(photos and associated captions are from the Canadian War Museum website)
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 Saguenay Specifications
Beam: 32’ 6”
Displacement: 1337 tons
Laid Down: 27-9-1929
Paid Off: 30-7-1945
Motto “A l’erte” (Ready to act)
Armament: 4 x 4.7” LA guns, eight 21” torpedo tubes, 2 x 2pdr AA guns
The Canadian Government announced its intention to purchase two new destroyers in November 1927 to be built to Canadian specification in the United Kingdom. In February of 1928 two Canadian officers reviewed the plans for the new British Acasta (or A-class) destroyers. Several design changes were requested, including a more streamlined bridge structure and oil heating . In September 1928 the government tendered for the construction of these destroyers; fourteen British shipyards responded all of whom offered the necessary “Canadianized” fittings without appreciable extra cost. Of those fourteen Yarrow’s was the cheapest, but didn’t quite meet the specs laid down. Thornycroft’s bid was the next lowest at about £10,000 more, but their proposed machinery was much more compact and efficient. Thornycroft landed the contract to build HMCS Saguenay and Skeena, with both being laid down in late 1929. The total cost of the destroyers—including armament—would be £3,350,132
Saguenay would be the first made-to-order RCN warship when she was commissioned May 22, 1931 at Portsmouth. After her sister’s commissioning the two sailed for Halifax, and in September of 1931 she said up the Saguenay River to visit Chicoutimi.
Together with Champlain she took part in the Jacques Cartier Quartercenterary at Gaspe in August 1934 and in 1936 she escorted Great War veterans across the Atlantic to France for the dedication of the Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge. Along with her sister she would represent Canada at King George VI’s coronation the following year and in May 1939 she would escort the King and Queen up the St. Lawrence to Quebec City on their Canadian tour. This would be one of her last peacetime assignments.
Six days after the declaration of war, Saguenay and another of the River-class destroyers HMCS St. Laurent joined the escorting forces of convoy HX 1—the first fast convoy from Halifax to England. She spent the rest of the year and the early part of 1940 on patrol first from Kingston Jamaica and later from Halifax. In October 1940 she was assigned to Escort Group 10 based out of Greenock in Scotland. Two months later, while escorting convoy HG 47 from Gibraltar to England she was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Argo while west of Ireland. The torpedo had shattered the destroyer’s bows and killed 21 men, yet despite it all she made Barrow-in-Furness four days later under her own power. She wouldn’t be fit for service again until May of 1941.
She put to sea to take part in screening the Home Fleet capital ships during the hunt for the Bismarck. After this she was recalled to Newfoundland, arriving in St Johns on June 7, 1941. In July she would escort Winston Churchill—aboard HMS Prince of Wales—from the conference with President Roosevelt in Placentia Bay to Iceland where she was detached to return to Newfoundland.
1942 was a hard year on the destroyer—it started in January when she suffered extensive storm damage which left her barely able to make it back to St John’s where she was laid up for three months for repairs. In November she was hit by the Panamanian freighter Azra severing her stern and causing the depth charges to detonate. The explosion sank the freighter, but luckily there were only two fatalities between both ships.
Deemed too expensive to repair her stern was sealed off and she was converted to a stationary training vessel and tender to HMCS Cornwallis. Ultimately paid off after VE Day, the first made-to-order Canadian destroyer went to International Iron & Metal in Hamilton for breaking in 1946.