“A Brief Overview of the RCN in WW II”

by CPO1 Pat Devenish

During recent discussions with the organization of Canada’s Canadian Naval Memorial which most of us see as HMCS Sackville, it was determined that educating the general population of Canada as well as those in uniform is key in bringing to the forefront, the importance of maintaining Canada’s Naval heritage in the form of HMCS Sackville.  So your first question may well be “Why is a stoker (engineer) Chief telling me all this?” In answer to that question, …..click here to read more

“Dancing was my duty” The start of the war in Halifax – a CBC documentary

The Second World War

by CNMT staff

When the Second World War broke out, the RCN was again the first into action. Indeed, it was the RCN that constituted the mainstay of the Canadian war effort for the first two years. Convoy escort work commenced immediately in September 1939, and from the spring of 1940 RCN destroyers participated in operations off the French coast, including the evacuation from the continent. The “Corvette Navy” of the RCNVR and the Battle of the Atlantic against the German U-boats are justifiably remembered as major accomplishments of the fifty-fold expansion of the RCN (from some 2000 all-ranks to nearly 100,000 by 1945), but that was not near the sum of the navy’s accomplishments. In 1941, with the fate of Britain uncertain and the US not yet committed, the possible requirement to defend home waters and the growing competence of the RCN argued for the building of a strong national navy. Therefore, while defeat of the U-boats remained a priority, the Canadian government ordered the concurrent acquisition of cruisers and powerful Tribal class destroyers in addition to the scores of anti-submarine corvettes and other escorts. As well, the naval college was re-opened to ensure the training of officers in Canada. By 1943, allied circumstances had improved considerably, but a new impetus existed for the continuation of a viable Canadian fleet. Recognising the limits of the pre-war policy of isolationism, the Department of External Affairs was developing a commitment to collective security as the basis for the post-war international order. In those days, only a navy could provide military force with global reach and, by 1945, the plans for the post-war RCN envisioned a carrier task force on each coast.

Coastal Command Liberator aircraft escorting a convoy 1943 (NAC)

In the meantime, the RCN was putting its growing array of resources to work. In the last two years of the war, over a hundred escorts joined the fight on the Atlantic, most of them new and improved frigates, many of which were commanded by reservists schooled at war. Of significance, the Canadian Northwest Atlantic was established as a separate area of joint RCN-RCAF responsibility, commanded by an RCN admiral; the only major theatre of the war to be commanded by a Canadian. The Tribals were broken in on the Murmansk Run, and later conducted patrols of the English Channel in support of the D-Day landings. Canadian minesweepers helped to clear the approaches to the Normandy beaches, and Canadian landing ships and anti-aircraft cruisers participated in the assaults of the Aleutians, Sicily and Italy, Normandy, Southern France and Greece, and the liberation of Hong Kong. Canadians manned two British escort carriers (the RCN’s own light fleet carriers would not be ready until after VJ-Day), and the first of the cruisers joined the British Pacific Fleet, supporting carrier operations and joining in the bombardment of Truk. The RCN ended the war as numerically the third largest fleet in the world, with over 400 combatants of all types (except battleships and submarines), and having operated in most major theatres under all conditions.

RCN Participation – WW II Sicilian Campaign

This summer (July 2013) the CF is looking to re-trace the Sicilian Campaign, from the beaches at Pachino to Agira Cemetery, in similar but different format to the annual Nijmegen March. A permanent display for the museum in Catania regarding Operation Husky is going to be unveiled and installed as part of events. Some info on the museum can be found at: http://catania.spacespa.it/museums/16-historic-museum-of-the-1943-landings-in-sicily/C/C3/C3.1/view?set_language=en

There is currently nothing about Canada’s role in the museum and this is being rectified. Specifically, there is no artifact currently representing naval participation. The display is getting close to complete. If there is anything that could be donated for the display, it would not be a loan, but a permanent contribution to the Catania museum.

Obviously an LCA or such is not on, but perhaps if there are any historical maps, ship’s compass, or something that might be logical that would work. The following Canadian flotillas were present. 55th Landing Craft, Assault Flotilla, 61st Landing Craft, Assault Flotilla, 80th Landing Craft, Mechanized Flotilla, and 81st Landing Craft, Mechanized Flotilla. None worked with the Canadian troops. They were involved with the British troops of Eighth Army on the east flank. As well, a good number of Canadians, mostly officers, are known to have been engaged on Admiral Ramsey’s combined staff.

Any options should be directed through Dr Richard Gimblett / Acting Director Navy History & Heritage / richard.gimblett@forces.gc.ca