HMCS CHIPPAWA Serves as a Flood-fighting Command Post
The following article first appeared in the Crowsnest Magazine just after the flood in 1950. It is a very detailed story about CHIPPAWA’s participation during the 1950 flood. Enjoy!
OPERATION “REDRAMP” is over, and with its conclusion the Winnipeg naval division, HMCS CHIPPAWA, “pipes down” from one of the higgest combined operations in Canada’s peacetime history. It was a combined operation in the fullest sense of the word, for in the long, drawn battle with the Red, everyone, civilian and serviceman, was on the front line, fighting on the one, big team.
Co-operation prevailed throughout the operation. In the Navy’s case, this involved not only working in concert with the civilian authorities and with the Army and the Air Force, but co-operating within itself.
REDRAMP brought together almost everyone in Winnipeg who has ever had some interest in the sea and naval affairs. In the beginning, the Navy’s flood-fighting crew consisted of active reserves, UNTDs and members of the permanent force staff from CHIPPAWA. But as the threat of disastrous flooding developed, the naval effort rapidly expanded to include RCN personnel from the coasts, permanent force staffs and reserve volunteers from other divisions, members of the Naval Officers’ Association, retired officers, Emergency List men, members of the WRCNS Association, Sea Cadet officers and ratings, members of the Navy League, members of the women’s auxiliaries attached to CHIPPAWA and the man and woman in the street who wanted to pitch in and help the Navy.
In the initial stages, during the third week of April and some time before military control was established, some members of the Reserve felt the impact of a flash flood. To their aid came shipmates with pumps and sandbags, under the direction of Lieut. S. H. (Barney) Oldfield, RCN(R).
This first party included Sub-Lieut. Bill Wilson, RCN(R), CPOs Myron Arsenych, Al Care, Charles Gilraine and Joseph Onysko, POs Stanley Griffon, James Allen, Charles Brown, Francis Gilraine, C. Butler, Ian Barron and James Borthwick, Ldg. Seamen James Cowie and Howard Williams, Able Seamen George Taylor and Donald Henneberg and Ord. Seamen Joseph E. Cormack, Eugene Guilbault, Joseph Hamel and Clifford Marse.
The effort grew, and moved into Elm Park, a part of the suburb of St. Vital soon to be hardest hit by the flood. Naval headquarters was set up in a garage, with two-way radio communications to the St. Vital police station.
Working for days on end without sleep, and living on sandwiches and soft drinks, the CHIPPAWA men spearheaded the fight to save at least part of this beautiful residential area. But the rapidly rising Red overcame the best efforts that could be put forward and eventually the Elm Park crew had to be pulled out, many of them working over their waists in water to salvage the precious pumps. This first round had been a heartbreaking one . . . and it went to the Red River.
Up to this time the principal effort had been on diking and pumping duties. Then, with the evacuation of flood stricken towns in southern Manitoba, CHIPPAWA was called upon for an additional task. Within an hour after an appeal had been broadcast by the local radio stations, almost the entire ship’s company came aboard on the night of May 4 to set up sleeping and living accommodation for refugees due to arrive overnight by train.
The various ladies’ auxiliaries and members of the Wrens’ Association took in hand the task of making up the beds which were put together by reserve and retired officers and reserve ratings of the division. Members of the NOAC who had come aboard to discuss plans for their spring dance promptly cancelled it and pitched in to make the spaces they planned as cloakrooms and sitting rooms into dormitories for the homeless. For almost a week the ship was “home” to evacuees, who at times totalled 400 men, women and children.
By this time it was apparent that help on a volunteer basis would he inadequate and the commanding officer, Cdr. L. D. G. Main, RCN(R), in consultation with Naval Headquarters, called on all reserve and retired personnel in the \Vinnipeg area for full-time duty.
The response was instantaneous and complete. Not only were reserve officers and men prompt in appearing on the scene, hut many whose last active connection with the Navy was about five years ago turned up, asked for, and were given a job to do. It frequently turned out that the specialized knowledge of some of these retired officers and men was of great value in the type of operation which the Navy had by this time undertaken.
