Veteran Stories:
Philip George Bissell


  • P. Bissell as Able Seaman, 1945.

    Philip G. Bissell
  • Lieutenant-Commander P. Bissell in charge of Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Ontario, 1965.

    Philip G. Bissell
  • Commander P. Bissell at end of his naval service, 1977.

    Philip G. Bissell
  • HMCS Sioux in Korean waters. Photograph taken by Alan Wallace White, aboard HMAS Sydney III, the Australian aircraft carrier, some time beween August 1951 and February 1952. Australian War Memorial Collections Database.

    Australian War Memorial Collections Database
  • 40mm Boffin anti-aircraft gun, HMCS Sioux. Library and Archives Canada.

    Library and Archives Canada
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"Our first shot was a big hit right in the middle of this factory, which was where they were assembling all their trains. 'Wow,' he said, 'fire for effect.'"


After her [HMCS Sioux] first trip, that’s when I joined in early May of 1951. We sailed, it didn’t take long, one stop in Hawaii and then we went into Sasebo in Japan. And so this is my introduction to the war in Korea. Our Gunnery Officer, who was in charge of me and the rest, was returned to Canada and I don’t know whether it was domestic or what caused that. But I was made the Gunnery Officer at that point. I then became responsible for all the people and all of the guns onboard Sioux, including the smaller ones. I was also responsible for looking after the storage of weaponry and all the ammunition and the use of it and ordering of it and stuff like that.

We had a special radar in all of our Canadian destroyers, called Sperry. And this is a very, very accurate radar, three-centimetre radar that’s on us, compared to all other radars, including the British ships even. But the fact that we had that, this was almost a perfect map when you looked at it and we were able to go into very dangerous water because of the currents and depths of water that the other ships could not do. It’s too dangerous.

And every time you, all day long, you were guarding a carrier. It could have been British, a U.S.A. carrier maybe, or also Australia had a brand new aircraft carrier called the [HMAS] Sydney. It didn’t matter which one that went to the Yellow Sea, that, your job in the daytime was to protect that carrier with our guns. The threat of submarine always existed.

But because we had this radar, as soon as it got dark, in those days, all flying stopped, so we were sent in to bombard the Korean coast as ordered, depending where we went. But we used to go right up to the top of North Korea. But most of the time was in the south, trying to stop the enemy, which was North Koreans and Chinese, from island hopping from one island to another. So that was a standard procedure. And as soon as it became dawn, we would leave the shooting bit and come down back into the Yellow Sea and with the carrier.

So in that time, we shot off 5,700 rounds of 4.7 inch guns. We had two guns forward. When we got back to Canada, I knew our barrels were really worn out because we could hear, towards our time fighting and using our 4.7 guns, the shells that departed would make a noise, a fluttering noise, as they flew away. And by the time we got back to Canada, our nice brand new barrels of 4.7, now 4.9 inch, it would shoot back at us.

We had a very successful run on the east coast to shell, there’s a place called Wonsan. We would have to anchor because we were going to shoot at a target at approximately 15,000 yards and it was the first opportunity we ever had in the whole time I was in the Korean War to have an aircraft spot for us. I had the gunnery people do a lot of - I got them all together and said, “This is our only chance to show off.” I said, “I know we shoot at a lot of trains,” I said, “but this one’s doing it, we’re trying to blow up this whole operation, big rail centre called Wonsan.” And so they all made, checked everything and I said, “I want everybody to be on their toes ‘cause I’m going to be controlling from the [Gun] Director [post on a ship that controls the ship’s main armament].” And I said, “I want everybody to perform.”

Aircraft arrived on time, I ordered one shot, that first shot, to find out what, have we got the range, and the bearing, of our target right. As a result of that, our first shot was a big hit right in the middle of this factory, which was where they were assembling all their trains. “Wow,” he [the spotter in the aircraft] said, “fire for effect,” - so that meant shooting off about 10 quickly 4.7s which wiped out a train that was there and wiped out the rest of that building. And he said, “Well,” he said, “you’re right on, nothing, change nothing,” and I forget how many rounds we fired in there but, that caused a great loss to them because that was the main routing of all their military armament, the North Koreans. And so that was a very successful operation.

That was more interesting because we were getting live results, which we never had before, because we didn’t have anybody looking to see whether we were hitting things. We were just disturbing people.

One of the things was to, to make the Chinese and the North Koreans tired. We knew where they were roughly and just banging away at guns, at specific distances, caused them not to sleep. And that made a difference. Sometimes we were the mother ship for small units, small boats. They would come and join us and then we would guide them out in the dark. And then when they got near where we wanted them, we would tell them to standby and we would light up the sky with star shell [type of flare to provide night-time illumination] and they were right very close to the Chinese trying to wade across from island to island when the tide was out. So they had a 40-millimetre gun and as soon as our star shell set off, they could see them, so they would shoot them up. That happened about four times and we always put an officer onboard that had radio contact in English.

In the course of our duties there, we got a typhoon warning and as it happened, we had just got in from one of our patrols, while we were shooting up people, and it was up to the Commanding Officers [of warships] whether they wished to leave Sasebo harbour and get out in the open waters, or stay there. But one thing was it, that was a big Japanese naval base, where battleships and carriers and you know, big, big - and berthing buoys were extremely heavy duty and would hold anything, even in a typhoon.

However, the carrier that was in the harbour was, the one I mentioned before from Australia, it was the Sydney. And the captain was frightened to stay there because it might blow them ashore. So he had - it’s his choice. But they wouldn’t let him go out of the harbour without destroyer escort. Our chummy ship [allied warship paired up with the Sioux for carrier escort] was a ship that we had more fun with than any other. In order to keep that ship into the wind, I often had to use 10 knots of power, but it was a terrible thing. No one was allowed on the upper deck of course because they’d just be wiped out. But we had taken the problem or the start of the - we had depth charges in the stern of the ship in rails, two rails, the depth charges, they were all set to safe, fortunately. And because, believe it or not, there’s a gate at the high end, like it’s a railroad downhill and you open the front gate, they all roll out. But it was so strong, it tore out the upper gate and they all came out backwards, uphill, and we scattered them all over the ocean. Fortunately, they were all set to safe.

In the meantime, it smashed our only powered boat and not only did it smash them, it knocked down the davits that held them. It smashed our other boat and wiped out all the lifesaving rafts we had, all of them, 100 percent. It also bent our steel chip [instrument measuring a ship’s speed]. Even one of my guns, it has a special steel made to guard as, what they call a ship’s gun shielding, it bent that so that the gun wouldn’t elevate because it was being pinched by the curve. So it tore off our sonar system completely, the one that hangs underneath the ship, and it destroyed all kinds of things.

So we went back to Sasebo after the wind died. The carrier at that time was brand new pretty well, this is the Sydney, and the one of the waves lifted and bent her whole front end, flat flight deck, on the carrier, you know, and bent it up like a nice big ski. That was the end of them, they had to go back to Sydney, in Australia.

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