From One World War to Another (1919-43)

The Navy to 1942

Newfoundland and the Battle of the Atlantic

Early in the war the Germans would seek their targets in European waters, very rarely coming to the Newfoundland waters that fell under Canada's responsibility. Between September 1939 and October 1941 they sank 164 merchant ships in the service of the Allies, but only seven of these ships had been part of convoys.

In August 1941, at a meeting held in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, between Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt, the United States agreed to help protect the merchant vessels plying the western Atlantic. Up to that time the Americans had patrolled the coasts, the Canadians the sea east of Newfoundland; the two other segments of the convoy route were Newfoundland-Iceland and Iceland-Britain. Suddenly the small Canadian navy came under U.S. command. When the Americans took to the high seas, they escorted the fastest convoys that were less susceptible to attack.

When war was declared on Japan the United States transferred a large part of its fleet from the Atlantic to the Pacific. By the fall of 1942 the Americans were providing only two percent of the protection units for transatlantic convoys, although the area command remained in their hands.

In June 1942 approximately half of the escort vessels and a quarter of the air coastal patrols north of New York were Canadian. Since the U.S. had virtually stopped protecting its Atlantic coast, the Germans hit their seaborne trade head-on. Canada had to send corvettes south, thus weakening its northern escort groups. Just as the Germans were settling in solidly in the rough north Atlantic, the Canadians were left more or less alone, with a growing fleet of small escort vessels, ill-trained crews and outmoded equipment.