From their work on dikes and individual pumping duties, naval personnel turned to the job of rescue and evacuation by small boats, a task which was to be under their exclusive control. In general charge of the organization of “Boats” was Lieut.Cdr. Henry Dadson, RCN(R), Ret’d. With everything from canoes to naval diesel cutters coming into the boat pool, and arriving from such points as the Lakehead and Portage Ia Prairie, and including a splendid contribution of boats and fishermen from the fishing town of Gimli, the boat pool at one time came to more than 150 small craft.
Working with a suction pump behind a dike in one of the flooded areas of Winnipeg are Lieut. K. A. Laidlaw, RCN(R), Ret’d., PG James Harris and Lieu. D. A. MacDonald, RCN(R), all of HMCS CHIPPAWA (0-1408-31)
During the period between May 5, the date of the major break in the Winnipeg dikes, and May 10, organizational changes had to be made to meet the rapidly developing situation. On May 10 a necessarily complex, but smoothworking organization went into effect under the orders of the commanding officer, CHIPPAWA, as Naval Officer in-Charge, Winnipeg, perhaps the first time such a title has been given in a completely landlocked city.
Lieut.-Cdr. XV. G. Brockie, RCN(R), executive officer of the division, was placed in direct control of the ship’s activities and routine, Lieut. E. J. Hyman, RCN, the staff officer, became Chief of Staff to NOIC and Lieut-Cdr. Eric Pinfold, RCN(R), went to Flood Control Headquarters as permanent naval liaison officer. This latter position developed into a direct liaison, as well, with “Pumps” and “Boats” as reports and requests for aid came to Flood Control Headquarters through the flood area distress officer.
At about this time “Pumps”, under the command of l.ieut.-Cdr. (E) W. P. Jean, RCN(R), moved it’s maintenance shop from CHIPPAWA, where it had been working night and day on the repair and servicing of outboard motors and pumps, to the Provincial garage, where greater facilities were available.
With reserve motor mechanics and ERA’s working side by side with volunteer civilian mechanics and the staff of the garage, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 pumps, with capacities varying from 10,000 to 250,000 gallons per hour, were kept in operation. Although the Navy’s main pumping effort was in the badly flooded areas, white caps and blues could be seen in many parts of town as solitary seamen and stokers manned pumps at strategic subways.
Reinforcements by now were pouring in from neighboring divisions and from the coasts. The Senior Officer of the Reserve Fleet, Halifax, Cdr. R. A. Webber, DSC, RCN, arrived to place his experience at the disposal of boat and amphibious craft operation. Cdr. Webber was Chief of Staff to the Flag Officer Pacific Coast at the time of the 1948 Fraser Valley flood and was responsible for much of the staff work in connection with the Navy’s participation in Operation Overflow.
At the same time, a shallow water diving team, led by Lieut.-Cdr. (P) H. J. G. Bird, RCN, came fully equipped to assist in rescue and salvage work. It was a common, if somewhat unusual, sight to see a Navy amphib. and diving team working at a downtown manhole in an attempt to restore or preserve electrical services.
By this time, too, the Navy had been assigned control and manning of DUKWs and other amphibs. In some cases Army drivers and signallers remained with the vehicles to give invaluable help. In other cases, naval drivers were given a hasty course in their operation and took over. All but one of the craft were commanded by naval officers, the exception being a Sea Cadet officer. One of the finest drivers was Petty Officer Bill Smith, RCN(R), who had never before driven such a craft.
The DUKWs chalked up two particular feats, which are selected as only being among many worthy of recognition. One was the splendidly organized and swiftly carried out evacuation of a stranded refugee train. Within five hours more than 550 people had been successfully transferred by five DUKWs to a place of safety. These included more than 45 babies under one year of age.
The other operation involved the delicate task of bringing out from an isolation hospital two paralysis patients and their 600-pound iron lungs. In spite of a swift current flowing in water ten feet deep, the entire operation was carried out without a hitch.
Sub-commands had been set up, each with the general title of “Naval Area”. These areas took in eight of the badly flooded districts and each had its quota of power and rowboats, manned by civilians and servicemen under the charge of the local naval officer. The reason for establishing these areas was to allow the constant patrol of flooded homes, to assist in evacuation and to work closely with municipal authorities as required. Some of the areas, notably No. 1 in St. Vital, under Lieut.-Cdr. William Mason, RCN(R), and No. 3 in Fort Garry, under Lieut.-Cdr. Colin Angus, RCN(R), had as additional tasks the rescuing or feeding of stranded livestock.
