BOOK REVIEW – The History of Canada: War In The St. Lawrence – The Forgotten U-Boat Battles on Canada’s Shores

sarty-war-canada-st-lawrence-uboatBy Rodger Sarty; Allen Lane-Penguin Group, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (2012)

Reviewed by Michael F. Solecki

This book is the eighth installment to “The History of Canada” series. The War in the St. Lawrence is for the most part either forgotten or a printed glitch in the grander “Battle of the Atlantic.” The “Battle in the St. Lawrence” should be considered a part of a proud Canadian naval heritage and remembered as a distinct part of World War II history where “local” citizens were directly involved not just as victims but, as participants and their contributions were of the utmost importance to the Allied war effort and the survival of Great Britain.

Though it freezes-over for a long portion of the year, the St. Lawrence Bay became a primary launch point for convoys supplying relief to Great Britain. Thus the German Navy committed thirteen U-Boats to this small area of the Canadian Maritimes. The U-boats, with some success haunted not only the inter-bay area but, was actually able to cruise up into the St. Lawrence River in search of the culprits that were keeping Great Britain alive. Their strategy was to destroy the ships before they formed into the safer Allied convoy system. To battle these predators, locally based Canadian forces established a small makeshift “navy” that is worthy of more than a footnote in the Battle of the Atlantic. Many of the vessels used to countermand the U-boat threat were converted tugs, yachts, fishing vessels, etc. occasionally supplemented by a destroyer or destroyer escort.

Sarty’s thesis was the Canadian government downplayed the importance of protecting the St. Lawrence Bay and the viable threat of U-boats. This was contrary to the evidence of sinkings and damage to vessels transiting the bay, including a passenger ferry. Instead, the Canadian government’s emphasis was on protecting the trans-Atlantic convoys and that little or nothing in the way of marine and air assets were dispatched to not only hunt the U-boats but, prevent them from entering the bay. He explains the effect of  the political conflict between the English and French speaking Canadians of even entering the war hence, coming to England’s aid and how anti-draft and -war sentiments indirectly affected the defense of the bay in spite of the obvious threat. He also includes several little-known side-bars going on behind the scenes and the effect on the local populous and their reactions and contributions to the battle. He describes many of the unique features of the bay such as the thermal layers and lack of effective technology to compensate for them, which allowed U-boats to easily hide mere feet from anti-submarine assets. Sarty concludes that even with the minimal resources allotted by the government and inadequate anti-submarine technology the defenders were quite successful. Not minimizing the loss of life and injury to the crews and local populous their efforts kept sinkings and excessive ship damage to a manageable level allowing the majority of the victim-ships after some repair, to return to duty.

Sarty obviously did his research. Much of the official resource material remained classified since the war and progressively released since the mid-1980s. The book is full of related accurate facts about the Canadian, combined Allied and German war effort. I recommend this book as an interesting and important supplement to the “Battle of the Atlantic,” a basic segment to the history of Canada and its Navy and a fun read.

Michael F. Solecki, is an independent naval historian, holds a Master of Arts in Military History degree from Norwich University and a U.S. Naval and NOAA veteran where he acquired, processed and disseminated environmental intelligence for Weapons of Mass Destruction, Anti-submarine and Anti-Aircraft Warfare.

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