The Story Of MICMAC And The Collision With SS Yarmouth
by JIM LISTER
with enhancements by Jerry Proc
(Reproduced with permission)
Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Micmac was commissioned at Halifax, Nova Scotia on 18 September 1945, with Lieutenant Commander RL. Hennessy, DSC, RCN, in command. She was the first Tribal Class destroyer to be built in Canada - a sister ship to Iroquois, Haida and Huron, which had all been built in the United Kingdom. One other Tribal, HMCS Athabaskan, had been lost in World War Two. Three other Tribals later joined the fleet; Nootka, Cayuga and Athabaskan (2). On 28 March 1947 Commander J.C. Littler took command of the $8 million Micmac, which had just completed her first refit in the Halifax shipyards.
HMCS Micmac shortly after her commissioning. (Photo courtesy of the Naval Museum of Manitoba)
Of the crew, although many were new recruits, quite a few on board were veterans who had served during the war. Most of the senior ratings were permanent force (RCN) or volunteer reserve (RCNVR), the latter having signed on to serve until September 1947, but the majority were post-war (RCN) and still under training. On the morning of Wednesday, 16 July 1947, Micmac left the Halifax dockyard to carry out full power trials to seaward of Sambro Light vessel. By noon, she had completed these trials and was turning toward harbour. The weather was clear, with visibility of about six miles. A note on weather conditions is important.
In the summer, along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, the fog creeps in from the sea in the evening and with the rising of the sun in the morning, the fog begins to burn off. As there was no fog, Micmac was moving along at some 25 knots, but as she turned towards harbour a wisp of fog was sighted about four miles ahead. Commander Littler decided to work down to a more reasonable speed as quickly as possible and ordered revolutions reduced accordingly. He asked for and received radar ranges and bearing of Sambro Light vessel, as well as Sambro Island. They were plotted on the chart and Micmac's course was altered 20 degrees to starboard. The time was 12:51 pm. What was earlier thought to be a wisp, turned out to be a solid bank of fog.
Just as he gave the order to reduce speed, Commander Littler sighted a freighter. Collision was inevitable. Realizing the ship was still turning to starboard, but had not settled on the new course - way had been taken off and she had altered some 15° - Littler ordered "hard a'starboard" with "engines full a'stern" in hopes that the Micmac would escape with no more than a glancing blow. It all happened so quickly that the final orders and the collision happened at the same time. From the moment the freighter was sighted, Commander Littler had time to give only two orders: "hard a'starboard" and then "full a'stern both engines." The logical third and fourth orders, namely "clear mess decks" and "one short blast on the whistle" were never made.
The bluff bow of the Yarmouth County hit Micmac just aft of the port anchor. With hard a'starboard on, Micmac was heeling outwards (to port) considerably, possibly affecting the seriousness of the damage to the ship's structure. Those on Micmac's bridge remember the huge bow of the freighter passing overhead and the impact. Others, away from the bridge, mentioned just "a bump" and feeling as though the ship had suddenly gone a'stern. There was no apparent rebound. Contact lasted just seconds, but the damage was considerable to the ship's frame above and below the waterline, and both the forward and aft upper mess decks on the port side were smashed in. The force of the blow pushed " A" mounting right over, her guns pointing outward and upward into "B" guns flare, with one of the loading trays punching a hole in the shipwright shop. Just a'stern of the mounting, the two elevating arcs of "A" gun were stripped of their teeth like a cob of corn. Forty five feet of the bow had been destroyed.
The damage done to Micmac, at this critical time with most hands at lunch in the for'd mess deck, was tragic. The port side from the bow to # 8 mess was torn out. Lockers, tables, benches, stanchions, large pieces of sheet steel, wiring, piping and bodies were all smashed. Some men died instantly, some were lost through the side of the ship, and others were pinned and badly injured.
One young civilian shipyard worker, believed to be on the upper deck and last seen on the foc'sl, was lost. He may have seen what was coming. It is believed he was thrown over the side on impact. Back on the mess deck, scalding steam from the capstan connection was escaping and hampering rescue efforts. With the ship's side plates gone, the deckhead near the paint locker had no support and was partly collapsed, so that when one entered the for'd mess deck from the starboard, the piping and valves where the capstan had been, were facing you. The ship's side was leaning inwards forward of #8 mess, blocking access to the dead and injured. Timbers were brought out and used to force the broken plating and other gear over the side, giving access to the people buried in the rubble. The dead were put in hammocks and laid aft by "Y" gun's mounting. There were many injured and those that could be moved were carried aft.
The port anchor cable had run out completely, along with the slips so the ship was in fact at anchor by the cable, now on the bottom. HMCS Haida had been dispatched to assist Micmac and pick up any survivors. As Haida approached, smoke could be seen pouring from her funnel. She had flashed up her boilers from cold, hence the smoke. Also, a tug had been sent in case a tow was required. The chief stoker from the tug cut Micmac's hanging anchor cable with an acetylene torch and freed the ship. She slowly returned to Halifax under her own power. The crew of the Yarmouth County, like that of the Micmac, had been at lunch. Those on her bridge had seen what had happened, but when others came on deck, not being able to see Micmac in the fog, they were amazed to discover the port head of Micmac's capstan imbedded in their ship's side like a burr. Several of her sailors were thrown on impact, but none appeared to be injured. She circled around, but could not see the destroyer in the fog. Messages were exchanged between the two ships by wireless, concerning damage to their respective ships. Yarmouth County also returned to port at a reduced speed.
