Veteran Stories:
Joseph Armand Chiasson

Navy

  • Identity card delivered to Joseph Armand Chiasson while he was serving in the Royal Canadian Navy.

  • Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Haida.

  • Corvette HMCS Hepatica.

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"I launched six depth charges all alone. That was a huge feat! (Laughs) In my opinion, we succeeded because the captain admitted to me that they weren't picking up the sonar anymore. “He went down,” that meant that it sunk to the bottom. We hit it."

Transcript

My name is Joseph Armand Chiasson, born on August 31, 1920 in Lamèque, New Brunswick, near (the island of) Miscou, that's where I was raised. I left there when I was 17 years old. I joined the marines in 1939 in Saint John (New Brunswick) and then after that they told me to wait, that they would call me when they needed me. It wasn't like in the army. In the army, they look guys and sent them in. As for us, they kept us and when there was a space, they called us.

There were five of us, there were two in the air force, one boy and one girl at home, and two in the army. I didn't want to be like the others. It's as simple as that (laughs). Also, I liked sailing. During my vacation, I sailed, and I was very interested in it.

When it came out of the water (the German submarine) to launch its torpedoes, all of its superstructure was above water. When I saw it for the first time and reported it, I had only seen the periscope. It had risen above the water line. It was leaving. It was about 400 feet away from us. I reported it the captain and he said, “Keep your sharp eyes on it.” The captain wanted help. I didn't let it leave my eyesight. When the torpedo breached the water, I thought it was a telephone pole. That they were doing it to scare us. That was the first idea I had. They raised it at a 45 degree angle. And when they told us that it/he was launching a submarine. On top of that, there was a secret inside. There were jets every four or five inches on the torpedo. They released jets of air and that's how the torpedo was being propelled. It wasn't going fast. The torpedo crossed behind, to my side, at about five or six feet. It was moving at about 35 or 40 miles per hour. If I'd had a broom in my hands, I would have been able to brush it as it went by. After that is when I launched my depth charges. We passed above where the submarine was. We went around three times. I launched my depth charges and they pumped water up each time one dropped, up to two at a time. It sprayed water up to a hundred feet in the air and maybe more.

I was alone in the back (of the destroyer). I was all alone. I didn't understand. I didn't understand at all how it came to be that I was all alone. I will tell you why. I was a wheel man. So how did it come to be that I was there? I remember that I was replacing a missing marine. I had replaced him. I was doing my hour at the wheel and my hour on the bridge to replace him. So that's why I was all alone in the back. So how did it come to be that I was all alone? I guess that the captain had his head in his hands after that. Were you all alone? I said: “Yes!”. (The captain:) “You were good.” There were two guys who wanted to throw me overboard. They had two little military badges on their shirts in the shape of cannons. They were allowed to launch the depth charges but not me. They were cross and extremely stressed. They wanted to throw me overboard. They said to me, “Say your last prayer.”

As for me, I launched six depth charges from the rails at the back. We had throwers, as we called them, on each side; they were depth charges on a rack. So when he pulled the rope, it lit the depth charge and it took off with the foot, the support and everything went along with it into the water. Depending on the charge of cordite we put underneath it. That determined the distance at which the torpedo would be launched. That's how we measured it. It was indicated in centimetres.

Usually, there were eleven men. I was all alone. The captain nodded his head during a tremor. “You were all alone?” Yes, I told him (laughs). So when he heard the guys yelling that they wanted to throw me overboard, he took off running and came to see me. He said: “If you touch that man...He did the right thing,” he said, “He saved all of our lives. So if you touch that man, you'll have to deal with me.” That shut them up and then they disappeared. (Laughs)

I launched six depth charges all alone. That was a huge feat! (Laughs) In my opinion, we succeeded because the captain admitted to me that they weren't picking up the sonar anymore. “He went down,” that meant that it sunk to the bottom. We hit it.

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