Veteran Stories:
Ron Lewis “Sparks; Red; Rhino” Rhine

Navy

  • Portrait of Mr. Rhine in uniform in Calgary at Christmas-time in 1945.

    Ron Lewis Rhine
  • Portrait of the group with which Mr. Rhine trained in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec in 1944.

    Ron Lewis Rhine
  • Formal dress hat for a sailor.

    Ron Lewis Rhine
  • Authorization document to form the 19th and 65th Canadian MTB flotillas.

    Ron Lewis Rhine
  • Ron Rhine in Kelowna, October 2009

    Memory Project
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"And that created problems for the Germans because they didn’t know where to fire at us. If they missed us, they might hit their own boats and their own men."

Transcript

Everybody knows about the battle of Atlantic I think, going from North America to Liverpool. But they don’t know what I call the second battle of the Atlantic, which is those convoys that went up past Greenland and Iceland and then across northern Scotland and down the east coast of British Isles. Those convoys were being severely damaged by German boats.

When the war started, First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, commanded the home fleet to blockade all the ports from which the German battleships could get out. And for six years, they did that, night and day. The Germans didn’t dare bring out the big ships. Admiral Dönitz and Hitler got the idea that they had to stop these convoys going down the east coast of Britain, because if they could do that, they could starve out London, who depended entirely upon the food they got on the convoys and plus, they got tanks and airplanes and airmen and all kinds of steel and whatnot, supplies. But it was the food that was really important to them.

Dönitz figured if he could starve out London, then the British would surrender and they’d win the war. In order to interfere with the convoys, he decided to produce steel motor torpedo boats and motor gun boats, supplied diesel motors and heavy armament and torpedoes. And that those were to destroy the convoys. When they first set his Schnellboots [German torpedo boats] and Raumboots [German minesweepers] against the convoys, the east coast of England became a graveyard for freighters and for some escorts.

Churchill decided, when he saw what was happening, to send out potential designs for torpedo boats and gun boats to all the small boat builders in England and pretty near every creek or river had some people that were building wooden boats. Churchill didn’t have the steel but he did have access to laminated mahogany plywood. So they were to build the boats out of this plywood. And they didn’t have diesel motors, because you knew they’d have to be fast. He had them equipped with the Rolls Royce 12-cylinder aircraft engines that were water-cooled. And the little boats, MTBs [Motor Torpedo Boats], 72 feet long, had three of these motors supercharged. Instead of 1,250 horsepower, they each produced 1,500 horsepower. And the bigger boats who had a lot more armament and four torpedoes instead of two, he put four super marine motors in, to drive them. They could go roughly 60 miles an hour in terms of modern English - well, now that’s not so modern anymore, is it?

They produced them very rapidly and their job was to stop the German Schnellboots and Raumboots from getting to the convoys. If they couldn’t stop them, at least damage them seriously when they were trying to get away. And that’s what they did.

Yeah, I had a little radio shack room which was I think five feet by six feet. And six feet high. And was by myself. And that, that is not a situation that I would recommend to anybody. Because you’re all by yourself and it’s, I don’t know, it’s nice to have some company when you’re in battle. And we had firefights almost every night until right near the end of the war. We never used proper names or rank because some of the fellows that raced against Germans in yacht races before the war, if they knew who was on the boats fighting them, they might be able to anticipate the likely tactics. So besides that, if you saw an enemy boat, you didn’t want to say, Lieutenant-Commander Kirkpatrick, 30 degrees to port, there’s an enemy. It was a lot easier to say, Kirk, 30 degrees to port, enemy ships. And you got the message through in a hurry.

When Enigma [German encryption machine] came on, when the captain on Enigma, they could read the German signals. And we would be sent to a location say some map reference, it might be RS16, and we went there and shot down just the radio, the radar and the sonar operator on our boat. And probably five or six guys and an officer stayed on duty, the rest could relax, sleep, drink coffee, smoke, play cards or whatever, until the enemy got near. And then they were called to action and when they got within a short distance, suddenly started up the motors and we would race down between their boats, right alongside them, sometimes 20 feet from them. And that created problems for the Germans because they didn’t know where to fire at us. If they missed us, they might hit their own boats and their own men.

So we had the advantage of surprise and as we went by, they used to drop depth charges under the stern or the side or in the front of the bow of the enemy boats or ships. And they did more damage with depth charges than we ever did with torpedoes. It was pretty effective. Our two flotillas had 493 guys and we had a 38 percent casualty rate. Forty-two guys killed, 17 missing in action and 126 who were so wounded, mentally or physically, that they couldn’t continue on motor torpedo boats, many of them had to be sent home to hospitals in Canada. Some were patched up and went back to convoy duty in the Atlantic, which they shouldn’t have done because they weren’t- well, they were mentally shot. Ridiculous to do it but they did put them back on ships.

As the telegrapher on the lead boat, I had to go ashore and take injured people up to the hospital and 5-11 [field hospital in Belgium] and bring back anybody that was repaired and ready to go to work. And then I had to go to the port authorities and get the signals for the next night, a number of other things. Anyway, I went ashore and we had a Jeep that we’d resurrected. And before I got to it, a doorway opened and a guy grabbed me and hauled me in and I had a glass of cognac and he said, the war’s over. And I didn’t know that. And I got out of there and I went not, I don’t think 50 feet and another door opened and I had another cognac, I remember that and I don’t remember a thing for three days. I lost it completely. It’s one of the few times I ever got drunk.

So our boats were decommissioned on May the 16th and very quickly, we were put on trains to Greenock, Scotland, the Manning Depot at HMCS Niobe And I think we were there about two days and we were supposed to march down to the, the wharf in Greenock, which was a mile and a half. It was anything but a march. The guys were all over the place. The girlfriends were there and there was skylarking and whatnot. They’re going home. It was a shambles. But as we entered the dockyard gates, a band in there struck up ‘the Maple Leaf For Ever’ and it was just like a bullwhip had been snapped. The guys fell into the ranks perfectly, marched through that gate. You couldn’t have been prouder of anything if you had paid for it.

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