The Aftermath: Micmac at anchor in Halifax Harbour following her collision with SS Yarmouth County near Sambro Island on July 16, 1947. Forty five feet of the bow had been destroyed. (Photo courtesy Jim Lister)
At first, there was some doubt if Micmac could be repaired, but it was soon decided that she could. It was a number of years before Micmac was commissioned again. Ever after, if one was to look at her from straight ahead, a difference could be seen down the port side. She remained a training and weapons-trial ship - the only Tribal never to fire a shot in anger. Micmac's damaged keel also prevented her from going to Korea. At a subsequent inquiry, a medical officer who had been sent out in Haida reported that the preliminary first aid was excellent. Upon return to harbour, all the injured were sent ashore, the least injured first, to clear the decks of patients who did not need much attention, thus simplifying the removal of the more seriously injured. It was also reported to the inquiry that after the initial desire to get free of the mess decks, which couldn't have lasted more than 15 seconds on any man's part, the crew's conduct was exemplary. There was never any panic, undue shouting or hysterics. Crewmen did as they were told immediately and kept clear of the mess decks unless required. For every emergency job that was necessary that day, there were always hands ready to go anywhere and to do anything. Upon docking at "0" jetty in Halifax dockyard, a roll call was held to determine who was missing. Ten ratings and a civilian employee were killed and another 15 injured.
At the end of 1963, Micmac was declared surplus and on 31 March 1964, she was sold. She was broken up at Faslane, Scotland, in 1965. Who, or what, was to blame? Commander Littler had to face the usual inquiry, of course, but went on to further promotion and command. There were reports of a fault in the radar, but that came out after the inquiry. I just hope that those who died or were injured that day, will never be forgotten.
Jim Lister, ex-RCN 5347-H
333 Woodmount Ave.
ACTON, LS Joseph William John 4458-H, of Halifax, NS.
APPLEYARD, AB Richard Alan 5734-H, of Hamilton, ON.
MILLER, AB Lorne Harley V-32747 RCNVR, of Montreal, PQ.
STEPHEN, AB Samuel Stewart 4075-H of Dartmouth, NS.
WARD, LS Howard Hartnell 3658-H of London, ON, interred Dorchester
Union Cemetery, ON.
CARTER, Robert Henry, OS; 6031-H of Brookfield NS.
BAKER, John; Able Seaman
GRAHAM, Samuel; Able Seaman
(1) Although not listed in the above Board of Inquiry Minutes, they are listed in the newspapers as injured.
* On the day of the collision, MICMAC had a crew of 178 plus
Littler, John Caldecott - M.I.D, idc, (born Hartford, Cheshire UK 11/08/1910). Cadet in Cunard Brocklebank Training Ship 1927-30, British Merchant Service 1930-32. With Jardine Matheson Line 1933, Chief Officer (Qualified as Master Mariner) 1936. He came to Canada to join the RCNVR from Hong Kong for Second World War service, LT (Temp.) RCNR 21/11/1940, Brandon 1940, A/LCDR (Temp) RCNR 1941, Brandon (In command) 1941, Stadacona as Sea Training Commander (Pictou and St. Margaret's Bay) 1943, LCDR (Temp.) RCNR 01/07/1943, Acadia (In command) 1943, HMS Belfast on Staff of Squadron Navigating Officer 1944, Uganda as Navigating Officer 1945, (Transferred to RCN), LCDR RCN, Stadacona for Navigation School as Officer-in-Charge 1946, Huron (In command) 1947, Micmac (In command) 1947, CDR RCN 01/07/1947, Naden for RCN Barracks Esquimalt as Reserve Training Commander 1948, Stadacona as Executive Officer 1950, Crescent (In command) 1951, CAPT RCN 01/01/1953, Stadacona as Chief of Staff to Flag Officer Atlantic Coast and Commander Canadian Atlantic 1953, Imperial Defence College (London UK) for Course 1956, Ontario (In command) 1957, CMDRE (WHA) RCN 1958, Bytown on Attachment to the Joint Staff as Co-ordinator 1958, NHQ as Chief of Staff (Naval Reserve Divisions) 1961, Retired 1962.
From: Canada's Admirals and Commodores
Starting as Fort Astoria, this vessel was West Coast Shipyards Hull No. 123, launched on May 21, 1943. T. L. Blair took command at the builders yard in July 1943. Victory ships were derived from
the 'North Sands' type, so called as they conformed to original British working drawings supplied by the North Sands shipyard of J. L.Thompson & Sons, Sunderland. Overall, the Canadian-built ships differed little from similar British-built vessels. The ships were designed with a deadweight of 9,300 tons, but subsequently all ships of this size were referred to as 10,000 tonners as the war-time regulations allowed deeper loading.
The port bow of Yarmouth County was ripped 40 feet but no one was injured. (Newspaper photo via Jim Lister)
HISTORY OF THE SHIP
Tonnage: 7,189 grt, 9,300 tons deadweight but loaded to 10,000 tons as permitted by wartime regulations.
Dimensions: Length: 441.5 feet. Beam: 57.2 feet
Builders: West Coast Shipbuilders Ltd., Vancouver
Delivery Date: July, 1943
Owners: Dominion of Canada, Counties Ship Management Company for Ministry of War Transport.
1946: Acadia Overseas Freighters Ltd., Halifax, renamed YARMOUTH COUNTY.
1948: Panama owners, renamed SANTA DESPO (call sign HOLU).
1955: Liberian owners, renamed MOUNT ITHOME (call sign ELVT).
1967: Broken up Santander, Spain.
Ref: Fort Ships of WW II http://fortships.tripod.com