Canadian Navy WWII

By MSW Add a Comment 12 Min Read
Canadian Navy WWII

HMCS Haida is a Tribal-class destroyer that served in
the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) from 1943 to 1963, participating in World War II
and the Korean War. She was named for the Haida people. The only surviving
Tribal-class destroyer out of 27 vessels constructed for the RCN, Royal Navy
and Royal Australian Navy between 1937 and 1945, Haida sank more enemy surface
tonnage than any other Canadian warship and as such is commonly referred to as
the “Fightingest Ship in the Royal Canadian Navy”. Designated a
National Historic Site of Canada in 1984, she now serves as a museum ship
berthed next to HMCS Star, an active Royal Canadian Naval Reserve Division, in
Hamilton, Ontario. In 2018, Haida was designated the ceremonial flagship of the

The HMCS Halifax, commissioned in November 1941, was a
Flower-class corvette that served in World War II. Ships like these were
produced specifically for convoy protection.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy
(RCN) consisted of only 6 destroyers, 5 minesweepers, and 2 small training
ships. During the war, it underwent a rapid expansion, astonishing for a nation
of only 11 million people. By 1945, the Canadian navy was the third largest
Allied navy in terms of numbers of warships. Its core force consisted of 2
light carriers, 2 light cruisers, 15 destroyers, 60 frigates, and 118
corvettes. In all, it counted a total of 363 vessels, most of which were built
in Canadian shipyards. Yards on the St. Lawrence River, Great Lakes, and
Atlantic and Pacific coasts produced 70 frigates, 122 corvettes, 194
minesweepers, and numerous trawlers, motor torpedo boats, motor launches, and
landing craft. From a permanent force of 1,774 men and 2,083 reserves on the
outbreak of war in September 1939, the RCN expanded to some 100,000 personnel (6,700
of them women) by the end of the war in 1945.

Throughout the war, the Canadian navy’s primary function was
convoy protection. In the gale-swept North Atlantic, RCN ships played a crucial
role in the long struggle against German submarines. Having expanded so
rapidly, the RCN suffered from poor training as well as a dearth of advanced
equipment. Early in 1943, Canadian corvettes and frigates were sent to English
bases, where they were fitted with new radar, sonar, and high-frequency
direction-finding detection gear. In addition, the crews underwent intensive
training in antisubmarine tactics and warfare.

Of particular value was the Western Approaches Tactical Unit
established in Liverpool in February 1942, which trained escort captains and
commanders in a common doctrine of convoy defense. Practical training was
provided by exercises against Royal Navy submarines. As a result, by mid-1943,
the Canadians fought much more effectively in the Atlantic arena. Still, these
deficiencies led to the replacement of the chief of the naval staff, Vice
Admiral Percy Nelles, with Rear Admiral (later vice admiral) George C. Jones.

The Canadians organized the massive convoys that set out
from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. In 1943 the ocean area off Canada and
Newfoundland, which had been under British and then U. S. strategic control,
became a strictly Canadian theater under Rear Admiral Leonard W. Murray,
commander in chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic. He now controlled all Allied
ships and aircraft involved in protecting Allied convoys in the region.

As radio interception and the breaking of German codes
assumed major roles in the war against the submarines, the RCN Operational
Intelligence Centre proved a key Canadian capability. By 1944 also, Canadian
ships were providing a majority of close escort in the North Atlantic convoys.
In all, the RCN provided eight mid-Atlantic support groups and escorted more
than 25,000 merchant ship voyages with 180 million tons of cargo from North
America to Great Britain.

Built to a British design stressing mass production, the
Flower-class corvette was the mainstay of the escort fleet. Displacing 1,245
tons at full load, this ship was armed with a 4-inch gun and 40 (later 70)
depth charges. The Flower-class ships proved to be miserable seaboats, however,
taking on water and rolling furiously; and, at 16.5 knots, they were too slow
for offensive operations.

A far more effective escort was the River-class frigate,
weighing 1,920 tons at full load. The River-class ship could make 21 knots and
mounted two 4-inch guns, a Hedgehog mortar, and 126 (later 150) depth charges.

While protecting the Allied convoys was the chief Canadian
contribution to the war effort, the RCN also made significant contributions in
other area. Canadian destroyers assisted in the Dunkerque (Dunkirk) evacuation
of Allied soldiers from France and then protected Allied merchant ships in
British waters. Three passenger liners were converted into auxiliary cruisers
to help hunt down Axis commerce raiders in the North Atlantic, Caribbean, and
North Pacific.

