The Naval Service of Canada: Its Official History

The Far Distant Ships
An Official Account of Canadian Naval Operations in the Second World War

Joseph Schull

Published by Authority of the Minister of National Defense


Quarterdeck of HMCS Drumheller at Sea
Quarterdeck of HMCS Drumheller at Sea

In the writing of this volume the author has been given full access to relevant official documents in possession of the Department of National Defence; but the inferences drawn and the opinions expressed are those of the author himself, and the Department is in no way responsible for his reading or presentation of the facts as stated.


The Far Distant Ships

"Those far distant, storm-beaten ships upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the dominion of the world."


Mahan was writing of the army of Napoleon and the ships of Nelson. Yet his words apply unchanged to the war which began a hundred and thirty-four years after Trafalgar. When Hitler at the summit of his power looked westward from a conquered Europe, the long line of the Atlantic convoy and the grey menace of the Home Fleet rose, invisible and implacable, the barrier he was never to surmount.

Sea power made the conquest of the British Isles an essential for the mastery of Europe and a key to world rule. And sea power made that conquest an impossibility. Dingy, unseen tankers brought in oil for the Spitfires and Hurricanes over seas held open by the Royal Navy. Cargoes of food and supplies, rifles and cannon for the beaten armies returning from Dunkirk, came in by sea. Thereafter sea power--of the United States and Canada and of other nations as well as Britain, sea power moving both on wings and keels--made possible the gathering of mighty resources for the offensive. Sea power bridged the gulf between the old world and the new; linked farms and mines and factories, laboratories and blast furnaces and training camps, with the battlefronts. Sea power was the means of translating strength into accomplishment; the ability to mobilize and concentrate and thrust at the chosen time and at the vital point.

This book deals with the Canadian contribution to Allied sea power. On the Atlantic, throughout the longest and most crucial struggle of the war, Canada's navy grew to be a major factor. In almost every other naval campaign her ships


or men were represented; playing frequently at obscure, sometimes a brilliant part. Their work was a share--and no more than a share--of the national effort. The men of the merchant ships wrote an epic which will not be forgotten while the nation remembers its past; and men toiling ashore performed daily impossibilities. The story of our airmen and of our soldiers has already been told, in part. This book is written in comradely remembrance of them all. It may serve to demonstrate, however inadequately, the importance to this nation of the war at sea; to show how near to our lives and interests were "those far distant, storm-beaten ships."



