Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) 1931–1945, Destroyers (Wickes and Clemson Class)

Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) 1940–1945,

Destroyers (Wickes and Clemson Class)

Data currrent to 6 July 2019.

Destroyers, Wickes and Clemson Class

In September 1940, the RCN was given six of the 50 overage American destroyers transferred to the UK in exchange for the use of British bases.  These warships included HMCS Columbia (I49) (Clemson class); HMCS Niagara (I57) (Clemson class): HMCS St. Clair (I65) (Clemson class); HMCS St. Croix (I81) (Wickes class); HMCS St. Francis (I93) (Wickes class); and HMCS Annapolis (I04) Clemson class.  HMCS Hamilton (I24) (Clemson class), was acquired in 1941, and HMCS Buxton (H96) (Wickes class) was acquired in 1943.

HMCS Columbia (I49)

 (DND Photo)

HMCS Columbia (I49) (Clemson class), 1 Nov 1940.  Commissioned on 7 Jun 1919 as USS Haraden she served in the Adriatic Sea during part of 1919 before returning to the U.S. for training out of Norfolk, VA.  Placed in reserve at Philadelphia in 1922, she emerged in Dec 1939, to take part in the Neutrality Patrol, and was transferred to the RCN as HMCS Columbia on 24 Sep 1940, at Halifax.  At first employed on local escort duty, she left Halifax 15 Jan 1941, for the UK, where she was assigned to EG 4, Greenock.  In Jun 1941, she joined the newly formed NEF, and in Mar 1942, following repairs at Halifax, transferred to WLEF.  In Jan 1943, she went to the aid of her RN sister, HMS Caldwell, adrift without propellers southeast of Cape Breton, and successfully towed her 370 miles to Halifax.  Following a major refit at Saint John from 1 Feb to 20 May 1943, she rejoined WLEF, becoming a member of EG W-4 at the end of Jun 1943 and of W-10 in Dec 1943.  On 25 Feb 1944, owing to a combination of fog and faulty radar, she rammed a cliff in Motion Bay, Newfoundland, without so much as touching bottom. Repairs only sufficient to make her watertight were carried out at Bay Bulls, though not until May 1944.  In Sep 1944 she was taken to Liverpool, NS, to serve as an ammunition storage hulk for ships refitting there.  Paid off on 12 Jun 1945, into reserve at Sydney, she was sold for strap later that year.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3534147)

HMCS Columbia (I49) (Clemson class).

HMCS Niagara (I57) 

HMCS Niagara (I57).

HMCS Niagara was one of 50 American four-stack destroyers transferred to the RCN in 1940.  Originially named for Admiral Henry K. Thatcher, the USS Thatcher (DD-162) was a Wickes-class destroyer laid down on 8 June 1918 at Quincy, Massachusetts, by the Fore River Plant of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation; launched on 31 August 1918; and commissioned on 14 January 1919. 

The European situation had taken a drastic turn with the fall of France in June 1940.  British destroyer forces in the wake of the disastrous Norwegian campaign and the evacuation of Dunkirk found themselves thinly spread, especially after Italy entered the war on Germany's side. Prime Minister Winston Churchill appealed to the United States for help.

In response, America's President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order authorizing the transfer of 50 "over age" destroyers to the British in return for 99-year leases on strategic base sites in the western hemisphere. USS Thatcher was accordingly withdrawn from the Atlantic Squadron she was serving with in Destroyer Division 69 for transfer to the Royal Canadian Navy, which had been allocated six of the "50 ships that saved the world," as these vessels came to be known.

As such, USS Thatcher and her five sisters arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 20 September 1940, the third group of the "flush deckers" transferred.  Decommissioned on 24 September 1940, USS Thatcher was struck from the Navy list on 8 January 1941.

