Turning Point – 1943

The Navy

The German Submarine Threat Subsides

HMCS Minotaur, Colony-class cruiser, Royal Canadian Navy

Caption: HMCS Minotaur, Colony-class cruiser, Royal Canadian Navy

The submarine threat to the trade lanes thus slowly subsided, though it did not cease to exist. The snorkel would enable submarines to stay submerged much longer, and the acoustic torpedoes they carried would wreak havoc. St Croix, on convoy duty with the Royal Navy's 9th Escort Group, was sunk by two acoustic torpedoes on 20 September 1943. Its 81 survivors from a complement of 147 were taken on board the British vessel Itchen, which itself went down the next day. Only one St Croix crew member survived this second sinking. Other ships were lost as well. On 17 March 1945 the minesweeper Guysborough was sunk near Halifax, taking 44 of its 70 crew members to their deaths. A month later, on 16 April, Esquimalt suffered the same fate. On 29 April 1944 the destroyer Athabascan was sunk, leaving 128 dead and 83 taken prisoner. On 8 June 1944, however, just off the coast of Europe, the Canadians sank two German destroyers that had sailed too far from their base.

Canada came out of the war with some 400 warships of various tonnages over and above landing craft. A number of them would play roles unconnected with what is now termed the Battle of the Atlantic, but once this sea victory was won the backs of the Allied troops fighting in North Africa and Europe were safe: 2,024 men and one woman, who was on board the ferry Caribou when it sank, gave their lives in the Canadian navy.

Canada also played a major role in seaborne trade. The country is reckoned to have provided 15,000 men to the Allied merchant navy either on Canadian vessels or on ships flying other flags: 1,465 died, including 295 Newfoundlanders, who were not Canadians at that time; nearly 1,250 of these deaths occurred in the Battle of the Atlantic. Canada was also active in shipbuilding. At its wartime peak in 1943, this industry employed 107,900 people.

The Canadian naval effort would be based in large part on the men of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, formed in the 1920s specifically to receive all Canadians, from sea to sea, interested in joining the navy. The navy thus built up a powerful lobby that would see to its survival, and to its revival in the 1930s.