On August 28, 1954 (18 years to the day after I joined the RCN), I assumed command of HMCS Algonquin and the First Canadian Escort Squadron from a very disappointed Cdr. Pat Russell who had planned an interesting Mediterranean Cruise as his swan song! The squadron consisted of HMC Ships Algonquin, Lauzon, Prestonian and Toronto. On September 7, we sailed for the Med via two back-to-back NATO exercises, one in the Western Atlantic (New Broom II) and one in the Eastern Atlantic (Morning Mist). These were exactly what was needed to give the new boy (me) a good feel for the capabilities of the Squadron. Following Morning Mist we took part in A/S exercises off Londonderry and then headed for our long-awaited Cruise in which we visited Lisbon, Malta, Venice, Athens, Istanbul, Majorca, Algiers and the Azores before returning to Halifax on 10 December.
A highlight of the Cruise was the conduct of the ships companies throughout the whole period. This was a concern of mine from the onset. So, when I briefed the Algonquins on the Cruise and what was expected of them, I tried on a 'gimmick" for size. Roughly speaking, I said to them that I knew they were going to be exposed to many temptations, including a variety of exotic alcohols; that if they had too much to drink, they might avoid returning to the ship for fear of being charged with returning on board drunk; that they might then decide to have more to drink and probably find themselves in difficulty with the local law officers, and wind up blotting the RCN's copy book. Accordingly, I said, 'If you feel that you have had too much to drink, then get yourself back on board and if you can say anything to the Officer of the Day, even if it's nothing more than a mumble, then you will be considered to have returned on board sober." I then informed the other CO's of what I had done and requested them to do the same thing.
After reactions which varied from sheer horror to total incredulity, they were gracious enough to accede to my wishes. The result? During the whole Cruise there was only one untoward incident - in Venice - and it was one of my own midshipmen! He didn't set foot ashore until we arrived in Halifax. In the Spring of 1955, Algonquin went South on a solo voyage, visiting Key West, Jamaica and Houston, Texas. I remember being backed up to the guard rails on the quarterdeck at a reception by a very large and irate Texas oil man who demanded to know how on earth the Canadian dollar could be worth $ US1.05 - who did we think we were, etc.,etc.? Even though he was far from satisfied with my explanation, he mellowed out sufficiently to treat several of us to a gorgeous meal at the Oil Man's Club!
Later in 1955, saw Algonquin in Bermuda on several occasions, first working up HMCS St. Laurent, and later exercising with HMCS Buckingham and a USN submarine. During a night exercise, Buckingham managed to slice my stern off - an event which caused much amusement in RN circles when I steamed into the RN Dockyard followed by Buckingham with the remnants of Algonquin's stern hanging from his bow! After minor repairs to ensure water tightness aft, we returned to Halifax. Before sailing, the XO requested me to come ashore with him and have a look at something special. To prevent any following sea from smashing into the tiller flat and damaging the steering gear, a temporary housing of canvas had been built around the stern. Algonquin's hull number was 224. While we still had 224 on the ship's sides, the number on the new "stern" now read 223.9!
After full refit in Davie Shipyard in Lauzon, Quebec, Algonquin rejoined the Squadron in time for the Fall 1955 exercises. In the Eastern exercise, the three frigates departed for service in another capacity, while Algonquin was joined by HMC Ships Huron, Haida and Iroquois to form part of a 10-ships screen for a Carrier Task Force. It was quite a feeling to have 10 ships from five NATO nations under my command - albeit for a few days only. After the exercise, the Canadian Task Force, headed by the Senior Officer Afloat in HMCS Magnificent visited Trondheim, Norway. Thereafter, the Squadron was reunited and proceeded, via a visit to Greenock, Scotland to Halifax. Because I was hospitalized shortly after New Years 1956, 1 had to abruptly end what eventually turned out to be my last sea appointment - and a good one it was.
[Captain Ralph Hennessy was Algonquin's fourth Commanding Officer]
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