HMCS ST. CROIX – A Tragic Saga

This is the source of my article…

I have added a few pictures.

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.

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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.

HMCS St. Croix

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.

18 Dec 1940. HMCS ST. CROIX returning to Halifax with hurricane damage (article picture)

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.

Polyanthus

HMS 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.

23_hms_azalea_k25

HMS Azelea similar to 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.

St. Croix crew

A footnote…

medal auctioningNo comment… Well not until tomorrow.

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