As the Allied convoys approached their destination they came under intense attack by German aircraft and U-boats stationed in northern Norway. A favourite tactic by the German pilots was a combined attack by a Junkers dive-bomber, followed immediately by an attack by a Heinkel torpedo bomber; the dive bomber would attack from directly ahead or astern, thus increasing its chances of hitting its target, while the torpedo-bomber would then attack from off the beam. The U-boats hunted in "wolf-packs." If one U-boat located a convoy, its position and course were radio'd to Berlin and relayed in turn to all U-boats in the vicinity. A concerted torpedo-attack or attacks would then be made on the convoy.

In the summer of 1942 the pocket-battleship Admiral Scheer, along with several U-boats, was dispatched to the Kara Sea, by a route around the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya. Her aim was to intercept convoys operating on the Northern Sea Route. To this end it was hoped to be able to capture one or more vessels, with a view to seizing navigational charts and pilots, along with information on convoy movements. 

Admiral Scheer encountered the icebreaking steamer Aleksandr Sibiryakov and by flying the American flag, and claiming by radio to be an American vessel, tried to close with the Soviet vessel. Recognizing the German warship for what she was Sibiryakov's captain, A.A. Kacharava, opened fire with his two 76 mm (3 inch) guns. He knew that a convoy, escorted by Krasin, was in the vicinity, and had decided to act as a decoy to give the convoy a chance to escape. The response was several salvoes from Scheer's main armament of six 11-inch guns. Soon the icebreaking steamer was ablaze and sinking; the surviving crew members hastened the end by scuttling their vessel by opening the seacocks. Meanwhile Krasin had led her convoy into the relative safety of the ice, where the German captain dare not follow. Admiral Scheer next attacked the port of Dikson, but was driven off by salvoes from a battery of 150 mm (6 inch) coastal guns.