NEW! Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Reserves On Deck

by Bill Fairbairn

Naval reserve crews are being challenged to show what they can do at sea aboard Canada’s newest warships.

The 970-tonne HMCS Kingston was accepted by the navy late last year after completing her contractor sea trials off Canada’s east coast. She is the first of 12 general purpose maritime coastal defence vessels or MCDVs with minesweeping capabilities. The second MCDV, HMCS Glace Bay, was launched Jan. 23.

Vice-Admiral Lynn Mason, commander of Maritime Command, is confident the Kingston-class warships “will give Canada’s maritime forces an enhanced operational capability and provide the naval reserve with a focused seagoing role.”

Built at Halifax Shipyard, the ships are being delivered to the navy by Fenco MacLaren Inc. of Nepean, Ont., the prime contractor for the $650- to $700-million project. The names of the other ships to be built under the program are Nanaimo, Edmonton, Shawinigan, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Goose Bay, Moncton, Saskatoon, Brandon and Summerside.

While HMCS Kingston will be commissioned in the traditional way at Kingston, Ont., in September, Glace Bay’s commissioning at Sydney, N.S., in October will feature a ceilidh with renowned Cape Breton fiddler Dr. Winnie Chaff at the “helm”.

HMCS Kingston will have a crew of 36, but only the naval electrician and naval electronics technician will be from the regular force. The naval reserve will provide the core of 15 crew under contracts of one to two years. The others will be men and women reservists available for shorter periods of time.

The ship has been tested in different sea conditions and so far the results are good. She has a range of 5,000 nautical miles at 15 knots in moderate seas, slower during mine counter-measure operations. “We now have a platform from which we can work,” said Commander Barry McDonnell, the ship’s commanding officer, a reservist and former merchant ship captain who is right at home in Nova Scotia. The commander of HMCS Glace Bay is Edmonton lawyer Carman McNary, a reservist on a two-year leave of absence.

Late last year a special commission on the restructuring of Canada’s reserve force noted that morale among naval reservists improved with the Department of National Defence’s recent practice of assigning reservists to MCDVs. For the reservists, the new ships provide a long-awaited focus for training and a better opportunity to go to sea. The reservists feel they have something to prove in Kingston-class ship duties, ranging from coastal surveillance and mine counter-measures to fisheries patrol and law enforcement previously undertaken by larger ships.

In January, Commodore Robert Baugniet, commander of Canada’s naval reserve, said the MCDVs will give reservists a chance to prove their commitment to duty, and their skill as operational partners with the regular force. “While we are excited by the challenge the MCDVs represent we must recognize that the naval reserve is equally committed to providing well-trained harbor defence teams, naval control of shipping units and regional diving centres to meet its commitment to the navy.”

Baugniet, based at the naval reserve facility at Pointe-à-Carcy, Que., said crews for three of the new vessels had been identified and were under training. “I think in future we are going to have a selection rather than a recruiting problem,” he noted.

In Halifax, Sub-Lieutenant Ian Hinchliffe also detects great enthusiasm for the increased role of the naval reserve, from crew training to planning of menus and purchase of pots and pans. He is a public relations staff officer for the MCDV project and a Legionnaire from Swan River, Man.

The new ships have many interesting features, but what surprised Baugniet when he toured HMCS Kingston was that modern technology had outmoded the need for a rudder and a wheel. “There’s no rudder and the bosun’s wheel is now a toggle-switch,” he smiled.

Instead, the ship has a propeller that can rotate 360 degrees on its axis and drive the vessel in any direction. This feature, which makes one think of an outboard motor, is known as “Z-drive”. “It is like driving an outboard motor,” noted Navy Lieutenant Scott Acker, a test and trials officer. “These ships respond in an opposite manner to the given helm direction. For instance, if you want to go to port then the combilever or helm control on the bridge console is directed starboard. The interesting thing is that a whole new system of helm orders will have to be issued.”

Overall, the Kingston-class ship, which has a length of 53.3 metres and breadth of 11.3 metres, is 85 per cent made in Canada. Bob Mustard, project manager with Fenco MacLaren, a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin Group of Montreal, said FMI is responsible for the design, outfitting, testing and delivery of each vessel. He said FMI is supported by subcontractors Halifax Shipyard Ltd., Thomson-CFS of Nepean, MacDonald Dettwiler of Richmond, B.C., and Eduplus Management Group of Montreal.

