May 5, 2019 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces
On Sunday, May 5, Canadians from all corners of the country commemorated the sacrifices of the thousands of Canadians who fought valiantly during the Battle of the Atlantic from 1939 to 1945.
The National Commemorative Ceremony took place at the National War Memorial with participation by members of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force, as well as members of the Merchant Marines. Air Cadets and Sea Cadets from the National Capital Region, Navy League Cadets, Royal Canadian Legion Colour Party, local veterans’ associations, the Diplomatic Corps, and the Ottawa Children’s Choir were also present. Local ceremonies and commemorative events were held in communities from coast to coast.
Each year on the first Sunday in May, Canada and its naval community remember the sailors, aviators, and mariners who perished at sea during the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest campaign of the Second World War. It is also an opportunity to honour the courage of the veterans who served and the civilians who died during enemy attack.
“Today, we recognize the tremendous service and sacrifice of our veterans, and those shipmates who never returned home. This year we also pause to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMCS Athabaskan, an event that resulted in the loss of 128 sailors, and the capture of 85 more. This event reminds us of the fragility of life at sea – but the daring rescue of 48 Athabaskan sailors by Harry DeWolf and HMCS Haida reminds us of our proud naval heritage. Members of the Royal Canadian Navy are proud to follow in the footsteps of these brave sailors and remain ready to help, ready to lead and ready to fight on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians.”
Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy
The Battle of the Atlantic began on September 3, 1939, with the sinking of the SS Athenia by German submarine U-30. Allied forces fought for control of the North Atlantic Ocean to supply the war effort from 1939 to 1945, making this the longest campaign of the Second World War.
In 1943, Rear Admiral Leonard Murray was put in charge of the Allied air and naval forces in the Northwest Atlantic, the only Canadian to command an Allied theatre of conflict in either World War.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMCS Athabaskan by enemy action, and the harrowing rescue effort by HMCS Haida which occurred on April 29, 1944.
The cost of winning the Battle of the Atlantic was high, with the Royal Canadian Navy losing nearly 2,000 sailors and 33 ships, the Royal Canadian Air Force losing more than 900 aircrew members, and the Merchant Navy losing nearly 1600 Canadians and Newfoundlanders, and approximately another 70 ships.
Fought largely by reservists in small ships built in Canada and operating from Canadian bases, the defence of North Atlantic trade against the submarine menace defined a naval role for Canada within a much larger alliance. After 1945, the Royal Canadian Navy became one of the best anti-submarine warfare navies in the world.
Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons in Coastal Command and in Canada accounted for 19 U-boat ‘kills’, while RCAF crews serving in Royal Air Force squadrons were involved in many more in the North Atlantic.