ALGONQUIN'S CREW HOME FOR LEAVE
From The Halifax Newspapers of 1944
Transcribed by Jerry Proc
Some of the best shooting ever done by the Royal Canadian Navy is recorded in the log book of HMCS Algonquin, a Fleet 'V' destroyer, whose Captain and crew were back in Halifax over the weekend just a year to the day1. after their fighting craft was commissioned on the Clyde.
Twenty one Nova Scotians and five Prince Edward Island boys were among the crew members arriving here bound for home, on leave. For some of them, it was the first step on Canadian soil since they left to take over their new ship a year ago. Knocking the German battery off the map was one of the Algonquin's D-Day chores. She was anchored just off the beach at Aubin between Cherbourg and LeHavre after blasting shore installations ahead of the first wave of attacking Canadian 3rd Division troops.
"Everything had been pretty well cleaned up along the beach," said 31 year old Lt. Cdr. Piers. "We were in close to the beach when we were given a target of three 88 mm guns about six miles ahead. "We started firing salvoes and on the third, we scored a direct hit. Those Germans must have got a hell of a surprise.
A convoy attack took place off Norway's southern tip last November. Algonquin was one of a Home Fleet flotilla of four destroyers and two cruisers and the only Canadians ship in the group. "We were sailing down just at the entrance to the Skagerrak," said Algonquin's Captain, "when we came upon an 11 ship German convoy sneaking along the coast. Our ships closed in and sank 10 of the 11 ships and drove the last one ashore. The whole thing took less than an one hour on November 22, 1944. There were 3 escorts and 8 merchant vessels. They offered practically no opposition. The three escorts were little minesweepers but they came straight for us, while the merchant ships tried to scatter. We just blasted them from the water. Even when they seemed to be all aflame, these little ships continued firing at us until they sank. We cut in between the merchant vessels and the shore to prevent them running for the beach. While we passed them, we blasted them at point-blank range. We could see them burst into flames and then blow up. It was 11.14 p.m. when we opened fire and we finished at 11.55. Let's see, that's just 41 minutes.... We had another go at them a little later for 21 minutes. Then it was all over"
During the whole year of fighting in which the Algonquin's crew travelled 54,000 miles and spent 266 out of 365 days at sea, no member suffered an injury from enemy action nor did their ship. More than once she was in range of enemy bombs and shellfire but always held luck in her favor.
It was an active year for Algonquin. For most of the time she was attached to the British Home Fleet, but she took time out for duty with the naval spearhead which shelled the Normandy beaches on D-Day and convoy work on the Murmansk route to Russia. She carried Vice Admiral Nelles, Canadian naval chief in European waters, on his first inspection tour of the beaches and brought Maj. Gen. Crerar and his headquarters staff across the channel on June 18 when they moved to France to take command of the Canadian Army in Normandy.
What is ahead for the Algonquin men lies in the lap of Navy Minister Angus L. Macdonald and his staff in Ottawa. Probably their next role will be in the Pacific where many of the crew would like to serve. If for no other reason than to get really warm after months in sub-Arctic waters.
Back from the icy road to Murmansk, the shoal-pocked waters off the Norwegian coast and the invasion beachheads of Normandy with a year of almost continuous action with the enemy to their credit, crew member of the Canadian Fleet 'V' destroyer Algonquin have reached Halifax, en route to their homes on 38 days leave.
The job ahead for the tough but youthful band of sea fighters, some of them still in their teens, is unknown but it may take them to new battle zones - perhaps in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean against the Japanese.
Headed by the Algonquin's 31 year old officer commander, Lt. Commander Desmond W. 'Debby' Piers, D.S.C., R.C.N., of Halifax, they came home a happy crew, proud of the record they and their ship had set since it was commissioned one year ago on Saturday fittingly with the name of a powerful Indian tribe which roamed the Canadian hinterland in search of its enemy 200 years ago. They were with the British Home Fleet in the spearhead of the invasion of Hitler's Europe and were picked to blast open the path for the 3rd Canadian Division in the area around st. Aubin. They were with another fleet which attacked and damaged the Nazi warship Tirpitz in Norway.
They were with a force of four destroyers and two cruisers which wiped out an 11 ship convoy endeavoring to sneak past the entrance to the Skagerrak on its way home to Germany. They helped guard valuable convoys of supplies heading for the eastern front via the Arctic and Murmansk.
Fire in Installations
Twelve years before , Major General Keller had been an instructor to Lt. Commander Piers at Royal Military College in Kingston. After the army landings, the Algonquin moved into shore, anchored and opened fire on inland installations. Among her scores were three 88 mm guns located six miles inland which received direct hits from 13 out of 15 salvos from the destroyer.