Renamed HMCS Niagara following the Canadian practice of naming destroyers after Canadian rivers (but with deference to the U.S. origin), after the Niagara River forming the border between New York and Ontario.  Niagara departed Halifax on 30 November; proceeded eastward via St. John's, Newfoundland; and arrived in the British Isles on 11 December.  Early in 1941, the destroyer was allocated to the 4th Escort Group, Western Approaches Command, and based at Greenock, Scotland. Subsequently transferred to the Newfoundland escort force, Niagara operated on convoy escort duties into the summer of 1941. While she was operating with this force, she took part in the capture of a German U-boat, U-570.

  (RCN Photo)

HMCS Niagara (I57) (Clemson class).

(RCN Photo)

HMCS Niagara (I57) (Clemson class).

(RCN Photo)

HMCS Niagara (I57) (Clemson class) viewed from the air during the capture of U-570.

 (IWM Photo, FL 951)

German U-Boat U-570 entering the dock at Barrow-in-Furness after her capture by the Royal Navy.

HMCS Niagara sped to the scene and arrived at 08:20 on 28 August 1941.  Rough weather initially hampered the operation but eventually, by 18:00, HMCS Niagara had placed a prize crew aboard the submarine and had taken U-570 in tow.  During the operation, she also took the 43-man crew of the enemy craft on board.  Towed to Þorlákshöfn, Iceland, the U-boat eventually served in the Royal Navy as HMS Graph.

In January 1942, HMCS Niagara escorted the tempest-battered Danish merchantman Triton into Belfast, Northern Ireland, after the freighter had been severely mauled in a storm at sea.  In March the destroyer rescued the survivors from the American merchantman SS Independence Hall, which had run aground off Sable Island, Nova Scotia, and had broken in half.  The next month, she picked up two boatloads of survivors from the sunken steamer SS Rio Blanco, which had been torpedoed by U-160 on 1 April 1942, 40 nautical miles (74 km) east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The destroyer subsequently underwent boiler repairs at Pictou from May to August 1942 before resuming coastwise convoy operations between Halifax and New York and escort duty in the western Atlantic.  Another refit at Pictou came in June and October 1943, before she continued her coastwise convoy escort missions through 1944.

HMCS Niagara became a torpedo-firing ship - first at Halifax and later at St. John, New Brunswick - from the spring of 1945 until the end of the Second World War in mid-August 1945, training torpedomen.  Decommissioned on 15 September 1945, HMCS Niagara was turned over to the War Assets Corporation on 27 May 1946 and broken up for scrap soon thereafter.

HMCS St. Clair (I65) 

 (RCN Photo)

HMCS St. Clair (I65) (Clemson class); previously USS Williams (DD-108), entering service with the USN in 1919.  Following a brief stint in active service, the ship was laid up for 17 years before being transferred to the RCN.  It survived the war, but was scrapped in 1946.

 (USN Photo)

Renamed HMCS St. Clair (I65), following the Canadian practice of naming destroyers after Canadian rivers (but with deference to the U.S. origin), her name commemorates the St. Clair River which forms the boundary between Michigan and Ontario.  This destroyer was fitted out for convoy escort duties and sailed for the UK on 30 November 1940.  Operating with the Clyde Escort force, HMCS St. Clair escorted convoys in and out of the heavily travelled Western Approaches to the British Isles in the spring of 1941.  Late in May, when the German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen slipped through the Denmark Straits, the "flush decker" became involved in the intensive and widespread effort to destroy the German warship. Eventually, a British force located and sank Bismarck on 27 May, but not before the tragic loss of HMS Hood on 24 May.  The search for the elusive German force brought some of the British units dangerously close to exhaustion of their fuel supplies.  HMCS St. Clair, near the battle area, came under attack by German long-range bombers. The old destroyer doggedly put up a good defense, shooting down one, and possibly, a second, enemy aircraft.

