Telegram informing Charles Gaal's father of the death of his brother Joseph, at sea.Charles Gaal
Practice torpedo leaving the tube aboard HMCS Annapolis.Charles Gaal
The HMCS Annapolis was "always wet. The Crowsnest was no place to be," says Charles Gaal. Who spent a good deal of time in the crowsnest.Charles Gaal
Charles Gaal aboard ship.Charles Gaal
Charles Gaal aboard HMCS Chaudiére, 1944.Charles Gaal
"We had seven prisoners in the torpedoman’s mess, and they were all young kids like the rest of us. Just like looking in a mirror."
I was in Greenock [Scotland] from early September to the 14th of November. My brother, he went north to Aberdeen [Scotland], I went south to Portsmouth [England]. He picked up the, I think it was the [HMCS] Giffard, a corvette, and I went south and picked up HMCS Chaudière. And my brother’s ship was torpedoed and he was killed in action. We were lucky in that we used to hit port at the same time. The last time I saw him was in Londonderry [Northern Ireland] and his ship was sailing. And a day or two later, we went out. We came back, we were at Londonderry November the 9th and the mailman come ashore, he says, “Hey,” he says, “what ship was your brother on?” And, oh, in the meantime, he’d been changed from Giffard to the [HMCS] Chebogue. He says, “She’s been fished.” So that meant they were torpedoed. He said, “I’ll find out.”
So I got a call by the Quartermaster, he said, “Lieutenant Boyle wants to see you.” So I went back to his cabin and he said, “Sit down, Gaal.” And I knew then that my brother was dead. They towed the ship into Swansea, Port Talbot actually, but he was buried in Swansea, Wales. His body was in the wreckage and they couldn’t remove it until they got somewhere where they could really work on it. And they buried him in the Morriston cemetery just north of Swansea.
We were involved in the sinking of three U-boats: The U-744 [on March 6, 1944], off of which we had prisoners; the U-621 [on August 18, 1944], there was no prisoners, but there was some stuff came up from the boat; and the third one wasn’t confirmed until after the war when they went through the records. The ASDIC [Anti Submarine Detection Investigation Committee] as they called it then, it’s sonar today, could tell you how deep it was, and how far away from you it was. But it was always on an angle, you see, because the ship was above it. It was monotonous, you couldn’t see until something came up. You could hear the ping, it’d go pingg, pingg, if you hit something. Now, it could have been a school of fish, it could have been anything.
In the first sinking, U-744, there was a herd of us there. I was on the depth charges and every time they say, “Fire the heavy,” I fired the heavy, dropped them and they had what they called creeping attack. They’d steam very slowly, about five knots, and drop a depth charge or fire too, from the loader, from the depth charge guns, they threw them over the side. And one ship directed you with their sonar or ASDIC, as we called it then. And we just trace them that way. But the 744 was down around 900 feet and it took us 32 hours to get him up. We had seven prisoners in the torpedoman’s mess, and they were all young kids like the rest of us. Just like looking in a mirror.
Well, they became buddies. I come off watch one time, well, I had a man with a submachine gun, covered him, and they weren’t going anywhere, and I don’t know whether the gun was loaded or not. I come off watch and they’re all huddled over this table, what the hell are they looking at. They had the machine gun taken apart, showing them how it worked because they had one of the fastest firing, the Schmeiser I think it was, they had a 9 millimetre machine gun that fired faster than any other up until that time. I think it was 900 a minute - that was fast.
Quite frankly, I didn’t hate them. As a matter of fact, since the war, I admired what they went through.