All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

The World Wars

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The S.S. Caribou

During WW II the S.S. Caribou provided an important service to many travellers, both civilian and military. Of course, travel was not always efficient during those tense days. Military personnel were given priority for passage, and people were often left behind because there was not enough room for them on the ship. The S.S. Burgeo was also assigned to help with the transport of people.

Awareness of the war was strong in Newfoundland. Everybody knew the Island was in the middle of the "Battle of the Atlantic." The effects of war were seen on the streets and harbour of St. John's, home to many damaged ships and captured submarines.

Real action was experienced on the shores of Newfoundland. Ships carrying iron-ore from the Bell Island Mines were torpedoed by the Germans in Conception Bay, and torpedoes were fired at least once into the mouth of St. John's Harbour. So it is something of an understatement to say that during the war the night crossing of the S.S. Caribou was more than routine. On the evening of October 13, 1942, the S.S. Caribou left North Sydney, never to arrive in Port aux Basques. In the early hours of October 14 - roughly 25 miles southwest of Channel Head - a torpedo hit the S.S. Caribou. It sank, taking with it the lives of 137 people which included 31 members of the S.S. Caribou's crew, and 57 members of the armed services. The S.S. Caribou's escort ship, the S.S. Grandmere, picked up 102 people the next morning having spent the night pursuing the German submarine.

The S.S. Caribou in harbour.
The S.S. Caribou, the first of many ships built for the Newfoundland Railway operated between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. It was torpedoed October 14, 1942 by German U-boat 69. Provincial Archives. The Rooms.
German U-boat 190 in the narrows of St. John's harbour, 1945.
German U-boat 190, May 12, 1945 being escorted through the narrows into St. John's harbour. Maritime Command Museum, Department of National Defence.