Lieutenant-Commander John Stubbs

Lieutenant-Commander John Stubbs

CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum

Local Heroes

Lieutenant-Commander John Stubbs
By Michael Whitby, 
historian, Directorate of History and Heritage, Ottawa

Lieutenant-Commander John Stubbs

Growing up in the small BC mining town of Kaslo, BC, John Hamilton Stubbs had ambitions to be a sailor, and became a naval cadet at age ten. When his father, an electrical engineer, moved the family to Victoria, Stubbs was that much closer to the sea and to achieving his dream of a seagoing life.

When he applied to join the Royal Canadian Navy in 1930, the examining board concluded that Stubbs would make “a very good naval officer”. It was an assessment the quietly impressive Stubbs would more than live up.

Stubbs did his early training with the Royal Navy in Britain. When he returned to the RCN in the fall of 1935, he was appointed navigator of the destroyer Skeena, whose Commanding Officer was so impressed with Stubbs that he selected him for specialist navigational training at HMS Dryad in England. The skills he learned there contributed to Stubbs’s renown as a superb ship-handler and tactician.

In January 1941, Stubbs, who was just 28, received command of HMCS Assiniboine, and for the next two years he commanded the ship on the treacherous North Atlantic run. This was harsh, demanding work that placed tremendous physical and mental stress on Stubbs, but he didn’t show the strain. Indeed, his grace under pressure was one of his most respected qualities.

Stubbs was an outstanding seaman, and a more than capable escort commander. In June 1941, Stubbs was Senior Officer of an escort group for convoy ONS-100 when it was attacked by six U-boats. In “North Atlantic Run”, author and historian Marc Milner describes how Stubbs relied upon sound tactics to escape with the loss of only four merchant ships.

His best known success came in August that year when Assiniboine caught U-210 on the surface in the Atlantic fog.

Naval historian G. N. Tucker, who witnessed the action from the destroyer’s bridge, considered it “a masterpiece of tactical skill”. Tucker observed that although Assiniboine’s bridge “was deluged with machine gun bullets”, Stubbs “never took his eye off the U-boat, and gave his orders as though he were talking to a friend at a garden party…”.Finally, Assiniboine, on fire amidships and riddled with shell holes, rammed U-210 twice and finished her off with depth charges.

Stubbs was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

Now promoted to Lieutenant-Commander, Stubbs left Assiniboine in October 1942. After a year of shore duty, he was appointed Commanding Officer of HMCS Athabaskan, a Tribal class vessel with a reputation as an unhappy ship. Stubbs is remembered as the quiet, laid-back man with a strong sense of humour who quickly restored morale, and ran an efficient yet relaxed ship.

Athabaskan was assigned to Plymouth Command to conduct offensive sweeps off the French coast. Stubbs’s skills proved well-suited to the fast-paced night surface actions and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his role in a battle in which Athabaskan and her sister-ship HMCS Haida played crucial roles in sinking the German destroyer T-29 on April 26, 1944.

Three nights later, Athabaskan and Haida, under Commander Harry De Wolf, were on patrol in mid-Channel when they were ordered to intercept two German destroyers (survivors of the earlier battle) heading westward along the French coast. Athabaskan’s radar soon detected the enemy ships; minutes later, the Tribal’s opened fire, then altered course towards the enemy to ‘comb’ possible torpedoes (that is, turn parallel to incoming torpedoes). In spite of this maneuver, a torpedo found Athabaskan.

The hit caused such devastation that Stubbs ordered the crew to stand by in readiness to abandon ship. In the early hours of morning, her decks crowded with men, Athabaskan’s 4-inch magazine erupted in a massive blast. Most of those on the port side were killed, and many others were burned by searing oil that rained down on the upper deck. Survivors took to the cold waters of the English Channel as their ship began to sink beneath them.

Stubbs is said to have sung to his men while they waited in the freezing water, stanzas from a tune about naval volunteers called “The Wavy Navy” They were in the water for 30 minutes before Haida, having finished off one of the German destroyers, returned to rescue survivors.

Although it was near dawn and the enemy coast was only five miles away, Haida lay stopped for 18 minutes. According to some witnesses, Stubbs shouted a warning to DeWolf to the effect “get away Haida, get clear”.

