from U-boats, bombers and surface craft to all convoys, the main enemy was the bitter cold,” Francis explained.

Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill described their voyage as “the worst journey in the world” as the ships took the freezing Arctic route to reach the Soviet Union's northernmost ports in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk.

There were 78 Arctic convoys between August 1941 and May 1945. About 1,400 vessels delivered much-needed war supplies to the Soviet Union under a lend-lease program. The merchant ships were escorted by the Royal Navy, US Navy and Royal Canadian Navy. Sixteen Royal Navy warships were lost in the operation as well as eighty-five merchant vessels.

The Medal of Ushakov. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Subbotin)
The Medal of Ushakov. (RIA Novosti / Sergey Subbotin)