The Battle of the Atlantic
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Royal Canadian Navy >> 1943 - 1945

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By the end of 1942, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had already made its most active and important contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic. However, 1943 would finally see it gain and consolidate a status commensurate with its level of commitment to the Battle. At the beginning of the year, the Americans were in command in the western Atlantic but provided only 2% of transatlantic escorts to the RCN's 48%. As the RCN wanted more control and the United States Navy (USN) wished to withdraw completely from North Atlantic convoy protection, it was decided, at the Washington Atlantic Convoy Conference in March, that henceforth the RCN and the Royal Navy (RN) would escort all convoys between New York and Britain. The RCN also took charge of convoy routing, troopships and coastal shipping in its area. To strengthen its forces, most of its best ships, corvettes lent to the USN in the Caribbean and those supporting the North African landings, returned and the RN gave six veteran fleet destroyers. Canada established North-West Atlantic Command, its first independent operational command in either world war, and the RCN came into full partnership with the RN in the Atlantic theatre.

Also in 1943, the training and equipment shortcomings which had beset the RCN since its entry into the war began to be overcome. The escort groups that had borne the brunt of the campaign in mid-ocean over the last six months of 1942 had been withdrawn from the frontline early in the new year. Based in Britain between January and April 1943, a most important period of crew rest and ship repair and modernisation had taken place. In particular, the RCN personnel were able to benefit from individual and group training in all aspects of anti-submarine warfare from expert and experienced instructors. Training facilities in Canada, such as the huge base on Nova Scotia and the specialist signals school at Quebec, were improving and growing, producing skilled sailors in large numbers for the first time. Over the winter many corvettes had been updated with centrimetric radar and 20mm guns. A programme of full modernisation began in early 1943 but, because of the small capacity of east coast shipyards and shortages of materials and equipment, only 26 corvettes were completed during the year.

The four RCN escort groups returned to mid-ocean in late March and early April just as the Battle of the Atlantic was coming to a climax. The command changes agreed in Washington came into effect on 30 April. However, with its ships operating as close escorts, the RCN saw very little action in April and May for the decisive battles were mostly fought by the new escort support groups. Each RCN-escorted convoy in May was supported by an escort carrier group. With difficulty, the RCN managed to activate an escort support group of its own, composed largely of the few corvettes it possessed with the requisite range and equipment, but not until June 1943 when the crisis had passed.

Soon after the U-boats' defeat, RN ships began moving from mid-Atlantic to other theatres so that, by July 1943, the burden of close escort had shifted onto the RCN. Fortunately, its strength was gradually increasing. The first of seventy new frigates being built in Canadian shipyards was delivered in June 1943, ships properly suited for ocean-going duties unlike the small corvettes which had been in service for the last three years. In December there were sixteen available and thirty-three four months later. At the end of 1943 there were four RCN escort support groups. By the spring of 1944 the entire North Atlantic convoy route was guarded solely by RCN escorts. The campaign against the U-boat continued until the end of the war. The Germans' last success was a minesweeper sunk off Halifax on 16 April 1945. Nineteen of the thirty U-boats sunk by the RCN were accounted for after May 1943.

 

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