corvettes at the Kingston Shipbuilding
Co. in Kingston, Ontario, August
Archives of Canada, PA-052613.
When the war breaks out,
Allied navies are facing a formidable foe.
Since 1934, Adolph Hitler has been directing
considerable energy and countless resources
towards rebuilding the German war navy.
The Allies must now urgently increase their
fleets, as well as replace losses resulting
from mines, torpedoes, encounters with enemy
ships, aerial bombings, accidents and storms.
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), which started
the war with only 13 vessels, had 450 ships
in all, plus many smaller auxiliary units,
when WWII ended. This 1945 figure breaks
down as follows: 2 cruisers, 17 destroyers,
68 frigates, 112 corvettes, 67 minesweepers,
12 escort ships, 75 Fairmile motor launches,
9 motor torpedo boats, 12 armoured yachts
and vessels of other types. This impressive
fleet made the RCN the world's fourth naval
But to reach that goal within such a short
period, the RCN had to make use of all available
resources: yachts were commandeered and
armed to serve on anti-submarine patrols.
Some destroyers were supplied by the Royal
Navy, others by the U.S. Navy in exchange
for the right to use Canadian bases. Some
Royal Navy units, including aircraft carriers
Nabob and Puncher, were placed under Canadian
command and manned with Canadian crews when
Britain found herself short of sailors.
But most Canadian warships had to be built.
Starting in 1940, shipyards, which had been
declining during the Depression, increase
their production tenfold in order to provide
the RCN with corvettes, minesweepers, and
frigates. It is on board of corvettes, those
small, sturdy and cheap vessels, apparently
ill-suited to wage war on the high seas,
that Canadian sailors will face Germany's
formidable U-boats during the worst months
of the Battle of the Atlantic.
At any given time, only part of a war fleet
is available for naval operations, as ships
must often be dry-docked - at times for
long stretches - to repair damages resulting
from encounters with the enemy or adverse
weather. In addition, crews need rest and
training. In the extremely harsh conditions
of the first years of the Battle of the
Atlantic, barely two thirds of the fleet
could be used for military operations at
any given time, and that ratio was even
lower during winter months.
The RCN's main vessel
surrendering to the Royal Canadian
Navy off Shelburne, Nova Scotia,
in May 1945.
by R.G. Arless. Department of
National Defence / National Archives
of Canada, PA-134333.
In 1939, the Kriegsmarine's striking
power is impressive, due among other things
to its daunting battleships Bismarck and
Tirpitz, and to the pocket battleships Deutschland,
Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee. On
several occasions, Canadian destroyers took
part in Royal Navy operations against German
battleships. HMCS Assiniboine was part of
the escort of British ships that inflicted
major damage to Tirpitz in August 1944.
The Royal Navy was the only naval power
able to restrict German warships to the
North Sea and did so during the whole war.
Used mostly for the protection of convoys,
RCN ships face another Kriegsmarine weapon,
maybe the most formidable one, the Unterseeboot
or U-boat. During the Battle of the Atlantic,
Allied warships were attacked by Type-VIIC
U-boats, 67m-long submarines with a surface
speed of 17.7 knots and an underwater speed
of 7.6 knots. The VIIC is equipped with
four torpedo tubes at the fore and one at
the aft, carrying 14 torpedoes in all, and
manned by a crew of 44 to 52. Near Canadian
shores and along the routes used by convoys,
the Allies fought the IXC/40, a long-range
submarine, longer and faster than the VIIC.
The IXC/40 carries 22 torpedoes, and with
its 19 knot-speed, can escape a corvette.
Fortunately, the most powerful of all U-boats,
the Type XXI was not combat-ready before
1945, too late to prevent the Allies from
winning the Battle of the Atlantic.