After the Normandy landings in June 1944 the German navy (Kriegsmarine) still held the French Atlantic ports, from which it was able to threaten the invasion fleet as well as the convoys responsible for resupplying Allied ground troops with ammunition, fuel and rations. The role of the many escort groups, and hence many Canadian sailors, was to intercept the German convoys and maintain the blockade of the ports held by the enemy. Petty Officer Gustave Guay, at the time a gunner on HMCS Saskatchewan, recalls the nights he spent on surveillance duty along the French coastlines, and one of the battles against German navy surface ships.
During the night of July 5 to 6, 1944, Operation DREDGER was launched. The mission of Escort Group 12, which included the Canadian warships Saskatchewan, Qu’Appelle, Skeena and Restigouche, was to intercept the German ships responsible for escorting the German U-boats entering or leaving their home port of Brest, the German submarine base. Escort Group 12 was supported by another escort group, Escort Group 14, which positioned itself offshore to catch any U-boats that might escape. The battle began when escort group Escort Group 12 noticed a convoy of four German minesweepers and two U-boats. A fierce battle began, with the ships firing torpedoes and shells at one another.
Guay later recalled the confusion on board: noise and smoke caused by explosions made combat difficult and the outcome remained uncertain. While three German ships were destroyed, two submarines managed to get away. Two Canadian warships were damaged, Qu’Appelle and Restigouche. Some men were injured and a number of them died.
On board HMCS Saskatchewan, Dugald Leitch (V-35138) a young sailor manning one of the Oerlikon guns on the bridge, fell at his battle station. When the crew returned to Plymouth, there was a funeral and, in keeping with tradition, a sale of his personal effects.
The money collected was given to his family. Guay’s purchase was Leitch’s Seamanship Manual. He kept the manual over the years in remembrance of a lost friend.
Operation DREDGER represented the gradual infiltration of the Allies into the Gulf of Gascogne, and a new phase in offshore anti-submarine warfare. - Easton, Alan. 50 North Canada’s Atlantic Battleground. Toronto, The Ryerson Press, 1963. 287 pp. - Fournier, Julie. "Gustave Guay". Entrevues avec des vétérans canadiens-français de la Marine royale canadienne (Musée naval de Québec), (17 November 1998), 23 pp. - McAndrew, Bill et al. Normandie 1944 L’été canadien. Montreal, Art Global, 1994. 162 pp. - Mosseray, Fabrice. Engagez l’ennemi (2e partie). "L’Encre de la Réserve navale", vol. 10, no. 2, (September 2001), p. 18.
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