Canada's commitment to alliance warfare overseas and to a convoy escort role in the Atlantic left limited resources for home defence. This weakness invited attack, and Germany's first strategic advance on N American shores began as Operation Drumbeat (Paukenschlag) on 13 Jan 1942. It faced a weak and inexperienced opposition. By Apr 1942, U-boats had sunk 198 ships (1,150,675 tons), half of them tankers. Drumbeat led to the Battle of the St Lawrence, a term coined at the time by the Ottawa Journal.
Six independent U-boats penetrated the St Lawrence R and Gulf via the Cabot Str and the Str of Belle Isle by May-Oct 1942 and reached as far upriver as Rimouski, some 300 km from Québec C. In these waters, U-boats sank 3 Canadian warships (HMCS Raccoon, Charlottetown and Shawinigan) and 20 ships in convoy, including the SS Chatham, the first US troopship lost in the war. The sinking of the Sydney to Channel-Port Aux Basques ferry, SS Caribou, 14 Oct 1942 with the loss of 137 lives was considered the worst inshore disaster of the battle. The greatest tonnage, 9 ships, including Chatham and Charlottetown, was sunk by U-517, whose captain, Paul Hartwig, rose after the war to vice-admiral of Canada's NATO partner, the federal German navy.
U-boat attacks in the St Lawrence fueled the CONSCRIPTION debate in the House of Commons, vitiated Québec-Ottawa relations, and forced the War Cabinet on 9 Sept 1942 to close the St Lawrence to all Allied shipping except the coastal trade. U-boats also undertook special missions. U-262 attempted to embark escaped German prisoners of war from North Point, PEI, on 6 May 1943, while U-536 attempted a similar feat on 28 Sept 1943 at Pointe de Maisonette, NB. U-119 and U-220 laid mines off Halifax and St John's in June and Oct 1943 respectively.
U-boats patrolled Canadian waters until war's end, and in the final phase destroyed the last 2 Canadian naval victims of the inshore war. U-806 sank HMCS Clayoquot on 24 Dec 1944, by the Halifax lightship, and U-190 sank HMCS Esquimalt on 16 Apr 1945 near the same spot. U-190 surrendered to Canada on 11 May 1945 and was commissioned in June of that year in the RCN as HMCS U-190. She was sunk ceremonially on 21 Oct 1947 where she had destroyed the Esquimalt.
MICHAEL L. HADLEY
German submarines landed men in Québec and Labrador twice during WORLD WAR II. On the night of 8-9 Nov 1942 the spy Werner Janowski came ashore from U-518 near New Carlisle, Qué, and was almost immediately captured, later becoming an RCMP double agent. On 22 and 23 Oct 1943 the crew of U-537 landed an automatic weather station at Martin Bay, 32 km S of Cape Chidley, Labrador. The station transmitted data for about 3 months. Although sighted by casual visitors, it was not properly identified until July 1981.
Authors contributing to this article:
Author W.A.B. DOUGLAS, MICHAEL L. HADLEY
Links to Other Sites
Naval Museum of Quebec
The multimedia website for the Naval Museum of Quebec. Features a virtual exhibit of naval artifacts, timeline of the "Battle of the St. Lawrence," and an illustrated glossary of navy terminology.
The Memory Project: Convoy
Listen to interviews with Canadian veterans about their wartime military service. See also related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Other U-Boat Encounters
This site highlights the defences against U-Boats roaming North America's East Coast during the Second World War. From the "Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage" website.
U-boat may be at bottom of Labrador river
View a CBC TV News story about the discovery of a possible Second World War U-boat at bottom of the Churchill River in Labrador.
1942: U-boat sinks SS Caribou off Newfoundland
Watch a CBC news story about the sinking of passenger ship S.S. Caribou by a German submarine U-69 in the Cabot Strait on Oct. 14, 1942.
The Memory Project: U-boat
Listen to an interview with a Canadian veteran about his wartime military service. Also check out related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
The Memory Project: Radar
Listen to an interview with Canadian veteran Ernest Hayward Winter about his wartime experience with radar during the Second World War. Also check out related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
The Memory Project: Merchant Ships
Listen to an interview with a Canadian seaman who served on a merchant ship that had to evade U-boat attacks during perilous Atlantic crossings in the Second World War. Also check out related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.