Chapter One Eve of Battle 1
    The Existing Navy
    Enemy Strength and the Possibilities of Attack 7
    First Defensive Measures 9
    Canadian Sea-Borne Trade 10
    Canada and the British Shield 11
    War Organization of Trade 11
    Warship Movements 15
    The First Convoy 17
Chapter Two The First Year 18
    Early Developments 19
    Sinking of Athenia and its Consequences 21
    Early Escort Arrangements 23
    Naval Expansion 24
    Procurement of Ships 26
    The Corvette 27
    Asdic 29
    The Destroyers to European Waters 32
    Evacuation of St. Jean de Luz 34
    Loss of Fraser 35
    Retreat to the Northern Approaches 38
    Assiniboine in the Caribbean 39
Chapter Three State of Siege 43
    The United Kingdom in 1940 43
    The Northwestern Approaches 46
    The Arandora Star Rescue 47
    Loss of Margaree 48
    Early U-Boat Actions 50
    Depth Charge Attack 52
    Torpedoing of Saguenay 53
    Destroyers for Bases 56
    Reinforcements from Canada 57
    The First Canadian-Built Corvettes 58
    Prince Robert and Weser 59
    Prince Henry -- Hermonthis -- Muenchen 62
    Establishment of Newfoundland Escort Force 65
Chapter Four The Western Atlantic 66
    Sea Transport --- Problems and Necessities 66
    Expanding U-Boat Operations 67
    Newfoundland Command 68
    Trade and the Convoys 69
    The Merchant Seamen 70
    Division of Ocean Convoys 72
    The Enemy 72
    The Navy in June of 1941 74
    First Operations from Newfoundland 75
    Convoy SC-42 79
    Chambly and Moose Jaw Sink a U-Boat 83
    Loss of Levis 86
    Autumn Convoy Battles 87
    Winter Trials 88
    Loss of Windflower 90
    Restigouche's Christmas 91
Chapter Five Two More Oceans and a River 95
    The U.S. Navy and the Western Atlantic 95
    Integration of American and Canadian Commands 96
    Effect of the Pacific War on the Western Atlantic 97
    The Strain on the Escorts 98
    Re-Organization 99
    Loss of Spikenard 101
    Campaign Along the American Seaboard 103
    First Attacks in the St. Lawrence 107
    Reasons for Secrecy Regarding Attacks 109
    Pressure on the Ocean Routes 111
    Sinking of P-514 113
    The Seaboard and the St. Lawrence 113
Chapter Six "The End of the Beginning" 115
    Second Campaign in the St. Lawrence 115
    The Campaign in the Aleutians 122
    Disposition of Canadian Ships 123
    Function of the Canadian Navy 124
    Growth and Development of the Navy 125
    St. Croix's Kill 131
    Skeena's and Wetaskiwin's Kill 131
    Sackville's Encounters 134
    Assiniboine's Kill 135
    Oakville's Kill 137
    Loss of Ottawa 138
    Air Cover and the Weather 139
    Convoy ON-154 139
    Withdrawals for the Mediterranean 142
Chapter Seven "Operation TORCH" 144
    Canadians for Combined Operations 144
    Dieppe 145
    Force J 147
    The TORCH Corvettes 148
    TORCH Landings 149
    The Corvettes in the Mediterranean 151
    Ville de Quebec's Kill 152
    Sinking of Tritone 153
    Mid-Ocean Groups to the Mediterranean 156
    Loss of Louisburg 156
    Regina's Kill 157
    Loss of Weyburn 158
    The Corvettes Return to the Atlantic 160
Chapter Eight Full Partner 161
    Crisis in the Atlantic 161
    Air Cover and the Support Groups 162
    Doenitz for Raeder 163
    Winter of 1942-3 163
    Re-organization of Commands 166
    Canadian Northwest Atlantic Command 167
    The Peak of the German Effort 168
    The Support Groups Arrive 171
    Effects of Increased Air Cover 171
    Hedgehog 173
    Air and Sea Forces in Combination 174
    The Clearing of the Convoy Routes 175
    Minelaying in Home Waters 177
    The Acoustic Torpedo 177
    Decision in the Atlantic 181
Chapter Nine In Other Waters 184
    Canadians "On Loan" 184
    The Tribal Destroyers 187
    Iroquois 188
    Athabaskan 190
    Air Attack on Iroquois Troop Convoy 190
    Crew Trouble in Iroquois 191
    Biscay Sweeps -- 1943 193
    The Glider Bomb 194
    Glider Bombing of Athabaskan 196
    Biscay Actions 198
    Glasgow and Enterprise 199
    Landings in Sicily 203
    Landing in Italy 213
    The Landing Craft Return to England 214
Chapter Ten Gathering of the Giants 215
    Operation OVERLORD 215
    Operation NEPTUNE 215
    The Policing of the Atlantic 215
    A "Hunt to Exhaustion" 217
    St. Laurent Fights a Fire 224
    St. Laurent's Kill 226
    Loss of Valleyfield 227
    The Fleet Class Destroyers 229
    Northern Air Strike 230
    The NEPTUNE Minesweepers 232
    Assembly of the NEPTUNE Corvettes 234
    Landing Ships and Landing Craft 236
    Destroyers and Frigates 237
    Final Assembly 237
Chapter Eleven The Plan and the Preliminaries 239
    The NEPTUNE Plan 239
    The Weather and the Enemy 243
    The Coastal Forces 245
    Thee 29th Canadian M.T.B. Flotilla 246
    The 65th Canadian M.T.B. Flotilla 248
    Pre-Invasion Operations of the Tribals 250
    Tribal Action of April 26, 1944 251
    Tribal Action of April 29, 1944 253
    Loss of Athabaskan 254
    Disposition of Tribals for D-Day 258
    The Menace of the U-Boats 258
    Schnorkel 259
    Anti-Submarine Dispositions 260
    The Escort Groups 261
    NEPTUNE Under Way 261
Chapter Twelve The Assault 267
    The Minesweepers 267
    Arrival of the Assault Forces 272
    The LCA's Take Off 274
    The Bombardment 275
    Beach Obstructions 276
    Beaching of the LCA's 277
    Beaching of the LCI's 278
    Un-Beaching and Return 281
    Resumption of Bombardments and Minesweeping 284
    Arrival of the Corvettes 285
Chapter Thirteen The Screening Forces 286
    Re-allocation of Tribal Patrols 286
    Tribal Action on June 9, 1944 288
    The Escort Groups and the U-Boats 295
    Teme in Collision 297
    Escort Group 12 -- U-Boat Action 298
    Escort Group 11 301
    Haida's and Eskimo's U-Boat Kill 302
    The 65th Canadian M.T.B. Flotilla 303
    The 29th Canadian M.T.B. Flotilla 307
Chapter Fourteen The Build-Up 312
    Return of the Landing Ships 312
    Bombardment Missions of Fleet Destroyers 313
    Employment of Landing Ships and Craft 314
    Dangers and Difficulties of the Build-Up 317
    The Storm of June 19, 1944 319
    Minesweeping Continued 321
    The Assault on Cherbourg 323
    Bombardment by Enterprise 324
    Withdrawal of Prince Henry and Prince David 325
    R.C.N. Beach Commando 326
    Operations of the Corvettes 327
    Loss of Regina 329
    Loss of Alberni 330
Chapter Fifteen "Wherever Wood Can Swim" 332
    The 29th Canadian M.T.B. Flotilla 332
    The 65th Canadian M.T.B. Flotilla 336
    Operations of the Tribals 339
    Escort Group 12 -- Operation DREDGER 341
    Escort Group 11 -- U-Boat Kill 344
    Escort Group 6 and Escort Group 9 345
    Glider Bombing of Matane 345
    St. John's and Swansea's U-Boat Kill 346
    Operation KINETIC 347
    Landing on Ile d'Yeu 353
    Conclusion of NEPTUNE 358
Chapter Sixteen Far Waters and Near 360
    Operation DRAGOON 360
    Landings in Greece 365
    Arrival in Athens 366
    Relief Operations in Greece 368
    Evacuation of Preveza 369
    Northern Operations 371
    Torpedoing of Nabob 372
    The Fleet Destroyers in the North 376
    Return of the U-Boats 379
    Torpedoing of Magog 380
    Torpedoing of Chebogue 380
    Annan's Kill 381
    Loss of Skeena 382
    Attacks in Home Waters 384
    Uganda Leaves for the Pacific 385
Chapter Seventeen Black Flags and a Setting Sun 386
    Uganda Sails from the Mediterranean 386
    U-Boat Operations -- 1945 386
    Canadian Ship Dispositions -- 1945 388
    Loss of Trentonian 390
    Disaster at Ostend 390
    La Hulloise's Kill 392
    Loss of Guysborough 393
    New Glasgow's Kill 394
    Torpedoing of Teme 395
    The Freeing of Bordeaux 395
    Last Phase of U-Boat Operations 396
    Loss of Esquimalt 397
    Northern Strikes and the Russia Convoys 398
    The Surrender Order to the U-Boats 402
    Arrivals of Surrendering U-Boats 404
    Discontinuance of Convoys 405
    Last Missions and Departures 405
    Plans for the Pacific 408
    Pacific Operations 408
    Return of Uganda 412
Chapter Eighteen "Goodbye, Brothers!" 414
    Robert Hampton Gray 414
    Canadian "On Loan" 417
    The Channel Anti-Aircraft Guard 418
    Motor Torpedo Boats, Gunboats and Fairmiles 418
    Mine Disposal 419
    Combined Operations 420
    The Canadian Contribution to Naval Radar 422
    The Naval Achievement 425
    The Permanent Force and the Reserves 427
    The Contribution of the Royal Navy 429
    Battle Statistics 430
    Canadian Naval Casualties 431
    Demobilization 431
Appendix I Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve Divisions 436
Appendix II Principal Commands and Appointments 440
Appendix III Principal Ships of the Royal Canadian Navy, 1939-1945 452
Appendix IV Landing Craft in Operation NEPTUNE 500
                        R.C.N. Beach Commando "W" 501
Index 502



