Ships torpedoed in the St. Lawrence in 1942 and 1944
Navy ships torpedoed in the St.Lawrence in 1942 and 1944
HMCS Bras d'Or
Loss of all trace of the ship on 19 October 1940
In the Gulf of St Lawrence
The minesweeper Bras d'Or set sail on 17 October 1940 from Clarke City, on the North Shore, to escort a merchant vessel to Sydney, Nova Scotia. It was seen off Gaspé on October, but subsequently disappeared without sending out any distress signal. On 4 November 1940, the Naval Service in Ottawa announced the final loss of the vessel. This tragedy, in which the details of events and the lives of some 30 crew members were lost, would never be really explained. According to one theory, the vessel was lost in a storm.
Torpedoed on the night of 6 to 7 September 1942 Off Rivière-la-Madeleine
During this night, U-165 attacked Convoy QS-33, escorted by the armed yacht HMCS Raccoon. Some time later, the ship set out in search of the submarine, but disappeared after a loud explosion. The other members of the convoy assumed that the submarine had sunk the yacht. However, the explosion of the Raccoon may have been caused by its own depth charges. The yacht was not very fast, and would not have had the time it needed to clear away from the explosion site.
Torpedoed on the night of 11 September 1942 Near Cap-Chat
On the morning of 11 September 1942, the corvette HMCS Charlottetown and the minesweeper HMCS Clayoquot were returning to their home base in Gaspé. They had just successfully escorted a convoy from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Québec.
Since they had not refuelled in Rimouski, the two vessels were sailing slowly, without making the zigzags required in order to outwit any potential attacker. HMCS Charlottetown was hit by two torpedoes from U-517 and sank in less than four minutes. Ten crew members were lost.
"'Stay by the side.' I stayed by the side for a while, but not long, because I was exhausted. ''If you don't let me get in, I'm going to let go.' So I have two buddies, [...] who sacrificed themselves [...]. They took me aboard and stretched me out in the bottom of the boat."
Survivor of the HMCS Charlottetown
"I went to breakfast and asked for two sausages and got two torpedoes instead."
Survivor of the HMCS Charlottetown
21 October 1943
Collision with the SS Lord Kelvin
Near Saint-Siméon, North Shore of the St Lawrence River
About 6:00 o'clock, the SS Lord Kelvin and HMCS Chedabucto were travelling to a rendez-vous point from which the Chedabucto was to escort the merchant vessel. But they collided violently. This accident was due to human error. The inexperience and lack of navigational knowledge on the part of certain officers led to pilotage errors and, inevitably, the death of a crew member.
Torpedoed on 14 October 1944
Off Pointe-des-Monts, on the North Shore
Subsequently declared a total loss.
Submarine U-1223 was giving chase to Convoy ONS-33.
It torpedoed the escort frigate HMCS Magog. Although the frigate did not sink, the attack nevertheless resulted in the death of 3 sailors.
HMCS Toronto quickly took charge of towing the frigate, but had to suspend the operation in order to chase the submarine. At that point, HMCS Shawinigan arrived on the scene, taking the frigate to a safe place, in Baie de Godbout. Finally, the next day, the Lord Strathcona towed HMCS Magog to Québec. The frigate, which was deemed a total loss, was sold as scrap in 1945.
"The families of the Pointe [ Pointe-des-Monts, on the North Shore ], Fafards and Comeaus alike, then witnessed a splendid maritime ballet: the frigates and corvettes, with all their alarm sirens sounding, covered the convoy with a thick artificial fog, while geysers shot up here and there as depth charges were launched."
Wife of the lighthouse keeper
Torpedoed on the night of 24 to 25 November 1944
In Cabot Strait
On 24 November 1944, the corvette HMCS Shawinigan was escorting the ferry SS Burgeo from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. In the early hours of the morning, the SS Burgeo went to meet its escort to make the return voyage. The corvette was not there. Reluctant to break the radio silence which was mandatory in wartime, the captain of the ferry made his voyage alone. When he returned to Sydney, he informed the Canadian authorities of the corvette's disappearance. Search efforts resulted in recovery of the bodies of only six of the 90 seamen who perished.
