Article from The Albertan - The Newspaper at the Home, July 6, 1944.Gordon Wright
Photo of the sinking concrete caisson in the English Channel.Gordon Wright
Article from The Albertan about HMCS Swanswea, July 6, 1944.Gordon Wright
"We got into the Channel and we not only had the storms and the U-boats, we had the shore batteries, the minefields, all kinds of different things to combat. So it was a pretty hot time in there."
My name is Gordon Wright. I was born in Carstairs, Alberta, just a few miles north of Calgary. I spent my childhood there, I got my basic education there. I didn’t finish grade 12 before I went in the service. I think from the time I was about 15, I was in the reserve unit of the Calgary Tanks. And we used to parade a couple times a week, and in the summer we’d go to RCAC [Royal Canadian Armoured Corps] military camp for maneuvers.
After my spell with the army reserve and going through a lot of the things, sleeping out in the open, slugging through the mud, I thought, “God, there’s a better way than this.” So I joined the navy. I thought, “Oh boy, nice warm bed every night, and things like that.” So I joined the navy.
We were sent overseas to be part of the British Navy in what they called the new striking forces. That was troops that didn’t do really convoy, but wherever the submarines were lurking or after the convoys, we would be sent out to intercept them. Our job was not convoy, but sinking submarines. I think we spent most of our time around the U-boat bases on the French west coast, Brest, and Lorient, and La Rochelle and Saint Nazaire, Garonne River Estuary. So we were quite successful. We managed to be in on the sinking of four submarines. Two of them we got prisoners, and two of them we didn’t. And I think that was kind of sad because even though those people are your enemy, you hate to think of depth charging and blowing them to pieces and no survivors.
But anyway, from the, from the crews we did save, later on, I got to be very good friends with them. I should mention that I think it was mid-May 1944, our group, PG9, was assigned to be part of the invasion forces, and we were sent in to the English Channel. And we were blockading, and I think six weeks before D-Day there were about 250 German naval vessels in that area. So our job principally was to blockade and make sure none of them got in to the invasion area. That was a different war in the English Channel because in the Atlantic, all we had to worry about was the submarines and storms. We got into the Channel and we not only had the storms and the U-boats, we had the shore batteries, the minefields, all kinds of different things to combat. So it was a pretty hot time in there.
It was very interesting and it was quite an operation with, I think at that time, on D-Day, I think there were something like 7,000 naval vessels in the area. So it was probably one of the greatest naval operations in history. So I think the naval part of the invasion and D-Day was the principal thing for success. And we were told that if they could maintain that beach-head for 30 days, they’d be successful. So I think we didn’t get to shore for about six weeks because we had to stay in the Channel. And I think once we rushed into Falmouth [England] and got refueled and out again so, but it was quite an operation and it was nice to be part of it and nice to get through it.
We took prisoners from two submarines. The second we sunk on April 14th, U448. And when we had the prisoners onboard, we used to go back and sit with them in the evening, and I guess of them could speak some English. And so we had a great time. Anyway, many years later, I guess we were very, very kind to the prisoners we took, and we gave them cigarettes and we were very kind to them, we didn’t abuse them or anything. So many years later, back in the, I think it was about 1995, Horst Lamburg, one of the German prisoners we took, he wanted to meet some of us, so he sent an invitation to me to go to one of their reunions in Reisenbeck in Germany, not too far from Kiel.
So I went over there and first of all, I was, Horst and his wife were my host, I stayed with them in their house, just out of Cologne at Sundern. And then we drove up to Reisenbeck for the reunion and I was a little, I was a little worried how I would be treated. But I couldn’t have wanted a, a nicer group of people. They were so appreciated. Every second word, it was, thank you for saving them. And their crew said, “Well, we always have two birthdays now – April the 14th, the day you sunk us and our regular birthdays.” And they were extremely kind to us.
And then after the reunion, Horst and his wife took us up to Kiel, and we toured the U-boat museum and one of the submarines that were up there. So I got quite an education on submarines when I was up there. So it was quite nice to do that.