Remembering HMCS Esquimalt


Base Public Affairs

While Canada and the world grapple with COVID-19, a solemn reminder of a past globe-spanning struggle that bonds the Royal Canadian Navy and the Township of Esquimalt took place last week.

Last Thursday, April 16, marked the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMCS Esquimalt and the loss of 44 sailors near Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Bangor-class minesweeper succumbed to a torpedo launched by a German U-Boat and became the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during both the Battle of the Atlantic and the Second World War.  

The usual ceremony commemorating the attack, traditionally held at a memorial cairn in the Township of Esquimalt, could not be held this year, so Captain (Navy) Sam Sader, Base Commander, took the time to remember the courage and sacrifice of the ship’s crew. He visited the memorial on the anniversary to lay a wreath on behalf of CFB Esquimalt.

“The loss of HMCS Esquimalt in many ways marked the end of the longest campaign of both the Second World War and the Royal Canadian Navy,” said Capt(N) Sader. “The enemy may have won that day but it was the surviving crew of Esquimalt, this country, and the Allies who ultimately triumphed.”

The sinking of HMCS Esquimalt and the subsequent ordeal endured by the survivors in the frigid approaches to Halifax Harbour serves as a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit. 

When the German submarine U-190’s torpedo struck Esquimalt on its starboard quarter, it lost power instantly, preventing any distress signal, and sunk in less than four minutes. As the crew scrambled out to carley floats, most were lightly clothed.

Due to the lack of a distress signal and miscommunication, survivors spent six hours, within sight of Halifax, awaited rescuing. Many perished from exposure in the freezing water. Of the 71 men on board, 27 survived after being rescued by HMCS Sarnia.

“It is hard to imagine what it was like for those sailors, freezing and yet so close to shore and home, wondering when they could expect rescue,” said Capt(N) Sader. “I felt that it was important to take a few moments to remember their sacrifice, even if it couldn’t be done in our traditional way.

Nazi Germany surrendered in early May 1945, ending the Battle of the Atlantic and what some historians have called ‘the longest, largest and most complex’ naval campaign in history.

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