Remembered on Sunday 4 May 2003 at HMCS CHIPPAWA, Winnipeg, MB

On Sunday 4 May 2003, at HMCS CHIPPAWA, Winnipeg, Manitoba, the annual service that commemorates the Battle of the Atlantic was held in the honour of HMCS ALBERNI and the ten Manitobans that perished on 21 August 1944.




The Alberni was a Flower Class Corvette named after the Canadian city of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. Built at the Yarrows Ltd. shipyard in Esquimalt, British Columbia, and commissioned on February 4, 1941, she was one of the first Corvettes built by Canadian shipyards during WWII.

Ship Type:Corvette Class:FLOWER Class 1939-1940
Displacement:950 Tonnes Length:205.1 Feet Breadth:33.1 Feet Draught:11.5 Feet
16 Knots
# of Officers:6 # of Crew:79
Armament:1-4″ Gun, 1-2 pdr, 2-20mm, Hedgehog
Builder:Yarrows Ltd.. Esquimalt, B.C.
Laid Down:

The Story of the Alberni

HMCS ALBERNI was commissioned at Esquimalt on February 4, 1941 and she arrived at Halifax on April 13 in company with HMCS AGASSIZ. On 23 May 41, the two ships departed for St. John’s to join the recently formed Newfoundland Escort Force. ALBERNI left the following month with a convoy for Iceland, and served as a mid-ocean escort until May 42, when she was taken out of service to have a new boiler installed. In September, 1942, she had taken part in the defence of convoy SC.42, which lost 18 ships to as many U-boats. Assigned to duties in connection with the invasion of North Africa, she sailed for the U.K. in October with convoy HX.212, and until February, 1943, escorted Convoys between the U.K. and the Mediterranean. She returned to Halifax in March, 1943 and served briefly with WEEF before transferring to Quebec Force in May. For the next five months she escorted Quebec-Labrador convoys, leaving Gaspe on November 6 to undergo repairs at Liverpool, N.S. With repairs completed early in February, she proceeded to Bermuda to work up, and on her return to Halifax joined EG W-4. On April 24 she sailed for the U.K. for duties connected with the coming invasion, and was still engaged in these when, on August 21, 1944, she was torpedoed and sunk by U480, southeast of the Isle of Wight. Fifty-nine of her ship’s company lost their lives.


“Hath made…an invisible eel to swim the haven at Dunkirk, and sink all the shipping there. But how is’t done? I’ll show you sir. It is automata, runs under water… and sinks it straight. ” – Ben Jonson, Staple of News

Named after a town on Vancouver Island (and thus after Captain Don Pedro Alberni who commanded the Spanish Soldiers sent to occupy Nootka in 1790) HMCS ALBERNI was one of the earlier RCN corvettes to see service, with a minimum of time allowed for work-ups upon arrival at Halifax in April 1941.

She escorted convoys to Iceland, participating in the desperate fight around Convoy SC-42 in September, when fifteen merchantmen were sunk and U-501 was destroyed by CHAMBLY and MOOSE JAW. ALBERNI was then based on Londonderry, and made a name for herself during 1942 by rescuing over 145 torpedoed merchant seamen on two occasions. She was assigned to escorting convoys in support of North African landings between Britain, Gibraltar and North African Ports. She was present with the Mediterranean convoys when VILLE DE QUEBEC and REGINA obtained their submarine kills but, as with U 501, did not have the chance for direct participation and credit. Reports did give ALBERNI a ” Probably damaged” verdict after an attack in 1941. Returning to Canada in March 1943, she served in the Western Local and in the Gulf Escort Force in the St. Lawrence. Time was taken for a modest and partial refit. In April 1844 she was one of seventeen RCN corvettes sent to the UK in support of Operation Neptune, the landings at Normandy. In June and July she escorted a miscellaneous collection of landing craft and ships, barges, tugs and floating piers for Mulberry and merchant ships between Southampton Water and the Beaches.

On 26 July she shot down a German Junkers 88 that had attacked her at almost sea level. ALBERNI opened fire with her starboard Oerlikons and he after pom-pom as the plane tore toward her. The Junkers climbed and banked to clear ALBERNI and her port Oerlikons scored direct hits at close range. The enemy burst into flames and exploded in the sea 100 yards off ALBERNI’S port bow with no survivors. On 28 July she narrowly missed an aircraft-laid mine, then a depth charge laid over an asdic contact set off another mine 200 yards off ALBERNI’S starboard beam without significant damage. It was an exciting time.

After brief maintenance at Southampton, ALBERNI was ordered to relieve HMCS DRUMHELLER on patrol for U-boats to the eastward of the swept channel leading to the Normandy beaches. At 11:45 on 21 August she was streaming south at fourteen knots in fair weather with a NNE wind of five knots but State Four seas for the rendezvous, sweeping by asdic eighty-degrees on either bow, radar operating. “Hands to Dinner” had just been piped. Four minutes later, with no asdic warning whatsoever, she was hit by a torpedo on her port side just aft of the engine room. In less than 10 seconds she was awash from the funnel aft, listing to port and sinking fast. In another twenty seconds she was gone, sinking stern first. Most of the off-watch hands were trapped in their mess decks, and only one stoker escaped from the engine and boiler rooms.

