Canada's Mighty Wartime Seafaring Expansion
No navy of modern times has equalled the rate of expansion of the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Dominion's merchant ship output is a feat without parallel; achievements in building and in action in this war are narrated by HAROLD A. ALBERT who, in close touch with the Wartime Information Board of Canada, is in a position to give these little-known facts.
Somewhere in Canada today a ship was launched. In Canada yesterday a ship went down the slips. Six ships a week for fifty and more weeks a year, and $1,000,000,000 orders piling up for future cargo ships alone! Is it any wonder if, as Munitions Minister C. D. Howe recently pointed out, Canada's shipyard workers are turning out twice the number of ships produced by an equal number of American workers? This feat is all too little known.
The avenging success of the destroyer H.M.C.S. Haide (see page 25), is fresh in our minds. Canadian destroyers have also been Hun-busting in the Channel and ramming U-boats in mid-Atlantic, and the frigate-Fairmile-M.T.B. dragnet against enemy submarines in the gulf of St. Lawrence has gained innumerable victories.
In the Mediterranean recently Canadian corvettes sank two U-boats within a day or two. Across the North Atlantic – scene of a hundred grim Nazi-Canuck battles – upwards of 100 million tons of food, munitions and essential materials had been convoyed by the Canadians in four years of war. One corvette, H.M.C.S. Matapedia, completed 100,000 miles in 2½ years without having a single ship torpedoed or lost. And for the most part these triumphs have been achieved with Canadian-built ships, Canadian-manned. No navy of modern times has equalled the rate of expansion of the "R.C.N."; and Britain's own merchant ship output has been surpassed by our Dominion brothers.
Even the statistics can be deceptive. Canada's yards in 1943, for instance, turned out only 100 naval and escort vessels against 117 in 1942, but last year's programme was of a more difficult and costly nature. Canada's production of cargo vessels will show a slight drop this year. What wonder when the 1943 figure of 150 ships totalling 1,478,000 dead-weight tons nearly doubled 1942 production? Of a total of 4,300 orders for small craft, too, 3,600 have been delivered. And there are to be more naval craft this year.
Yet in 1940 there were only 14 yards in all Canada that had ever taken a 130-footer. In the Toronto area only two ferry-boats had been built on the lake-sides in twenty years, and all Canada boasted only 3,000 shipyard workers, the majority engaged on repair work. Most of these yards had been considered pretty busy in the years 1918-1921. In the last two years one cargo shipyard alone built and delivered 30 per cent more tonnage than all 14 yards in those three years.
Deckhand and Ship's Waiter
The boom in shipbuilding, and the swelling strength of the Canadian Navy, are all part of the same big story. It is illustrated in the example of the Simard Brothers, of Sorel, Quebec, one formerly a deckhand, another a ship's waiter. They built up in the course of years a dredging business. While Hitler was flinging his fiery threats at Europe, they dredged out and cemented a launching basin. It has only six large berths, but now the Simards lay 10 or 12 keels at a time, shifting the hulls as they progress on to a marine railway which lowers them to water bow-first.
At the outbreak of war, too, the Royal Canadian Navy mustered a mere token force of six destroyers, five minesweepers, a training ship, a ketch and a couple of tugs, but their reply to the British Admiralty question of when they could start convoy duty was a laconic, "At once!" From a force of 1,800 men, the R.C.N. has expanded to 90,000 – as many as were in the Royal Navy in September 1939 – and they are further supplemented ashore by the 5,500 volunteers of the Woman's Royal Canadian Naval Service. One remembers the 25 Canadian midshipmen who arrived at a British port some time ago to serve in battleships and cruisers of the Royal Navy. They were from the first class to graduate from the new Royal Canadian Naval College at Royal Roads, British Columbia.
For manpower must keep pace with ships and the latest official figure of delivered ships stands at 330 fighting vessels and 100 special service vessels, as well as smaller craft. They range from the powerful destroyer Micmac to the Island class escort trawlers now in service around the British coast.
Glance for a moment at their fighting records, ranging from the valour of the St. Laurent and Restigouche during the time of Dunkirk to the Atlantic battles that have cost us the Valleyfield and the gallant St. Croix. The first of 424 frigates to be built in Canadian yards, H.M.C.S. Waskesiu, was appropriately the first Canadian frigate to sink a U-boat. "We opened up with everything we had", her skipper, Lieut-Com. William Fraser, told me. "Our No. 1 Oerlikon never waster a cartridge: they were all dead on the conning-tower. When the submarine came into position, No. 2 Oerlikon picked it up and blasted it."
There was the time when the corvette Ville de Quebec depth-charged a submarine, riddled it with 150 shells from quick-firers, rammed it and sank it, all within nine minutes of a January afternoon in the Western Med. There was the unforgettable duel of the Chambly and Moose-Jaw with a U-boat, whose captain ingloriously jumped on to the attacking corvette and abandoned his ship and crew. Such spectacular incidents typify the team-work of the whole. It can now be revealed, for instance, that enemy submarines mined the approaches to Halifax harbour last summer in an arc intended to close the port to all shipping. R.C.N. minesweepers cleared a channel 1,200 yards wide within one day to permit a convoy to sail, and the channel was maintained till the entire mine-infested area was cleared.
Individually, one recalls the heroism of ratings of the corvette Oakville, who jumped aboard a U-boat during ramming operations and chased the whole crew into the sea. The crew of the minesweeper H.M.C.S. Georgian were similarly commended recently when, on convoy escort duty amid heavy seas, icebergs and fog, they rescued ten U.S. Army flyers from almost certain death in the North Atlantic. Nearly 2,000 have given their lives in the cause. More than 100 have been decorated for bravery in action and hundreds more have been mentioned in dispatches.
Such is the Royal Canadian Navy, tried, tested and proved in over five years of conflict at sea – a full partner with the navies of Great Britain and the United States. "A most formidable striking force", said the Canadian Naval Minister, Agnus Macdonald. "A force which is making its weight felt on many sea fronts." An understatement.