Battle of the St. Lawrence

Canadian seamen raise the White Ensign over U-190 in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1945

Canadian seamen raise the White Ensign over U-190 in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1945

Summary: During the Battle of the Atlantic, the German Navy submarine attacked the Allied forces in the Atlantic sea routes, including attacks on the Canadian offshore vessels of the Allied. During 1942-1944, twenty vessels of the Allied were sunk by several German submarines in the region, including three warships. 340 people of the Allies died. Since 1812 when United States and Britain fought there, Canada has not been subjected to military attack in costal waters. While confronting German Navy’s attack, a significant expansion in the Canadian Navy occurred during World War II. To the end of the war it had 400 warships. After the defeat of Germany in 1945, the several German submarines fighting there finally surrendered to the Royal Canadian Navy.

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The Battle of the St. Lawrence (or Battle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence) is an episode of the Battle of the Atlantic that pitted from 1942 to 1944, the submarines (U-boats) of the German Admiral Karl Doenitz the Royal Canadian Navy and its allies in the river and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was the first time since 1812 that enemy ships entered in the inland waters of Canada to kill.


During the Second World War, the German submarine forces under the command of Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz attacked Allied convoys from the North America, the ravitaillaient Britain. This is what was called “The Battle of the Atlantic.”  From a strategic point of view, the Germans had decided it was more profitable to disrupt maritime traffic in the St. Lawrence, where transiting more goods than from the set of all ports east coast of Canada. Indeed, in 1939, the Port of Montreal exported more than all the other ports of the east coast met. By blocking this trade access, the Germans closed the way for 25% of freight on which depended the Allies for the invasion of Europe.

In addition, the Gulf of St. Lawrence has only two ways out: either the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and Labrador is the Cabot Strait between Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island.

Defensive preparations

In 1940, Canadian authorities decided, facing the threat of an invasion of Britain by the Wehrmacht, to transform the small port of Gaspé (Québec) naval base to accommodate ships of the Royal Navy. In a speech in March 1942, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had already announced his fears came submarine German U-boats in the Gulf and St. Lawrence River, and added to the task of the Canadian Navy escort convoys in the Atlantic protecting convoys along the Canadian coast. The Gaspé base called HMCS Fort Ramsey and was inaugurated on May 1st 1942. She had only one ship, the HMCS arraisonneur Venning of 18 meters. In addition, observation facilities were spread over the coastal shores of the Gaspé, the Lower St. Lawrence and North Shore. A military training airfield was also built in Mont-Joli (Quebec).

Summer-Fall 1942

On the night of May 11 to 12 in 1942 to 15 km north of Pointe-a-la-Frégate (Cloridorme), the U-boat U-553 assigned to the German operation Drumbeat under the command of Captain Karl Thurman attack and flows Nicoya, a British merchant who was carrying supplies from Montreal, with the loss of six crew ship. The next day off Rivière-de-la-Madeleine, he sent the background a ship chartered by the Dutch Ministry of Transportation British war, Leto, killing ten sailors.

In the days following the attacks, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) sent reinforcements to Mont-Joli and moved the 117th Squadron (Bomber-Reconnaissance), equipped with Canso and Catalina, North Sydney (Nova Scotia). A detachment was installed in Gaspé.

On July 6, the convoy QS-15 (Quebec-Sidney) is attacked by the U-132 Captain Ernst Vogelsang and saw three of his twelve ships sunk in less than thirty minutes. Both are British ships (the Dinaric and Hainaut) and the other is Greek (the Anastasios Pateras). The submarine was driven by the escort ship, the minesweeper Bangor class, HMCS Drummondville led by Lieutenant JP Fraser launched a series of grenade attacks diving. Four Curtiss Kittyhawk fighters of the 130th Squadron based in Mont-Joli launched in search of U-boats. The Chevrier Wing Commander JAJ who led the mission never returned, his camera was missing.

Captain Vogelsang and U-132 sank the British ship Frederika Lensen four merchant seamen were killed on July 20 west of Pointe-à-la-Frégate.

On July 31, the commander of the 113th Squadron Yarmouth Squadron Leader E. Norville  Small, landmark U-754 south of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia aboard the Lockheed Hudson and attack the machine gun and grenade anti-submarine with high accuracy before the submarine has have plunged. A huge underwater explosion ensues and the submarine disappears into the depths causing its 43 crew members with him. Although the sinking of U-754 to be held outside of the Gulf of St Lawrence deserves mention this event because it is the first enemy submarine sunk by a plane of Air Command of the is the RCAF.

In August, Admiral Karl Doenitz deploys three U-boats in the Strait of Belle Isle to attack convoys of materials for the construction of the U.S. air base in Goose Bay (Labrador) and those who went to Sydney Greenland. There were among others the U-517 ‘s captain Paul Hartwig  and U-165 Captain Eberhard Hoffman.

