On Sunday 1 May 2005, at HMCS CHIPPAWA, Winnipeg, Manitoba, the annual service that commemorates the Battle of the Atlantic was held in honour of HMCS ST. CROIX and the fourteen Manitobas that perished on 20 September 1943.
HMCS ST. CROIX – A Tragic Saga
Built in 1919 for the United States Navy, she operated with the Atlantic Fleet as USS McCook until placed in reserve at Philadelphia in 1922. She was recommissioned in December, 1939, and again served with the US Atlantic Fleet prior to being transferred to the Canadian Navy at Halifax as HMCS ST. CROIX on September 24, 1940.
She sailed for the U.K. via St. John’s on November 30, but ran into a hurricane and had to return. Arriving at Halifax on December 18, she remained under repair until mid-March 1941, when she took up the role of local escort.
In August, 1941, she joined the Newfoundland Escort Force, escorting convoys to Iceland. In May, 1942, following six months’ refit at Saint John, N.B., she escorted her first convoy, SC.84, to the U.K., and was thereafter employed constantly on the “Newfie-Derry” run.
In April, 1943, she was assigned to Escort Group C-1, and in June to Escort Group C-5. During this period she sank U90 while escorting convoy ON.113 on July 24, 1942, and on March 4, 1943, while accompanying convoy KMS.10 from Britain to Algeria, she assisted HMCS SHEDIAC in destroying U87.
THE LOSS OF HMCS ST. CROIX
HMCS ST. CROIX had distinguished herself in the early days of the Battle of the Atlantic. Her crew was credited with two U-boat kills. Of the Canadian ships she was one of the most successful.
In September 1943 ST. CROIX was with Mid-Ocean Escort Group C-9, comprised of another of the ex-USN “four-stackers” ST. FRANCIS and the veteran corvettes CHAMBLY, MORDEN and SACKVILLE, plus the British Navy frigate HMS ITCHEN.
By the summer of 1943, the German U-Boat wolf packs had found the Atlantic battle turning against them, but by the end of August a large number of submarines had been re-equipped with a new weapon, the GNAT (German Naval Acoustic Torpedo) torpedo which homed in on the sounds from the propellers of ships.
The ST. CROIX, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander A.H. Dobson, was headed for the Bay of Biscay (off France) when she was ordered north to escort a slow moving convoy. A large wolf pack had gathered, and the extra escorts were required badly.
On 20 September 1943, at 2151, U305 struck at HMCS ST.CROIX with two GNAT torpedoes, hitting her aft, near her propellers. The ST. CROIX did not sink immediately; however U305 eventually fired a third torpedo at her. The third torpedo was the final blow as it caused ST. CROIX to sink within three minutes.
A number of her ship’s company were lost in the sinking, but many of the crew remained in the water looking for possible rescue.
Two RN ships from the escort force rushed to the area, now astern of the convoy, to see what had taken place and could be done. The frigate ITCHEN signaled to B-2:
“ST. CROIX TORPEDOED AND BLOWN UP. FORECASTLE STILL AFLOAT. SURVIVORS IN RAFTS AND BOATS. TORPEDOES FIRED AT ME. DOING FULL SPEED IN VICINITY. WILL NOT ATTEMPT TO P.U. SURVIVORS UNTIL POLYANTHUS ARRIVES.”
But the RN escort corvette POLYANTHUS, was herself torpedoed by U952 just after midnight, again in the stern by a GNAT. ITCHEN then had to become involved in attempting to locate the attacking U-boat. She was only later able to locate one survivor of Polyanthus.
ITCHEN was eventually able to pick up eighty-one ST. CROIX survivors, five officers and seventy-six ratings, but only after they had been in the very cold water for thirteen hours. Most of those lost had perished in the sea after abandoning the ship.
For the survivors of ST. CROIX and the single Polyanthus crewman the few hours of rescue came to a bitter end at approximately 0200 on the 23rd as U666, again using a GNAT, sank HMS ITCHEN. This time there were but three survivors, two from ITCHEN and Stoker W. Fisher from ST. CROIX. They were rescued by a Polish merchant ship, the Wisla.
One of the ST. CROIX seaman, lost in the ITCHEN, was Surgeon Lt W.L.M. King, RCNVR, Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s nephew.
Of the 147 Canadian sailors that perished in the ST. CROIX, fourteen were Manitobans.
Able Seaman Norris Benjamin BAILEY, Service No. V31265, RCNVR, 25 years old. He was the son of Maria J. Taitinger, of Claresholm, Alberta. Bailey Peninsula, in Utik Lake was named after him in 1996.
Ordinary Seaman Gordon Harold BERRISFORD, Service No. V42923, RCNVR, 19 years old. Born in Selkirk, he worked as a grocery store clerk prior to joining the Navy in July 1942. He was the son of William and Gladys Berrisford, of Selkirk, Manitoba. His father was a former Mayor of Selkirk. Berrisford Lake, northwest of Wells Lake, was named after him in 1994.
