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HMCS Haida and the Sinking of the Athabascan : Articles & Resources

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HMCA HAIDA NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

NAVY OF CANADA (RCN)

HMCS Haida was a fighting ship, and it didn't matter what came at her: destroyers, armed trawlers, submarines, even trains. Haida and her crews distinguished themselves in every theatre of war and peace in which they played a part. The goal was always the same – to defend or exemplify Canada. And Haida was a happy ship, a lucky ship. In twenty years of service, she only lost two men. Parks Canada

In late April, on night patrol in the Channel, Haida sank a German destroyer. A few nights later, on April 29th, the 10th Destroyer Flotilla came upon two more German destroyers off the coast of France. Haida and Athabaskan pursued them. Unfortunately, a torpedo struck Athabaskan; there was a tremendous explosion and she began to sink. Haida continued the chase, driving one destroyer hard on shore, and chasing off the other. And then she returned to where Athabaskan lay.

Haida's Captain Harry DeWolf ordered all Haida's boats lowered in an effort to rescue as many of Athabaskan's crew as possible. Heavy scrambling nets were hung over the sides and Haida seamen began to pull exhausted and oil-soaked Athabaskans aboard.

Danger was everywhere and dawn was coming when the ship would lose cover of darkness. DeWolf said ‘I'll wait 15 minutes'......and those minutes ticked by.

Fourteen minutes... Athabaskan 's Captain, a very brave man named John Stubbs, called from the water ‘Get away, Haida, get clear!'

Fifteen minutes... Dawn was coming.

Sixteen minutes... When the boats were lowered they were supposed to be unmanned, but three Haida seamen jumped into the motor-cutter to pick up Athabaskans from the water.

Seventeen minutes... Those three seamen would have a hazardous journey ahead of them, a daylight voyage across the Channel to safety when Haida inadvertently left them behind.

Eighteen minutes...In the end Harry stayed eighteen minutes, and when Haida slowly began to gather speed and turn away from Athabaskan, she had 47 rescued men on board. Six more were rescued by the motor cutter. When Haida sailed into Plymouth, it was to the cheers of the entire fleet. The Canadian Navy had come of age. (Story from Parks Canada)

 

HMCS Haida Motor Cutter which was used to pick up survivors of the sinking Athabascan in 1944. (L-R): Stoker William Cummins, Leading Seaman William MacLure, Able Seaman Jack Hannam

 HMCS Haida Cutter

Credit: Lt William Sclater / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / LAC / PA-152033

Mr. Hannam, seaman on the HMCS Haida, talks about the Athabascan itself, and the battle that sank her.

The Athabaskan 1of5

Mr. Hannam talks about helping rescue the survivors from the Athabascan, and how he ended up adrift searching for survivors, in a boat (from the Haida) with an engine that wouldn't work.

Athabascan (Part 2 of 5)

Adrift in the Atlantic, the sailors keep working on getting the engine of the cutter to run, with only partial success. Out of the fog and smoke, someone in the water recognizes Jack Hannam.

The Athabascan Part 3 of 5

The men continue to drift, and hide from aircraft (never being sure whether they are German or Allied.)

The Athabascan Part 4 of 5

The survivors in the cutter continue to hide from aircraft, but are finally rescued.

The Athabascan Part 5 of 5

Read the story of an Athabaskan survivor who was captured by the Germans (PDF download).