A Brave New World (1945-1960)

With the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the Second World War came to an abrupt and unexpected end. The bombs marked the beginning of an era of nuclear deterrence that challenged conventional maritime warfare strategy and seemingly rendered the world’s foremost navies, the USN and the RN, not to mention smaller navies like the RCN, almost irrelevant. Post- war threat assessments demonstrated the relative weakness of the Soviet Union (especially its navy), the unlikelihood of immediate combat, and the long-term need for greater air defence. Western governments, therefore, made a priority of establishing strong peacetime economies, while naval officers worried that the warships and weapons developed during the Second World War might prove redundant for future wars. Science and technology were the waves of the future. Officers in the Royal Canadian Navy already knew that their current anti-submarine warfare capabilities could not adequately handle the latest German submarine types, the true fast submarines, which appeared during the latter years of the war. While by August 1945 the allies had defeated Germany, Japan, and Italy, most of the RCN’s 400 warships were small, slow and obsolete. The Canadian Naval Surplus Disposition Committee planned to keep only the most modern larger ships in service, and it had already begun dismantling the “sheep dog” navy that had defended convoys under the dangerous and difficult conditions of the Battle of the Atlantic. Faced with a combination of the unparalleled pre-eminence of the United States, the decline of Britain, and the lack of a credible maritime threat, the RCN knew it had a tough battle ahead to defend its core components, cruisers and aircraft carriers, in particular. Only by judicious planning, by cooperation with the American and British navies, and by flexibility in the face of change, would the RCN be able to defend its resources in the peacetime era ahead.

Two ships travel across the water in different directions as a plane flies overhead.

John Horton, The Changing Fleet After World War 2, with the carrier Magnificent conducting flight operations surrounded by her escort group of Tribal-class destroyers.

As we have seen in chapter 4, careful wartime negotiations with the RN allowed the RCN to acquire two light fleet aircraft carriers (Warrior and Magnificent), two cruisers (Uganda and Ontario), and a flotilla of Crescent-class destroyers near the war’s end. In mid- 1945, the RCN’s post-war defence plans envisioned building upon its 1939 pre-war plans for flotillas of Tribal-class destroyers on each of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, anticipating a defensive striking force of one aircraft carrier, two cruisers, and nine destroyers on each coast. As in the previous interwar peacetime period, the RCN was to concentrate upon the defence of Canada first, having the capacity to repel all but heavy task forces from the adjacent oceans, but it now foresaw three additional post-war tasks that have remained the basis of Canadian defence white papers over the decades to come: the protection of sea lines of communication; “hemispheric” or continental defence with the Americans; and support for international security through the United Nations. The deepening of defence cooperation with the U.S. in place of Britain created a new geo-strategic context for the RCN, while the addition of aircraft carriers to the fleet created a formidable new challenge of a different sort. Even after the government, in October 1945, cut the numbers of vessels planned almost in half, the RCN emerged from the Second World War with a much more impressive fleet than it had before 1939. What Douglas Abbott, the minister of national defence for the Naval Service, styled as the future “good, workable little fleet,” quoted by Alec Douglas in his introduction to this book, would consist of “probably” two light fleet carriers, two cruisers and 10 to 12 fleet destroyers, along with some frigates for training purposes and other vessels in reserve.1 And so, the active fleet for 1946–47 had the carrier Warrior; the cruiser Ontario; the destroyers Crescent, Micmac, and Nootka; the frigate Charlottetown; the minesweepers Middlesex, New Liskeard, Wallaceburg, and Revelstoke; the training ship Sans Peur; the auxiliaries Dundalk, Dundurn, and Laymore; a stores carrier, Eastmore; and a few smaller coastal vessels and tugs, along with some ships listed in the reserve force.

