by E. G. Halcrow

The three Canadian Tribal Destroyers, HAIDA, HURON and IROQUOIS sailed from the Home Fleet Base at Scapa Flow, Scotland late in December, 1943 to join Convoy RA 55B bound for Murmansk, Russia. Our rendezvous point was between Iceland and the Faroe Islands. As we closed on the position, but were still hull down (out of sight below the horizon), but someone in the Convoy used an Aldis signal lamp to inform the ships of our approach. The beam of the signal lamp bounced off the bottom of the low overcast. I was able to read every word and it was over an hour before sighting them. We positioned ourselves at the rear of the Convoy - HAIDA was on the starboard side; HURON was midships and IROQUOIS to port. All ships were zig-zagging their way toward Russia.

After lunch, on 26th December 1943, ahead of the convoy, starshell (flare) began to float down. Flashes of explosions were reflecting from the overcast with thunder like rumblings. A signal came via wireless.

The three Canadian destroyers increased speed in line and moved up the starboard side of the convoy. As we were leaving our position, a geyser of water shot up about 100 yards astern of HMCS HURON. I was watching her for any signals and said aloud “What the hell was that?” The officer beside me said HURON had lost a depth charge off her  stern as she increased speed.

I remember thinking “How did he know that?” There was no visual signal; no underwater rumbling or gurgles like a depth charge. Also, the trigger on depth charges are set to the required depth just before release as a sub changes depth. About half-way up the starboard side of the convoy we received a signal which instructed us to take position at the rear of the convoy.

During the first dog watch (04:00 to 06:00) starshell and explosions returned. For almost 3 hours in the gloom of the Arctic night, we watched the fireworks as the RN ships ahead of us sank the German battleship Scharnhorst. Of their crew of 1700 plus, only 36 were saved. The Royal Navy had sustained damage and several casualties but they were able to save our bacon and protect the convoy as the Scharnhorst could have picked us off without once coming within range of our guns.

The Canadian Tribals remained with the Convoy. We ate our Christmas Turkey Dinner in Russia on December 28th, 1943.

E. G. Halcrow
V38887 HMCS HAIDA Aug. 30, 1943-January, 1945


Copy of signal sent to all Convoy escorts on Dec. 28, 1943:

FROM: HMS Duke of York, Battleship, Admiral Fraser-Commodore:

“I congratulate all Captains, deck hands, engineering officers and
men on a fine feat of hard steaming and endurance in what has been
under God’s Hand, a successful and historic voyage.

Thank you for your co-operation. Good Luck and may we sail together again.

O.P. Log.

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