HMCS St. Clair subsequently joined the Newfoundland Escort Force after this group's establishment in June 1941 and operated on convoy escort missions between Newfoundland and Reykjavik, Iceland, through the end of 1941.  HMCS St. Clair was assigned to the Western Local Escort Force following repairs at Saint John, New Brunswick, in early 1942, and operated out of Halifax over the next two years, escorting coastwise convoys until withdrawn from this service in 1943 due to her deteriorating condition.

Operating as a submarine depot ship at Halifax until deemed unfit for further duty "in any capacity" in August 1944, HMCS St. Clair was used as a fire-fighting and damage control hulk until 1946.  She was handed over to the War Assets Corporation for disposal, on 6 October 1946,  and was subsequently broken up for scrap.

HMCS St. Croix (I81) 

(RCN Photo)

HMCS St. Croix (I81) was a Wickes class destroyer that was originally commissioned as USS McCook (DD-252), until she was transferred to the RN and then to the RCN in 1940.  She sank U-90 in the North Atlantic on 24 July 1942.  HMCS St. Croix was torpedoed in the mid-Atlantic and lost on 20 Sep 1943.

 (George Metcalf Archival Collection, CWM Photo, 19900085-1040)

HMCS St. Croix (I81) (Wickes class).

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3571062)

HMCS St. Croix (I81) (Wickes class), Rating manning a .50 cal AA machine-gun, March 1941.

HMCS St. Francis (I93) 

 (Government of NS Virtual Archives Photo)

HMCS St. Francis (I93).  Commissioned on 30 Jun 1919 as USS Bancroft, her career almost exactly paralleled that of her sister, USS McCook, and she was turned over to the RCN at Halifax on the same day (24 Sep 1940), becoming HMCS St. Francis. HMCS St. Francis was refitted for escort duty.  During the refit one boiler was removed to increase fuel capacity, the four inch deck guns were replaced with anti-aircraft weapons and the torpedo tubes were replaced with depth charge projectors.  She spent the remainder of the year based at Halifax, and on 5 Nov 1940, searched for the Admiral Scheer following the latter's attack on convoy HX.84.  Ordered to Scotland, she left Halifax on 15 Jan 1941 for the Clyde where she joined the 4th Escort Group, 26 Jan 1941. 20 May she rescued survivors from the steamer Starcross, which had been torpedoed.  In July 1941 St. Francis joined the Newfoundland Escort Force.  Between 1941 and 1943 HMCS St. Francis escorted numerous Atlantic convoys and made several attacks on submarines . On completion of her refit in Apr 1943, she returned to MOEF, but by Nov 1943 was again urgently in need of repairs, which were carried out at Shelburne, NS.  In Feb 1944, she was allocated to HMCS Cornwallis as a training ship.  On 1 Apr 1945 she was declared surplus and paid off on 11 Jun 1945.  On 14 July 1945, she was under tow of the tug Peter Norman, and bound for Baltimore to be broken up for scrap.  After passing through the Cape Cod Canal, the vessels encountered a thick fog, which enshrouded Buzzards Bay.  Near the entrance to the bay the collier Windward Gulf collided with the old destroyer opening a hole in its hull.  The Peter Norman tried to ground the destroyer, but it was taking on water too quickly and soon sank on an even keel in 60 feet of water approximately 2 miles off Acoaxet with no loss of life.

 (DND Photo)

HMCS St. Francis (I93), (ex-USS Bancroft, DD-256) early in her war service with mainmast reduced to a stump, shortened funnels, a modified bridge, radar Type 286 and the usual 12-pounder gun aft and the loss of the after tubes.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3396601)

HMCS St. Francis (I93) (Wickes class), refueling at sea, 7 Nov 1942.  Previously USS MacKenzie (DD–175).

