Veteran Stories:
William Thomas “Bill” Heaslip

Navy

  • View from the bow of HMCS Ville de Quebec, somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, 1943.

    Bill Heaslip
  • The ship's company of HMCS Ville de Quebec give a cheers for inspecting officers (gathered on the right), including Field Marshall Sir John Dill (in army uniform) and Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, in Algiers, French North Africa, January 1943.

    Bill Heaslip
  • As Group Radar Officer for the Royal Canadian Navy corvettes in the Mediterranean Sea, Electrical Lieutenant Bill Heaslip used this dory (pictured here in Gibraltar in 1943) to transfer from ship to ship throughout the 1942-1943 period he served in the area.

    Bill Heaslip
  • Orders drafting Sub-Lieutenant Bill Heaslip, Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR), for service in HMS Queen Elizabeth, November 22, 1941.

    Bill Heaslip
  • "HMCS Ville de Quebec In Action," a short article about the ramming and sinking of U-224 by Ville de Quebec in the Mediterranean Sea on January 13, 1943.

    Bill Heaslip
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"You could look down over the side and you could see the submarine rolling underneath our ship. It disappeared for a few seconds and then it suddenly came nose up, and went straight down."

Transcript

Then came the period of waiting for your assignment. Mine came along and it was to a battleship, the [HMS] Queen Elizabeth, which was stationed in Alexandria, Egypt. I had to wait then for a convoy or transport down to that area. In those days [December 1941], the Mediterranean was closed, you could not get through, so it was a case of going around Africa to get there.

After six weeks, from the time of leaving England, with a stop at Sierra Leone, three stops in South Africa, a stop in Tanzania and a stop at Yemen, we finally ended up at the top end of the Red Sea, at Suez, and that was the end of the six week trip. It was then over to Alexandria where I’d join the ship, but under rather unusual circumstances because during that six weeks that I was travelling, the Italians had sent in two one-man submarines into Alex and they put mines on two battleships. They sank them both, the Queen Elizabeth being one of them. Now, Alex Harbour is very shallow, so the ships only dropped down about three or four feet and sat on the bottom. I did actually join the ship that had been sunk, which is a little bit unusual, and then found out I had been posted to a group of Canadian corvettes [lightly armed escort vessels] which were going to go down to Africa, again, as part of the North African invasion, the Operation Torch.

I went there as the group radar officer for the six ships, I think it was, that were involved in the Canadian group. And our duties, of course, were to serve as anti-submarine escorts. We were based, after stops in Gibraltar and Oran, we were based in Algiers. We made a number of convoy trips from there, including one down to Tunisia, where for the first time, we had air cover because we had been complaining about lack of air cover. We were rejoicing in this fact when we saw the airplanes, but we rejoiced too soon because they happened to be German airplanes rather than ours. While the rest of the escort groups knew about this, knew who they were, we poor Canadians didn’t know any better and ended up getting shot up a wee bit.

But we [HMCS Ville de Quebec] got our own back a little bit later. It was on January the [13th], I think it was, we were escorting a convoy and got a submarine ASDIC [a form of underwater sound propagation] contact. Did the usual thing of dropping a series of depth charges [anti-submarine weapons] and then expected to do the usual thing of going back and doing it again and again, and again, but this time, it was different. After the first drop of charges, the submarine [the German U-boat, U-224] came to the surface. We’d got it right on the nose.

Of course, all of the gun stations were manned. We turned to attack with our [QF] 4" [MK XVI] Gun, only to find that it wouldn’t work. The breach mechanism was faulty… The German submarine, it was a German submarine, were out starting to man their gun. The decision was made to ram the submarine, which was done. It was a rather awesome sight really because we hit the submarine just between the conning tower [also known as the control tower] and the gun; and from where I was standing, which was in the starboard wing of the bridge, you could look down over the side and you could see the submarine rolling underneath our ship. It disappeared for a few seconds and then it suddenly came nose up, and went straight down. Only one person got off the submarine. So we were damaged, of course, by the impact of our ramming, but not seriously, but we proceeded then back to base at Algiers and people decided what was going to be done about us. We were not really in a position to be an active escort.

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