The challenge, paradoxically, was that after training so many wartime personnel, a short- age of well-qualified officers and ratings became the gravest problem facing the Canadian Navy almost immediately at the war’s end. On 28 September 1945, the Canadian Cabinet optimistically approved a permanent naval force ceiling of 10,000 and a reserve naval force ceiling of 18,000. In truth, even as the RCN began the unpleasant task of demobilizing its personnel from a high of 92,529 in April 1945, there were fewer than 4,600 all-ranks in the “permanent force” RCN. The first to leave the navy were the “hostilities only” personnel who had not committed to serve after the war’s end. However, due to shortages of certain trades needed to help manage demobilization, such as naval writers, administrative staff, and firefighters, some of these personnel were not permitted to leave even after Minister Abbott made his public promises in Parliament. As their more fortunate colleagues found better paying civilian jobs and returned to their families, resentment in this group grew. Others who had joined the RCN in 1940 and 1941 for seven years of service expecting the war to last at least that long and who now hoped to leave “early” also became restless. In the end, the RCN had to rely heavily upon a small “interim” force of naval reservists — not all of them willing — to beef up the numbers until March 1947. As has been seen in the wartime chapters, differing perspectives and poor communication between the pre-war professional navy and wartime naval reservists had resulted in deep-seated bitterness. While some talented reservists such as the controversial Jeffrey Brock joined the permanent navy, most left for more promising civilian careers. Brock believed that the pre-war permanent officers contained many mediocre individuals who clogged up the promotion process, while some permanent force officers believed the former reservists lacked proper training and did not enforce discipline.

Abbott recognized that the key to reducing these tensions, while establishing a larger and more effective permanent force, was the better peacetime integration of the reservists. For that reason, his October 1945 pronouncements also included the establishment of a single reserve service combining the wartime RCNRs and RCNVRs, as well as incorporating new groupings of naval air reservists and university naval training divisions, all serving under one set of regulations and wearing a uniform similar to the permanent force — the latter point underscored by ending the wartime practice of officers sporting different stripes to distinguish the three former “services.”

However, despite these and many other well-intentioned reforms, the post-war Canadian Navy was not a happy institution. Desertions, absence without leave, and a host of other personnel problems plagued the navy from 1945 to 1949, although the poor morale of 1947 had improved slightly in 1948 as modest reforms were implemented. The chronic troubles came to a head in a quick succession of “incidents” — sometimes referred to as “mutinies,” but in reality only brief work stoppages — in February and March 1949 aboard Athabaskan, Crescent, and Magnificent.

Naval personnel sitting around a table enjoying conversation.

Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice- Admiral Rollo Mainguy, shares a coffee in the seamen’s mess of Athabaskan while visiting the ship in Korean waters, February 1953.

The commission of inquiry charged to investigate the situation published its findings as The Mainguy Report. Admittedly an enlightened and visionary document setting out a process to avoid repetition of the mistakes of the past, it also perpetuated a stereotypical view criticizing the upper ranks of the RCN as dominated by pre-war permanent force officers with overly British attitudes, and concluded that the problem was an absence of Canadian traditions in the navy. The Mainguy Report spoke to a need to “Canadianize” the naval service, and clearly the navy’s senior leadership failed to appreciate the importance of symbols to the new national consciousness being developed by post-war Liberal governments through measures such as the Citizenship Act of 1947.Yet, in the intervening decades, naval officers adopted it as an important reference, although more recently historians have come to question its assumptions and findings.

