The story of HMCS Thiepval

HMCS Thiepval

Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) divers retrieve unexploded ordnance from the site of HMCS Thiepval sinking.

Dear Lookout Editor,

I read your “From the Archives’ feature on HMCS Thiepval, written by Clare Sharpe in Lookout Vol 68, #5, with great interest.

The history of this intrepid HMC ship is storied and worth revisiting time and again as it remains a prominent part of our West Coast military history. Some may not know the propeller from the ill-fated Stuart-MacLaren expedition, recovered by HMCS Thiepval, is on display on the bottom floor of the Naden Wardroom. Additionally, as HMCS Thiepval foundered on that uncharted rock in what is now aptly named Thiepval Channel in the Broken Group, her crew salvaged her deck gun onto what is now also aptly named Turret Island and can be viewed on display in front of the Ucluelet town hall.

Why do I have such an interest in this particular shipwreck, you might ask? Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an omission in Clare’s otherwise excellent recounting of Thiepval’s story.

In 2012, the wreck of the Thiepval was taken on the charge of the Department of National Defence as an “Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Legacy Site”. This classification is given to former DND/CAF-owned establishments on which there are still explosive remnants of war – usually decommissioned ranges and proving grounds. Naturally, DND takes these sites to remediate them before returning them to local governments. As Thiepval sank in 1930 whilst on patrol (as Clare points out, most likely to dissuade smugglers), she sank with a whole load of ammunition. Since the wreck is sufficiently remote, this wasn’t an issue until 2012, when the wreck became encompassed in the Pacific Rim National Park. The wreck came under additional scrutiny in 2016 when it became a popular recreational diving site, and further pressure was subsequently applied to DND to clean up the site. Normally, DND contracts commercial UXO remediation companies to do this sort of work, but due to the complex nature of this particular task, it landed on my desk.

I was then the Mine Counter-measures Officer at the Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific), and along with an expert team of 16 Clearance Divers and Sailors from FDU(P), we embarked on the journey to remediate the wreck site. In June of 2017, we spent a week aboard the Diving Tender Sooke anchored in Thiepval Channel, working, with Clearance Divers ashore in Ucluelet, supported by local RCMP, Parks Canada, local governments and the Toquaht First Nation, to remediate the wreck site and make it safe for all park users and recreational divers to enjoy for many years to come.

What we thought would be a quick job turned out to be more complicated than we expected.

Diving on the largely collapsed 87-year-old wreck proved complex, and we found Thiepval’s magazine still largely full of aging and volatile ordnance. The team worked tirelessly and ended up recovering and destroying over 200 rounds of ammunition. In the end, the job was rewarding, and the team left satisfied that we could bring a positive conclusion to the story of the Thiepval.

When recounting the story of the Thiepval, it may be worth adding an addendum to acknowledge the efforts of the stalwart FDU(P) Clearance Divers, who will forever be tied to the history of this ship.

Lt(N) Sebastian Harper, MA, CD
Operations Officer
HMCS Vancouver

HMCS Thiepval

Ordnance from HMCS Thiepval was safely destroyed after the clean-up.

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