Thursday, May 30, 2013

Submarine Follies--Elsewhere

The popular press loves to jump on the bandwagon and kick the Victoria-class Canadian submarines when they are down--and that happens far too often, I must admit.
HMCS Victoria
 From the time they first appeared in Halifax from England, where they had been allowed to deteriorate in salt water for years, the Victoria, Corner Brook, Windsor and Chicoutimi have had chequered careers. Indeed, Victoria suffered a fatality at sea and has only relatively recently become a reliable member of the fleet. But the Victorias are potent seagoing Canadian assets. For a glimpse of the potential effectiveness and usefulness of the boats, see an earlier posting, here, dealing with a live torpedo firing by Victoria.
Related stories have appeared at times regarding the difficulties and inevitable delays when new construction of ships is undertaken. Thus we see periodic reminders about the ongoing letting of contracts to build naval ships on the east and west coasts. Be that as it may, Canadian ship constructors can wipe their furrowed brows in relief when they see how bad things could be. Here is a story about a Spanish submarine that the most devil-may-care submariner would hesitate to board.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Another Soldier of the Horse

It has been fascinating to hear from people whose forefathers shared many of the experiences as did my father, as described in  "Soldier of the Horse".
Most recently, I have heard from Rick Wetmore, an American whose grandfather David Lee Wetmore served with "A" Squadron, Royal Canadian Dragoons, at the Battle of Moreuil Wood. Trooper Wetmore was one of the lucky surviviors of that hard-fought engagement, although he was wounded later on.
Rick thinks the accompanying photo was taken on Salisbury Plain during training.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Canadian Naval History, courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada

HMCS Bonaventure
Thanks to a mention in the newsletter of a naval organization, I saw a reference to a 1960 National Film Board movie. Fifty-eight minutes in length, An Enduring Tradition presents in a remarkably cogent fashion the history of the Royal Canadian Navy up to 1960. Aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines, minesweepers, auxilliaries: they are all there.
RCN names to conjure with: Charles Kingsmill, Walter Hose, Harry DeWolf, and many others. "Heart of Oak" and "Roll Along Wavy Navy". Shiploads full of inherited memories, and real ones, diminished by time, stirred up.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

HMCS Ojibwa, the first--and last--of her line.

 HMCS Ojibwa was the first of Canada's O-boats, built as all three of them were in Her Majesty's Dockyard in Chatham, England. OJ was launched in 1964, commissioned on 23 September 1965, and served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 33 years. Rescued in the nick of time from the breakers' yard, she was towed to Port Burwell, Ontario, where she is slated to be the star attraction in that town's naval museum. For more about the museum, click here.
Normally operating with a crew of 68, the Ojibwa set a sterling example for her sisters to follow. She spent most of her operational life in the Atlantic, with two brief deployments to the RCN's Pacific Command.

In the top photo, Ojibwa is at sea, displaying her earlier sonar on the bow as fitted out when she was built. At right, she comes ashore in Port Burwell, her entire hull visible.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Facta Non Verba: A History of the Fort Garry Horse"

In an earlier post, I mentioned attending the museum of the Fort Garry Horse, the militia regiment garrisoned in Winnipeg. During a visit to the FGH museum our guide was Chief Warrant Officer Gordon T. Crossley, one of the authors of "Facta Non Verba". CWO Crossley's coauthor is Michael R. McNorgan, an armoured corps veteran and a well-published historian. Between them they have written a lively, colourful account of a proud regiment.
I have been interested in the regiment for some years, as it was one of the three regiments in the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in the Great War, and part of the milieu for my novel, "Soldier of the Horse". The chapter on the Great War is excellent, as are the others, covering as they do the regiment's origins, its participation in the two world wars, the cold war, and the modern era.
 Also included are nominal rolls from early days onward, which will be of particular interest to families of veterans, and honours awarded to personnel and the regiment itself.
"Facta Non Verba" is an excellent, easy read, with a plethora of maps, photos, and diagrams. It is highly recommended for anyone interested in Canadian history, the Fort Garrys, and the evolution of this proud regiment.
The book is available through the Fort Garry Horse Kit Shop.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Royal Navy Submarine Museum HMS Alliance

The Royal Navy's only remaining World War II vintage submarine, HMSAlliance, is reunited with her periscopes. The boat is high and dry alongside Haslar Creek, near Gosport, England, her home base for many years. Alliance is now a museum piece, slated for opening to the public in 2014. A good year for submariners, especially Canadian ones, given 2014 is the centenary of submarines in Canada.
The photo is courtesy of the RN Submarine Museum. For more on the Alliance look here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Fort Garry Horse Museum

 The Museum of the Fort Garry Horse is a historical gem in Winnipeg, located in the third floor of the McGregor Armoury at 551 Machray Avenue. One of the dedicated people most responsible for the exhibits is Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Crossley (photo left), who also wears the hat of Area Reserve Sergeant Major, Land Force Western Area. Gordon was good enough to show me and a friend, artist John Smeulders, around recently.
The visit was particularly poignant for John, who was a boy in Holland when the Fort Garry Horse liberated the area. John was able to identify with many of the objects displayed that were momentos of the Garry's time in Holland.
In the photo at right, CWO Crossley is explaining a finer point of the FGH time in France in the Great War, including action at the Battle of Moreuil Wood along with the rest of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier John Seely.
Gordon Crossley is a co-author with Michael McNorgan of "Facta Non Verba", A History of the Fort Garry Horse. The History is a gorgeous and useful book. It is available through the FGH Museum and McNally Robinson.
A future item will deal with "Facta Non Verba" in more detail. In the meantime, kudos to the FGH museum and its personnel.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Battle of the Atlantic marked at HMCS Discovery

Dr Boutelier (left) accepts "Soldier of the Horse"
HMCS Discovery, along with the Naval Officers Association of British Columbia, marked the Battle of the Atlantic with a mess dinner on May 4th. Keynote speaker was Dr James Boutilier, historian and author, who is Special Advisor ( Policy) to Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters in Esquimalt.
Dr Boutilier spoke about the sacrifices made by the Allies as well as enemy submariners in the Atlantic in World War II. He noted the continued threat to the free world by proliferating submarine fleets in the Pacific today.
Dr Boutilier was presented with a copy of Soldier of the Horse by the author, whose brother and sister both served in the RCN during the Battle of the Atlantic. (Photo courtesy Mary Horton)

Monday, May 6, 2013


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Friday, May 3, 2013

World War II's Longest Fight--The Battle of the Atlantic

Officers on the bridge.jpg
The bridge of a British escort

The Battle of the Atlantic ran from the outbreak of World War II in 1939 until the German surrender in 1945. It pitted the Germans on one side against primarily the British and Canadian navies on the other. At stake was the blockade of German ports by the Allies, and the blockade by the Germans of shipping to the UK and Russia. It was a near-run thing for the Allies, with the balance of success shifting one way or the other with technical advances often a determining factor. Radar, air cover, and code-breaking all played a part in the Allied victory.
But at the heart of the victory were the merchantmen running the deadly U-boat wolfpacks, escorted by the little ships of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Navy.
There are fewer survivors of the longest battle of the war still with us every year. This weekend is dedicated to them. Church ceremonies, dinners, naval and Legion observances are the order of the day. Please attend, or spare a thought for the men and women who defended us all through those dark days. (photo courtesy Wikipedia)