Leading Seaman William Bruce, Service Number V25864, 23 years old. Joined the Royal Navy in April 1939, and transferred top the Royal Canadian Navy in February 1941. His home in Winnipeg was at 1534 Pacific Avenue. He served in armed merchant cruiser Patrocius, and survived her being torpedoed and sunk in November 1940. Ninety-seven were lost. Son of Barbara and John Bruce of Dundee Scotland.
Able Seaman Garry Ferguson FORBES, Service No. V/16587, RCNVR, 20 years old. The Winnipeg Free Press reports that he lived in Winnipeg prior to joining the RCNVR. He was the son of James Alexander Forbes, and survived by his mother Florence Forbes, who lived in Port Arthur, Ontario.
Telegraphist James Hamilton GOOD, Service No. V37733, RCNVR, 21 years old. He was the son of Percy C. and Leah Good, of Raith, Ontario. Good Lake, southwest of Nueltin Lake was named after him in 1972.
Able Seaman Albert Joseph GRENON, Service No. 4467, RCN, 19 years old. He joined the RCN as a boy seaman in July 1941. He was born in Radville, SK, but after his father Joseph Grenon was killed in a car-train accident in 1928, his mother remarried and the family moved to Somerset, MB. He was survived by his mother Ida Grenon, who lived in Somerset. Grenon Lake, west of Hogg Lake, was named after him in 1995. His brother, Flight Sergeant Alfred Joseph GRENON, was also a casualty of the war, as he had perished earlier on 22 May 1943.
Ordinary Telegraphist Raymond Frederick LILLYMAN, Service No. V38537, RCNVR, 21 years old. He was born and educated in Winnipeg, attending Prince Edward and Lord Wolseley Schools. He was an enthusiastic hockey and lacrosse player, and was employed in the Winnipeg Bus Terminal prior to joining the Navy in June 1942. He was the son of Harry and Florence Lillyman, of East Kildonan, Manitoba. Lillyman Lake, southwest of Nueltin Lake, was named after him in 1972.
Leading Stoker Antoni LOPUCK, Service No. V24712, RCNVR, 30 years old. Born and raised in Transcona, he was the third eldest in a family of six children. Antoni had started working on a CNR section gang at the age of 14. Prior to joining the Navy he was employed by the Dominion Malting Company in Transcona. He enlisted in the Navy as a Stoker, 2nd Class, in June 1941 and was promoted to Leading Seaman once he saw active service. Antoni left behind his wife Elsie and their six year-old son. He was the son of Mike and Jessie Lopuck, of Transcona, Manitoba. Lopuck Lake, west of Nueltin Lake, was named after him in 1972.
Ordinary Seaman Nicholas PIDLASKI, Service No. V41014, RCNVR, 28 years old. He was educated in Winnipeg at Beaver, Lord Selkirk and St. John’s Technical School, and was an avid calligrapher and golfer. He was a stock-keeper with the Sherwin-Williams Company prior to joining the Navy in June 1942. He was the son of Andrew and Mary Pidlaski, of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Pidlaski Lake, east of Big Sand Lake was named after him in 1963.
Able Seaman Edward Roddick REID, Service No. V24959, RCNVR, 20 years old. He enlisted in the Navy in August 1941, and spent the major part of his service on North Atlantic convoy duty. He was born and educated in Brandon, MB, and was formerly employed as a pin-boy in the Recreation Bowling Alley. He was the son of William and Lena Reid of Brandon, Manitoba. Reid Esker, south of Meades Lake was named after him in 1995.
Coder Jasper James RICHARDSON, Service No., V830, RCNVR, 21 years old. Born and educated in Brandon, MB, he attended Brandon Collegiate and was an active member of various youth organizations in the Wheat City, heading the young people’s club at the local YMCA. He was employed as a teller at the Royal Bank of Canada in Brandon, beginning on 28 June 1939. On 6 June 1942 he enlisted in the Navy throuigh his bank branch. He was the only son of Thomas and Sarah Jane Richardson, of Brandon, Manitoba. Richardson Bay, in Takipy Lake, was named after him in 1995.
Engine Room Artificer James TAGG, Service No. V24237, 43 years old. He was the son of Robert D. and Janet Tagg and survived by his brother McLean Tagg, of Glasgow. Tagg Creek which flows northwest into Machichi Lake was named after him in 1964.
Ordinary Seaman Harold Allen VAN SICKLE, Service No. V39844, RCNVR, 18 years old. He was born in Winnipeg, but later his family moved to Swan River, MB. He was employed as a store clerk, prior to his joining the Navy in May 1942. He was the son of Alex Van Sickle, and of Agnes Van Sickle, of Swan River, Manitoba. Van Sickle Island in Jordan Lake was named after him in 1994.
Lieutenant George Bucknam WRIGHT, Service No. , RCNVR, 33 years old. “Sammy” Wright was formerly employed in the fur trade department of the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was educated in Norwood schools and at the University of Manitoba. He was the son of George and Emma Leah Wright, of Winnipeg, Manitoba Wright Lake, northeast of North Knife Lake, was named after him in 1974.