Corvettes Canada: Convoy Veterans of WWII Tell Their True Stories

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Wiley, Aug 25, 2008 - History - 272 pages
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The Canadian escort group C 2 was comprised of the RCN destroyers Gatineau and Chaudiere, the frigate St. Catharines, the Corvettes Chilliwack and Fennel, and the RN destroyer Icarus. these six and the RN corvette Kenilworth castle combined to sing U-744 in the North Atlantic in a prolonged drama on March 5 and 6, 1944. At 32 hours, this the second-longest successful hunt of the war.

Chilliwack able seaman Ralph Chartrand recalls the action:

When the sub started to surface, everything that could shoot went into action and we fired all we could. While the crew of U-744 was jumping out of the conning tower, St. Catharines was closing in, but our captain outmanoeuvred Chilliwack in front to make sure that this was our sub. He gave the order "Prepare to ram," but soon the sub was empty, so we didn't ram. We lowered a lifeboat with a boarding party and they proceeded to U-744. While the lifeboat was tied to the sub, some members boarded the sub. then a big wave hit our lifeboat and flipped the crew into the water with the German Sailors. We took 17 prisoners on board.

It was almost a major coup. Three lifeboats reached the Type VII C boat. German code books and the cypher machine were seized, but all three seaboats capsized in the rough sea and only one book was saved. All the Canadians were picked up. So, too, were 40 Germans. Icarus then dispatched the unsalable U-744 with a torpedo. Eleven Germans died, including the captain.

Praise for Corvettes Canada.

"It was the ubiquitous corvette, built in Canada, manned by volunteers and often as not based in a Canadian or Newfoundland port, that carried the burden of our Atlantic war...and few wartime sailors escaped at least some time aboard them.

"For the most part, their experiences have gone unrecorded--especially those of the lower deck--and time will soon erase what the enemy and the sea itself could not. Fortunately, Mac Johnston has salvaged the experiences of 250 of these fast-departing corvette veterans, and has drawn their story together into a superb collective memoir of the Atlantic war.

"Johnston has woven these memories...and the history of the wartime RCN into a tight fabric, one that is both entertaining and extremely valuable. If you have never read anything on the Canadian navy's part in the Battle of the Atlantic, start with this one; if you've read everything that's already available, you will find this one a gem." --Marc Milner, University of New Brunswick 

"I like your presentation. It's right from the horse's mouth so to speak. It is so authentic, I say it is a classic. It's as true a story as can be told. Corvette men who read your book, contributors or not, will marvel at your format and will live again the tortures of the Atlantic, the friendship of shipmates, the action stations alarm bell and the roar of depth changes...

"Your book proves that these Corvette men were tough to stand the day-to-day tensions, rough seas, dangers and the boredom that was part of their sea life. You have done a wonderful story." -- Leo McVarish, HMCS Alberni, Winnipeg, Man. 

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About the author (2008)

Mac Johnston has recently retired from his post as Editor and General Manager of Legion Magazine. He has travelled extensively to Canadian battle sites, war cemeteries and memorials around the world. Mac is well regarded and well connected in the universe of the Canadian military. He is a former parliamentary reporter and past member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. He resides in Ottawa.

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