HMCS Esquimalt remembered

Ralph Zbarsky, nephew of a sailor who died when HMCS Esqimalt sank

Ralph Zbarsky brought a picture of his uncle Ralph Zbarsky to the memorial ceremony. Zbarsky was one of the survivors awaiting rescue on a Carley float, but because help took so long to arrive, like many sailors, he died from hypothermia.

Veterans, serving military members, dignitaries and family of the crew of HMCS Esquimalt gathered outside Esquimalt City Hall April 16 to commemorate the sinking of the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War, and to honour the lives of the men who died.

“On April 16, 1945, HMCS Esquimalt was torpedoed at Chebucto Head, Nova Scotia. From where we are in Esquimalt this would be about the distance of Race Rocks. She was sunk within sight of home,” said Base Commander, Capt(N) Bob Auchterlonie to the crowd. “For those individuals who were there, the sinking was an experience they will never forget, and neither should we forget their sacrifice.”

The Bangor-class minesweeper operated on the Atlantic coast conducting anti-submarine patrols in the approaches to Halifax Harbour. In the early morning of April 16 it was torpedoed and sunk by U-190. The explosion knocked the power out making it impossible for the crew to send out a distress signal. It listed heavily to the starboard pushing the lifeboat underwater, but the crew managed to get four Carley floats away from the sinking ship. Within five minutes it was gone, sinking into the harbour and taking with it 28 sailors. With no distress signal to alert the mainland of their situation, the survivors spent six hours adrift in the frigid waters. Sixteen more died from exposure leaving only 27 men when help arrived.

“The last of the 27 surviving members passed away last year. Today we remember the 44 sailors who perished and celebrate the peace their sacrifice has brought us over the last 70 years,” said Capt (N) Auchterlonie.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins spoke to the crowd saying, “The bond between the ship Esquimalt, the community and township of Esquimalt stretches across our country and through the generations. Today we offer our sympathy to the friends and the relatives of the crew, and we will continue to commemorate the lives of these young men.”

Widow Cathey Meyer was the wife of stoker Monty Meyer, who survived the sinking and died in 1998.

“Over the years he told me lots of stories about the ship and the crew,” said Meyer. “When the ship sank his mom phoned me and told me that she received a telegram saying that he was safe. Being here today allows me to remember him and the other men who died.”

Ralph Zbarsky brought a photo of his uncle Ralph Zbarsky whom he was named after.

“My uncle was one of the last remaining alive, but because of the disastrous amount of time between the ship sinking and the rescue, he succumbed to hypothermia. He was 21 years old. Every year I come over from Vancouver to pay tribute to him.”

-Shelley Lipke, Staff Writer

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  1. Lynda Andrews says:

    est-ce qu’un survivant s’appelait John Phillip (Jack) Andrews. Merci mon père n’a jamais pu parler du naufrage de son bateau.

  2. Bryan E Manuel says:

    Hello, and thank you so much for keeping the memory of the Esquimalt alive and honourable. My father Terrence Manuel was the ship’s writer, and one of the 27 crew who survived the sinking. Sadly he passed away nine years ago, but left his two sons the stories, the memories and well earned pride. As I write this, a picture of my Dad sitting on a carley-float in the midst of the Atlantic waiting to be picked up by HMCS Sarnia looks down on me.
    I didn’t know that the last survivor passed away last year, but thanks to your website I am now aware. Thank you ….. ‘lest we forget’.

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