The acquisition of four large British Tribal-class
destroyers (the Athabaskan, Haida, Huron, and Iroquois) gave the RCN additional
capability for surface warfare operations. At full load, the Tribals displaced
2,519 tons (later 2,710 tons) and easily made 36 knots. Formidably armed for
their size, they mounted six 4.7-inch cannon, two 4-inch dual-purpose guns, and
four 40-mm antiaircraft weapons. They also carried four torpedo tubes. Two
other Tribals (the Micmac and Nootka) were launched at Halifax in 1943 and
1944, respectively. The Canadian Tribal-class ships saw heavy action,
especially in spring 1944 in the English Channel against German destroyers and
heavy torpedo boats (900-plus tons). In the course of these battles, the
Athabaskan was lost on April 29, 1944.

The RCN contributed 17 corvettes to Operation TORCH, the
Allied invasion of northwest Africa. RCN ships also played a considerable part
in the Normandy invasion. Some 10,000 officers and seamen and 109 RCN warships
participated in Operation NEPTUNE, landing 45,000 troops on the beaches. The
Canadian contribution included 15 destroyers, 11 frigates, 19 corvettes, 16
minesweepers, and 30 landing craft.

In 1944, the Canadians acquired two British light aircraft
carriers, the Magnificent and Warrior (displacing 14,000 and 13,350 tons,
respectively). Both saw action overseas, with the RCN thereby acquiring
valuable experience in naval aviation. Their 40 aircraft were wholly British,
however. The RCN also secured two light cruisers from Britain, the Uganda (in
August 1941) and the Ontario (in July 1943). The Uganda took part in the Battle
of Okinawa.

In the course of the war, the RCN lost 24 ships sunk and
2,024 men killed. At the same time, the Canadian navy played an important role
in the Allied victory by destroying or capturing 42 Axis surface warships and
helping to sink 33 submarines.


The Canadian commander-in-chief Country: Canada Years:
1896-1971 Leonard W Murray played a huge role in the Battle of the Atlantic. He
helped Canada’s navy evolve from a fleet of only ten ships in 1939 to 332
vessels and the third largest Allied navy in 1945 Starting the war as deputy
chief of naval staff, he later held the titles of commander of the Newfoundland
Escort Force and then commander- in-chief of the North-West Atlantic. In a role
often underappreciated in the annals of history, the Canadian Navy helped the
Allied Atlantic supply lines to Britain to remain open even when the U-boat
wolf packs were on the hunt. A former Royal Navy midshipman, Murray controlled
movements from his command centre as he successfully navigated the precious
convoys of Corvette-class ships across the hazardous Atlantic. He was a skilled
tactician who was appreciated and respected both by his fellow officers and the
men he commanded. He was also a talented motivator who managed to track down
former Royal Navy officers across Canada and successfully coax them back into
the fold.

Many of the men in the Canadian navy were inexperienced in
this sort of warfare and it was Murray who ensured they were up to standard. In
return, Murray had a huge admiration for his men, who braved the Atlantic
crossings with rations that often consisted of just salted beef and tomato
juice, the latter chosen specifically to avoid scurvy. During the war, Murray
spent little time at sea, instead calling the shots from his desk as he
dedicated himself to a minimum of 15 hours’ work a day. He had a close
relationship with the British admiralty and secretly visited the UK to request
the construction of destroyers specifically for Canada. Under Murray’s
stewardship, the Canadian navy improved significantly and it was eventually
responsible for almost half of all Allied convoy escorts in the Atlantic.


The Canadian navy’s first ever recruit Years: 1892-1951 Country: Canada Having been in the Canadian navy since its inception in 1910, Percy Walker Nelles was the ideal candidate to spearhead his country’s role in the Battle of the Atlantic. The long-standing chief of the naval staff wasn’t a brash dynamic leader like some and was instead a quiet man who was devoted to his work and to his country. After successfully navigating the navy through the worst of the Great Depression in the interwar years, Nelles got down to the task of developing a navy that in 1939 only had 3,604 men at its disposal. Thanks to Nelles, the navy was soon ready for war. His greatest contribution was coordinating the Canadian landings in France as he led the Canadian invasion force from London. His relocation to Britain came after a disagreement with naval minister Angus Lewis Macdonald over how significantly the navy should be expanded. After a 36-year naval career, he was bestowed the rank of admiral upon his retirement in 1945.

The Royal Canadian Navy and the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Exit mobile version