At the heart … of the action – Léon-Paul Fortin

[N.D.L.R. The text extracts are taken from an interview that Mr. Léon-Paul Fortin granted in September 1998 to Julie Fournier of the Naval Museum of Quebec.]

HMCS Charlottetown was sunk on September 11, 1942, at 8:30 a.m., near Cap-Chat. During its torpedoing, HMCS Charlottetown was assigned to escort Quebec-Sydney convoys in the Gulf of St. Lawrence sector. Returning from the escort of convoy SQ-35, the corvette returned to its home base in Gaspé. The corvette was advancing slowly, not making the required zigzag movements. As it was the shift change, there was a lot of activity on the ship.

HMCS Charlottetown was hit by two torpedoes and sank in approximately four minutes. Léon-Paul Fortin, survivor of the HMCS Charlottetown torpedo, tells us how he experienced this enemy attack.

“[…] I was in the water for four hours with an arm and a broken leg. I was there, surely there. It’s because my time hadn’t arrived because I had a blow that could have been fatal to me. Because the torpedo hit just below where I was. So I flew through the air, I did a pirouette and I fell back on the part of the boat that was left. […] I went on my abandon ship station there. […] And I was going on the boat on the left side. […] But the boat, we were not able to put it in the water because the boat had been hit on the right side and it was tilting like that. […] But the more we lifted it to push it outside, the more it came inside. When the water was returned to us, the captain said, “The hell with it, everybody in the water. ”

“[…] I was in the water at least two and a half hours, three hours in the mist and in the oil because the boat had been hit in the oil tanks. […] At one point the fog rose, but there was a boat which they had managed to put in the water; it was the boat on the right side. They managed to put it in the water. But there were already 29 of them. […] When they saw me, they tried to come towards me, but I swam towards them. There they said, “Stand after the edge. “I stood after the edge a little, but not long because I was at the end. When I got to the end of it, I said to them: “If you don’t let me board, I let myself go. “So I have two friends, I don’t know which ones there, who sacrificed themselves because they had had nothing. […] They took me in and they laid me down in the bottom of the boat. I haven’t lost consciousness […]. I didn’t want to know anything anymore. “

Attacked: Minesweepers

  • HMCS Chedabucto
  • HMCS Clayoquot
  • HMCS Esquimalt

HMCS Chedabucto

21 octobre 1943
Au large de Saint-Simon
Collision avec le Lord Kelvin

Pertes humaines : 1 mort

At around 6 a.m., SS Lord Kelvin and HMCS Chedabucto went to a meeting point from which the Chedabucto was to escort the merchant ship. However, they collide violently. This accident is due to human error. The inexperience and lack of navigation skills of some officers resulted in piloting errors and, inevitably, the death of a member of the crew.

HMCS Clayoquot

December 24, 1944
Off Cape Breton
Torpedoed by U-806

Human casualties: 4 officers and 4 sailors

On December 22, a ship was damaged by what appears to be a German mine. On Christmas Eve morning, the minesweeper HMCS Clayoquot, as well as the ships Kirkland and Transconia, set off on a mission. They must secure the waters taken by several convoys off Cape Breton. In the middle of the morning, the Clayoquot received a German torpedo and sank very quickly. This torpedoing killed 8 of the 84 crew members.

HMCS Esquimalt

Human casualties: 5 officers and 39 sailors

Shortly before the news of the end of the war, this minesweeper went on a reconnaissance mission. He doesn’t spot the U-190 chasing him. The submarine launched a torpedo which directly hit the ship and sank it through the bow. Cold-frozen, the survivors were drafted by HMCS Sarnia, but after 6 long hours at sea. Only 27 of the 71 sailors survived this attack. HMCS Esquimalt is the last ship lost during the Battle of the St. Lawrence.

German submarine U-69 tally of successes

Torpedo attack on SS Carolus

October 9, 1942
Offshore from Métis-sur-Mer
The SS Carolus is torpedoed while in Convoy LN9, en route towards Goose Bay. This torpedoing took place barely 300 km from Quebec City.

Torpedo attack on SS Caribou

Night of October 13 to 14, 1942
In Cabot Strait
The torpedo attack on this ferry that connected Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland is one of the greatest tragedies of the Battle of the St. Lawrence. The loss of the SS Caribou brought home to the Canadian population its vulnerability to attacks along its shores and made it understand the war’s proximity even further.

German submarine U-1223 tally of successes

  • HMCS Magog
  • SS Fort Thompson

The HMCS Magog is torpedoed and declared a total loss upon her arrival at the pier.

October 14, 1944
Offshore Pointe-des-Monts
Hit at the stern, HMCS Magog manages to maintain buoyancy while waiting to be hauled to Quebec City. However, upon arrival there, she is declared a total loss.

