Veteran Stories:
Liam Dwyer

Navy

  • Survivors of the HMCS Esquimalt disembarking from HMCS Sarnia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 16, 1945.
    Faces of War: Lt. Richard G. Arless / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-157021.

    Faces of War: Lt. Richard G. Arless / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-157021
  • Survivors of HMCS Esquimalt disembarking from HMCS Sarnia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 16, 1945.
    Faces of War: Lt. Richard G. Arless / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-157033.

    Faces of War: Lt. Richard G. Arless / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-157033
  • Insert to a DVD of Liam Dwyer's presentation, "The Last 12 Hours of HMCS Esquimalt."

    Liam Dwyer
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"This story is about young Canadian men who gave their lives in the final weeks of the Second World War at the doorstep to Canada."

Transcript

What I’ve done, I was a petty officer onboard the [HMCS] Sarnia [minesweeper]. I wrote this story, but I did it in the fictional mode. World War II began in September 1939, [and] ended in Europe in May 1945. This is the account of 12 hours of that war. This story is about young Canadian men who gave their lives in the final weeks of the Second World War at the doorstep to Canada. It’s a true story of the last Royal Canadian Navy ship sunk by the German Navy. The action took place five miles off Chebucto Head near the mouth of Halifax Harbour on 16 April 1945. The approaches to Halifax Harbour were divided into four patrol triangle sectors. The point of the triangle was at the mouth of the harbour. The base extended between the navigation buoys and Halifax No. 6 Light Ship [a permanently moored beacon vessel]. On the morning of 16 April, [the HMCS] Esquimalt [minesweeper] was patrolling sector four while the minesweeper, HMCS Sarnia, was patrolling sector one. At approximately 4:00 am, Esquimalt made a positive contact, which the watch believed to be a submarine near Halifax No. 6 Light Ship. Action stations were sounded and the Esquimalt swept the area, unable to confirm the exact location of the contact. Shortly after 6:15, the crew of the U-[Uboat] 190 [German submarine] pick up the sound of propellers approaching from the stern. Esquimalt was on a heading of 260 degrees to meet Sarnia at “C” Buoy to sweep for a convoy out of Halifax at 8:00 am. [Lieutenant Hans-Edwin] Reith raised a periscope and saw a ship coming straight at him. He ordered the stern tubes open and fired one Gant [GE7es] acoustic [T5 Zaunkönig medium range] torpedo [aimed via sonar], set to home in on the sound of Esquimalt’s propellers. The U-190 felt the concussion of the explosion and heard the sound of a sinking ship. This was the first kill of the patrol for a German crew impatient for action. The [Port] War Signals Station in Halifax had contacted the Esquimalt only moments before the torpedo struck, attempting again at 7:41 on several frequencies, but got no answer. This information, which might have saved many of the Esquimalt’s crew was not reported to the officer of the watch until 10:20 am. It was nearly four hours after the Esquimalt went down that search action was finally initiated. Meanwhile, the HMCS Sarnia was at “C” Buoy waiting the 8:00 am rendezvous with Esquimalt. Her captain, Lieutenant Robert Douty, signaled the commander of the port of Halifax and was instructed to remain at “C” Buoy until further orders. Dowdy suspected the worst and advised the port commander that he was going to operate independently to look for the Esquimalt. Nearly six hours after the Esquimalt went down, bridge lookouts on the Sarnia spotted a life raft near Halifax No. 6 Light Ship. Halifax No. 6 dispatched a lifeboat to the raft where Frank Smith and Jack Ware with 11 others had been paddling. Five in the raft were barely alive. When Sarnia came alongside, Ware pointed to three rafts, 2,500 yards to the southeast. Thirteen bodies were placed on the boat deck for an officer and Howard Finkbeiner [the Sarnia’s medic] to make identification where possible. They had their faces covered and their bodies wrapped in blankets. In Halifax, Barrington Street, above the naval dockyard, was black with onlookers when the Sarnia tied up at 6:30 pm. No. 5 Jetty was lined with ambulances and white-coated attendants. They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old. That the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember, we will remember.
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