The consensus now is forming that, while stating many obvious truths in guiding officer-rating relationships, The Mainguy Report also misrepresented the actual condition of the RCN in 1949. Even as the chief of the naval staff (Vice-Admiral Harold Grant) gave short shrift to “Canadian symbols,” he laboured to modernize the navy and improve conditions with the few resources at his disposal in a climate of severe government retrenchment. Recent studies credit Grant’s reforms, but point out that the far-reaching rank and trade group re-organization he implemented exacerbated a pre-existing shortage of able-bodied seaman to perform heavy labour in the three affected ships. A more general underlying cause was the perhaps unavoidable intergenerational tension that arose among the pre-war force, veterans of the Second World War, and post-war recruits — the bulk of the junior ratings — who lacked wartime experience and seemed “soft” to the older personnel. Finally, brief stoppages were nothing new: the RCN, like the RN, had a tradition of work stoppages even during wartime. In the broader context of past experiences, ratings saw stoppages as a means of protest, and invariably authorities at the time recognized most of their complaints as legitimate. After 1949, the inconsistency inherent in such an ad hoc process finally was officially clarified through the institution of welfare committees and formal grievance procedures. Subsequent generations of Canadian sailors have proudly sported “Canada” flashes on their shoulders.

Despite the personnel issues, RCN formations on both coasts had busy schedules and the few operational warships undertook a surprising number of cruises and operations during these bleak years. The year 1947, in addition to being marred by widespread dissatisfaction in the fleet, also witnessed several embarrassing groundings and mishaps, and tragic air accidents. It was a low point in the RCN’s post-war experience. The best moment was undoubtedly Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1947, when the Fairey Firefly aircraft of 826 Squadron made rocket attacks on the captured German submarine U-190 in Operation Scuppered off the coast of Nova Scotia. Unintentionally proving the efficacy of naval air, the submarine sank more quickly than anticipated and Commander Hugh Pullen, captain of destroyers aboard Nootka, cancelled bombing runs by the Supermarine Seafires of 883 Squadron, while the planned attacks by the 4.7-inch guns of Haida and Nootka proved both unnecessary and unsuccessful. The operation signalled a renewed emphasis on anti-submarine warfare as the RCN began fitting Squid mortar bombs and other ASW equipment into its destroyer forces.

Naval air continued to develop an important role in anti-submarine warfare as well as in the air defence of North America at this crucial early stage of its development. However, northern defence also took a higher priority and in September 1948 the carrier Magnificent (which had replaced Warrior earlier that year) cruised up to the Ungava Peninsula accompanied by Haida and Nootka. The two Tribal-class destroyers remained in northern waters visiting Churchill, Manitoba and then returning to Halifax through the Strait of Belle Isle. After the cruise, Commodore G.R. Miles, the commanding officer of Magnificent, observed that station-keeping and manoeuvring had improved, but “that the sloppy habits of the wartime years, will only be eradicated by steaming in company with as many ships as can be made available.”2 The RCN had already adopted the American tactical organization and communication system based upon a flexible task force concept and so by 1948 ships on both coasts formed small task groups to accomplish specific goals. For example, in October and November 1948, Ontario, Cayuga, Athabaskan, Crescent, and Antigonish formed Task Group 215 and sailed to Pearl Harbor for extensive anti-submarine warfare training along with shadowing, night encounter, and other exercises with American forces. After this cruise, Rear- Admiral E.R. Mainguy, Flag Officer Pacific Coast, agreed with his warship commanders on the “incontestable” need for a definite RCN tactical policy and a live submarine for practice; however he concluded that basic training remained a priority and that the few Pacific coast ships could not yet keep a submarine employed full time. The Atlantic fleet also relied upon borrowed American and British submarines for training purposes.

A ship travels across the water on a cloudy day.

The Tribal-class destroyer Nootka earning her reputation as a “train buster,” bombarding Package 1 on the North Korean “Windshield” patrol area, 28 May 1951.

