In August 1941 Topolski joined the first Arctic convoy to Russia, arriving in Moscow as German armies advanced towards the city. From Moscow Topolski travelled to the Volga region to visit Anders’ Army of Polish exiles, returning to Britain at the end of 1941.
Topolski was commissioned by Picture Post magazine to join the first Arctic convoy to Russia. These convoys were groups of merchant ships transporting war supplies and equipment from Britain to Russia via the Norwegian and Barents Sea. Each was accompanied by ships from the Royal Navy to defend them from German submarine and air attack. The crews endured extreme weather conditions and the rate of losses from enemy attack was the highest of any Allied convoy routes during the war.
The convoy docked in Archangel in northwestern Russia at the end of August, and Topolski flew on to Moscow. Nazi Germany had launched a devastating attack on the Soviet Union in June of that year and advanced rapidly eastwards. The authorities in Moscow were extremely suspicious of any foreigners photographing in the Soviet capital. As an artist, Topolski seemed to present less of a threat and he was allowed to draw a variety of subjects, although he was briefly arrested while sketching in café on Red Square in Moscow. His drawings were published in a book Russia in War in 1942.
In September 1941, Topolski travelled to Kuibyshev (now Samara) on the River Volga to meet Anders’ Army, the nickname given to the army of Polish exiles set up by General Władyslaw Anders. Established in August 1941, some 25,000 men had enlisted by mid-October. Relations with the Russians soured and Anders took the units to Persia, where they came under British command. In 1944 Anders’ Army fought in Italy, where Topolski was to encounter them again. Topolski has painted General Anders here in the Century, along with his military attendant.