The ships have a wide range of communications and sensors on board. For their mine control work they have two mechanical sweep payloads or modules, four route-survey payloads and one remotely operated vehicle. A side-scan sonar system allows the captain to see graphically anything untoward below the surface of the water, such as bottom-laid mines. The ships are equipped with S-band and X-band surface search and navigation radar, VHF direction finder, passive electronic support measures, HF, UHF and VHF radio communication, an automated message processing system, gyro compasses, echo sounders, Loran C and a Global Positioning System that navigates by satellite.

The MCDVs are powered by four diesel electric generators that drive two electrical propulsion motors. The steel-hulled ships are equipped with two .50-calibre machine-guns and modernized 40-mm Bofors. And unlike the WW II corvettes, the MCDVs have comfortable sleeping quarters. The two- and three-person cabins were designed with men and women in mind.

The concept of coastal patrol vessels has undergone a metamorphosis from the 1980s idea of a purely mine counter-measures role into a multi-tasked operational training role. Captain Ken McMillan, commander of Maritime Operations Group 5, said crews must meet three basic expectations. He lists them as dedication, professional attitude and the ability to get the job done. The other side of the coin is that crews must be made to feel they have a job to do.

The biggest challenge to the navy is getting the vessels ready with operational roles and trained crews. “We want to make sure the training brings people from gate-vessel days to the era of the MCDV,” McMillan said. Gate-vessel days were when crews kept watch at defended harbor entrances during WW II to open and close submarine nets. The naval reserve has continued to operate gate vessels but these will be retired to make way for the MCDVs.

Crew training has shifted into high gear in Halifax where Eduplus Management Group is putting three years of work to the test. The company was hired to develop a training plan for crews of the first four vessels and then turn the job of training over to the navy. To that end it produced video training packages in English and French for use by naval reserve divisions across the country and at fleet school in Pointe-à-Carcy.

Kingston’s crew has undergone the six weeks of class-room training and crews of the next three ships have started or are about to start the same studies at the Canadian Coast Guard School in Sydney, N.S. Class-room work is rounded off with a week at sea. “From our perspective, the training went well,” said Jean-François Colpron, director for the Montreal-based company’s Halifax activities. “The students were eager to learn and the end result was a good example of co-operation between all involved.”

A ship’s sea trials may be compared with taking a car off the lot for the first time. The buyer seeks assurance she runs to expectations and is worth the price. Contractor and navy test each system from main power propulsion and electrical component to radar operations and in HMCS Kingston’s case mine warfare control. “The tests are functional rather than technical,” Acker said. “It’s not a question of whether the equipment is installed properly–that’s done well in advance of sea trials–it is whether the ship operates the way she’s supposed to according to the contract.”

Every Canadian province and territory is represented in the naming of the Kingston-class ships. HMCS Kingston was launched in Halifax by sponsor Helen Cooper, chairman of the Ontario Municipal Board and a former mayor of Kingston. “It’s a great day for the navy and especially the naval reserve. We should all be proud of this remarkable ship, her sister ships, and of the crews who’ll sail in them,” she told the crowd.

HMCS Kingston is the first warship to bear the name of that city, which was capital of the Province of Canada from 1841-43. In WWII, a corvette was named HMCS Frontenac after Kingston. The corvette was not named Kingston because a Royal Navy ship bore the name. Frontenac was chosen because Kingston is in Frontenac county.

When HMCS Edmonton is christened she will be the first naval ship to bear that name. A WW II frigate commemorated Edmonton but, to avoid confusion with the corvette Edmundston, she was named Stettler.

Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Goose Bay ships will also be the first to carry their names.

Glace Bay, Brandon, Moncton, Nanaimo, Saskatoon, Shawinigan and Summerside have namesake wartime ships. These were corvettes except for Glace Bay, which was a frigate.

When Kingston is commissioned in September and Glace Bay in October, junior crew will lead the way up the gangplanks and, as commissioning pennants break out, the captain will be piped aboard.

The navy is due to receive Glace Bay, Nanaimo and Edmonton from the contractor this year followed by Shawinigan, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Goose Bay in 1997; Moncton, Saskatoon and Brandon in 1998; and Summerside early in 1999.

When she is in harbor, HMCS Kingston ties up close to the winter berth of HMCS Sackville, a WW II corvette restored by the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust with co-operation from the navy. Sackville spends her summers as a floating museum on the Halifax waterfront and she is frequented by thousands of tourists and naval buffs. The wartime corvette had a top speed of 16 knots and a range of approximately 2,500 nautical miles. So on paper Sackville might edge Kingston in a dash but lose a marathon. Still, only one of the ships is loaded with wartime memories.


Sign up today for a FREE download of Canada’s War Stories

Free e-book

An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.