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 Read More
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.

© 2008, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Crew of HMCS Saskatchewan

Crew of HMCS Saskatchewan. Gustave Guay is in the first row, second from the left

Gustave Guay collection.
Gustave Guay collection.

© Gustave Guay collection


HMCS Saskatchewan

HMCS Saskatchewan. Photograph: Royal Canadian Navy

Musée naval de Québec collection

© Musée naval de Québec collection


Press clipping describing Operation Dredger carried out on the night of 5 to 6 July 1944 involving HMCS Saskatchewan and othe

From a Canadian East Coast port, 11 (CP)—Immediately following a fierce engagement with four armed German trawlers off the French coast, a group of officers and men from the H.M.C.S. Saskatchewan are back in Canada for some well-deserved leave...

Gustave Guay collection

© Gustave Guay collection


Return of H.M.C.S. Saskatchewan Following a Fierce Battle at Brest

From a Canadian East Coast port, 11 (CP)—Immediately following a fierce engagement with four armed German trawlers off the French coast, a group of officers and men from the H.M.C.S. Saskatchewan are back in Canada for some well-deserved leave
.
This action, the first of the war in which a fleet consisting of only Canadian units attacked the enemy, occurred off the coast of Brest within range of the 11-inch guns of the German coastal batteries at Cap St-Matthieu.

The Germans have admitted the loss of three trawlers, whereas the Canadian destroyers suffered a number of losses and some slight damage. On the Saskatchewan, one man was killed and six wounded; the Qu’Appelle had one man killed and 16 wounded; on the Skeena, seven were wounded. The Restigouche suffered no losses or damage.

Following this engagement, the three destroyers that suffered losses sailed for a port in England, where the dead were buried and the injured taken to hospital. The destroyers then returned to their position in the English Channel.

H.M.C.S. Qu’Appelle, command Read More
Return of H.M.C.S. Saskatchewan Following a Fierce Battle at Brest

From a Canadian East Coast port, 11 (CP)—Immediately following a fierce engagement with four armed German trawlers off the French coast, a group of officers and men from the H.M.C.S. Saskatchewan are back in Canada for some well-deserved leave
.
This action, the first of the war in which a fleet consisting of only Canadian units attacked the enemy, occurred off the coast of Brest within range of the 11-inch guns of the German coastal batteries at Cap St-Matthieu.

The Germans have admitted the loss of three trawlers, whereas the Canadian destroyers suffered a number of losses and some slight damage. On the Saskatchewan, one man was killed and six wounded; the Qu’Appelle had one man killed and 16 wounded; on the Skeena, seven were wounded. The Restigouche suffered no losses or damage.

Following this engagement, the three destroyers that suffered losses sailed for a port in England, where the dead were buried and the injured taken to hospital. The destroyers then returned to their position in the English Channel.

H.M.C.S. Qu’Appelle, commanded by Commander "Sandy" MacKillop, R.N., chose the course that led the fleet to the vicinity of the port of Brest on the morning of 7 July. It was followed by the Saskatchewan, the Skeena and the Restigouche. The battle began and there was a fierce exchange of artillery. The enemy trawlers caught fire and rapidly sank. No survivors were picked up.

The Commander of the Saskatchewan, LCdr Allan Herbert Easton, D.S.O., R.C.N.R., Halifax, said that it had been a heated battle and went on to say how proud he was of his crew, and added that, "Every man had conducted himself with honour."

© 2008, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

HMCS Saskatchewan crest

HMCS Saskatchewan crest. Motto: Ready and confident.

Musée naval de Québec collection.

© Musée naval de Québec collection


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 the World War II.
  • Evaluate the weapons and technology involved in the war at sea.

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