Nonetheless, in 1948 the Canadian government approved building the icebreaker HMCS Labrador, in addition to three new anti-submarine destroyer escorts (which eventually culminated in the commissioning of the St. Laurent class in the mid-to-late fifties), four minesweepers, and one gate vessel. The RCN’s carrier and destroyers had taken part in deck landing training, convoy protection, gunnery, night encounter, search and strike, and other exercises throughout 1947 to 1950, nationally and in company with American and British ships in the Caribbean and Bermudian waters. Despite the meagre naval resources, the ships of the Pacific coast at various times cruised through the Panama Canal to take part in large scale exercises with the Atlantic fleet. Naval air, still in its infancy, took over the air station at Shearwater in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, from the RCAF, and maintained two carrier air groups of four squadrons equipped with Sea Fury and Firefly aircraft, along with No. 1 Air Training Group, Air Stores Depot, and a school of naval air maintenance. In the meantime, the Naval Research Establishment equipped all RCN warships with bathythermographs and began research on the oceanography of the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts along with innovative work in corrosion, allowing the RCN to contribute to the American and British naval research with significant accomplishments in their own right (see postscript at the end of the chapter for more details).

Continuing the close hemispheric defence relationship developed during the Second World War, the Joint Canada-United States Military Cooperation Committee (MCC) was formed with military planners from both countries to prepare a binational emergency defence plan along with long-term tentative plans. Although Canadians had difficulty acquiring American defence equipment because of security and exchange problems in the late 1940s, the RCN had already begun standardizing communications and other specific operating procedures and equipment during 1947, while still relying upon British procedures and equipment in other areas. Indeed, the British military also began some standardizing to American equipment and procedures. In the end, the three allies standardized much, trying to adopt the best equipment, but keeping national interests and industries in mind. Often the process was haphazard, but it permitted the RCN eventually to find its own footing on a rather slippery path.

In the wake of Soviet intransigence during the Berlin Crisis in 1948, many European nations began to negotiate with Canada and the U.S. to form NATO. On 4 April 1949, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States committed to collective mutual defence against aggression on their territories. While many of these European nations had distinguished naval histories, their immediate lack of resources and still devastated economies caused them to rely upon the USN, the RN, and the RCN for the defence of the North Atlantic. World tension increased when the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in September 1949, and soon the Canadian government had committed the bulk of the RCN’s forces to the defence of the eastern Atlantic in the event of war. For nearly a decade to come, under NATO defence plans even the destroyers stationed on Canada’s west coast were earmarked for “EASTLANT” and only a few small frigates, minesweepers, and local defence vessels were reserved for North American waters.

However, North American air defence had increased in significance and it received the lion’s share of the defence dollar with the building of the early warning lines across Canada’s north during the 1950s. Canadian responsibilities extended to the defence of Newfoundland and Labrador, even before it joined Confederation in April 1949, a burden shared with the United States, which had several bases scattered across the strategically located province, including a naval base at Argentia, and a large participation in air defence. Canada also committed resources to European defence. All the planning presupposed a war in Europe, and although Canada had sent the Crescent to Nanking in February 1949 during the course of the Chinese Civil War, no one anticipated a war in the Pacific — certainly not a war over Korea, an area of little interest to most western nations. Thus, when North Korea attacked the South on 25 June 1950, the Canadian government was ill-prepared and caught off guard. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Canadian government joined the Americans and others in countering the attack.

Painting depicts a Naval ship being approached by smaller sail boats.

Doug Bradford, A Dangerous Threat, pictures the “V”-class destroyer Sioux manoeuvring through local shipping while on patrol in Korean waters, not knowing if friend or foe manned them.

By 5 July 1950, three destroyers from the Pacific fleet — HMC Ships Sioux, Athabaskan, and Cayuga — headed off to join the action on the far side of the ocean under the command of Captain Jeffry Brock. Sioux, despite its name, was a “V”-class destroyer with three 4.7- inch guns in single turrets, while Athabaskan and Cayuga, both proper Tribals, had six four-inch guns in three twin turrets. Command of the sea gave the United Nations an advantage, and although they were short on destroyers, the U.N. naval forces supported the land war very effectively. In general, RCN destroyers screened aircraft carriers, blockaded the occupied West Coast of Korea, and provided fire support against both North Korean maritime forces and land targets. They also took part in a number of other key missions. For example, during the Inchon landing of September 1950, Brock commanded RCN destroyers and several South Korean warships forming the Blockade Force, Southern Group. While they saw little action, these forces harassed North Korean forces and bombarded a variety of targets such as gun pits, look out points, trenches, and defensive positions on enemy held islands and coastal areas.

