Mar 6, 2015

The Sinking of HMCS Shawinigan




In early 1944 the Germans began to mount 'schnorkel' breathing tubes on their submarines, which allowed them to cruise about eight metres under the surface while showing only a narrow air intake above water, which was all but invisible. In this way, the submarines could run their powerful diesel engines while submerged, and never rise to the surface for weeks on end. Although the submerged speed of the submarines was still too slow to catch most ships, the submarines could once again push close to the mouths of British - and Canadian and American - harbours, and fire torpedoes at ships as they left or entered ports. With the rocks and old shipwrecks littering the ocean floor near the coasts, and the complex currents and temperature layers in coastal waters, escorts often found that their sonar was incapable of finding the submarines. So serious was the threat in British waters, and so overextended was the Royal Navy, that the Canadian navy continued to maintain at least twenty of its best anti-submarine destroyers and frigates in British waters. Their work required nearly constant alertness, for at any moment a torpedo could - and did- come racing silently from the depths.

Beginning in the summer of 1944 the Germans also sent four or five schnorkel submarines at a time to hunt in Canadian coastal waters. Because of the greater importance of the transatlantic convoys and the protection of British waters, the Canadian navy kept only minimum forces at home. These were not strong enough to find and sink the enemy vessels, but did sufficiently intimidate the Germans that losses in Canadian waters were light - some 15 ships during the last year of the war.

Among them was the corvette HMCS Shawinigan, which, while on a routine patrol off Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland, on the night of November 24th, 1944, had the back luck to pass right across the sights ofU-1228. All 91 men on board the Shawinigan died.

The Sinking of HMCS Shawinigan
0145 Coast shining beautifully in moonlight, Table Mountain, Sugar Loaf, Cape Ray [Newfoundland] beacons showing up as gleams on the horizon...
0150 Hydrophone pickup at bearing 2000. To periscope depth.
0210 At bearing 2100 destroyer [sic] tacking along basic course NE...
0220 Turned off for stern pursuit...
0230 Tube VI fired turning shot bow... aiming point stern, estimated range [2500 metres] 0232 Torpedo and screw noises merge.
0234 A hit after 4 min 0 sees. High, 50 m, large explosion column with heavy shower of sparks, after collapse of explosion column, only 10m high now, then smoke cloud, destroyer disappeared. On hydrophone set screw noises disappeared with hit, great roaring and crackling sounds....
0236 Depth charge detonations at intervals of 1-3 minutes. Surmise destroyer depth charges going off as triggers activated when depth reached... Kapitanleutant Marienfeld, commanding officer, recording the attack that sank the corvette HMCS Shawinigan. There were no survivors.

'At 1320Z [Greenwich Mean Time] 27th of November, while carrying out a search in accordance with your signal 270109, aircraft reported a large oil slick...and it was closed for investigation. Oil, apparently boiler fuel, covered a considerable area, and in searching further, six bodies wearing R.C.N. life belts were located floating in the sea, and transferred [sic] to "TRURO" for passage to Sydney. The oil slick was made up in part of heavy fuel oil, and resembled chunks of mud floating on the water. Each body was wearing a life belt when recovered, and appeared to be floating upright in the water, with the face submerged... it is considered that the bodies were from H.M.C.S. "SHAWINIGAN". 

Acting Commander W.C. Halliday, Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, commanding officer HMCS Springhill.