Her CO, A/LCDr Ian H. Bell, RCNVR, a twenty-six-year-old former lawyer, leaped out of his cabin at the explosion, planning to dash to the bridge. He was washed over the side as the ship foundered rapidly by the stern, with no time for orders or damage control. There was not even time to release Carley floats, and men, many without time to put on life belts as the ship foundered, had to cling to odd pieces of debris. Fortunately the depth charges did not explode, although there was a muffled boiler explosion which did not seem to cause much harm. One seaman credited the new-style RCN life jackets, with protective crotch sections buckled to the upper jacket, with preventing groin injuries. One rating in boots and trousers, struggling in the sea, cast off his boots and then pushed down his trousers to be able to swim more easily. He suddenly recalled that his dentures were in the trouser pockets, so pulled them back up again. As an intelligence officer commented later after questioning the survivors, ” He seemed to have all his teeth when I spoke to him”

A/Lt Frank Williams, a former football player and strong swimmer, was credited with saving several lives including those of Donald Wood, the ship’s writer, and Ian Bell who was dazed by the suddenness of his ship’s destruction. Williams was later, in January 1945, awarded the Royal Humane Society’s bronze medal for saving life at sea for his efforts on this day.

For Forty-five minutes the dazed survivors struggled to keep from drowning or giving up in heavy seas. Providentially HM motor Torpedo boats 469 and 470, returning from duties off Normandy and having seen an explosion and the startling disappearance of the corvette on their horizon, altered course to investigate. They came across the survivors and rescued three officers and twenty-eight men of the ship’s company of ninety. They were taken to Portsmouth, where two moderately injured were admitted to hospital.

TOO: 29/1605B

 The U-boat that had destroyed ALBERNI with an acoustic torpedo was not identified at the time. In fact it was suspected that ALBERNI might have been mined, as seven anti-submarine craft hunted through the area the next day and found nothing. Post-war review of German records indicate she was the first victim, of several ships in the area of U-480 (OL Hans Jachim Forster) of the IX U-Flottille, operating out of Brest, France. Less than twenty-eight hours later Forster sank the RN Algerine’s minesweeper LOYALTY in almost exactly the same location with nineteen killed. She and her flotilla had been sweeping the area for suspected mines, partly as a result of ALBERNI ‘S still unverified sinking. LOYALTY had fouled her sweep with another Algernine’s, dropped back to recover her gear in hazy weather and was catching up with Forster hit her in the stern with a GNAT. Fortunately that day the minesweeper took twenty minutes to sink, although her CO was lost. The lack of detection of the U-Boat may have been, at least in part, due to its all-over Alberich rubber coating, designed to absorb asdic sound waves.

Over the next two days U-480 sank two more merchantmen in the area. After sinking another, also in the Channel the following February, Forster and U-480 were in their turn sunk by the RN frigates DUCKWORTH and ROWLEY on 24 February 1945.

In the mid-1980s there were diver’s reports that the remains of ALBERNI had been located just off the Isle of Wight. But these are discounted by others who note the location is far too close to the island near where she was sunk, and the description of the vessel located does not appear to that of a corvette.

Reference: THE CANADIAN NAVY CHRONICLE, Fraser McKee, Robert Darlington, Chapter 50

Ten Manitobans

Ten Manitobans, who were crew in HMCS ALBERNI, perished on 21 August 1944. They were:

Complete list of those lost on the ALBERNI on 21 August 1944

Allan, John M., AB
Angell, Bruce, AB
Barss, Walter C., ERA
Bosworth, Richard Cooper, Coder
Bouchard, J.J., ERA
Brock, George M., OS
Buchanan, G.W., AB
Campbell, Donald W., Sto
Carder, Wilfred W., OS
Clinton, Elmer J., L.Sto
Cosgrove, C.T., AB
Cox, Henry J.M., Sto P0
Culpepper, J.A., Sto P0
Cume, Wm. P., Sto P0
Dittloff, William, Sto
Drew, Robert F., Tel
Erickson, Ingvi S., Tel
Evans, Albert K., L.SA
Fulton, Hugh C., Lt
Gallagher, G.J., LS
Garvey, Donald N., Sto
Graham, Alvin J., Sig
Grais, Donald B., ERA
Grant, Malcolm S., Lt
Griffiths, Ed. S., Sto
Hamilton, John P., Lt
Hammond, John A., Sto
Hatcher, Arthur M., LS
Henderson, Hugh M., Surg Lt
Horley, Wallace C., Sto 
Irving, James C., L.Coder
Jenks, Keith W., 0.Tel
Jones, Donald 0., AB
Karns, Robert J., Sto
Kirkpatrick, S.M., Tel
Koster, John B., ERA
Kowbell, Morris, AB
Laing, Wallace W., OS
Lang, Robert A., ERA
Lee, Donald, F., P0
Lighthall, A.E., CPO
McDermott, Joseph G., Sto P0
McGrath, James D., LS
Mclnnes, Wm. S., AB
Merk, George A., Stwd
Moffat, Cyril B., A13
Page, Ivan E., OS
Paquet, J.A.R., L.Stwd
Pilon, Joseph G., Sto
Plott, John, L.Sto
Rogers, Nicholl, Cook
Smith, Thomas A., L.Cook
Stephen, Donald, L.Tel
Stuart, George A., AB
Turner, Alan T., AB
Walker, James, AB
Whyte, John W., AB
Wilkinson, H.E., L.Sto
Wright, Thomas, Sto.
Reference: THE CANADIAN NAVY CHRONICLE, Fraser McKee, Robert
Darlington, Chapter 50