Canada in the Second World War

Arms & Weapons


Tribal class destroyer HMCS Haida, 4 July 1944

Tribal class destroyer HMCS Haida, 4 July 1944. Built at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England and commissioned 30 August 1943. After WWII Haida participated in NATO exercises and served in Korean War. Now a naval museum, Haida is in the harbour in Hamilton, Ontario. Photo by Gilbert A. Milne. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-112359.

At the end of the Thirties, the smallest, autonomous warships are destroyers, a fast ship that can reach 30 knots, especially designed for anti-torpedo and anti-submarine warfare. Displacing over 1,000 tons, a destroyer can typically sail high seas and enjoys enough autonomy to cross the Atlantic. In 1939, destroyers are viewed by Allied navies as the essential weapon for anti-submarine warfare. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has only six, the River class HMCS Fraser, Ottawa, Restigouche, Saguenay, St-Laurent and Skeena, all built in the early Thirties for the Royal Navy.

Names of ships of a same type are selected according to their class. Thus, River class destroyers are named after Canadian rivers (Fraser, Saguenay, St-Laurent, etc.); Town class destroyers have names of Canadian cities (Annapolis, Hamilton, St. Croix), and Tribal class ships are named after native nations (Haida, Huron, Iroquois).

Between 1939 and 1944, the RCN receives eight additional River class destroyers from the Royal Navy. In 1940, six U.S.-built ships are added, called Town class destroyers; those are older vessels, built in 1918-1919, requiring major upgrades. Finally, the four Tribal class destroyers were built in Great Britain during the war and added to the RCN fleet in 1942 and 1943.

In 1943, convoy escorts are normally comprised of a destroyer and five corvettes. The RCN, however, never had enough destroyers to meet its escort needs, and relied on the Royal Navy to fill the ranks.

Canada could not build its own destroyers as it did for corvettes and frigates: it is a long process requiring high technical expertise and tools that Canadian shipyards did not possess. Construction on four Tribal class destroyers started at the Halifax Shipyards Ltd. in 1942 and 1943, but the first of that series, HMCS Micmac was not combat-ready before September 1945, after the end of the war.

Suggested Reading:

  • Ken Macpherson and John Burgess, The Ships of Canada’s Naval Forces 1910-1981, A Complete Pictorial History of Canadian Warships, Collins, Toronto, 1981.
  • Ken Macpherson, The River-Class Destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy, C.J, Musson, Toronto, 1985.