To back up this front line operation there were various vital departments in CHIPPAWA. The Communications branch was in the thick of the fight from the beginning and was almost swamped by the volume of work and by its initial lack of equipment, plus the fact that Emergency List communicators were not, at first, well versed in new procedures. They trained with experience and with the aid of RCN personnel from the coasts and other divisions. With wholehearted co-operation from Army Signals, the messages got through.
Victualling presented a major problem and in the first stages of the operation was handled by WRCNS personnel from their dry canteen. Working in the face of the odds imposed by having only two electric plates, the Wrens did a splendid job in keeping wet and hungry men well fed.
With the arrival of large drafts from outside points, it became apparent that a larger victualling system must be set up. This was accomplished under the direction of Lieut. (S) Jack McBurney, RCN, at a few hours’ notice. Lieut. (S) R. A. Fee, RCN, opened up the old ship’s galley and within 24 hours it was operating on a short order, round-the-clock basis, serving between 1,500 antI 1,600 meals a day.
Besides this, the CHIPPAWA galley was the “manufacturing centre” for coffee and sandwiches which were sent out to working areas all over town. This was a major undertaking in itself.
Holding the fort and keeping CHIPPAWA from putting to sea in the flood which reached the south wall to a depth of three feet was a vital task involving at first the Engine Room branch and then all those not engaged in outside duty. Engine room personnel closed off sewer outlets and improvised washing and sanitary facilities, at the same time putting the immediate stock of pumps to work.
Outside, working parties built at top speed one of the best dikes in the whole area. Composed entirely of sandbags, it finally was holding back over three feet of water. Lieut. J. Currie McMillan, RCN(R). Ret’d. president of the Naval Officers’ Association, was OIC CHIPPAWA dike and was ably assisted in his job by Lieut. Earl Grant, RCN, and CPO J. Freeman, RCN(R).
One effort which should not go unnoticed was the work carried on by the women’s personnel office. Wives of CHIPPAWA officers and men took on the problem of organizing teams of volunteer women workers and of training them in the intricacies of naval procedure. Working with a total of 205 women, this office was an indispensable part of the entire operation.
The work done by any one department would make a story in itself. The Electrical branch, for example, refitted an air conditioning system which had not operated for four years, placed sterilizers in the sick bay, installed an inter-office communication system and was out in the field with portable floodlights strung up under hazardous and difficult conditions. CPO J. Steele, AB A. Rostick, AB R. Kerr and AB A. Thompson were the original members of this hard-working party. During the period when flooding of the ship itself was expected, the electrical personnel set up a complete auxiliary lighting system.
Something like 6,000 TABT inoculations were given to servicemen and civilians by the Medical branch, under the direction of Surgeon Lient.Cdr. R. W. MacNeil, RCN(R). The “docs” and nurses coped with everything from running a baby nursery to ordering over-fatigued workers to bed. The greatest period of stress on the medical staff came during the evacuation period, when so many women and children were aboard, but it was successfully dealt with and no danger of disease was ever apparent.
Two operations in particular were handed over to this branch – one the “iron lung” evacuation, the other the rescue by small boat of the skipper of the Winnipeg Canoe Club, isolated by flood water and ill with bronchial pneumonia.
As a factor in keeping up the morale of all concerned in the field operations and in maintaining close contact with civilian agencies, the Navy-Civilian Liaison Office played a most important part. Under the general direction of Instr. Lieut.-Cdr. Larry Bennett, RCN(R), small comforts were made available to all ranks and ratings and postal facilities and motion picture shows were provided at all hours of the day and night for off duty men. As the operation drew to a conclusion, the main effort in this office consisted of gathering and correlating information regarding flood losses to naval personnel, with a view to eventual aid.
As this report is being written, Operation REDRAMP is almost history and so, to a great extent, is CHIPPAWA’s part in it. But for some time yet, specialists will be working at the hundred and one tasks that remain.
When they are done and rehabilitation is complete, there’ll be another story to be told – of how the Navy can clean up the “bits and pieces” equally as well as it carried through the job just finished.