HMCS Barrie on convoy duty, and characteristically bobbing like a cork in a heavy swell.
Early in World War Two, the German submarine threat was again strong, as it had been in WWI, and the lifeline from North America to Britain was in jeopardy. With the United States neutral, a condition that continued for over two years until December of 1941, it was up to the British Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy to keep the sea-lanes safe. Joseph Schull writes, "The decision was taken to build a new type of vessel in Canada, specially designed for escort work with the convoys". The idea for the vessel had come from the whaling ship. Whales, it had been observed, had characteristics in common with the submarine. They could surface suddenly and make off at high speed. When they dived they turned very quickly under water, and the ships, which pursued them, had to be able to turn as quickly. They frequented stormy and inhospitable waters and the ships of the hunters had to be seaworthy. Moreover, whaling ships were comparatively cheap and simple to build.
"Small, squat, ugly children"
As the plans for its building took shape this new type of vessel was given the class-name of 'corvette'. It was decided that each individual corvette should be named for a Canadian city, as each destroyer was named for a Canadian river, and it was a happy decision. Canada was to build other and better ships before the war ended. Frigates would come from her shipyards, almost as large as her present destroyers. She would build new destroyers more powerful than any she now possessed, and send them to sea wearing the names of her Indian tribes. But no ships would leave a prouder memory than her hundred and twenty corvettes, those small squat, ugly children of the whaling ship, which were to jog on, year in, year out, by the side of the crawling convoys.
The Enemy - Type 7 U-Boat
Torpedoes: 14 Speed: 17 knots (7 knots. submerged) Crew: 44
German U-boats sank 5150 merchant ships in WWII, mostly in the North and South Atlantic. In addition they sank numerous Allied warships, some of them Canadian. Canadian corvettes and destroyers sank a total of 27 U-boats in WWII. Another 25 U-boats were sunk by Canadian aircraft, for a total of 52 confirmed destroyed by Canadian arms. Canadian ships and aircraft got 'shared kills' in the destruction of many more.
HMS Bluebell was completed on 19 th July 1940, built by Flemming & Ferguson of Paisley. She was allocated to Western Approaches and based at Rosyth.
In 1940 she was engaged in escort duties, rescuing many torpedoed seamen from ships in convoy from Canada to the UK, and in November 1940 she joined the 5 th Escort Group based in Liverpool. In July 1941 she sailed to Gibraltar and returned to the UK escorting the famous Breconshire. In August she was re-allocated to the 37 th Escort Group, again based in Liverpool, operating to and from Gibraltar. In December she was involved in the sinking of U-208.
March 1942 saw her earn a well-deserved refit and on 12 th September she was part of a seventy-five strong escort group taking a forty-ship convoy, PQ18 and QP15 to and from Russia. Thirteen merchant ships along with the destroyer Somali and the minesweeper Leda were lost, but with the help of air-cover, supplied by escort carriers and the Russian Air Force, forty of the attacking aircraft along with two of the U-Boats were destroyed. She was also used as part of the escort for several convoys to and from the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel between October 1942 and February 1943. In July 1943 she acted as one of the escorts for the invasion Sicily (Operation Husky) and returned to the UK in November, rejoining Western Approaches.
After a refit in early 1944 she was again on the Russian route, but in April joined in the preparations for the D-Day landings (Operation Overlord). In February 1945 she sailed in convoy JW64 as part of the close escort group from Greenock to Murmansk in Russia. On the return journey with convoy RA64 they met a large pack of U-Boats waiting at the entrance to the Kola Inlet in the Barents Sea. On the 17 th February, Bluebell (Lt H G Walker RN) was torpedoed by U-711 (Kapitanleutnant Hans Lange) and immediately blew up; there was only one survivor. This gallant little ship had acted as part of the close escort group to many of the Arctic convoys, enduring the harshest of weather conditions and all that the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine could throw at it. Surely a cruel twist of fate, to be sunk on the return of the last but one Russian convoy, before the end of hostilities in Europe. Outward-bound convoys were PQ18, JW53, JW57, JW58, JW 59 and JW 64. Homeward bound QP18, RA57, RA58, RA59 and last of all RA64.
This ship was built by Davie Shipbuilding Lauzon, Quebec. She was ordered by the British Navy and on completion was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy and used for convoy escort in the North Atlantic. HMCS SNOWBERRY was commissioned at Quebec City on November 26, 1940. HMCS SNOWBERRY arrived at Halifax on December 13 for further work and sailed February 9, 1941, with convoy HX.108 for the U.K. There she completed fitting out at Greenock, completing April 3, and worked up at Tobermory before joining Western Approaches Command, Greenock, in May. She left Aultbea early in June to join convoy OB.332, arriving at Halifax on June 23 to join Newfoundland Command. From July to October she made three round trips to Iceland, and on December 8 arrived at Charleston, S.C., for six weeks’ refit. On February 12, 1942, she left St. John’s to escort SC.69 to Londonderry. In March she joined the newly formed WLEF shifting in June to Halifax Tanker Escort Force for one round trip to Trinidad and two round trips to Aruba with tanker convoys. In September she was placed under U.S. control, escorting New York-Guantanamo convoys until March 1943, when she arrived at Charleston, S.C., for refit, including fo'csle extension. On completion in mid-May, and after workups at Pictou, she joined the newly established EG 5 (later EG 6) and returned to U.K. waters in August. While serving with this support force on November 20, 1943, as escort to a U.K./Gibraltar/Freetown convoy, she took part in the sinking of U 536 north of the Azores. When the group replaced its corvettes with frigates in March 1944, Snowberry proceeded to Baltimore, MD, for five weeks’ refit, afterward returning to Halifax. She went to Bermuda to work up in July, and on returning was briefly assigned to WLEF but left St. John’s in mid-September for the U.K. There she joined Portsmouth Command for the balance of the war. She was handed back to the RN at Rosyth on June 8, 1945, and used the following year as a target ship off Portsmouth. Her remains were broken up in 1947 at Thornaby-on-Tees.
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