Torpedoed on 27 August 1942
In the Strait of Belle Isle
The USS Laramie, a United States Navy tanker, had sailed from Boston to deliver depth charges and aviation fuel to the American air base in Greenland. The voyage ended when a torpedo destroyed the crew's quarters and part of the vessel's fuel tanks, killing five crew members instantly. The Laramie was towed to Sydney, Nova Scotia, and returned to Boston for repairs.
"Why the ship didn't blow us all to kingdom come is one of the miracles of war. My next watch was on the port side of the bridge as lookout. Well that was that night and after everything settled down we buried my shipmates at sea on September 2nd. That was the saddest moment of my life having to watch them go overboard."
Survivor of the USS Laramie
Merchant ships torpedoed in the St.Lawrence in 1942 and 1944
Torpedoed on the night of 11 to 12 May 1942
North of Pointe-à-la-Frégate
The evacuation began as soon as the first torpedo hit the ship. Such operations were difficult, and became complicated when a second torpedo hit the ship and smashed a lifeboat to pieces. Also, another boat still attached to the ship sank, taking a number of men to their deaths. Fortunately, some survivors managed to cut the rope and made it back to the surface. It was several hours before the survivors reached shore in the areas of L'Anse-à-Valleau and Cloridorme in the Gaspé. Six crew members lost their lives during this night.
As a result of this loss, the Royal Canadian Navy set the third phase of its defence plan in motion by instituting the ship convoy system.
Torpedoed on the night of 11 to 2 May 1942
North of Rivière-la-Madeleine
A few hours after the SS Nicoya, a second ship was sunk. Of the 12 sailors who lost their lives in this tragedy, two were buried in the Gaspé. Willem Koning, despite resuscitation efforts, did not survive exhaustion and the cold. He was buried on 12 May 1942 at Pointe-au-Père, in the non-consecrated part of the cemetery. But a second sailor from the SS Leto, F. Van Hoogdalem, was buried in the cemetery of Grande-Vallée. Unlike Koning, he received a Catholic burial, as shown by the parish registers.
5 JULY 1942 - A TRIPLE SUCCESS
Ships torpedoed: SS Hainaut, SS Anastassios Pateras, SS Dinaric
Location: 9 nautical miles off Cap-Chat
Time of the first torpedo impact: 2320 hrs EDT
In clear weather, calm seas and a dark night, the 12 ships of Convoy QS-15 were heading at a speed of 6 knots for Great Britain via Sydney, Nova Scotia. One after the other, three of them blew up, burned, and began to sink. At dawn, the exhausted survivors reached the shore at Cap-Chat in their lifeboats. They were first received by the families of the village, and then were transferred to
Sainte-Anne-des-Monts to be fed, clothed, treated in hospital and housed.
The three members of the Villa family, along with a friend of their daughter, who were holidaying at the À la Bonne Table hotel, were having their meal. They noticed a group of men at the other end of the dining room. The father, who spoke several languages, pricked up his ears, and noted that they were speaking, turn about, in Flemish and in French with a Belgian accent. Even today, Thérèse Villa still recounts this incident, which has remained so very much alive in her memory. Her father, because he watched the progress of the war every day, thought he understood what had happened. He rose from the table and went to speak to them. They were, in fact, the officers of the SS Hainaut, which had sunk the night before, twenty minutes after being torpedoed. Good relations were quickly established, all the more as the mother was a native of Arras, near the Franco-Belgian border.
In the hours that followed, their knowledge of French enabled these sailors to make a warm contact with the vacationers and the Gaspé people. The two girls, who were constantly on the heels of the friendly Belgian officers, were left with indelible memories. On 7 July 1942, joy gave way to sadness. The crew of the SS Hainaut, minus one member who had been lost, were taken away by bus to embark on other missions and confront new dangers.