The SS Fort Thompson is torpedoed and sustains heavy damage

The Fairmile Bs of the Royal Canadian Navy

8 May 1945: VE-Day

Hostilities ceased with the capitulation of Germany.

The Royal Canadian Navy, which had a fleet of about ten ships when the conflict began, found itself in 1945 with over 400 ships in service which were now useless. The War Assets Corporation was mandated in 1944 to manage the whole process of disposal of war surplus, including the fleet of ships. Shortly after VE-Day, Sydney, Nova Scotia was selected as the port for disarming the larger ships (such as destroyers and frigates), while the Fairmiles were disarmed at the Bassin Louise in Québec. After this operation, the Fairmiles were sent to Sorel, where they were moored in a designated place and transferred to the War Assets Corporation with all the equipment remaining on board. Thus on 8 June 1945, eight flotillas comprising 59 Fairmiles were successively withdrawn from service and, accompanied by their commanders, sent to Sorel, to remain there until they were sold. At the end of 1945, only four Fairmiles were still in service: three on the East Coast (Q 106, Q 116 and Q 121) and one on the West Coast (Q 124), but only for two more years at the outside.

Q 055, Q 056 and Q 053 being towed to Sorel.
Origin unknown

The Fairmiles, because of their robust wooden construction (mahogany and teak) and elegant hull lines, were by far the most popular of all warships among future purchasers. Many of them were sold in Canada and United States for use as private yachts, cruise vessels or coastal cargo ships.

An order was established to the effect that federal and provincial departments and agencies and public organisms would have priority in obtaining the vessels.

Accordingly, on 15 September 1945, three Fairmiles (Q 104, Q 105 and Q 107) were towed by the ships Glencove and Glenora to Rimouski for the Arts and Trades School.

Four more were transferred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for use as coastal patrol craft in the Gulf and St. Lawrence River, namely the Fort Walsh (ex Q 112), Fort Selkirk (ex Q 114), Fort Steele (ex Q 117) and Fort Pitt (ex Q 119).

Seven other Fairmiles remained in service as power training craft (PTCs): six on the Great Lakes and one at Esquimalt, British Columbia:

  • HMCS Cougar, ex PTC 704, ex Q 104, Ontario
  • HMCS Beaver, ex PTC 706, ex Q 106, Ontario
  • HMCS Moose, ex PTC 711, ex Q 111, Ontario
  • HMCS Reindeer, ex PTC 716, ex Q 116, Ontario
  • HMCS Wolf, ex PTC 762, ex Q 062, Ontario
  • HMCS Racoon, ex PTC 779, ex Q 079, Ontario
  • HMCS Elk, ex PTC 724, ex Q 124, British Columbia

Many other sales were made to private purchasers over the months and years, e.g.:

NUMBER

PURCHASER

USE

Q 051 National Research Council, Ottawa, Ontario Radar vessel
(RADEL II)
Q 056, Q 061, Q 078, Q 081 Creole Petroleum, Caracas, Venezuela Shuttles: Esso Ayacucho, Esso Concordia,
Esso Cardonal and
Esso Taparita
Q 088 Peter Lepage Ltd., Ontario Cruise vessel
(Penetang 88)
Q 098 Marine School, Rimouski, Quebec Training vessel
(St-Barnabé)
Q 105 J.S Langlois, Québec Cruise vessel
(MV Duc D’Orléans)
Q 113 CTMA, Magdalen Islands, Quebec Coastal trading vessel
(Lavernière)

Q 105, commissioned in September 1943
Photo: Department of National Defence

Closer to home, in Québec itself, many will remember the MV Duc D’Orléans, which sailed the St. Lawrence as a cruise vessel for 30 years (1948-1978).

On 12 January 1948, Mr J. Séverin Langlois, a St. Lawrence pilot residing in Québec, acquired the former Fairmile Q 105 from the Rimouski School of Arts and Trades. The idea was to convert the vessel for cruising on the St. Lawrence River. The plans were approved in the spring of 1948, and the conversion work was done at the shipyard in Saint-Laurent, on the Île d’Orléans.

The vessel, when acquired, had its original wartime appearance, with a low pilotage cabin on the main deck, surmounted by an exterior cabin. Major changes were made: one involved replacing the two original gasoline engines (Hall-Scott Defender type, V12, 630 HP) with two 160-HP Detroit diesels. The whole deck was rearranged in order to accommodate passengers safely both inside and outside. The interior of the stern of the vessel, originally used as officers’ quarters, was converted into a restaurant.

Duc d’Orléans passing in front of Montmorency Falls
Marc-André Morin Collection

In 1952, Mr Jean-Claude Morin, of Sillery, took over the business and operated it successfully until 1972. The loading dock was in a prominent location near the Québec-Lévis ferries, just below the Château Frontenac. Because of the quality of the cruises offered, the MV Duc D’Orléans became a well-known and greatly appreciated tourist attraction among visitors and the people of the Québec region.