In October 1950, the American General Douglas MacArthur, the United Nations commander in Korea, pushed his forces north beyond the 38th parallel separating the Koreas to take the Northern capital of Pyongyang, and then continued north to the Yalu River forming the border with China. During this time, Athabaskan patrolled with American amphibious forces in the Sea of Japan off the East Coast of the Korean peninsula, while Cayuga and Sioux blockaded the West Coast, where Brock began a relief effort to assist island fishermen who were starving because they were unable to fish during wartime conditions. During these long periods at sea, the Canadian warships lacked afloat logistic support and relied upon American and British supply systems, receiving only sporadic mail service until the RCAF established regular flights to Korea. In November, they sailed to Hong Kong for a period of recreation and then joined a reduced United Nations West Coast naval squadron during what proved to be a lull before the Chinese People’s Republic launched a massive counteroffensive across the Yalu River on November 25. U.N. forces, caught off guard, retreated rapidly south.

As friendly forces attempted to withdraw from the port of Chinnampo (located about 35 kilometres inland along a narrow channel), Brock, in command of a task element of three Canadian, one American, and two Australian destroyers, responded to the desperate request for assistance. In the course of a difficult night passage on the 4 – 5 of December, HMAS (His Majesty’s Australian Ship) Warramunga ran aground, freeing itself to return to the western entrance to the river. Shortly thereafter, Sioux touched bottom and in working free ran into a loose channel marker, damaging its starboard shaft, forcing its return to the western entrance. When the four other destroyers reached the port early in the morning, the Chinese had not yet arrived. Brock’s force covered the departure of refugees and then began a concentrated bombardment to destroy rail lines, oil tanks, supply dumps, and factories along the waterfront. Meanwhile, Athabaskan proceeded some eight kilometres west of the city and destroyed three pillboxes to establish a safe anchorage for the small force’s withdrawal the next night. Brock received a Distinguished Service Order for his leadership and service, while his navigator, Lieutenant A.L. Collier, received the Distinguished Service Cross for his success in navigating Cayuga as the lead ship on this hazardous duty.

By that time, a small Canadian army advance party had arrived in South Korea and the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry arrived in February 1951 to take part in the lengthy “war of patrols” that developed along the restabilized 38th parallel. Through this time, the RCN concentrated upon defending the West Coast or “friendly” islands, screening carrier forces, and taking part in “train-busting” — shooting up the trains and rail lines running along the East Coast. Cayuga, Haida, Huron, Iroquois, and Nootka (all Tribal-class destroyers), as well as Crusader (a Crescent-class destroyer) and Sioux, did subsequent tours in Korean waters, with Athabaskan completing three tours before the armistice of July 1953. Crusader earned accolades as the leading train buster in the predominantly American Task Group 95, which destroyed 28 trains in total. The only enemy-inflicted RCN casualties came when Iroquois was bombarding an East Coast rail line: a shore battery hit the ship, killing an officer and two ratings, seriously wounding two others, and lightly wounding eight more on board.

Korean duty strained the RCN’s limited resources, but shortly after the conflict began the Canadian government approved building the 14 St. Laurent-class destroyers (the second seven of these received improved armament and hull sonar and became the Restigouche class), along with 14 minesweepers and a number of gate vessels. They also approved the purchase of 75 TBM Avenger anti-submarine aircraft and 12 Hawker Sea Furies to replace the earlier Firefly and Seafire aircraft. At the same time, RCN commitments to NATO increased, and the RCN began to take part in Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) exercises, including Mainbrace in 1952 and Mariner in 1953.The Avengers of 881 Squadron had trained in night fighting and they did especially well during Mainbrace, an exercise designed to test SACLANT’s northern flank support for the European land battle. HMCS Quebec (formerly Uganda) and Magnificent took part along with over 170 NATO warships. As expected, such large-scale exercises highlighted American and British differences, problems of coordination and, as it turned out, the limitations of carrier task forces in bad weather. While the Atlantic fleet cruised to Europe, the Caribbean, and Northern waters, Ontario sailed from Esquimalt to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, and Pearl Harbor to exercise with units of the Royal Australian, Royal New Zealand, and Pakistani navies in 1951. By the autumn of 1952, Ontario carried out a full program of naval training while cruising around South America.

