Educator Resources:
Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was tiny in 1939, but its expansion during the war was remarkable: 99,688 men and some 6,500 women enlisted and manned 471 fighting vessels of various types. The navy's primary task was convoy, protecting the troop and supply ships across the Atlantic Ocean. The RCN carried an increasing proportion of this burden, fighting grim battles sometimes of several days' duration with U-boat "wolfpacks." The service's vast expansion produced some growing pains; in 1943 necessary measures were taken to improve the escort vessels' technical equipment and crew training. During the war the RCN sank or shared in sinking 33 enemy submarines.

After the Atlantic Convoy Conference in Washington in March 1943, the Canadian North West Atlantic Command was established, covering the area north of New York City and west of the 47th meridian. Rear-Admiral L.W. Murray was responsible for convoys in this area, the only Canadian officer to hold a theatre command during the entire war. Apart from their main task in the Battle of the Atlantic, Canadian naval units took part in many other campaigns, including supporting the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942 and in the Normandy operations of June 1944, the RCN contributed some 110 vessels and 10,000 men.

During the war the RCN lost 24 warships, ranging from the armed yacht Raccoon, torpedoed in the St Lawrence River in September 1942, to the Tribal class destroyer Athabaskan, sunk in the English Channel in April 1944. In personnel, the navy had 2,024 fatal casualties.

For a lesson plan on the Royal Canadian Navy click here.

Source material derived from Stacey, L.P., "World War II," The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Historica-Dominion Institute, 2010. Originally accessed 12 May 2010.

  • Probationers of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) at HMCS Conestoga, Galt, Ontario, May 1943, from left to rigth: Joan Grime, Mary MacDonald and Mary Dempsey. Credit: Lt Kenneth George Fosbery / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-153499.

    Credit: Lt Kenneth George Fosbery / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-153499

  • Telegraphist graduating class in St. Hyacinthe (Quebec). Chief telegraphist James Dunn (Royal Navy) served as instructor. R. C. Nelson is on rear row, second from right. A friend, Bob Rigby (third row, second from left), was lost at sea in the sinking of HMCS St. Croix on September 22nd, 1943.

    Robert C. Nelson

  • The crew of HMCS Peterborough, the Royal Canadian Navy corvette in which Jack Coghill (on the far left of the third uppermost row, near the 4

  • In December 1944, Telegraphist Jack Coghill of HMCS Peterborough wrote to Santa Claus (care of the Fleet Mail Office, St. John's, Newfoundland) asking for

  • Madge Trull's husband, John, and a Hawker Hurricane, Kenley, England, 1943.

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