André joined the Navy in the Spring of 1942 at HMCS Cartier in Montreal as an Ordinary Seaman. Apparently, Cartier had a band and needed some players. André volunteered to play the drums even though he had never played before. The Band Master okayed him and he was in the band along with six other ODs and two Labrador mascots that marched in front of the band in parade.
He was sent to HMCS Cornwallis on July 29, 1942 for New Entry Training and from there was drafted to HMCS Amherst, a Minesweeper, for four months.
André was then drafted to Drake Gunnery School in Plymouth England for training on the 4.7” gun for day and night gunnery. From Drake, André was drafted to Athabaskan.
HMCS Athabaskan was commissioned on February 3, 1943 with Commander G.R. Mile, OBE, RCN as her Captain. He had the honour of hoisting her White Ensign for the first time.
Athabaskan became a very busy ship working in close support with the RN on routine patrols and various duties in the North Sea, the Atlantic, and the Arctic Oceans. In mid 1943 Athabaskan with other RN units made five trips to the Bay of Biscay area conducting escort duties, patrols, rescue operations, and hunting for enemy U-Boats.
André remembers the hit by a Glider-Bomb shortly before 13:00 on August 27, 1943. Twenty German Dornier Bombers attacked a Canadian/British support group near Gibraltar.
Henschel Hs 293
Five of these Dorniers singled out the Athabaskan and dove toward her through intense anti-aircraft fire. One of their bombs glided toward Athabaskan in a perfect line, passed completely trough the hull and exploded in the water.
The explosion literally wrecked the forward part of the ship making many holes in the hull and starting many fires. It killed five men, seriously wounded twelve others, knocked out the Central Control System for the guns, and badly damaged the Radar and Communications Systems. Moments later HMS Egret, carrying the Groups Senior Officer, was also hit. The Egret was swept away in smoke and flames.
Within minutes Athabaskan was firing again, back in the fray.
Captain Miles elected to take the damaged ship to Plymouth for repairs instead of Gibraltar. He felt that repairs could be effected much more quickly in England. This meant that the ship’s company would have to look after their own wounded. Men were detailed to move the wounded into Sick Bay and the Wardroom. Many of them were badly burned, some were missing limbs, and one had lost both feet. He survived and became a station agent in Winnipeg.
Three months later, repairs and work-ups completed, Athabaskan goes back to war now commanded by Lcdr. Stubbs. Athabaskan joins three other Canadian Tribal Class Destroyers: Iroquois, Huron, and Haida. These four Destroyers provide escort duty for convoys to and from Murmansk Russia and are present at the action off North Cape on December 26, 1943 when the German Battle Cruiser Scharnhorst is sunk by the HMS Duke of York.
German Battle Cruiser Scharnhorst
In January 1944 Athabaskan, Huron, and Haida began patrol and escort duties in the English Channel and later the Iroquois, Haida, and Athabaskan took part in a carrier based air strike on shipping off the Norwegian coast. In early February 1944 Athabaskan, Huron, and Haida joined the 10th Destroyer Flotilla at Plymouth. With the British Forces the three Canadian Destroyers began a series of operations in preparation for D-Day by harassing German convoys and screening Allied mine-laying operations. On April 26, 1944 Athabaskan and Haida shared in the sinking of a German Elbing Class Destoryer. During this operation André was closed up at his position on a 20mm Twin Oerlikon Mounting. The Athabaskan came alongside the German Destroyer at about a distance of 200 feet and fired at the German ship until it was sunk.
At about 04:00 on April 29, 1944 Athabaskan and Haida intercepted two German Destroyers near Brest. Starshells are fired, they blossomed to light and the action begins. The Elbing Class Destroyers returned the combined gun fire of the Athabaskan and Haida, they lay down smoke-screen, and turn away. As these ships, the T-24 and T-27 turned away each fired six torpedoes. Almost immediately there was a direct hit by one of the torpedoes which blew the stern off the Athabaskan and started fires everywhere. Athabaskan slows, comes to a stop, “dead-in-the-water”, five miles of the coast of France. It is believed that a second torpedo hit Athabaskan midship and exploded. The ship went down almost immediately.
At least half of the crew perished with the ship, including the Captain, Lcdr Stubbs. He was one of the best officers André had served under. The survivors were swimming in oily water and finding it difficult to swim with their clothes on. André managed to strip off his sweater and trousers but kept his underwear and life-belt on. The sun was rising, the sea was calm, and it was a nice day. André saw many corpses floating away and said a prayer for his shipmates who had died during this tragic event.
André remembers swimming in the oily water for what seemed like hours holding on to a fishing net with cork floats. He sighted a small motor boat and swam towards it. In the motor boat were five survivors of the Athabaskan (Stan Buck, Tom Eady, George Caswell, Guy Morris, and Charles Burgess) and three crew members from the Haida (Stoker William Cummings, L/S William McClure, and AB Jack Hannam). The motor boat was just drifting, the motor refused to start. These men were faced with a decision: try for a relatively safe landing on the nearby French coast and face the prospect of internment in a German concentration camp or head for England a hundred miles away. They chose to try to make it to England.
Haida’s motor boat
Later in the morning after Haida had left the area three German Mine Sweepers came out from the enemy coast to pluck survivors from the cold oil slicked waters of the English Channel. By this time, André had been picked up by the Haida’s motor boat and thought his troubles were over. The three Mine Sweepers started to pursue the motor boat but fortunately the Stoker got the motor running and they headed towards England. After a short distance the Mine Sweepers gave up chase and turned back toward the French coast. Apparently the motor boat had gone through a German mine field which the Mine Sweepers couldn’t navigate easily. During the afternoon two German planes swept low over the motor boat looked it over and left. Later the same evening the men in the motor boat saw two more planes approaching in the same way and thought they were “Jerries”. As the planes got nearer they were able to see the old “Bullseye”, the Roundel of the RAF. These planes stayed in the area for about an hour and were later relieved by two others plus a big Lancaster bomber. Twenty one hours later they spotted a ship. It was a rescue launch. The motor boat was taken in tow by the British Rescue Launch only a few miles off the English coast. The Launch took them to HMS Penzance and then they were taken to hospital where they spent the next three weeks. It was an American hospital and they were given excellent treatment. On being released from hospital they were taken to London for debriefing on the sinking of the Athabaskan.
The Athabaskan had been a happy ship in spite of her several adversities. One of the good times André remembers was the Christmas the ship spent in the Faroe Islands in 1943. The youngest sailor aboard was Jon Fairchild from Quebec City, he was Captain for the day and they “Spliced-the-Mainbrace” as part of the Christmas celebrations. André was a member of “B” Guns Crew during that period. He was one of the lucky ones, he survived and wasn’t taken prisoner.
Reprinted from the HMCS Huron Association Newsletter, June 2002.
Andre Audet peacefully passed away on 9 December 2008. Andre served on board ATHABASKAN G07 during WWII. He was one of the lucky 44 members rescued by HMCS HAIDA after ATHABASKAN was torpedoed. After the war Andre joined the Royal Legion where he was highly involved. He served in a number of offices including: archivist, poppy chair, service officer and executive officer.
Mr. Wilf Henrickson passed away peacefully surrounded by family in Victoria on 26 of April 2009. He was a ATHABASKAN G07 survivor who had served as a signalman. After the sinking of G07 he spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp. Wilf was truly dedicated to the navy after the war and was proud of his time on ATHABASKAN. He attended a number of reunions with his shipmates and took great pride in speaking to cadets and officers about his experiences. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all their families and friends.
Lest we forget…