"If you can picture, 70 to 80 ships steaming in formation, one behind the other, maybe there’d be five or six ships deep."
The ship itself that I was on was HMCS Peterborough. A corvette [convoy escort vessel] such as the Peterborough, our maximum speed with all the eggbeaters [propellers] out and so on, we could do 15 knots, 16, but that was about it, depending on the conditions of the sea at the time.
On the basis of that, we did our escorting, but the convoy itself was moving in a zig-zag form to make certain that the [German] submarine wolf packs [mass attack tactic] were not able to get into the big block of maybe 50 to 70 or 80 ships in a convoy. And they were loaded down, as you can imagine, going in an easterly direction. They were always loaded down and they couldn’t go very fast themselves. But they could certainly make progress, but it used to take us about three to three and a half weeks maybe from the time we left St. John’s, Newfoundland until we arrived at Derry [Northern Ireland].
We did our escort, our zig-zag course on the fringe of the convoy, on the port side. There was another corvette on the other side of the convoy itself. If you can picture, 70 to 80 ships steaming in formation, one behind the other, maybe there’d be five or six ships deep. And there might be anywhere from five miles to maybe even a little bit more than that, from one side of the convoy to the other. I would say that the best weapon we had was to try and fool the enemy and not letting them know exactly which way we’re going, in constantly zig-zagging.
We were constantly in touch with either Halifax signal station or Greenock [Scotland], depending on our transfer from one side of the ocean to the other. I mean, specifically, from Newfoundland to Londonderry, Ireland. But there’s a mid-zone in the North Atlantic when in fact, the signals that we were copying all the time, and you might visualize that 90 percent of them were, in fact, coded messages. We never knew which ones were for us on the regular transmission of all of this information that was constantly on the signal, at least on the radio.
I had to copy every message that we had, complete, and I would hand it to a coder who was sitting beside me in the wireless cabin. He would decipher the header or the heading of who was the message for, what ship or ships are supposed to take action on this particular message. And on the basis of that, if it wasn’t for us, that is our escort group, which by the way was numbered C6, that was our escort group. And if it wasn’t for C6, then the coder would put it in the wastebasket and at the end of the watch, I would have to dispose of those signals that were not passed up to the bridge.
I was very proud to, and I think I opened up our conversation by saying that I gave the [Royal Canadian] Sea Cadets [Corps] full credit for moving me into their line of fire rather than one of the other services. And I think that it was a character-builder and we certainly, as I mentioned earlier, we worked hard and we played hard.