On the morning of March 5, 1944, Seaman Torpedo Man Laurent Saint-Pierre and the whole crew of corvette HMCS Chilliwack were preparing, unknowingly, to take part in one of the longest submarine chases in the history of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Saint-Pierre, a native of Tourville in the county of L’Islet, Quebec, enlisted at the Quebec division offices of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in October 1940. For someone accustomed to working on a farm, life changed dramatically when Canada declared war on Germany in 1939. Like more than 100,000 naval reservists, he was posted aboard a Canadian warship, in this instance a corvette.

From 1939 to 1945, Canadian corvettes escorted most of the merchant ship convoys whose mission was to supply food and provisions to Allied troops and the people of Great Britain. These Canadian sailors, who always feared the formidable German U-boats, were engaged in one of the most dangerous tasks there was.

On the morning of March 5, 1944, HMCS Chilliwack temporarily replaced HMCS Sackville in the escort group for the C-2 Convoy. The C-2 group consisted of the Canadian warships Chaudière, Gatinea Read More

On the morning of March 5, 1944, Seaman Torpedo Man Laurent Saint-Pierre and the whole crew of corvette HMCS Chilliwack were preparing, unknowingly, to take part in one of the longest submarine chases in the history of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Saint-Pierre, a native of Tourville in the county of L’Islet, Quebec, enlisted at the Quebec division offices of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in October 1940. For someone accustomed to working on a farm, life changed dramatically when Canada declared war on Germany in 1939. Like more than 100,000 naval reservists, he was posted aboard a Canadian warship, in this instance a corvette.

From 1939 to 1945, Canadian corvettes escorted most of the merchant ship convoys whose mission was to supply food and provisions to Allied troops and the people of Great Britain. These Canadian sailors, who always feared the formidable German U-boats, were engaged in one of the most dangerous tasks there was.

On the morning of March 5, 1944, HMCS Chilliwack temporarily replaced HMCS Sackville in the escort group for the C-2 Convoy. The C-2 group consisted of the Canadian warships Chaudière, Gatineau, St. Catharines, St. Fennel and the Royal Navy’s HMS Icarus. The group’s task was to protect the HX-280 Convoy heading for Great Britain.

After initial contact with a German submarine, the crews of HMCS Chilliwack and a number of other ships attacked it for several hours without any decisive results. As night approached, the Allied warships suspected that the submarine would want to surface and take advantage of the darkness to escape. Saint-Pierre recalled that contact had been maintained all night and that the corvette had continued to patrol the perimeter of the area in which they thought the U-boat was located.

The next morning the attacks resumed for another several hours. Given the unlikelihood of being able to damage the U-744 with a depth charge, they decided on another tactic: to wait until the submarine had to surface because its batteries were exhausted and conditions inside the submarine had become intolerable.

At 3:20 p.m., after almost thirty hours of keeping watch, the patience of the Allied warships was rewarded. As soon as the conning tower appeared, HMCS Chilliwack was the first to fire and make a hit.

With the submarine now rendered harmless, some crewmembers from HMCS Chilliwack and HMCS St. Catharines boarded the U-boat with instructions to secure codebooks and signal equipment. In spite of a navy prohibition, but with the permission of his Captain, Saint-Pierre immortalized the boarding of the U-744 by taking a single photograph that was published in every Canadian newspaper. Frenchie, as he was nicknamed, was even rebaptized Laurence St-Carré as a result of a typographical mistake!

This was not the end of the lengthy adventure, because the howling sea was capsizing the Canadian crews’ lifeboats. Some of the documents recovered from the submarine were lost and HMCS Fennel and HMCS Chaudière had to rescue the Canadian sailors and the thirty-nine German submarine sailors who became prisoners of war. U-744 was then torpedoed and sunk by HMS Icarus.

The chase and destruction of U-744 was a perfect example of submarine warfare conducted by capable and experienced crews.

- McKee, Fraser and Darlington, Robert. The Canadian Naval Chronicle 1939-1945. The Successes and Losses of the Canadian Navy in World War II. St. Catharines, Vanwell Publishing Limited, 1996. 272 pp.
- Fournier, Julie. "Laurent Saint-Pierre". Entrevues avec des vétérans canadiens-français de la Marine royale canadienne (Musée naval de Québec), (16 September 1998), 60 pp.

