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1944: 91 die in sinking of HMCS Shawinigan

The Story

On the morning of Nov. 24, 1944 the crew of HMCS Shawinigan headed into Newfoundland's Cabot Strait to patrol the waters and protect passenger ferries from deadly U-boats. But by day's end, the small, sleek ship would itself become a target, torpedoed by its underwater enemy and losing its entire crew at sea. In this CBC-TV clip, a Shawinigan crewmember who was fortunate enough to be on sick leave, reflects on that tragic day.

Medium: Television
Program: Canada Now
Broadcast Date: May 22, 1996
Guest: Tom Simpson
Reporter: Kim Kristy
Duration: 1:33

Did You know?

• HMCS Shawinigan, a Second World War corvette, was designed to patrol domestic waters left vulnerable after the Canadian navy's larger warships were sent overseas.

• In the summer of 1944, the Shawinigan began protecting passenger ferries which sailed in the Cabot Strait between Sydney, N.S. and Port Aux Basques, Nfld. Unlike other domestic war efforts, the crew aboard corvettes faced death at every turn. By war's end 24 Canadian ships, and more than 200 Allied ships, were sunk by U-boats in North American waters.

• Modeled on whaling ships, the wartime corvettes were smaller and slower than traditional warships but boasted more maneuverability. In fact, they were the only Allied ships that were able to out turn U-boats.

• The Shawinigan was commissioned on Sept. 19, 1941 in Quebec City. After nearly two years spent escorting ships across the Atlantic and Bermuda, it returned to Canada. In June 1944, it began escort duties in the Maritimes.

• Along with a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, the Shawinigan was ordered to protect the passage of the passenger ferry "Burgeo". On Nov. 24, 1944, the evening crossing from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland was uneventful and the ships returned to their regular patrols.

• Around midnight, German U-boat U-1228 was exiting the St. Lawrence after being ordered to return home. Before it reached the Atlantic Ocean, its Captain spotted the Shawinigan and a torpedo was fired. Four minutes later the ship was sunk, with all hands lost.

• The reporter in this clip says 100 crewmembers died in the tragedy. In fact, the ship's crew numbered 91. All died.

• German U-boats (or "Unterseebooten") first appeared in Canadian waters during the First World War. During the summer of 1918 they prowled the waters off Halifax laying mines and attacking ships, eventually sinking 12.

• U-boats returned to Canadian waters during the Second World War. Their first organized attack, dubbed Operation Drumbeat, began in January 1942. In less than four months the submarines had sunk 198 Allied ships.

• U-1228 was one of six U-boats which managed to infiltrate the St. Lawrence River through the Cabot Strait. Some of these vessels managed to travel as far inshore as Rimouski, Quebec.

• The Shawinigan was one of three Canadian warships sunk in this region of the St. Lawrence. HMCS Raccoon and HMCS Charlottetown were also lost.

• This region was particularly prone to U-boat attacks. In October 1942, a U-boat sunk the a ferry called the SS Caribou, killing 137 passengers and crew.

• German U-boats were able to land men on Canadian shores on two occasions during the Second World War.

• In November 1942, a German spy named Werner Janowski disembarked near New Carlisle, QC. He was captured and went on to become a double agent for the RCMP.

• In June 1997, a new ship bearing the name HMCS Shawinigan was launched in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. Aline Chrétien, wife of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien - himself a native of Shawinigan, was on hand to christen the maritime defence vessel.

• Canada Post immortalized the new HMCS Shawinigan with a stamp in November 1998.




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