To come to the aid of the survivors of the SS Anastasios Pateras, the family of Lise Gagnon gave shelter for four days to a young Dutch sailor by the name of Michel "Dun Dun". Fearing to return to sea, the sailor offered his services to the family in hopes of remaining with them. Sadly, he had to resign himself to leaving when the police came to pick him up on 9 July 1942.
Account by Ms Lise Gagnon
Torpedoed on 27 August 1942
In the Strait of Belle Isle
The troop carrier SS Chatham was on route for Greenland. About 8:30, the engine room and fuel tanks were struck by a German torpedo. The explosion was a resounding one, and the ship settled into the water up to the first deck, and then gradually sank completely. It was not until the afternoon that the rescue of the passengers began, ending at about 9:00 p.m. Of the 562 passengers, 13 lost their lives in this attack.
"It was not until 8 or 9:00 p.m. that the American corvette Mojave rescued us. [...] The captain made us lie face down on the deck and washed us with a hose. Then, we went down into the hold. I remember, I was leaning against a post, nearly blind, my clothes completely soaked and the skin of my body burned by the oil, but I was relieved to be alive."
Survivor of the SS Chatham
Torpedoed on 7 September 1942
Off Cap Gaspé
In less than 5 minutes, the ship disappeared forever into the waters of the St Lawrence River. Too far away to be heard by the survivors—but close enough to be seen— two other ships from the same convoy, QS 33, met a similar fate to the SS Oakton. The SS Mount Pindus and SS Mount Taygetus sank rapidly after being struck by torpedoes from the U-517. In 15 minutes, all three ships were sunk.
According to Laurent Marchand
Survivor of the SS Oakton
SS Inger Elisabeth
Torpedoed on 15 September 1942
Near the shores of Gaspé
"We were in the thick of combat in the Gulf of St Lawrence and the [ Inger Elisabeth ] was torpedoed and one of the men on the deck of the merchant ship was carried away and fell overboard. I sent a boat to pull him out, but he was dead [...]. I organized
a funeral service, which was very risky because we didn't know exactly how many submarines were around. [...] So I decided to say good-bye with dignity to the poor guy [...]. The only thing I didn't like to do [...] was to stop the engines when the body went overboard—that was part of the ceremonial. Then we made off as quickly as possible, because we didn't want the Jerries to see us [...]."
Canvas of war: painting the Canadian experience, 1914 to 1945
SS Essex Lance
Torpedoed on 16 September 1942
The SS Essex Lance was a total loss, but all the crew members were safe and sound. As they tried to recover their personal belongings a few hours after the torpedoing, when it was obvious that the ship would not sink, some crew members noted that a number of items had been stolen from the ship. One theory to explain these thefts was that Germans had boarded the ship, for a 100-mark banknote was found in a cabin. A Mounted Police investigation re-established the facts and led to the recovery of nearly all the missing items.
"On the 1-10-42, it was learned from Montreal Naval Control, that a seaman by the name of Brown, admitted having several German 100 mark Notes in his possession when the ship was torpedoed. Apparently he had obtained these Notes in 1938-39 and had kept them as souvenirs."
Excerpt from a Mounted Police report of 19 October 1942.
Torpedoed 14 October 1942
In Canso Strait
About 3:25, HMCS Grandmère witnessed the inconceivable. The ferry SS Caribou was sinking in Cabot Strait. This was the beginning of an infernal night: the Grandmère wanted to counterattack, but the submarine remained very close to the victims. The risk was too great. The U-Boot got away unscathed, but 136 persons, including 16 women and 14 children, perished. In the rescue operation, only 101 persons were saved.
"We attacked the HMCS Shawinigan and it was killed but I was below deck and didn't really see it, I only heard it. The lieutenant was the one who shot. There were always two sides, it was a success for the military and on the other hand it was horrible because others soldiers died and I really could understand how they must have felt. We were all soldiers but unfortunately on different sides."
Dr Günter Spohn
German submarines in the St.Lawrence in 1942-1944
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