© Collection Laurent Saint-Pierre.

Laurent Saint-Pierre, 1940.

Laurent Saint-Pierre, 1940. Photographed on the day he enlisted in the RCNVR (Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve).

Laurent Saint-Pierre collection

© Laurent Saint-Pierre collection


HMCS Chilliwack

HMCS Chilliwack. Photograph: Royal Canadian Navy

Musée naval de Québec collection

© Musée naval de Québec collection


Canadian Naval Craft Sink German U-Boat

Press clipping of a description of the capture and torpedoing of U-744. The headline says “Canadian Naval Craft Sink German U-Boats”.

Laurent Saint-Pierre collection

© Laurent Saint-Pierre collection


HMCS Chilliwack, one of the oldest corvettes in the R.C.N. and commanded by Lieut.-Commander Clifton R. (Tony) Coughlin, R.C.N.V.R, of Ottawa, played a major role, together with other ships of the R.C.N. and an R.N. destroyer in the recent destruction of a U-boat. Chilliwack was the first to see the U-boat and the first to open fire and score a hit after the sub was forced to the surface by depth charge attack.

Prisoners Taken As Sub Fails To Make Escape

OTTAWA, May 31 (CP)—The marked turn of fortunes in the Battle of the Atlantic was emphasized in a naval release today describing a successful attack by six warships on a Nazi U-boat, prowling on the flank of a fat convoy. It was only by a fluke the U-boat’s presence was spotted.
In the tough, early days of the convoy route, U-boats roved audaciously in packs a […] of escort ships to protect mer [chant] […] beleaguered Britain.

The Canadian destroyer Gatineau, in command of Lt.-Cmdr. H.V.W. Groos of Victoria, left the convoy with a distiller defect, and immediately detected the lurking undersea rider.
Another destroyer, Read More
HMCS Chilliwack, one of the oldest corvettes in the R.C.N. and commanded by Lieut.-Commander Clifton R. (Tony) Coughlin, R.C.N.V.R, of Ottawa, played a major role, together with other ships of the R.C.N. and an R.N. destroyer in the recent destruction of a U-boat. Chilliwack was the first to see the U-boat and the first to open fire and score a hit after the sub was forced to the surface by depth charge attack.

Prisoners Taken As Sub Fails To Make Escape

OTTAWA, May 31 (CP)—The marked turn of fortunes in the Battle of the Atlantic was emphasized in a naval release today describing a successful attack by six warships on a Nazi U-boat, prowling on the flank of a fat convoy. It was only by a fluke the U-boat’s presence was spotted.
In the tough, early days of the convoy route, U-boats roved audaciously in packs a […] of escort ships to protect mer [chant] […] beleaguered Britain.

The Canadian destroyer Gatineau, in command of Lt.-Cmdr. H.V.W. Groos of Victoria, left the convoy with a distiller defect, and immediately detected the lurking undersea rider.
Another destroyer, two corvettes and a frigate of the Canadian navy and a Royal navy destroyer joined in the attack which brought [the] U-boat to the surface where [it was] destroyed. The U-boats com [man] der was killed and an undisc […] number of prisoners were tak [en]

In the action besides the [Gati] neau were these Canadian s [ailors] and their captains: The destro [yer] Chaudiere, Lt.-Cmdr. Pat Nixon [of] Victoria; the corvettes Chilliwa [ck], Lt.-Cmdr. Clifton R. [Tony] Coughlin of Ottawa, and Fe [nnel], Lt.-Cmdr. William P. Moffat [of] Montreal; the frigate St. Cathar[ines],
Lt.-Cmdr. A. F. Pickard of [Hali] fax; and a Royal Navy destr [oyer] Icarus, Lt.-Cmdr. Richard Dye […] [of] Vancouver.

SENIOR OFFICER-Cmdr. P. W. Burnett, Barro [w-In-] Furness, Eng., was the senior [officer].

© Collection Laurent Saint-Pierre

Learning Objectives

  • Develop an understanding of the participation and role of Canada’s Navy in the World War II.
  • Examine the contributions, sacrifices and experiences of individuals who participated in naval events during World War II.
  • Identify the locations in which Canada’s Navy operated during World War II.
  • Evaluate the weapons and technology involved in the war at sea.

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