DeWolf did not hear Stubbs, but knew he had lingered long enough; after dropping all boats and floats, Haida headed back to Plymouth with 42 survivors. Six more of Athabaskan’s company made it safely to England in Haida’s cutter, while another 85 were picked up by German warships.

John Stubbs, badly burned and last seen clinging to a life-raft, was among the 128 who perished. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) after his death.

The quiet heroism and dedication to duty demonstrated by John Stubbs have become a rightful part of the rich traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy.


This man found Commander Stubbs body on the beach

Lest we forget

Click here

Commander Stubbs

This is what Able Seaman Jim L’Esperance told his children…

Jim L’Esperance

Jim in the back extreme right

Jim in Halifax in 1940

Jim in Halifax in 1940

My dad often spoke of Commander Stubbs. He thought the world of him.

I found that was one way to get some information out of him, just ask who was the captain on the Athabaskan and my dad would say what a great man he was.

He said there was a lot of  trouble aboard the ship until Commander Stubbs took command.

Feel free to use any pictures I send especialy for your story on Commander Stubbs.

I know my dad would feel honored to have his picture in a story about that great man.


Tomorrow I will talk about Lieutenant-Commander Stubbs

HMCS Chippawa

HMCS Chippawa is a naval reserve division based in Winnipeg.

Jim L’Esperance sent me this last week.

I want to share it with you.

Tomorrow I am going to my brother-in-law’s place. He has invited my wife’s uncle who said he was aboard the Athabaskan the night of April 29, 1944.

I know I will not bring up the subject. He wants to keep his war memories to himself… and I understand why.

Welcome home Jim…

The man next to Jim L’Esperance in the picture yesterday was Herm Sulkers…

turret crew large

Jim L’Esperance also sent me this picture…

Click on the picture to zoom in

He sent me more pictures of his father and told me more stories about him and Commander Stubbs.

He also sent me a booklet about a memorial ceremony held by HMCS Chippawa in 2006.

Come back tomorrow… I think you will learn a lot of things.

Eugene M. Fuller 1920-1944

My friend Jim L’Esperance sent me this picture among others…

Eugene is on the right sitting on the gun barrel. The sailor behind him is unknown, but I could identify almost all the rest of the sailors.

Jim’s father is on the picture. You can see his name above.

You see the man next to him…

You should know who he is by now.

Here is a larger view.

Click on the image for a larger view

Any guess?



Eugene M. Fuller 1920-1944: a True Canadian Hero

We don’t talk much about Eugene Fuller these days… or any other day for that matter…

In memory of
Able Seaman
who died on April 29, 1944

Military Service:

Service Number: V/8808Age: 24Force: NavyUnit: Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer ReserveDivision: H.M.C.S. Athabaskan

Additional Information:

Son of Ernest Milton Fuller and Elizabeth May Fuller, of Brantford, Ontario, Canada.

I found this on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

It’s very interesting reading if you want to know what kind of hero Eugene was…

But I got much more for someone else…

See you tomorrow.

I just can’t wait to show you…

The Myth of the Good War revisited

A friend of mine sent me his thoughts about Jacques Pauwells’ book The Myth of the Good War.

Dear Pierre,

My wife says I’m too argumentative, but my skepticism (as I prefer to call it) is the product of having been raised in a part of the world where prejudices were the rule. As I grew older, I learned better. I encountered other, wiser views (from books and individuals), but I also discovered that the “other side” could also have its own bias and prejudice. With regard to Pauwels’ polemic, here are several examples that, I think, call into question the objectivity of his analysis.

For starters, I think he totally misunderstands the term “good war.” It was not coined to mean an altruistic, selfless endeavor on the part of the U.S. or to suggest that we were somehow noble or “good.” It refers to a war that had few moral ambiguities as to who the enemy is and what the threat is—in contrast to the Vietnam War, for instance. By that definition, it was a good war.

Even Pauwels’ opening statement troubled me: “This book is not the fruit of arduous research undertaken in Washington’s monumental National Archives or found in other imposing collections of documents; in order to create it, little or no use was made of what historians call ‘primary sources.’ ” No historian I know of would be so dismissive of primary sources. On the other hand, for example, he cites a report from the German ambassador of Mexico to the Nazi government as proof of America’s attitude vis-a-vis German economic competition in Latin America. He even footnotes it. He may be right about the attitude, but I cannot imagine any source being less reliable. Maybe he ought to do some “arduous research.”

