Veteran Stories:
Gerald “Gerry” Wilkes

Navy

  • Gerald Wilkes holding a Sten submachinegun while guarding prisoners taken after sinking U-877 in December of 1944.

    Gerald Wilkes
  • Gerald Wilkes (right), armed with a Sten submachinegun guarding prisoners with a shipmate (left) armed with a Bren light machinegun.

    Gerald Wilkes
  • Officers and Petty Officers of HMCS St. Thomas during a Christmas celebration, December 1944.

    Gerald Wilkes
  • Sailors aboard HMCS St. Thomas enjoy beer and turkey for Christmas, December 1944.

    Gerald Wilkes
  • Crew of German U-boat U-877 sunk by HMCS St. Thomas.

    Navl Museum Quebec
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"I can still visually see this submarine still on the surface, black, ugly. All submarines are ugly. And there it was, it was on the surface. And we were out of range but we turned and we were heading directly for it to ram her."

Transcript

Gerald Wilkes, Able Seaman, Royal Canadian Navy, HMCS St. Thomas

HMCS St. Thomas and its armaments

Our ship was a Castle Class corvette. She was a little over a thousand tons. It was a modern corvette and we were more comfortable than the early ones. We were better armed, we had better ASDIC, better radar, ASDIC being now known as sonar [a system using sonic waves to navigate, communicate with, or detect other vessels]. We carried Squid, which was a mortar firing forward. It fired 300-pound bombs forward. It went off on contact but it also had depth settings on it directly from the radar sets. And it was the brand new weapon at the time, was very secret and we were kind of proud of it, to have this special weapon.

Onboard HMCS St. Thomas during the sinking of the German submarine U-877

In December [1944], after our Christmas celebration, we sailed from Newfoundland and when we got to, we were about two days out, yeah, it was the 27th of December, we ran across a submarine who had blundered into the convoy. As far as I know, it was heading towards North America with the view to broadcasting weather reports, probably for the Battle of the Bulge or that was the intent.

We had attacked many things before that, schools of fish, wrecks. We never knew, we got these ASDIC contacts but we had fired depth charges and Squid, all kinds of things and never got a submarine. So when this particular action stations was called, we were out in the middle of the Atlantic, we didn’t know what it was but we were ready to go and it could be a submarine.

Well, it wasn’t until landed on the surface, my action station happened to be a twin Oerlikon high angle gun for anti-aircraft primarily and it fired a 20mm explosive shell. But we were out of range but I can still visually see this submarine still on the surface, black, ugly. All submarines are ugly. And there it was, it was on the surface. And we were out of range but we turned and we were heading directly for it to ram her. Our main gun was started to fire but they missed it and before we got there, it sank. And then there were all these people in the water and these little, they weren’t even boats, they were sort of floats. And they were clinging to them and our captain stopped the ship and we pulled them aboard. As far as I know, there was never any question of not picking them up. The HMCS Sea Cliff came in and picked the rest of them up but to have sunk a submarine after all these years and times they cross miserably, and seeing nothing and doing nothing but sure, you were protecting ships but you had never seen anything you’re protecting it from, but having got a submarine, we were in heaven. And cheers would go up around the ship for days after, all of a sudden, a bunch of guys would cheer the fact we got a submarine, it was quite amazing.

And there were a lot of other submarines sunk but there were a lot of ships that never sank a submarine or had any action with a submarine. So we were very pleased to not only have sunk it but to have proof that we sank it, which is always, we had 50 guys basically to prove that we sank the submarine.

Recounting the rescue of the German crew of U-877

The whole crew got off the submarine and between our ship and the HMCS Sea Cliff, we picked up the whole crew. There was nobody killed, there was one man slightly injured where he hit his head when he came out of the hatch. And I forget how many, there were about 55 I think in the total submarine crew and we had about 30 of them. We fed them the same as we were getting, they were onboard for New Years and we happened to have chicken and ice cream and they got chicken and ice cream. And we thought they must, we were going from Newfoundland to Britain. So we took them and we put them off on Gourock, Scotland, where they were taken ashore by a great guard of people with rifles and bayonets. And we’d had them aboard, they’d become almost friendly. In fact, our first lieutenant and their first lieutenant became friends and were friends after the war.

Gerald Wilkes, Able Seaman, Royal Canadian Navy, HMCS St. Thomas, The Memory Project

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