Today I was doing a little research for our friend Mary, whose father, served as a skipper of a Royal Canadian Navy Corvette during World War II. Canada had more than 125 of these ships most of which were built in Canadian Shipyards. Yarrows in Victoria, Burrard Shipyards in North Vancouver, as well as yards in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
These ships were designed for convoy duty in the North Atlantic chaperoning merchant ships from Halifax to the U K. They were not large, 205 feet with two guns and 40 depth charges. They were steam powered so they had stokers who shovelled coal to keep them moving. With a 16 knot top speed they were slow but had a range of 3500 nautical miles. They were known for being very rolly in rough seas which caused a lot of seasickness. But they were remarkably seaworthy. Typically the wartime crew consisted of 5 Officers and 61 men. Many of the crews included young men from the prairies. One business friend of mine was from Saskatoon and he fulfilled his wartime service shovelling coal on a Corvette.
These little ships made countless return trips across the North Atlantic. Most of them survived, a few were torpedoed by German U boats but the majority lasted until the end of the war. When they were decommissioned most were scrapped, but a few were few sold to other countries and a few sold and turned into freighters and whaling boats.
One of the most famous Corvettes in our waters was the HMCS SUDBURY, which after decommissioning, was converted to a salvage tug owned by Victoria based Island Tug and Barge. SUDBURY made one epic tow saving the Greek freighter Macedonia by towing the disabled vessel for 40 days in the North Pacific through some of the roughest weather imaginable before arriving safely into Vancouver to a hero’s welcome. The incident made headlines around the world.
The SUDBURY AS A TUG
HMCS Agassiz, built at Burrard Drydock in North Vancouver in 1940. Photo below
The Corvettes were immortalized in a 1953 film, THE CRUEL SEA, starring Jack Hawkins.
Sturdy ships, gallant crews! No Safe zones for those brave young men.