In 1978, the vessel made its last cruise, from Québec to Sarnia, Ontario, where it had been built by Mac-Craft Ltd. in 1943. It is still operating in Corunna, Ontario, as an excursion vessel on the St. Clair River between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

After all these years, Noel Macklin, the Fairmile’s designer, would be very proud of the longevity of his creation.

CamouFla

At the heart… of operation

Diffused lighting and its use in the Chaleur Bay

Special contribution by Marc Richard
Associate Librarian
McGill University
Montréal, Québec, Canada
marc.richard@mcgill.ca

 

  • INTRODUCTION
  • ORIGINS OF THE SYSTEM
  • INITIAL DEVELOPMENT (1941-1942)
  • DEPLOYMENT ON CORVETTES EDMUNDSTON ET HMCS RIMOUSKI (1943)
  • FINAL DEVELOPMENTS (1943-1945)
  • CONCLUSION
  • Selective Bibliography

I. INTRODUCTION

One little-known aspect of the Baie des Chaleurs operation has to do with a special technique that was used in the hope of tricking the submarine U-536. This technique, devised by the Canadian Navy, was diffused-lighting ship camouflage (also referred to as “D/L camouflage”).

A Canadian invention, diffused lighting is a method that the naval forces of Canada, Great Britain and the United States studied between 1940 and 1945. This system of concealment at night made it difficult to identify a ship at short range and rendered it almost invisible to the eyes of a distant enemy observer.

In the following text, we shall see how the principle of diffused lighting was discovered, the role that the Allied Naval Forces planned for this technique in the Battle of the Atlantic and the results of the application of this system as tested by Canadian, British and American researchers during World War II.

II. ORIGINS OF THE SYSTEM

The principle of diffused lighting was accidentally discovered in 1940 by Professor Edmund Godfrey Burr, of McGill University, while he was conducting work for the National Research Council of Canada in a field having no direct relationship with the concealment of ships in high seas.

Born in London in 1886, Burr came to Montreal in 1906 to study electrical engineering at McGill University. After obtaining his degree he was hired by the university first as a laboratory technician, then as a part-time lecturer and finally as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. He soon found himself involved in the scientific research efforts undertaken by the Allied countries during World War I. Under the direction of Professor Louis Anthyme Herdt, his department head, he invented a revolutionary method of producing a special copper and cadmium alloy urgently required by the government of France to manufacture military telephone cables. For Burr, it was the start of a research career that touched on domains as varied as audiometry, optics and the evaluation of human visual acuity under conditions of darkness.

In the fall of 1940 Burr had to evaluate military optical instruments designed for night observation for the National Research Council. While observing aircraft flying at night without navigation lights, he noted that their shapes were easily visible using special binoculars. He attributed this visibility to the contrast that exists between a completely blacked-out plane and the slight luminosity of the sky, which is never completely black even when the darkness appears total. Consequently, he wondered if it would be possible to reduce the visibility of planes by reducing this luminosity contrast in some manner.

On the night of December 4, 1940, a sudden and unexpected demonstration of this idea occurred by chance. A plane that Burr was observing in flight through his binoculars disappeared suddenly as it approached for landing. Burr deduced that this phenomenon could be explained by the fact that the area surrounding the airport was covered in freshly fallen snow, and that the light from the moon reflecting off this white surface had illuminated the underside of the plane’s fuselage while it was flying at low altitude. This diffused lighting had eliminated the contrast in luminosity between the plane and the sky, rendering the aircraft invisible to Burr’s eyes.

Professor Burr immediately informed the National Research Council of his discovery, who in turn conveyed it to the Canadian Naval Services Headquarters. The Canadian Navy realized that this technique could be used to counter one of the dangers facing Allied convoys at this time: the visual disadvantage under which the convoys operated in comparison with German submarines.

Being smaller than the ships of a convoy, with a compact superstructure and a low profile, U-boats sailing on the surface at night could, in effect, see their targets from further away than the escort ships protecting convoys could see the U-boats. Equipped with excellent night vision binoculars, German seamen could clearly make out against the horizon the shape of ships sailing at night.

 

Photo : Marc Richard

 

The invention of high-precision centimetric radar eventually enabled the Allies to detect submarines on the surface using a method other than visual observation, but this device was not commonly used during the first years of the war. In 1940 diffused lighting seemed to offer an alternative solution to the problem of visual disadvantage. It could make a convoy as difficult to see from a U-boat as it was to see a U-boat from a convoy.

Scarcely a few days after having reported his discovery, Professor Burr was invited to Naval Services Headquarters to discuss the possible applications of this technique. Laboratory tests quickly demonstrated that the basic principle was valid. The decision was then taken to proceed, in January 1941, with a first trial on a Canadian Navy ship, the corvette HMCS Cobalt.

 

HMCS Cobalt, Halifax, April 24, 1941
National Archives, Canada (PA 105343)

 

III. INITIAL DEVELOPMENT (1941-1942)

The experiment undertaken on the HMCS Cobalt, which took place on January 22, 1941, off the Halifax shore, was conducted using rudimentary materials. Ordinary commercial-type light projectors were installed on one side of the ship with temporary supports and were attached to a manually operated intensity control system. Observers, located a certain distance from HMCS Cobalt, communicated by radio with the ship in order to inform it of the camouflage effect produced by each adjustment to the light intensity.

This first trial produced results of sufficient promise to encourage the Canadian Navy to develop a more sophisticated version of the equipment that was used on board the HMCS Cobalt. Developed over the next three months, the new equipment was tested on the corvette HMCS Chambly in May 1941.

 

HMCS Chambly, Halifax, April 1941
National Archives, Canada (PA 105255)

 

The new results were superior to the ones obtained during the test on HMCS Cobalt. The improved projectors were equipped with blue-green coloured filters, which eliminated the reddish tinge which the lights emitted when operating at low intensity. In addition, they were now mounted on retractable supports, allowing the projectors to be deployed over the side at night to illuminate the ship’s hull. They were then stowed inboard during the day to protect them from the impact of the waves.

Even though the equipment was still too heavy and too fragile to survive in high seas, it allowed a ship’s visibility to be reduced by 50 per cent in most conditions, and by as much as 75 per cent in very favourable conditions. The decision was therefore taken to manufacture a more solid version that could be used with success in the harsh environment of the North Atlantic. In the meantime, the experimental equipment was transferred to the corvette HMCS Kamloops in order to conduct additional tests.

 

HMCS Kamloops
Photograph taken from Ken Macpherson’s and John Burgess? The Ships of Canada’s Naval Forces, 1910-1981. A complete pictorial history of Canadian warships.

 

These tests, held in September 1941, were intended to test a prototype of an automatic light intensity control system. This system used a photoelectric cell to measure the luminosity of the sky and compare it to the luminosity of the ship; if a difference was detected between the two, an automatic adjustment to the projectors was made to correct the difference.

In parallel to these early Canadian experiments, tests on the principle of diffused lighting camouflage were held in Great Britain and the United States as naval authorities in these countries were informed of Professor Burr’s discovery.

In Great Britain, the equipment used in the first Canadian trials was tested on the corvette HMS Trillium in March 1941. Later on, towards the end of 1941, the Royal Navy installed a manually operated camouflage system developed by the British General Electric company on HMS Largs, a support ship. The British judged the obtained results to be inadequate and decided not to pursue further research into this technique.

In the United States, the U.S. Navy’s interest was equally brief. The General Electric Company of New York developed an automatically controlled camouflage system that was installed on the military transport ship USS Hamul in January 1942. Part of this equipment was then transferred to patrol boat PC 464 so that additional tests could be undertaken in June 1942. The American Navy then discontinued further research, since the country’s recent entry into the war had caused its priorities to change radically. The Americans did, however, send the control mechanism and the projectors used in their tests to the National Research Council so that Canada could pursue work in this domain.

The National Research Council evaluated the American equipment and decided to use it in combination with the improved supports on which Professor Burr was working. The decision was made to install this overhauled equipment on two Canadian ships that had entered shipyards for refitting: the corvettes HMCS Edmundston and HMCS Rimouski.

IV. DEPLOYMENT ON CORVETTES EDMUNDSTON AND HMCS RIMOUSKI (1943)

HMCS Edmundston’s stay in shipyard lasted from January to June 1943; HMCS Rimouski’s stay was from March to August of the same year. The camouflage device installed on each of these ships at this time consisted of sixty or so projectors with their supports and control mechanisms. The projectors that illuminated the hull were mounted on retractable supports, while those that illuminated the superstructure were mounted on fixed supports.

 

The three following pictures have been modified in order to point out the precise location of the equipment needed to apply the diffused lighting technique.

 

 

HMCS Edmunston
National Archives, Canada
(PA 145398) (PA 184125)(PA 184194)

 

During the summer and fall of 1943 two types of tests were conducted on the camouflage system of each ship. First, tests conducted under experimental conditions took place in the St. Margaret’s Bay region during the training period following the end of the refits. Then the ships were deployed on escort duty to North Atlantic convoys, which enabled the evaluation of the efficiency of their camouflage under operational conditions.

This evaluation period demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of the equipment used on corvettes HMCS Edmundston and HMCS Rimouski. Under experimental conditions and depending on meteorological conditions and the distance of the observers, the system effectively reduced the visibility of the corvettes by up to 70 per cent. However, on the high seas, it was obvious that the electrical equipment was not able to withstand the pounding it received from the waves and storms. Malfunctions were numerous and a lot of time was spent on repairs. In addition, the control system’s response time was not fast enough and the tint of the coloured filters was thought to be too green.

 

Scale model of HMCS Rimouski, as seen at night
Photo : Marc Richard

 

 

Scale model of HMCS Rimouski, as seen at night using the diffused lighting technique
Photo : Marc Richard

 

The conclusion drawn from these tests was that the equipment still needed to be improved before it could be used on a larger scale. However, at the end of 1943, the requirement for this type of equipment was less pressing than before. Since the spring of that year, the various measures taken by the Allies to fight off U-boats had finally reached a satisfactory level of efficiency and convoys were now able to make the crossing in relative safety. In this context, refining the diffused lighting system was not a high priority for the Canadian Navy.

In fact, there was only one occasion during the war where the diffused lighting technique was used during a direct attack on a U-boat, and this event took place even before the corvette HMCS Rimouski was deployed on convoy escort duty after her stay in the shipyard. This event was the Baie des Chaleurs operation, in September 1943, whose aim was to spring a trap on submarine U-536. In this operation, HMCS Rimouski was to discreetly approach the submarine once it was detected by radar to be on the surface, in the hope of springing a surprise attack on the U-boat.

 

HMCS Rimouski
John R. Pickford collection

 

Accounts of this operation indicate that the HMCS Rimouski was using both its diffused lighting and a few navigation lights upon its approach to the submarine. The corvette was therefore not trying to be completely invisible, since the invisibility created by the diffused lighting was only fully effective at a distance, but more to give the impression that she was a small and inoffensive ship. The camouflage system appears to have hidden the HMCS Rimouski efficiently on this occasion, as Kapitänleutnant Schauenburg did not detect her approach while his submarine was on the surface. It is because the Canadians ashore sent the wrong signals to the submarine that Schauenburg discovered the trap, therefore allowing him to dive in time and avoid the attack intended for him.

V. FINAL DEVELOPMENTS (1943-1945)

Following the tests on corvettes HMCS Edmundston and HMCS Rimouski, the development work on diffused lighting entered its last phase. The objective was to correct the three main weaknesses identified during the trials: the low reliability of the automatic light intensity control system, the inadequate solidity and impermeability of the projectors and the incorrect proportion of blue and green used in the coloured filters.

This work proceeded without apparent urgency because of the turnaround of Allied fortunes in the Battle of the Atlantic that took place in the spring of 1943. At certain times after this date, technological innovations such as the acoustically guided torpedo gave the U-boats a temporary advantage, but on the whole, the Allied convoys were sufficiently protected until the end of the war. The decryption of German codes, increased use of high-precision centimetric radar, improved tactics used by escort ships, better training for escort crews and the use of long-range aircraft to protect the convoys from one side of the Atlantic to the other were some of the decisive factors that enabled the Allies to achieve victory at sea.

In connection with one of these factors, the aerial protection of convoys, it must be pointed out that the diffused lighting technique briefly held the attention of experts looking to improve the performance of aircraft assigned to the hunt for submarines. It was, in fact, possible for a vigilant U-boat to visually detect the approach of a distant aircraft during the day, as its darker profile was easily distinguished against the ambient luminosity of the sky. Thus alerted, the U-boat could dive before the aircraft was close enough to launch an attack against it.

Hoping to reduce this visual contrast, the British adapted Professor Burr’s diffused lighting system in order to use it in the air. The first experiments were not successful, since a great quantity of electricity was required to sufficiently illuminate the underside of an aircraft’s fuselage in broad daylight. In addition, the presence of external projectors mounted on supports was not desirable because of the aerodynamic disturbances they caused.

Nonetheless, the British conveyed the results of their tests to the Americans, who developed a more efficient version of the technique. This system used a series of lamps installed on the nose and on the front of the wings of the aircraft. The light from these lamps was directed forward, in the direction of a possible observer on the plane’s approach path. When the intensity of these lamps was properly adjusted, their light considerably reduced the visibility of the frontal profile of the plane on which the equipment was mounted. Designated by the code name ?Yehudi? as well as by the spelling variation ?Yahoody,? this aerial diffused lighting system was used between 1943 and 1945 on long-range B-24 Liberator bombers, on TBF Avenger-type torpedo bombers and on an American Navy experimental remote-controlled glide bomb.

Even though the results of the American tests were positive, ?Yehudi? never progressed beyond the experimental stage. It appears that the installation of centimetric radars on board aircraft, which took place around the same time, was judged preferable to visual camouflage. In conjunction with a powerful searchlight called the Leigh Light, radar-equiped aircraft could successfully hunt U-boats at night, when the latter surfaced to recharge their batteries under the cover of darkness. As for daylight attacks, it was recognized that the visibility of the aircraft was not necessarily a disadvantage in the fight against submarines. By making a U-boat dive, the aircraft succeeded, by their presence alone, in reducing the submarine’s speed and operational radius, which considerably lessened the threat they represented.

At sea, the final tests of the diffused lighting technique were conducted on the corvette HMCS Rimouski, the equipment installed on the HMCS Edmundston having been removed in 1944. Plans and drawings were prepared for improved supports and more watertight projectors with improved filters; however, these were never built. On the other hand, an improved control system, fitted with a gyroscopic stabilization mechanism, was installed on the HMCS Rimouski towards the end of 1944. Testing took place over the following months, first in Bermuda and afterwards in Scotland’s Clyde River region.

Without improved projectors, it was difficult for the assessors to judge the new control mechanism’s efficiency during these tests; they noted, however, that the quality of the results was not consistent from one test to another. Without doubt, it would have been possible to correct the final deficiencies of the system if the work had continued, but this did not take place. Following the Allies? victory in Europe in May 1945, the research on diffused lighting came to an end and the HMCS Rimouski, as was the case earlier for the HMCS Edmundston, was stripped of her special concealment equipment.

VI. CONCLUSION

Even though the diffused lighting technique was ingenious, it proved to be too complex and inefficient a solution to the problem of convoy defence. It could indeed neutralize the U-boats’ visual advantage at the start of the war, but considerable resources would have been required to perfect it and to manufacture equipment in sufficient quantity for large-scale use. Because of the competing interests between other scientific, technical and industrial needs during World War II, it did not appear justifiable to place such a priority on a system whose usefulness was relatively marginal.

Rather than seeking to neutralize the visual advantage which the U-boats held over the highly visible cargo and escort ships, it was more advantageous for the Allies to protect convoys by other means. For example, the invention of centimetric radar eventually made electronic detection more efficient than visual detection at night. When a submarine approched a convoy, it was now the submarine that risked being detected first despite its relatively small size. The assignment of long-range bombers to anti-submarine warfare likewise gave better protection to convoys, while the Allies’ improved ability to decipher German communications sometimes helped them intercept a U-boat even before it was able to locate the convoys it was hunting.

Still, the incident at the Baie des Chaleurs demonstrates that, in the context of a special operation with a limited and precise objective, diffused lighting could be an asset. Using the system in this manner did not require that a large number of ships be equipped with it, nor even that the system be fully developed in order to accomplish the job. If the circumstances of that operation had been such that a signal sent to the submarine had kept it on the surface for a longer period of time, the stealthy approach of the corvette HMCS Rimouski, carried out under the cover of its diffused lighting, might well have resulted in a successful attack again U-536.

© 2001 Naval Museum of Quebec. All rights reserved Marc Richard.

Selective Bibliography

The following bibliography is a selective list of published works which make mention of diffuse lighting. The main unpublished documentation on the topic takes the form of archives stored at the National Archives of Canada, at the Public Record Office in Great-Britain and at the Archives II section of the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States. A more detailed bibliography on the topic will appear in two of the author’s articles: a biography of Professor Burr and a study on diffuse lighting, currently in preparation.

Burr, E. Godfrey. “Illumination for Concealment of Ships at Night.” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada (Third series, volume XLI, May 1947, p. 45-54).

Burr, E. Godfrey. “Illumination for Concealment of Ships at Night: Some Technical Considerations.” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada (Third series, volume XLII, May 1948), p. 19-35.

Fetherstonhaugh, R.C. McGill University at War: 1914-1918, 1939-1945. (Montreal: McGill University, 1947), p. 337-341.

Hadley, Michael L. U-Boats Against Canada: German Submarines in Canadian Waters. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1985), p. 180-182.

No Day Long Enough: Canadian Science in World War II. Editor: George R. Lindsey. (Toronto: Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, 1997), p. 172-173.

Pickford, R.J. “Sublieutenant ‘Commando’ and Young Corvette Skipper.” Salty Dips, volume 1 (Ottawa: Naval Officers’ Association of Canada, 1983), p. 4-5.

Schuthe, George M. “MLs and Mine Recovery.” Salty Dips, volume 1 (Ottawa: Naval Officers’ Association of Canada, 1983), p. 83.

Summary Technical Report of Division 16, NDRC. Volume 2: Visibility Studies and Some Applications in the Field of Camouflage. (Washington, D.C.: Office of Scientific Research and Development, National Defense Research Committee, 1946), p. 14-16 and 225-241. [Declassified August 2, 1960].

Waddington, C.H. O.R. in World War 2: Operational Research
Against the U-Boat.
(London: Elek Science, 1973), p. 164-167.

Ranks in the Royal Canadian Navy

The information in this section is drawn from the following documents:

Nowadays, the insignia of rank are the same for both Naval Reserve and Regular Force members. However, during the Second World War, the members of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve were distinguished by the wavy rank insignia they wore. Also, some ranks have been added over the years for non-commissioned members.

 

World War II

2001

Officers Flag Officers
Admiral

Admiral

Vice Admiral

Vice Admiral

Rear Admiral

Rear Admiral

Commodore

Commodore

Senior Officers

Captain

Captain

Commander

Commander

Lieutenant Commander

Lieutenant Commander

Lieutenant

Lieutenant

SUBLT or COMD OFF

Sub-Lieutenant

Acting Sub Lieutenant

Acting Sub Lieutenant

Midshipmen and Cadets Subordinate Officer

Midshipman and Naval Cadet

Naval Cadet

Other Ranks Non-Commissioned Members

Chief PO 1st Class

Chief Petty Officer First Class

Chief PO 2nd Class

Chief Petty Officer Second Class

Petty Officer 1st Class

Petty Officer First Class

Petty Officer 2nd Class

Petty Officer Second Class

Master Seaman

Leading Seaman

Leading Seaman

Able Seaman

Able Seaman

Ordinary Seaman

U-571

Away borders ! : U-571 canadian version

LS Fabrice Mosseray, HMCS CARLETON
(The Naval Reserve Link, Vol 9, No 3, October 2000)

Although some aspects of U-571 are a bit hard to believe, the film does have the merit of recalling one of the less-know episodes of World War II, namely the hunt for the German Enigma coding machine. The capture of this machine enabled allied experts to decode the communications of the German U-boats. In U-571, the Americans are the big heroes – the film has to sell, after all – but the Canadian Navy, too, had its hours of glory in this effort, which was undertaken and launched by the Royal Navy. Operations began in May 1941, when the British captured a German weather observation ship and patrol vessel; in June the same year, U-110 was boarded by the destroyer HMS BULLDOG. Our Navy, for its part, was drawn into this venture while carrying out its escort missions.

ONE FOR US!

The Canadian Navy carried out its first regular boarding off Greenland on 10 September 1941, when the corvettes HMCS MOOSE JAW and HMCS CHAMBLY, sent out to rescue convoy SC42, depth charged U-501, forcing it to surface. Having been shelled and rammed by MOOSE JAW, the disabled submarine was boarded by the two vessels. Once the enemy crew had been neutralized, CHAMBLY’s boarding party entered the U-boat. Unfortunately, it discovered not only that the apparatus and books had been destroyed, but also that the submarine had been scuttled and was about to sink. The party barely managed to get away – but not quickly enough to save stoker W.I. Brown, who was dragged down into the whirlpool as U-501 went to the bottom. This brave sailor had ventured into the submarine alone and attempted to close the valves. Our men failed in their attempt to seize a U-boat and its priceless secret equipment, but this victory warmed the hearts of our fighters, so harshly tested by long months of on-the-job training. U-501 was the first of 33 submarines sunk by our Navy during World War II.

HMCS OAKVILLE RAMS U-94

On 28 August 1942, in the company of American Warships and the corvettes HMCS HALIFAX and HMCS SNOWBERRY, the corvette HMCS OAKVILLE was escorting a convoy off Haïti when it attacked U-94. The submarine, which had been on the point of attacking the convoy, was first spotted and bombarded by an American seaplane. Oakville dropped depth charges to force it to surface, and after bombarding it, rammed the submarine twice. The submarine, struck by a depth charge on the surface, gave up the fight. A boarding party was dispatched to seize the vessel. Eleven of our sailors, under the command of SLt H.E.T. Lawrence and PO A.J. Powell, leapt onto the deck of the crippled U-94 and rushed toward the conning tower, which was riddled by shellfire. After clearing away the dead bodies covering the hatchway, Lawrence and Powell headed below. They were then surprised by two Germans who emerged from an escape hatch. After ordering them to back inside, the Canadians opened fore on the two men, who were dashing toward them. The German crew, in a panic at the thought that the U-boat could sink at any moment, surrendered quickly. Despite the danger, Lawrence went searching for the Enigma machine and documents. But finding that U-94 had been scuttled, he retraced his steps, having to swim to the ladder which led to the conning tower. After giving the order to abandon ship, Lawrence leapt into the water just before the submarine went down. Our valiant sailors and the 19 German survivors were recovered by OAKVILLE and the American destroyer USS LEA.

U-744 FINALLY BOARDED!

One of the longest anti-submarine operations of the war – a chase lasting 38 hours, and involving 1,500 optical signals, 23 attacks and 291 depth charges – began on 5 May 1944, when the escorts of convoy HX 280, the destroyers HMS ICARUS, HMCS GATINEAU and HMCS CHAUDIERE, the frigate HMCS ST. CATHERINES and the corvettes HMCS CHILLIWACK and HMCS FENNEL went on a merciless hunt for U-744. The submarine, pitilessly tracked sown and depth charged, surfaced only to be pounded by 4-inch and 20-mm shells. The German commander and some crew members were killed as they attempted to bring their gun into action. Despite the raging sea, CHILLIWACK and ST. CATHERINES sent out their boarding parties to take the submarine, which was seriously damaged. The party from CHILLIWACK, which arrived first, offered themselves the luxury of raising the Navy’s White Ensign on the conning tower, as they overcame the enemy crew and prepared to take control of the submarine. As the U-boat slowly settled into the water, three members of the boarding crew, guided by a German sailor, laid their hands on signal and code books and apparatus. Unfortunately for our heroes, a big wave capsized the whalers from CHILLIWACK and ST. CATHERINES, and all the precious booty was lost. It took over an hour to recover the boarding parties and the 39 German survivors. The condemned U-744 was finally torpedoed by HMS ICARUS.

In the course of these boardings, our Navy did not have luck on its side, but we cannot ignore the heroic efforts of our crews.1 The capture of a submarine and its coding equipment was a major achievement, making it possible to find out more about the enemy’s war equipment and to break its secret codes. The Allies were then able to better protect convoys and save lives.

1In the course of the war, the Allied successfully boarded only five U-boats, including U-744, and managed to tow only two of the five to a naval base.

Sources :

German, Tony, The sea is at our gates: the history of the Canadian Navy, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1990, 360 pages.

McKee, Fraser et Darlington, Robert, The Canadian naval chronicle 1939-1945, Vanwell Publishing Ltd, St. Catharines, Ont. 1998, 272 pages.

Schull, Joseph, The Far Distant Ships, Edmond Cloutier, Ottawa, 1953, 515 pages.

Wilhem Köning

[Editor’s note Most of this information comes from the episode “Köning, le marin oublié” produced and filmed as part of the series Les histoires oubliées.]

Wilhem Köning

Still from the Koëning, le marin oublié episode in the TV series Histoires oubliées
Copyright Recherche Félix

The sad story of Wilhem Köning begins during the night of September 15 to 16, 1942, when the Dutch oil tanker Oscilla was torpedoed 150 miles northeast of the British West Indies by the Italian submarine Morosini. An officer on board the Oscilla, Köning as well as the other survivors were rescued towards the end of the following day by the American ship Explorer.

As Holland was under German occupation, Köning had no choice other than to find another merchant ship. Therefore, in Quebec, on May 10, 1942, he boards the SS Leto, along with three other survivors from the Oscilla. Loaded with airplane engines, amongst other things, the SS Leto, a Dutch ship chartered by the British Ministry of War Transport, heads for England.

Misfortune hounds Köning when before dawn on May 12, 1942, the SS Leto is torpedoed offshore Rivière-la-Madeleine. Barely a few hours after the SS Nicoya was torpedoed, the SS Leto is the second victim of the Battle of the St. Lawrence. There were 12 victims of the attack. In a little under two hours, the SS Leto‘s survivors were recovered by the Dutch ship Titus. Wilhem Köning expired just as they were bringing him on board. This is when the war came to a tragic end for this sailor.

Köning’s body was brought to Pointe-au-Père to be buried in the non-consecrated part of the Sainte-Anne-de-Pointe-au-Père cemetery. Gaétan Lavoie, the young son of the Pointe-au-Père lighthouse keeper, recalls the arrival at the village of this strange procession.

From the window in my room, I could see a group of stunned men in rags marching down the street in front of our house. They were soaked and covered in oil. Up until that day, the war was on the other side, but now we were finding out that the war had made its way here.

Excerpt from the account of
Major (R) Gaétan Lavoie in the documentary
Köning, le marin oublié
and during an interview
at the Naval Museum of Quebec.

Many years after the end of the Second World War the journalist Robert Tremblay became interested by this forgotten story and traced Köning’s daughter and the man who, for many years, maintained the Dutch sailor’s grave. Through television, we rediscovered the story of this man whom everyone, except for his family in Holland, had forgotten.

Wilhem Koëning’s daughter and grand-daughter paying homage to him at his tomb in Pointe-au-Père

Still from the Koëning, le marin oublié episode in the Histoires oubliées series. Copyright Recherche Félix

Fifty years later, at Robert Tremblay’s instigation, Köning’s daughter and his granddaughter visited his grave. In a symbolic gesture, they laid a wreath on his grave with a ribbon inscribed as follows: “Our first and last encounter, Daddy.”

Köning, like many other Canadian or foreign sailors, came to a tragic end far from his home and family. Death in a foreign country and under horrible circumstances remains the most terrible of consequences for every defender of peace.