September 3rd marks the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic.
“The Battle of the Atlantic was Canada’s longest military engagement of the Second World War, lasting from September 1939 to May 1945. This battle was bravely fought by the men and women of the Canadian Merchant Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. More than 4600 courageous men and women lost their lives at sea.
What a miserable, rotten hopeless life… an Atlantic so rough it seems impossible that we can continue to take this unending pounding and still remain in one piece… hanging onto a convoy is a full-time job… the crew in almost a stupor from the nightmarishness of it all… and still we go on hour after hour. Frank Curry of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) wrote these words in his diary aboard a corvette in 1941.
From the very outset of hostilities in the Second World War in 1939, the Atlantic supply route from North America to the United Kingdom was threatened. Eventually gaining control of the entire coast of Europe, from the northern tip of Norway to the Pyrenees, the Germans set out from every harbour and airfield in western Europe to sever the lifelines to Britain…
The sea lanes of the North Atlantic formed a grim battleground. Navigation was hazardous, and sailor in the navy and merchant marine died not only from enemy attack, but from exposure and accidents in the fog and winter gales. Nor was protection sufficient to prevent heavy losses. There were too few naval vessels and maritime patrol aircraft available, as well as a severe lack of training and modern equipment and technology. In 1939, Canada possessed only a few dozen Canadian-registered merchant ships, six destroyers, five small minesweepers, two training vessels, and a single squadron of modern military flying boats.
On September 16, 1939, the first convoy set out from Halifax for the United Kingdom… soon two convoys a week were sailing from Halifax. By the end of 1939, some 410 ships in 14 HX convoys had crossed the Atlantic.” (courtesy VA Canada)
“The Royal Air Force’s Coastal Command, which included seven Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons, fought against the enemy’s U-Boats, merchant ships and warships. Coastal Command aircraft escorted convoys sailing from North America to Britain, and searched the seas from Iceland to Gibraltar. Coastal Command crews destroyed more than one-quarter of all German U-Boats “killed” during the war: 212 out of 800.
RCAF squadrons in Coastal Command and in Canada accounted for 19 U-Boats, while RCAF crews serving in Royal Air Force squadrons involved in many more “kills” in the North Atlantic.” (courtesy RCAF Heritage and History)
The Halifax Memorial is located in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax; it is a reminder of the Canadians who died at sea. The granite Cross of Sacrifice is clearly visible to ships approaching Halifax; the podium upon which it’s mounted is inscribed with the names of the Canadian men and women who were buried at sea.
For further information, you might check out these resources:
Canada and the Battle of the Atlantic written by Roger Sarty. It’s a compilation of photographs, art, and personal memories that complements the historic records…
The Battle of the Atlantic, The First Complete Account of the Origins and Outcome of the Longest and Most Crucial Campaign of World War II was written by Terry Hughes and John Costello. This volume includes archive reports, eyewitness accounts, and more than 400 action photographs.
Battle of the Atlantic by Marc Milner “focuses on the confrontation between the opposing forces and the attacks on Allied shipping that lay at the heart of the six year struggle. Against the backdrop of the battle for the Atlantic lifeline he charts the fascinating development of U-boats and the techniques used by the Allies to suppress and destroy these ‘stealth’ weapons.”