Quarterdeck of HMCS Drumheller at Sea Frontispiece
Convoy Conference Facing page 24
Convoy at Sunset 25
Ice-Up Ship 96
Landing Survivors 97
Survivors of U.S.T. Chatham 113
Depth Charge Away 120
Depth Charges Exploding 121
Assiniboine's U-Boat 136
Corvette at Sea 137
Convoy in Bedford Basin, Halifax 160
Daily Operations Chart 161
German Survivors of U-Boat Sunk by St. Thomas 176
Survivors of HMCS Clayoquot 177
End of a Marathon Hunt 224
St. Laurent Coming Up on Surrendered U-Boat 225
Iroquois Laying a Smoke Screen 240
D-Day Briefing On Board HMCS Algonquin 241
Canadian Motor Torpedo Boats 248
Haida, Huron and Blyskawica 249
NEPTUNE Under Way 280
Landing at Bernières-sur-Mer 281
Landing in Southern France 360
Canadian LCA's at The Piraeus 361
Torpedoing of Nabob and HMS Bickerton 376
Sioux in Northern Waters 377
Disaster at Ostend 400
U-190 Surrendered 401
Robert Hampton Gray, V.C., D.S.C. 416
Haida, Iroquois and Huron Returning to Halifax 417


Maps and Diagrams

Canada in the World Front End Paper
The North Atlantic--First Phase Between Pages 24-5
Hannover Intercepted Page 40
"State of Siege" Page 45
Operations of Prince Robert and Prince Henry Page 61
Diagram of Convoy and Escorts Page 80
Convoy Action, SC-42 Page 84
The Canadian and American Seaboard Facing Page 112
Attacks in the St. Lawrence Between Pages 120-121
The North Atlantic--Second Phase Between Pages 136-7
"Operation TORCH" Page 150
The Climax in the Atlantic Between Pages 160-1
Convoy Action, ONS-18 and ON-202 Between Pages 176-7
British Waters and the Bay of Biscay, 1943 Page 200
Landings in Sicily and Italy Page 208
Destruction of U-744 Page 220
Northern Waters, 1944 Page 231
Pre-Invasion Operations--Spring of 1944 Between Pages 248-9
Operation NEPTUNE Between Pages 280-1
Destroyer Action of June 9, 1944 Page 291
Channel and Biscay Area, 1944 Page 343
The Mediterranean Between Pages 360-1
Northern Waters Between Pages 376-7
Uganda in the Pacific Page 410
Silhouettes of Canadian Warships Pages 434-5
Canadian Naval Operations Back End Paper

Maps by
Fairbairn Art Studios, Ottawa

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation