Battle of the St. Lawrence: Wikis


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Battle of the St. Lawrence
Part of Battle of the Atlantic
Date May, 1942 to November, 1944
Location Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence River
Result Allied Victory
Canada Canada
United States United States

The Battle of the St. Lawrence involved a number of submarine and anti-submarine actions throughout the lower St. Lawrence River and the entire Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Strait of Belle Isle and Cabot Strait from May to October 1942, September 1943, and again in October and November 1944. During this time, German U-boats sank a number of merchant marine ships and three Canadian warships.

In the inter-war years, poor economic conditions and a sense of security, engendered by the proximity of the United States, had resulted in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) being reduced to a half dozen destroyers and some minesweepers,[1] and incapable of defence of its coastal waters. However, by the war's end, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was the third largest naval power in the world, with 90,000 men and 400 vessels.[2] At the start of the war, Canadian naval deployment gave priority to the North Atlantic convoy routes.


Spring 1942

The Kriegsmarine had made no formal plans to attack merchant shipping in the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, despite its activities off the convoy assembly ports of Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia, therefore early attacks in the Battle of the St. Lawrence were considered ad hoc and opportunistic.

The first attack was by U-553, which torpedoed and sank the British freighter Nicoya at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River several kilometres off Anticosti Island on 10 June 1942, followed by the Dutch freighter Leto in the same vicinity several hours later. U-553 departed the Gulf of St. Lawrence to return to its established patrol in the North Atlantic.

Before these sinkings, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence River had been guarded by only four RCN warships, a Bangor-class minesweeper, two Fairmile-motor launches and an armed yacht; a clearly inadequate force for the task, if challenged. The RCN's response to the attacks by U-553 was to deploy five Flower-class corvettes but even with the reinforcements, it remained inadequate.

The incident revealed that the RCN did not have the resources to deal with the situation and there were political repercussions in Canada with suggestions that RCN ships allocated to the Atlantic convoys should be recalled to protect Canadian territorial waters, however the RCN's priority remained with the protection of convoys to Britain, Russia and North Africa.

Several RN escorts were attached to the RCN for several months during 1942, with convoys in the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence being formed between RCN facilities at HMCS Chaleur II in Quebec City, HMCS Fort Ramsay in Gaspé, and HMCS Protector in Sydney. RCAF aircraft patrolled from operations squadrons based at RCAF stations such as Mont-Joli, Bagotville, Chatham, Mount Pleasant, Charlottetown, Summerside, Debert, and Sydney as well as various civilian fields, particularly in the Magdalen Islands.

Residents along the Gaspé coast and the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence were terrified at the sight of maritime warfare off their shores, with ships on fire and explosions rattling their communities, while debris and bodies floated ashore. The Canadian government's wartime secrecy saw censors forbid media reporting of incidents so the only news came from local gossip. Blackouts were strictly enforced and army units were sent out on coastal patrols along roads and railway lines.

Summer 1942

On July 6, U-132 sank three freighters off the Gaspé coast and damaged another on July 20, each time escaping attack by the Bangor-class minesweeper HMCS Drummondville (J253). There were further German attacks in August, on harbours in Labrador and Newfoundland and on a convoy in the Strait of Belle Isle that damaged the USS Laramie.

In September, three U-boats made a joint raid on the St. Lawrence. U-517 sank nine ships and damaged another in a two week period, escaping attacks by escort vessels each time and sinking the Flower-class corvette HMCS Charlottetown (K244) on September 11. U-165 was less successful in attacking merchant shipping but it sank the armed yacht HMCS Raccoon; U-165 was harassed by RCAF patrol aircraft and completed its operation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with no further attacks.

The continued attacks caused the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence to be closed to all trans-Atlantic shipping, allowing only coastal trade. In practice, although this embargo strained the Canadian National Railways system to Sydney and Halifax, it simplified the management of Atlantic convoys. The embargo lasted until early 1944.

