This post is another of a series of excerpts from my book Tin Can Canucks.  As the book is still under development these posts should be considered as part of a work in progress.  These excerpts are presented as they’ve been developed and may not be in chronological (or any logical) order.

HMCS Gatineau Specifications

Length: 329’
Beam: 33’ 3”
Draft: 10’ 10″
Displacement: 1405 tons

Laid Down: 23-3-1933
Launched: 29-5-1934
Commissioned: 3-6-1943
Paid Off: 10-1-1946

Armament: 3 x 4.7” LA guns, four 21” torpedo tubes, 6 x 20mmOerlikon AA guns, Hedghog ASW mortar

Unique amongst the Canadian River-class destroyers, HMCS Gatineau—built as HMS Express by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Wallsend-on-Tyne—had been originally fitted as a minesweeper, and had twin sponsoons aft for the mine rails (never carried in Canadian service).  She would be the sole E-Class destroyer to serve in the RCN.

HMCS Gatineau (I)HMS Express was commissioned into the Home Fleet November 6, 1934 and assigned to the 5th Destroyer Flotilla.  She had her gun mounts adjusted at Sheerness between December 1934 and January 1935.  During the Abyssinian crisis she was detached to the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria where she served until March 1936, after which she returned to Portsmouth for a refit until May. After refitting she was posted back east to Gibraltar for two months, returning to home waters for the remainder of 1936.  The first three months of 1937 Express undertook Non-Intervention Patrols off the Spanish coast, returning to the UK for a brief period of repairs and then two months of minelaying trials.

Having completed a refit in Portsmouth in October 1937 she suffered a fire in her forward boiler room, which caused extensive damage to her electrical cables and necessitating further repairs.  She spent some time in home waters and patrolling out of Gibraltar until returning to Portsmouth to operate as a minelayer from August to October 1938.  After a short refit there she returned to Gibraltar and on March 21 1939 she escorted the ferry Cote D’Azur and its passengers—the French President and his retinue—to Britain for a state visit.

She was relieved of duty with the 5th Destroyer Flotilla by the J-Class destroyer HMS Janus and was selected for conversion to a Boys’ Training Ship and aircraft co-operation vessel, but ultimately these plans fell through.

HMS ExpressWhen war broke out she was assigned to Immingham and joined the 20th Destroyer (Minelaying) Flotilla on its formation.  Her first offensive minefield was laid at a suspected exit of the German mine barrage in the North Sea.  Subsequently she and HMS Esk, HMS Intrepid and HMS Ivanhoe laid 240 mines on in the Ems estuary the night of December 17th and another barrage of 164 off the Hook of Holland with the same comrades (less Intrepid) the 15th of May.  Prior to the operation off the Hook of Holland Express had collided with a trawler and had to be repaired in Hartlepool in April.

During the “Miracle of Dunkirk” Express made six trips, evacuating over 3,500 troops and was the second-last vessel to leave Dunkirk.

On August 31, 1940 Express was one of several destroyers laying a defensive minefield 40 miles off Texel.  At just past 11:00 p.m. that day she struck a mine just abreast her B-mount.  Everything forward frame 52 was demolished and 4 officers and 53 other crew were killed.  It took some two and a half hours before she was mobile again—and then only backwards.  She spent several hours plodding back to British waters stern first (having unfortunately left behind 9 of her men who would be taken prisoner once rescued) before she was found by HMS Kelvin and HMS Jupiter.  She was first taken in tow by Kelvin, but the tow broke after some 90 minutes and she was then taken in tow by HMS Jupiter to Hull, where she arrived early evening September 9.

Her reconstruction at Chatham would last until October of 1941.  After passing trials post-repair she joined HMS Eclectra to escort HMS Prince of Wales to the Far East.  They left the Clyde October 25, 1941 and sailed to join HMS Repulse, her savior HMS Jupiter and sister HMS Encounter.  When Imperial Japanese Navy carrier strikes sank Prince of Wales and Repulse, Express was able to rescue nearly a thousand of the 2,081 men who survived the sinkings.  She then took over escort duties for “China Force” between Singapore and Java but in February suffered a boiler room fire that caused extensive damage to her electric cabling, fuel tanks and bulkheads.  She continued operations until she could be repaired and refitted in Simonstown between late April and Late June 1942 thus missing the Battle of the Java Sea and the attack on Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.