I was also disappointed by his stereotyping. He wrote: “the wartime role of America’s political and economic leadership was not guided by purely idealistic motives . . . .” Well, I certainly agree with that. So does every historian I know. But I was puzzled because he did not stop there. The full sentence reads “the wartime role of America’s political and economic leadership was not guided by purely idealistic motives, AS IS GENERALLY ASSUMED.” He adds: “The overwhelming majority of conventional syntheses dealing with the role of the United States in the Second World War are typical examples of so-called ‘feel-good-history.’ “

I don’t know who he’s been talking to or what books he’s been reading, but he is terribly out of touch if he believes that “the overwhelming majority” believes that way. I am from the most conservative, most obnoxiously “patriotic” America-we’re-number-one hooray-for-our-side God-loves-America region in the country, and I attended a state university in a city that used to boast it had more churches than service stations, but nobody who has ever taken a history course here believes or assumes any such thing. Sure, I know people who think we saved the world all by ourselves, but, again, they are uneducated people. They are the kind of people who think the moon landings were fake, that alien abductions are real, and that George Bush was a great president. But I have never READ anything of that sort from a serious writer. Instead, Pauwels prefers to stereotype. And stereotyping IS prejudice.

He uses the phrase “heartwarming historical literature.” Frankly, I have never read any “heartwarming historical literature,” as he calls it, in my life. I’ve seen some movies like that. And there is a lot of heartwarming fiction out there, but it’s not historical and it’s not literature. What he asserts is a figment of his imagination. I don’t know what the French term is, but he has engaged in a logical fallacy: we call it a straw man argument. X says this is what Y believes and here is what is wrong with it—-even though Y never said it and doesn’t believe it. Moving on . . . .

That power elites direct most (all?) societies is undoubtably true. This is hardly news.
Pauwels also asks some odd questions, such as “Why did US policy-makers not eradicate all forms of fascism in Germany and elsewhere after 1945?” If he thinks the U.S. could have accomplished this, he has a grandiose notion of U.S. power that surpasses Bush’s. One might as well ask why European governments did not eradicate the anti-Semitic forces there. And still haven’t.

I respect some of his sources. I know of Parenti, and I have long admired Noam Chomsky. Although I do not agree fully with everything Chomsky writes, I think he is the superior thinker of the two. I must also quibble with another assertion made by Pauwels: “the undisputable historical fact that the Soviet Union made the biggest contribution to the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.” In the first place, there are few “undisputable” “historical” “facts.” He sounds like my late uncle, a Pentecostal preacher.

Second, it is indisputable that the loss of life in the Soviet Union was unparalleled, and its resilience was amazing. It fought the largest tank battles of all time and won. But whether this makes it the “biggest contribution to the allied victory” is highly debatable. I say this for several reasons. Had Britain chosen to make peace after France fell, we might not even be talking about an allied victory. Had Stalin not repeatedly purged his officer corps and had he not made a pact with Hitler that divided up Poland, maybe Hitler would have had a two-front war from the outset. May a person help set a house on fire and then, after it spreads to his house, claim credit as the major reason the fire was extinguished?

He also minimizes the effects of Lend-Lease equipment sent to the Soviet Union, relying on highly suspect Soviet assertions that portrayed such aid as a trifle. More recent studies since the collapse of the USSR show otherwise.

Finally—and again, I have not read the entire book—Pauwels seems troubled by hypocrisy on the part of the West. He points out that Eisenhower called it the “great crusade” and that Britain and the U.S. hypocritically proclaimed the “Four Freedoms.” As for me, I am not even surprised at this sort of thing. In Russia, they called it the “Great Patriotic War.” Such hyperbole is part of war. No doubt Britain wanted to hold onto its colonies and run their lives; no doubt Stalin had the same thing in mind for Eastern Europe. It turned out, of course, that the Soviet regime ended up as corrupt as its capitalist competitors, and, by my lights, far more brutal. It became about as pro-labor as the Tsar. But enough of my sermonizing.

When I reached the part about Japan, I gave up. He is absolutely right that America did not enter the war until Japan declared war on the U.S. (which occurred almost simultaneously with the attack on American military installations). What’s his point? On this issue, even Chomsky is too glib.