Fall 1942

In October, the Newfoundland Railway passenger ferry SS Caribou was torpedoed by the U-69, in Cabot Strait, between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, with a heavy loss of life. U-69 escaped a counter attack by the Bangor-class minesweeper HMCS Grandmere (J258). In November, U-518 sank two iron ore freighters and damaged another at Bell Island in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, en route to a patrol off the Gaspé Peninsula where, despite an attack by an RCAF patrol aircraft, it successfully landed a spy at New Carlisle, Quebec; the spy was captured at the New Carlisle railway station shortly after landing on the beach.

The U-boat losses experienced by the Kriegsmarine during 1942 following the entry of the United States Navy into the Battle of the Atlantic, coupled with declining German shipbuilding capability to replace battle losses, saw the U-boat fleet redeployed to the primary Atlantic convoy routes to disrupt the Allied war resupply effort; this effectively saw enemy submarines withdrawn from the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence by the end of the 1942 shipping season.

Fall 1943

Canadian military intelligence and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) intercepted mail addressed to several Kriegsmarine officers (including Otto Kretschmer) imprisoned at the Camp 30 prisoner of war camp at Bowmanville, Ontario in early 1943. The correspondence detailed an escape plan where the prisoners were to tunnel out of the camp and make their way (using currency and false documents provided to them) through eastern Ontario and across Quebec to the northeastern tip of New Brunswick off the Pointe de Maisonnette lighthouse where the POW escapees would be retrieved by a U-boat.

Canadian authorities did not tip off the POWs and detected signs of tunnel digging at Camp 30 shortly afterward. All POWs except one were arrested at the time of their escape attempt; the sole POW who managed to escape travelled all the way to Pointe de Maisonette undetected, likely travelling onboard Canadian National Railways passenger trains to the Bathurst area. This POW was apprehended by military police and RCMP on the beach in front of the lighthouse the night of the arranged U-boat extraction.

The RCN provided a U-boat counter-offensive force (code-named "Operation Pointe Maisonnette") that was led by HMCS Rimouski (K121), which was outfitted with an experimental version of diffuse lighting camouflage for the operation.

The task force led by Rimouski waited in Caraquet Harbour, obscured by Caraquet Island, the night of 26–27 September 1943 and detected the presence of U-536 off Pointe de Maisonnette while shore authorities arrested the POW escapee.

U-536 managed to elude the RCN task force by diving just as the surface warships began attacking with depth charges, however the submarine was able to escape the Gulf of St. Lawrence without making the planned extraction.

Fall 1944

During 1943, the RCAF had begun to successfully harass U-boat operations in Canadian coastal waters and the RCN had grown in numbers and effectiveness to allow more resources to be dedicated to anti-submarine warfare operations in territorial waters. By early 1944, the shipping lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence River were re-opened to domestic and war-related convoys operating primarily from Quebec City to Sydney.

Late 1944 saw a resurgence of U-boat activity in the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence. German submarines were increasingly being equipped with the snorkel, a telescopic engine ventilation system that permitted continuous underwater operation without surfacing.

U-1223 entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence undetected in early October and is credited with seriously damaging the River-class frigate HMCS Magog (K673) on October 14 and sinking the Canadian freighter SS Fort Thompson on November 2.

Three weeks later, U-1228 attacked and sank the Flower-class corvette HMCS Shawinigan (K136) in the Cabot Strait on November 24.

These two German attacks signified the end of the Battle of the St. Lawrence. In May 1945, following Germany's surrender, U-889 and U-190 surrendered to the RCN at Shelburne, Nova Scotia and Bay Bulls, Newfoundland respectively.

After the war, it was shown that mingling of fresh and salt waters in the region (the world's largest estuary), plus temperature variations, and sea ice, disrupted RCN anti-submarine operations and reduced the effectiveness of shipboard sonar systems that were designed to detect submarines. Fog and other weather conditions in the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence also conspired to hamper RCAF patrols.

See also


  1. ^ Jackson, Ashley (2006). The British Empire and the Second World War. London: Hambledon Continuum. p. 64. ISBN 1 85285 417 0.  
  2. ^ Mosseray, Fabrice (1995-2007). "The Battle of the St. Lawrence". Guðmundur Helgason. Retrieved 2007-11-14.  
  • Greenfield, Nathan M (2004). The battle of the St. Lawrence: the Second World War in Canada. Toronto: HarperCollins. p. 286. ISBN 0002006642 9780002006644.  

External links



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