HMS Express H61After returning to duty she joined the Eastern Fleet’s 12th Destroyer Flotilla, and she served as an escort to the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious during the landings at Majunga, Madagascar in September of 1942.  She returned to England in February of 1943 and went into refit at Liverpool until June 2, 1943.  Upon her emergence she was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Gatineau on June 3, 1943 having been given to Canada as a gift.[1]

completed her work-ups at Tobermory and was then assigned to Escort Group C-2 in Londonderry to join convoy ON 191 as escort on July 2.  As the German U-Boats had suffered a serious check in May of 1943, Gatineau found her convoy escort work reasonably quiet until the combined convoy action of ON 202/ONS 18 in September of that year.

The U-boats had returned to the Atlantic with a vengeance—and a new weapon.  The Acoustic torpedo (known to the British as the GNAT) carried a new danger; it was able to run a vessel based on the noise made by that ships screws.  As escort vessels ran faster than merchant men their screws made more noise at speed—the GNAT was designed to kill escorts.  And it did that well.

Between September 20 and September 23 20 U-boats attacked the combine convoy.  The success of the GNAT could be seen in the fact that only six of 63 merchantmen were lost.  The convoy escort lost three ships sunk (including HMS St. Croix)  and one damaged.  The loss of St. Croix was especially bitter, as she and her Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander A.H. Dobson, DSC, RCN has been a successful U-boat killing team for a Town-class destroyer.

Escort Group C-2 began to be employed as a support group in December of 1943.  In this manner it didn’t escort convoys directly, but instead joined convoys specifically to hunt down U-Boats detected by ASDIC (sonar) or other means, thereby freeing up the close escort vessels to continue with the convoy.  In March of 1944 C-2 joined convoy HX 280 which had been attacked by a substantial wolf pack.  Gatineau made ASDIC contact with one of them the morning of March 5, and after a 32 hour hunt, U-744 was sunk.  Gatineau however couldn’t enjoy this success as she had already been called away to assist another convoy under attack.. [2]

She joined Escort Group 11 in Londonderry in late April with her River-class sisters, HMCS Chaudière, HMCS Kootenay, HMCS Ottawa (II) and HMCS St. Laurent.  These fiver were detailed to patrolling the west end of the English Channel during the lead up to D-Day and after the invasion.  Starting June 5 they kept a sharp eye out of U-boats attempting to attack shipping vital to landing and supporting the Normandy Invasion.  Gatineau didn’t stay long however—she left in early July bound for Halifax to have urgent boiler repairs completed.  She would be in refit there until March of the next year, after which she sailed across the Atlantic once more to work up in Tobermory before re-joining EG 11 (now consisting of HMCS Assiniboine and HMCS Saskatchewan along with veteran member HMCS Kootenay).

HMCS GatineauEG 11 continued their patrols for the remainder of the war and after until all U-boats had been surrendered (or scuttled) and accounted for.  Gatineau would head home to Canada after this—briefly stopping tin Greenock to embark repatriated Canadian naval personnel.  She made two subsequent round trips to Greenock on similar “trooping” runs before she was assigned to the Canadian West Coast to become a training ship for HMCS Royal Roads in August.  Despite this plan, and an oceanographic survey she took part in in November she was laid up and decommissioned January 10, 1946.

Apparently sold for scrap and broken up in late 1946 there is some indication she may have been scuttled as a breakwater in Royston, British Columbia in 1948.[3]

[1]  (English, 1993) p. 74

[2]  (MacPherson & Butterley, River Class Destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy, 2008) p. 96

[3]  (MacPherson & Barrie, Ships of Canada’s Naval Forces: 1910-2002, 2004) p. 51