After that, the invasion operations were 'dull' to the crew of the Algonquin, so dull that its chief engineer, Lt. Commander John Lloyd of Belleville, Ontario came up from below deck one day and pleaded with the captain to liven things up. To satisfy him, a large hotel, just inland from the beachhead and suspected as being a German strongpoint, was picked out and reduced to rubble with five broadsides from the destroyer's guns.
Gunnery officer of the Algonquin, through the invasion and other actions, was Lt. Vadim M. Knight, 27, of 12 Bloomingdale Terrace, Halifax, who, with Chief Petty Officer Sam Short of 8 Livingstone Place, Halifax, won mention in dispatches for the later victory over the German convoy off the Skagerrak.
The Algonquin took Admiral Percy Nelles and Canadian Army Commander, H. D.G. Crerar and his staff to France in two of her return voyages across the channel during invasion operations. Off France, several days after the initial invasion, they saw the Germans trying out their human torpedoes, doodlebug bombs, new type mines and the late coming Luftwaffe. Bombs and shells often fell around them, sometimes so close the spray from their striking the water showered the bridge of the Algonquin. But not once did German steel hit the vessel.
When they did come face to face with enemy ships, the Algonquin's crew found their opponents tough and daring. They found this in the surprise attack on the 11 ship convoy off the Skagerrak. The three minesweepers escorting
the Nazi merchantmen fought as long as their guns remained above water, although their ships were ablaze from stem to stern. Ten of the 11 ships in that convoy were sunk and the other driven ashore, afire. How many of them were actually sunk by the Algonquin could not be determined. "We were firing at 7 of them at once. We saw our shots hit but others were hitting them, too," explained Lt. Commander Piers. In 41 minutes, 8 of the ships were sunk. It took 20 minutes during this battle for the shore batteries to wake up to give defense to the Nazi convoy. With 3 more Nazi vessels still afloat and seeking escape the Admiral of the Allied force gave the word to his four destroyers: "Finish off the enemy! They did.
On its convoy patrols along the road to Murmansk, the Algonquin often encountered enemy planes and U-boats but the opposition was so weak it was "boring"' the captain said. In most of her service, the 2,000 ton Algonquin was accompanied by her sister HMCS SIOUX, commanded by Lt. Commander Eric Boak. Both officers commanding had selected the names for their own ships and to their surprise, these were approved by the higher responsible naval authorities. Lt. Commander Piers selected ALGONQUIN he recalled in consultation with his wife, the former Janet Macneill and her father, Professor Murray Macneill of Halifax.
The two fleet destroyers were among Canada's achievements of the Quebec conference. Britain offered to turn them over to Canada if Canada could supply the crews. Lt. Commander Piers and his First Lt. Lathem Jensen of Calgary also designed the ship's crest from the meaning of the name of Algonquin - 'place of spearing eels and fish on the other side of the water.' The crest is a warrior's arm protruding from the water holding a speared eel.
Among the Algonquin's officers who returned was Lt. Dennis O'Hagan of Halifax who won the George Medal and Bar for delayed action bomb disposal work in the Battle of Britain. He later served as a Lt. Commander in charge of a naval beach commando force in Normandy. He returned to sea and ' dipped' his half stripe to revert to Lt. at his own request.
Another was dark-bearded, walrus moustached Lt. Richard 'Dick' Steel of Rothesay, N. B. and Saint John, the ship's navigation officer. A well known speed skater and one of seven brothers in the forces, his beard recently won national publicity on the front page of a central Canadian magazine. It is now more flourishing more than ever.
Among the Nova Scotians who returned in the crew were Able Seaman John Murray, Pictou; Tel. Ernest Shaw, 4 Dresden Row, Halifax; Stoker Wm Curry, Sydney; W.R.A. John Landry, Armdale Road, Halifax; Supply Petty Officer Robert Peach, Port Morien; Ordinance Artificer Ralph Courtney, Shubenacadie; Leading Steward Norman Hardy, Port Joli; Steward Thomas McDowall, 113 Creighton St., Halifax; Petty Officer Cook Barl Williams, Ostrea Lake; Able Seaman Donald Beaton, Sydney; Able Seaman Daniel Campbell, Big Bras d'Or; Petty Officer George Coles, 803 Robie Street, Halifax; Able Seaman Henry Cooke, 18 Birmingham St. Halifax;
Able Seaman Ralph Davis, Springhill; Acting Petty Officer Gerald Day, Sydney; Coder Douglas Forgeron, West Arichat and Able Seaman Alexander George, Tufts Cove.
P.E.I. includes Able Seaman Richard Gauthier, Leading Signalman Michael Kelly, Able Seaman Leo Malone and Able Seaman John MacKinnon, and Leading Seaman John Howard all of Charlottetown.
1. February 17, 1944,
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