HMCS Annapolis (I04) 

 (RCN Photo)

HMCS Annapolis's (I04) was transferred to the RCN on 24 Sep 1940.  Her No. 4 boiler was damaged during workup and it was removed and not replaced, together with a funnel, during repairs which continued until February 1941.  Until 1944, HMCS Annapolis sailed with the Halifax and Western Local Escort Forces, escorting convoys from east of St. Johns, Newfoundland to New York.  In April 1944, she was attached to HMCS Cornwallis, near Annapolis, Nova Scotiqa, where she remained as a training ship until the end of the war.  On 4 June 1945, she was turned over to the War Assets Corporation and sold to Frankel Brothers, Ltd., of Toronto for scrapping.

The ship's bell of HMCS Annapolis is currently held by the town of Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia.  The Christening Bells Project at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum includes information from the ship's bell of HMCS Annapolis, which was used for baptism of babies onboard ship.

 (RCN Photo)

HMCS Annapolis (I04) after having one stack and one boiler removed.

HMCS Hamilton (I24)

 (RCN Photo)

HMCS Hamilton (I24), in service with the RN as HMS Hamilton.  Commissioned on 29 Mar 1919 as USS Kalk she served the USN in European waters during 1919, returning to the US to perform training duties for a few months before being laid up at Philadelphia in 1922.  Re-commissioned in Jun 1940, she served briefly with the Neutrality Patrol in the Atlantic before being transferred to the RN at Halifax on 23 Sep 1940.  Commissioned as HMS Kalk, she was renamed HMS Hamilton (for Hamilton, Bermuda) at St. John's, Newfoundland, where, on her arrival on 1 Oct 1940, she was damaged in collision with her sister HMS Georgetown.  She was taken to Saint John, NB, for repairs and, while being undocked there on 26 Oct 1940, ran aground and received damage sufficient to lay her up for half a year.  She was therefore offered to the RCN, re-commissioned at Saint John as an RCN ship, HMCS Hamilton (I24), on 6 Jul 1941, and assigned to WLEF.  After escorting one convoy, she was in collision with the Netherlands submarine O-15 at Halifax. After repairs she again took up local escort duties, and in Jun 1943, became a member of WLEF's EG W-4.  She still had not made a transatlantic passage when she was declared unfit for service 11 March 1943, later tied up as a tender to HMCS Cornwallis in Aug 1943.  Paid off on 8 Jun 1945, she was sold for scrap and left Sydney, NS on 6 July 1945 under tow to Baltimore to be broken up.

 (RCN Photo)

HMCS Hamilton (I24), taken on strength with the RCN in 1941.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3201273)

HMCS Hamilton (I24) with its QF 4-inch gun crew training, 10 Aug 1944.

HMCS Buxton (H96)

 (RN Photo)

HMCS Buxton (H96) (Wickes class), acquired by the RCN in 1943.  Commissioned as USS Edwards on 24 Apr 1918, she saw brief service with the USN in Europe before being placed in reserve at San Diego in 1922.  Re-commissioned in Dec 1939, she was given an overhaul, and from Apr to Sep 1940, was on Neutrality Patrol in the Gulf of Mexico and off the east coast of the U.S.  On 8 Oct 1940 she was commissioned HMS Buxton at Halifax and assigned to local duties, since serious defects prevented her from crossing the Atlantic.  Following a major refit at Boston from Jul to Sep 1941, she made her first transatlantic crossing in Oct 1941, only to undergo further repairs at Chatham in the UK, which kept her idle from Dec 1941 to Apr 1942.  Returning to Canadian waters in Aug 1942, she was assigned to WLEF, but her defects persisted and she was taken to Boston in Dec 1942 for further repairs. These repairs completed, she arrived at St. John's on 30 Mar 1943, to rejoin WLEF, three months later becoming part of its newly formed EG W-1.  Continuing sickly, Buxton was offered to the RCN for training purposes and arrived at Digby in Dec 1943, having been commissioned on 4 Nov 1943 at Halifax.  She continued as a stationary training ship until paid off 2 Jun 1945, at Sydney, and was broken up the same year at Boston.

 (RCN Photo)

HMCS Buxton (H96) (Wickes class).