From One World War to Another (1919-43)

The Navy to 1942

Battle of the St. Lawrence

On 9 January 1943, under pressure from its allies, Canada decided to momentarily abandon its mid-Atlantic escort role. It would make use of the next few months to fit its escorts with new equipment and train their crews in its use. The Royal Canadian Navy had reached its nadir - yet just a few months earlier the St Lawrence River had had to be closed to all commercial traffic.

Indeed in May 1942 German submarines had cruised the St Lawrence estuary, after which - from August to November - they settled in on a fairly steady basis. Eight submarines were involved at various times, with no losses and a productive hunt that destroyed a corvette, an armed yacht and 19 merchant or passenger vessels, damaging two more. Given the panic gripping the local population, the government had to send some of its escort vessels from the Atlantic, where they were still required, to the Gulf of St Lawrence. In October, finally, this shipping route was closed. All Atlantic trade would now sail directly from the coast. Canada would thus be able to detach escort vessels for the Mediterranean, where preparations were afoot for landings in North Africa (Operation TORCH).

In early November 1942 a German submarine landed a spy on Quebec's Gaspé peninsula, but he was arrested almost immediately. A month earlier, on 14 October, SS Caribou, a ferry running between North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, had been sunk by a submarine: 136 of its 237 passengers and crew had perished. Up to 1943 the Royal Canadian Navy had destroyed only four enemy submarines.

After more than three years of war, Canada had managed to mobilize completely but had not been able to get going in the strictly military sense. New opportunities looming on the horizon would enable Canadians to find better expression for their qualities as fighters on the sea, in the air and on the ground.