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 Ottawa (I) Specifications

Length: 329’
Beam: 33’
Draft: 10’ 2″
Displacement: 1375tons

Laid Down: 12-9-1930
Launched: 30-9-1931
Commissioned: 15-6-1938
Paid Off: 13-9-1942

Armament: 4 x 4.7” LA guns, eight 21” torpedo tubes, 2 x 2pdr AA guns

The first Canadian destroyer to carry the name HMCS Ottawa was launched as HMS Crusader at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard in 1931.  Like her sister HMS Comet (later HMCS Restigouche) she was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1932 and assigned to the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla of the British Home Fleet.  She served with the Home Fleet until the Abyssinian Crisis in 1935 where she was deployed to the Mediterranean.  From then until her transfer to the RCN she saw various duties, including transporting the C-in-C Home Fleet and acting as tender to the battleship HMS Royal Oak during torpedo trials and attending the carrier HMS Courageous as a plane guard.[1]

HMCS Ottawa (I)

On 13 September 1942, while escorting convoy ON.127, in the North Atlantic, HMCS OTTAWA was torpedoed and sunk by U-91. One hundred and thirteen members of her ship’s company perished.

She was commissioned as HMCS Ottawa at Chatham Dockyard in the same ceremony as HMCS Restigouche.  Together they visited several Quebec and Maritime ports and on October 12 departed Halifax to transit the Panama canal and join the other two destroyers of the Western Division—HMCS Fraser and HMCS St. Laurent—in Esquimalt.  In February and March of 1939 this half-flotilla, joined by the two Eastern Division destroyers joined the RN’s 8th Cruiser Squadron in the Caribbean for exercises and training.  Later in the spring Ottawa and her sisters escorted the King and Queen from Vancouver to Victoria and back during their May 1939 state visit.

In August of 1939, war was imminent and Fraser and St. Laurent were ordered to the east coast with all due haste.  In November Ottawa and Restigouche would join them.  The Canadian destroyers would act as local escort until late May 1940 when four of Ottawa’s sisters were deployed to British home waters.  Ottawa was unable to join them immediately as she was undergoing repairs of damage sustained in an April collision with the tug Bansurf.  It wasn’t until late August that Ottawa would escort the troop convoy TC 7 to Britain.  Here she was sent to the Clyde to act as a local escort there.  On September 25th she had just departed the convoy OB 217 when she was ordered back—SS Sulairia and SS Eurymedon had been torpedoed and Eurymedon was still afloat but shipping water; her captain and two other officers refused to abandon the vessel.  Ottawa took aboard the other survivors and sprinted off to catch up with the convoy.  The next day she was ordered back to Eurymedon which was still afloat—and now surrounded by boats from Sulairia.  Ottawa took aboard the kit-and-kaboodle and headed for Greenock with an extra 118 souls aboard.[2]

She spent a fortnight having her aft torpedo tubes replaced with a 3-inch AA gun and then resumed her duties escorting convoys mostly in transit to and from the middle east.  In early November Ottawa and HMS Harvester[3] were dispatched to aid the freighter Melrose Abbey which reported being attacked by gunfire from a submarine on the surface.  The pair made several depth charge attacks with no apparent results.  Sunrise revealed a large oil slick spreading across the water and the destroyers departed the scene.  This was the last sign of the Italian submarine Faa Di Bruno—a “kill” not awarded to Ottawa until 1984 after closer review of both Italian and Admiralty records.

Ottawa would continue convoy escort operations out of Greenock until she was posted with her sister River-class destroyers to the Newfoundland Escort Force—newly established and to which Ottawa was assigned in June of 1941.  Between June of 1941 and September of 1942 Ottawa cycled between mid-ocean escort and local escort before joining the Newfy-Derry run.[4]

HMCS Ottawa (I) Ship's Company

HMCS OTTAWA – Ship’s Company – June 1942

September 5, 1942 saw Ottawa assigned to convoy ON 127, departing Londonderry for St. John’s Newfoundland.  Leading the escort was Lieutenant Commander A.H. Dobson aboard HMCS St. Croix as Senior Officer, Escort (SOE). On September 10 the convoy was found and attacked by the 13-boat wolf-pack Vorwärts around early to mid-afternoon local time.  Two tankers—Sveve and F.J. Wolfe—and a freighter—Elisabeth van Belgie—were torpedoed immediately by U-96.  Once survivors were rescued Dobson sent the corvette HMCS Sherbrooke to sink the Sveve and F.J. Wolfe by gunfire as the freighter remained afloat and under control.  He also positioned Ottawa astern to deter the attacking U-boat from shadowing the convoy.

The night that followed was one of confusion as the escort fought to scatter the wolf-pack, or at least force it to stay submerged and thus unable to follow the convoy.  Several more merchant ships were torpedoed that night .  Throughout the 11th and 12th the convoy struggled on, having 3 more merchant ships struck by torpedoes.  The convoy was diverted to a more westerly course the night of the 12th in the hope it would reach air-cover sooner.  Help had also been sent in the form of the British WW1-vintage destroyer HMS Witch and HMCS Annapolis—another Canadian Town-class destroyer like St. Croix.  These two ships arrived the night of the 13th and Dobson positioned them ahead of the convoy with HMCS Ottawa.  The sea was calm by this point, and the night clear, with Ottawa making ten knots and waiting for the two fresh destroyers to arrive.  Her CO, Acting Lieutenant Commander C.A. Rutherford was on the bridge and her second-in-command Lieutenant T.C. Pullen was aft at his action station near the depth charges.

HMCS Ottawa (I)

Photograph taken by Charles James Sadler, RCNVR. First Class Stoker, Official number V-4963, serving in the Canadian destroyer HMCS Columbia.

Just after midnight Ottawa’s older 286P radar detected what was believed to be Witch and Annapolis and making a challenge was hailed by Witch less than a kilometre away.  Ottawa altered to port to avoid a collision.  At that moment, the so-far invisible stalker—U-91—struck.  Two torpedoes struck the ship forward.  Pullen witnessed the explosion and heard debris falling onto the deck.  St Croix dashed to the scene and into U-91’s sights but the torpedo fired at St. Croix struck Ottawa instead, finishing her off.  Lt. Pullen and 68 others were rescued but five officers—including Lt. Cmdr. Rutherford—and 109 other crewmen were lost.

Tragically, Ottawa may have avoided her fate had she a better radar outfit.  Type 286 was known for its limitations, and the centimetric set Type 271 likely would have detected the skulking U-boat.  Before she sailed with ON 127 Ottawa’s Gunnery and RDF officer Lieutenant L.B. Jenson was notified by the dockyard that a new Type 127 set was to be installed aboard the ship and when it arrived alongside Jenson informed the CO. Lt. Cmdr. Rutherford—apparently under the impression that Jenson has ordered the installation himself—counter-manded the modification order and had it canceled; Ottawa sailed with her obsolete radar.[5]  Lt. Jenson survived the sinking of HMCS Ottawa.

[1]  (English, 1993) p. 49

[2]  (MacPherson & Butterley, River Class Destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy, 2008) p. 50

[3] Harvester was a H-Class destroyer originally built for Brazil as Jurura but taken over by the Royal Navy when hostilities began.  She was a near-sister to HMS Hero—the destroyer that would eventually be commissioned in the RCN as HMCS Chaudière

[4]  (MacPherson & Butterley, River Class Destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy, 2008) p. 51

[5]  (Douglas, Sarty, & Whitby, No Higher Purpose: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1939-1943, 2004) p. 515