During that year, the RCN also initiated an intense naval reserve training program on the Great Lakes. Though the RCN was not a bilingual force, in 1952 they began to train French-speaking recruits at the basic training school HMCS D’Iberville in Quebec in professional naval subjects in both French and English to increase the representation of francophones and improve retention. Unfortunately, a 1955 study revealed that nearly 40 percent of French speaking recruits left the RCN in their first 10 months compared with 15 percent of English speaking recruits, and the RCN remained a predominantly Anglophone institution for several decades to come. Nevertheless, by 31 December 1956, the RCN had grown to just over 19,000 personnel and it had 55 fighting and mobile support ships in commission, including one carrier (Magnificent), one cruiser (Quebec), 15 destroyers, 10 frigates, six coastal escorts, 10 minesweepers, seven inshore patrol craft, an icebreaker, and a repair ship. The destroyers included the first two new destroyer escorts, St. Laurent and Assiniboine. In addition to the above, there were 16 other vessels under construction and 54 in reserve. Naval aviation also contributed two operational fighter squadrons, two operational anti-submarine squadrons, two training squadrons, along with pilot conversion training to helicopters and other functions. The first experimental anti-submarine helicopter squadron, HS-50, had commissioned on 4 July 1955 at Shearwater, near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Although a shortage of trained pilots made its critical work more difficult, nonetheless the idea of flying helicopters off destroyers gained ground as the squadron proved their utility in landing trials on the frigate Buckingham.

A nuclear explosion is set off on the sea line.

The Bikini Atoll tests were conducted to assess the destructive power of atomic blasts on ships at sea.

RCN ships took part in the NATO exercises New Broom V and VI in the spring and autumn 1956, which involved the use of Canadian ships and aircraft in the anti-submarine role and in the protection of merchant shipping. Concurrently, Canadian minesweepers took part in exercise Sweep Clear One. After Bonaventure commissioned on 17 January 1957, and Magnificent remained in service briefly to transport Canadian troops to the Suez, the RCN actually realized its “two carrier” dream for at least a few months. While the troop transport role did not arise often, the concept remained relevant in RCN plans. More regularly, Bonaventure carried Banshee jet fighter aircraft, Tracker anti-submarine aircraft and Sikorsky helicopters for its primary ASW role. By this time, the American SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System) network to locate and identify submarines through a system of deep-water “passive” hydrophones (that is, for “listening” as opposed to “active” pinging sonar) began operations, including newly built stations first at Shelburne, Nova Scotia, and later at Argentia, Newfoundland. The Naval Research Establishment, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was busy with the development of variable depth sonar, and work with helicopters progressed. Eventually, these developments helped the RCN face the extremely difficult challenge of dealing with the first nuclear submarines, though naval historian Marc Milner correctly concludes that the St. Laurents could hardly do so and even the newer Restigouche-class destroyers could not stop missile-firing submarines. In 1957, the RCN ordered four new “repeat Restigouche” class (which became the Mackenzie class) and two more for 1958 (the Annapolis class). By early 1959, Naval Board decided to rebuild the original seven St. Laurents into an “improved” class equipped with variable depth sonar and helicopters, enhanced by the development of the “Beartrap” haul-down system, which allowed helicopters to land on the destroyer decks under nearly all weather conditions.

