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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WWII Veterans Honored for Braving Russia's Cold

LONDON — A handful of World War II veterans who braved ice, fierce cold and enemy fire on Arctic convoy duty received medals Tuesday from Russia.

"We are very happy to have them and there's no resentment about it taking so long," said Gerry Raffe, 80, an airman who helped protect Allied convoys to Russia on the Arctic route.

The medals presented by the Russian Embassy were for veterans of the convoys which carried arms, equipment and food to help the Soviet Union defeat Nazi Germany in World War II.

"Thank you for coming. It is a great privilege on behalf of our president to give you this commemorative medal for your heroic deeds," said Russian Ambassador Grigory Karasin.

The ambassador shook hands with the 16 graying men and handed each a red box containing a gilt medal inscribed: "The 50th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945." Each man also got a certificate and three red roses tied with a red ribbon.

Britain and the United States lost 87 merchant ships with 829 crewmen and 18 warships with 1,944 men on the Arctic convoys.

There were more than 800 ships involved in 40 outward convoys that assembled off Iceland bound for Archangel and Murmansk. They were attacked by German warships, submarines and planes from bases in Norway.

"What do I remember most? The cold, the cold, the snow and our ground crews tying down the Hudsons to prevent them being blown away," Raffe said. "Our magnetic compasses were all over the place because we were so near to the North Pole."

Raymond Pote, a torpedo operator on the cruiser Norfolk, spent four years with the Arctic convoys, and recalled using steam hoses to clear ice on the upper deck that threatened to destabilize his ship. "We were taught that we had to keep the ship afloat at all costs because we couldn't survive in the water," he said.

The veterans were ignored by Moscow during the Cold War, probably because the Soviets did not want to recognize the Western contribution to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. It was Mikhail Gorbachev who broke the ice in 1985 to distribute 40th anniversary decorations to the Western Allies. Russia has continued to distribute the 50th anniversary medal, struck in 1995.