The courage and bravery of Chief Petty Officer Max Leopold Bernays will forever be remembered with one of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship named in his honour.
Last Monday, the Bernays family and naval personnel gathered in front of the Naval and Military Museum at CFB Esquimalt to officially name the third Harry DeWolf-class vessel HMCS Max Bernays.
At the naming ceremony Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, addressed three generations of the Bernays family.
“Chief Petty Officer Bernays is a true Canadian hero who served our country with great distinction during the Second World War,” said the Minister.
CPO Bernays served as Coxswain in HMCS Assiniboine during the Battle of the Atlantic. During close range action with a German submarine U-210 on Aug. 6, 1942, he maneuvered the ship in and out of fog in an attempt to allude and ram the submarine. But a fire caused by the enemy submarine’s shells engulfed the bridge and wheelhouse. Surrounded by smoke and flames, CPO Bernays ordered two junior sailors to leave the bridge for safety. He stayed at the helm and continued to navigate Assiniboine against the U-boat for nearly 40 minutes. During that time, he completed the work of two telegraphmen, dispatching over 130 telegraph orders to the ship’s engine room.
Despite taking prolonged machine-gun and cannon fire to the bridge, Assiniboine rammed and sank U-210. There was one fatality and 13 wounded on board the warship.
The success of sinking the U-boat is attributed to the courage of CPO Bernays.
His actions earned him the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM), one of only two members of the RCN to receive the CGM during the Second World War.
As a little girl, Shannon Bernays, granddaughter of CPO Bernays, didn’t start to comprehend the entirety of her grandfather’s legacy until she began to do her own research as an adult, reading
stories and piecing together the facts.
“It really hits home now,” she says. “I’ve told my own children the story over the years, and we’ve come down to the base just to look at the Bernays building.”
The Bernays family considers themselves to be a naval family at heart. Max Bernays was overheard saying he believed the navy ran in his blood, says Shannon.
Her father, Max Bernays Junior, carried on his father’s legacy by joining the navy as a young man.
“I just wish my dad and grandfather were here today to see the ship’s naming,” said Shannon. “But I know they are watching, and they must be so proud and honoured.”
In 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that six of the new Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships would be named in honour of prominent Canadian heroes who served with the highest distinction and conspicuous gallantry in the navy.
The lead ship was named HMCS Harry DeWolf, with the class known as the Harry DeWolf Class. The second ship was also named for a Victoria resident – HMCS Margaret Brooke.
The Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships will be employed by the navy to conduct sovereignty and surveillance operations in Canadian waters on all three coasts, including the Arctic.
Construction on the warships, being built by Irving Shipbuilding Inc., is set to begin in the fall of this year. The contract,valued at $2.6 billion (taxes included) will mark the start of the construction phase under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.
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