Canadian submariners during the Second World War


Brian Lapierre, Volunteer – Naval Museum of Halifax ~

Did you know that Canadians played a significant role in the Submarine Service during the Second World War?

Between the First World War and the Second World War, Canada only commissioned two H-Class submarines: CH14 and CH15. They served for a short period of time in the 1920s and were paid off in 1922 and scrapped in 1927.

Although Canada did not have any submarines during the Second World War, Canadians continued to serve in the Submarine Service. Up until 1939, trained submariners served with the Royal Navy in their Submarine Service. An accurate count has been hard to determine but around 34 Canadians served in Royal Navy submarines while Canadian officers would command 15 British submarines. Service in the Submarine Service was harsh and hazardous whether you served in the British home waters, the Far East, the Mediterranean, Caribbean, or in the North Atlantic.

Dealing with the U-Boat menace in itself was challenging and many a submarine was sunk on both sides. Submarines were sunk on all corners of the oceans throughout the world and many to this day have never been found.

Author Julie Ferguson has written a fascinating history of Canada’s Submarine Service in Through a Canadian Periscope: The Story of the Canadian Submarine Service, and subsequently Deeply Canadian: New Submarines for a New Millennium.

Her descriptions, whether describing ocean-going submarines, the midget submarines, or X-Craft and the men who served in them, depict the many challenges and dangers associated with their operations. They served with determination and skill and a few did so with gallantry. A handful lost their lives. Everyone is remembered on the Honour Roll of the Canadian Submarine Service in Halifax.

One of the officers in the Submarine Service during the Second World War was Fred Sherwood. He joined the The Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1933 and was one of the first Canadians to go overseas to serve with the Royal Navy. He served in various Royal Navy submarines during the war. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1942 while serving in HMS P211 (Safari) as 1st Lieutenant.

In December 1942 to March 1943 he took the Commanding Officers Qualifying Course and on completion was in command of HMS P556 and later HMS Spiteful. It was there that he was awarded the Bar to his Distinguished Service Cross. You can read more about Fred Sherwood’s career in his book It’s Not the Ships … My War Years. The book is available at the Naval Museum of Halifax.

In 1945, the Royal Canadian Navy took over two surrendered German U-boats – U-889 and U-190. U-889 was transferred to the United States Navy early in 1946 after supporting equipment trials by the RCN. U-190 lasted until October 1947 when, due to her deteriorating state, she was sunk as a target off Halifax near the spot where she had sunk HMCS Esquimalt in April 1945.

After the Second World War and the sinking of U-190, Canadians continued to serve in submarines with the Royal Navy around the world and some eventually with the US Navy to augment the training requirement when Canada acquired the USS Burrfish and renamed it HMCS Grilse. Acquiring HMCS Grilse in 1961 began the long career of having submarines again and a Submarine Force as we know it today.


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