Navy

Remembrance
Memoirs, Navy

Remembrance

On Remembrance Day or, for a naval veteran, Battle of the Atlantic Sunday in May, I am called upon to recall those fellow Canadians who gave their lives for us. At naval events the ships that were lost are frequently read out, but I have this vaguely detached feeling. I was never in a ship that was torpedoed, or even at risk, as far as I know. Nor did I serve in a ship and get to know her and her idiosyncrasies—one I could call “my ship”—that was subsequently lost. Assuredly, I appreciate the price paid, in lives, in ships, in aircraft, during the struggles. After all, we were in the same service, faced potentially the same dangers. But to some extent it’s a bit distant. It doesn’t affect me on a personal level, in my heart or gut. And this is probably true enough for many Canadians unle...
Sinking the Bismarck
Navy

Sinking the Bismarck

A handful of Canadians played modest roles in the historic demise of the Nazi battleship 75 years ago On May 21, 1941, the most powerful warship in Europe disappeared from her anchorage in Bergen, Norway. The British, anxiously watching and waiting, could surmise where the brand new 50,000-tonne battleship Bismarck was going: to the broad reaches of the North Atlantic Ocean and the convoy lanes that sustained Britain herself. Over the next seven days, one of the great dramas of the Second World War played out until, on May 27, Bismarck was cornered and sunk.  No Canadian warships were directly involved in the Bismarck episode. At that stage of the war, the Royal Canadian Navy lacked the fleet-class destroyers and cruisers needed for such perilous work. While Bismarck was loose on the...
Attack on convoy SC-107
Navy

Attack on convoy SC-107

For a British-bound fleet and its under-equipped escort, early November 1942 brought pure carnage September and October 1942 were frustrating months for Germany’s mid-Atlantic U-boats. German Admiral Karl Dönitz’s staff attributed this to three factors: fair weather that made attacking difficult; a large number of novice U-boat captains commanding their first cruises; and the power of Allied radar. That said, German intelligence was good and Dönitz was determined to inflict heavy losses on the Allies. He knew that transatlantic convoys passed through a narrow corridor south of Newfoundland, so in late October he moved a 13-submarine wolf pack named Veilchen (violet) well inshore northeast of St. John’s to intercept eastbound convoys early in their passage. The plan worked ...
Navy

Navy: Distracting the pack

By the late summer of 1942, the Canadian navy was stretched thin. But the corvettes were still able to disrupt several U-boat attacks. Running the North Atlantic war was all about risk management, and things were better in the early fall of 1942. The rampage along the United States coast and in the Caribbean was over. In September, U-517 and U-165 ran amok in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up the St. Lawrence River, but that was an anomaly. Operating convoys in a river—even one as wide as the St. Lawrence where it opens into the Gulf—left no scope for evasive routing. And with the technology of the day, the Royal Canadian Navy could not find the attackers. Stopping the convoys seemed prudent. Wolf packs were back in force in the mid-ocean air gap again by September, but in the la...
An unaffordable loss
Navy

An unaffordable loss

The sinking of HMCS Ottawa triggered a shift in the navy’s priorities The battle for convoy ON-127 was effectively over on Sept. 13, 1942, when HMCS Ottawa made contact in poor visibility with the relief destroyers about 400 miles east of Newfoundland. The RCN’s official history recorded Lieutenant Tom Pullen’s memory of that moment. “All was tranquil,” recalled Pullen. “The sea lay calm beneath a starry sky and the familiar swishing sounds of our bow wave fell gently away from the shoulders of the ships.” Ottawa was also moving slowly, “slipping along at ten knots,” trying to confirm the radar contacts that Lieutenant-Commander C.A. “Larry” Rutherford hoped were the destroyers HMCS Annapolis and HMS Witch. Visibility was so poor that Ottawa had to close to within 1,000 yards of Witc...
Surrounded by the wolf pack
Navy

Surrounded by the wolf pack

The battle to protect convoy ON-127 taught Allied navy commanders some tough lessons The sinking of the German submarine U-756 by HMCS Morden on Sept. 1, 1942, remained utterly unknown at the time. The only good news to drift home from distant waters in the late summer of 1942 was HMCS Oakville’s sinking of U-94 in the Caribbean. While Oakville’s hero Hal Lawrence went off on his PR jaunt, the war at sea took a decidedly sharp—and negative—turn for Canada. September began badly and ended worse. In the first week, U-517 and U-165 attacked convoy QS-33 in the lower St. Lawrence River, sinking several ships and the armed escort HMCS Raccoon. Then, after sinking the corvette HMCS Charlottetown in broad daylight just off Gaspé, Que., this pair of U-boats ran amok in the northern Gulf of S...

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