On August 27, two convoys SG-6 (Sydney Greenland) and LN-6 (Quebec-Goose Bay), entering the Strait of Belle Isle. U-517 torpedoes and sinks transport U.S. troops Chatham  which was carrying 562 passengers. Thirteen men lost their lives despite the efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard and the corvette HMCS Trail under the command of Lieutenant GS Hall. The next day, Laramie merchant ship was torpedoed and damaged by U-165 while the U-517 sank the American ship Arlyn with new marine. Both ships were part of the convoy SG-6.

In September, part of 113 Squadron Yarmouth (Nova Scotia), equipped with Hudson, is detached in Chatham (New Brunswick) to hunt submarines.

On September 3, the Laker  Donald Stewart is sunk with three of his crew members. HMCS Weyburn, a corvette commanded by Lieutenant Tom Golby attack on U-517, but without reaching. Several hours later, Digby 10th Squadron (Gander) piloted by Lieutenant JH Sanderson of the Royal Canadian Air Force threw his grenades against the submarine but without damage.

Aeas the Greek merchant ship convoy QS-33 was sunk on September 6 by the U-165. Two people died in the attack. In the night that followed, the yacht HMCS Raccoon armed who had gone in pursuit of the submarine was attacked and sank with the thirty-seven men aboard. The next day, U-517 attacked the rest of the convoy. Greek buildings and Mount Pindus Mount Taygetus sank with loss of life for both the first and five in the second. The Oaktor, a Canadian merchant ship then sank with three of his sailors.

On September 9, the closure of St Lawrence transatlantic ships is decided by the Canadian government. Seventeen corvettes leave the St. Lawrence for the invasion of North Africa. Only the coastal shipping thus continues. Always 9, Sub-Lieutenant RS Keetley of 113 Squadron attacked the submarine U-165 without major damage to it.

The U-517 sends the bottom HMCS Charlottetown, a corvette, on September 11. There were ten victims, people attending the wreck since the strike.

On September 15, the convoy SQ-36, under escort of HMS Salisbury in the Royal Navy, was attacked by U-boats U-165 and U-517. The U-165 sank the Joannis, while U-517 sent by the background Saturnus and Inger Elisabeth. Second Lieutenant RS Keetley from 113 Squadron attacked the U-517 the next day but failed to reach it.

On September 21, the minesweeper HMCS Georgian Bangor class escorting the convoy QS-38, spotted the U-517 before it has time to take her torpedoes and marched to the attack, but submarine was able to escape.

The 24 and 25 September, U-517 undergoes three aerial attacks by aircraft from 113 Squadron. Two of the attacks were directed by Lieutenant J. Bélanger. None managed to sink the submarine.

Lieutenant Bélanger again led the 113th to attack the Sept. 29 against the U-517 without results.

On October 9, the vessel sank, taking Carolus eleven crew members following the attack on U-69.

Waterton convoy BS-31 was sunk by U-106 Captain Hermann Rasch on October 11. The armed yacht HMCS Vison and aircraft of the 117th Squadron managed to force it to surface.

On October 14, the ferry SS Caribou, under the command of Captain Ben Taverner, which was flying between Sydney and Port aux Basques (Newfoundland) was sunk by U-69. Hundred and thirty-seven passengers and crew were killed in this tragedy. HMCS Grandmother, a minesweeper Bangor, commanded by Lieutenant James Cuthbert tried to reach the submarine with grenades but did not succeed. Then he came to the aid of survivors.

On November 9, a German spy was landed on the coast near Gaspé. Lieutenant von Jarnowski will almost immediately stopped the train between Gaspe and Quebec. This will be the final event of the 1942 season before the river is covered with ice only.

Season 1943

In 1943, a weather station was installed by the Germans on the coast of Labrador. It was the station Martin Bay (WFL-26).

On May 6, an escape of prisoners of war by submarine (U-262) was foiled by the authorities in the area of North Point on the Island of Prince Edward Island.

In June, the U-119 wet mines Halifax.

On September 28, new failed attempt to escape from prison, this time by the U-536 in Pointe de Maisonette (New Brunswick).

The U-220 wet mines St. John in October.

Fall 1944

In 1944, the U-boats are equipped with snorkels and can recharge their batteries diving periscope which makes them harder to spot.

On October 14, the frigate HMCS Magog is severely damaged by the U-1223 near the lighthouse at Pointe-des-Monts on the North Shore. The ship will join Quebec on its own, but will be declared a total loss upon arrival.

The U-1223 damaged the grain Fort Thompson near Matane on November 2.

The corvette HMCS Shawinigan flows with ninety-one sailors following the attack of U-1228 on November 25.

On December 24, the U-806 sank the HMCS Clayoquot, a Bangor class minesweeper.


The U-190 will run the last ship of the Battle of the St. Lawrence on April 16 near Halifax. This is the HMCS Esquimalt, a minesweeper Bangor. U-Boot will go to the Royal Canadian Navy on May 11 and will be included to the fleet in June as the HMCS U-190. It will be scuttled in 1947 on the site of the sinking of the Esquimalt.

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