Battle of the North Atlantic was close to home

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The Battle of the St. Lawrence involved a number of submarine actions around the lower St. Lawrence River and the entire Gulf down as far as the Strait of Belle Isle.

During this time German U-boats sank a total of 44 ships in Canadian waters. They attacked seven convoys, sank 20 merchantmen, a loaded troopship, and two Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) warships. One of these warships was the corvette HMCS Shawinigan.

The most tragic sinking as far as domestic impact was concerned, was the sinking of the Sydney to Port aux Basques passenger ferry SS Caribou by U Boat-69 on the night of October 13/14, 1942. Escorting the Caribou on this trip was the RCN minesweeper, HMCS Grandmere. Of the 237 people aboard the Caribou when she left North Sydney, 136 had perished, including 10 children. Fifty seven were military personnel and 49 were civilians. Of the 46-man Newfoundland crew, only 15 remained.

As bodies were recovered, the burials started. The Channel/Port aux Basques area was the worst hit as many crewmembers of the Caribou were local men. 21 were loss in total. A funeral on October 18 for six victims was attended by hundreds of mourners, and a procession that followed the bodies to the grave sites reportedly measured two kilometres long. The Burgeo took over the Caribou's former route after the sinking.

For this reason the citizens of Channel and Port Aux Basques can sympathise with another tragic loss close to our shore - the 91 lives lost on the HMCS Shawinigan. On November 24, 1944, she was attacked and sank by a German U-Boat.

Shawinigan and the US Coast Guard cutter Sassafras were ordered to escort the ferry Burgeo from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques. Since the tragic loss of the ferry Caribou, ferries on this route were always escorted. The three ships made an uneventful crossing to Port aux Basques on November 24, at which time Shawinigan detached to continue antisubmarine patrols in the area. She was scheduled to rendezvous with the Burgeo the following morning for the return to Cape Breton. But the corvette never made it.

Around midnight, the German U-boat 1228 spotted the Shawinigan and a torpedo was fired. Four minutes later the ship disappeared in a plume of water and a shower of sparks. She sunk, with all hands lost.â¨â¨ HMCS Shawinigan was one of the Canadian warships lost with all hands. Her final resting place is just offshore within sight of Channel Head Lighthouse.

Organizations: The Channel, US Coast Guard

Geographic location: Port aux Basques, North Atlantic, Shawinigan Sydney Nova Scotia Cape Breton

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