In addition, the Canadian Cabinet had approved the building of two tanker-supply ships in 1958. The first of these, Provider, was still under construction when the decade ended, but the RCN entered 1960 with a modern capable fleet of much greater flexibility. The Canadian Navy had succeeded in pushing forward a new joint RCN-RCAF “Concept of Maritime Operations” in 1957, which resulted in revised mobilization plans with a greater emphasis upon North American defence rather than eastern Atlantic defence in the early days of all-out nuclear war. The concept of operations created three zones: an inner one extending 320 kilometres out from the coast where submarines might launch missiles at shore targets and from which they should be excluded; a middle combat zone where submarines should be destroyed before reaching the inner zone; and an outer zone for the early detection and harassing of submarines. By 1960, forces on the East Coast of Canada developed the “Beartrap” concept (not to be confused with the helicopter haul-down equipment of the same name) of patrolling likely missile launching locations for submarines, acting on “cueing” from the SOSUS system to support maritime forces, a process tested in “SLAMEX” exercises, just as reality caught up with theory. RCN monitoring of the Soviet fishing fleet, which appeared off the Atlantic coast of Canada in the mid-1950s, revealed several “unidentified” submarines close to shore. A real threat now existed.

During the Second World War, the RCN had learned the importance of “tame” submarines for anti-submarine warfare training. In the post-war period, the RCN relied upon a loaned American submarine on the West Coast and British submarines of the Sixth Submarine Squadron on the East Coast. Not surprisingly, they hoped to acquire Canadian submarines to improve anti-submarine training. Meanwhile, by 1957, the RCN became aware of the importance of nuclear powered submarines (SSNs) as an anti-submarine weapon and pursued the acquisition of this type for both training and operational purposes. Discovering eventually that the employment of SSNs would be beyond their means, the RCN decided instead to acquire conventional submarines, as will be seen in chapter 8.The useful operational life of the Banshee fighter aircraft also ended about this time, and the RCN retired them in 1962 without replacement. Air defence remained a thorny problem for the Canadian fleet, though naval staff carefully examined new anti-air and anti-missile missile systems and kept track of new technological developments to address this issue.

The naval world in 1960 was a difficult one for a smaller professional force like the RCN. American historian David Alan Rosenberg has described the massive proliferation of American nuclear weapons by 1960 in a seminal article aptly entitled “The Origins of Overkill.”3 Even the newly elected American president, John F. Kennedy, ran his campaign based upon fear of a “missile gap.” We now know this was fictitious, but if Soviet forces were still well behind, they were working hard to catch up in an expensive arms race led by the American nuclear submarine force and the Polaris missile. The reality of mutually assured destruction (MAD) allowed the RCN to focus upon the actual use of naval power in peacetime and limited wars, as well as preparations for nuclear war. Unlike the RCAF and the Canadian Army, the RCN did not pursue access to nuclear weapons with any vigour. Rather, the RCN laboured to maintain its 20 percent of the small Canadian defence budget, with which it sought to specialize in anti-submarine warfare with the flexibility to undertake minesweeping, some troop transport, and maintain minimum standards of air defence and gunnery.

Captain Lay’s statement at the beginning of this chapter, that “what the R.C.N. wants to know is whether our present naval types are obsolete, not how to make an atomic bomb or even how to drop it,” had been confirmed correct by the verdict of history. The brave new world of atomic weapons had not spelled the end to conventional maritime forces, as the Korean Crisis, the Suez Crisis and the increasing importance of United Nations peacekeeping actions demonstrated. The RCN had a relevant and even significant role to play because Canadian naval units deployed quickly and effectively when their government needed them.


Author: Isabel Campbell

1 House of Commons Debates, 9 and 22 October 1945.

2 LAC, RG 24, Vol. 11529, Miles to Flag Officer Atlantic Coast, “Reports of Proceedings, Magnificent,” October 1948.

3 David Alan Rosenberg, “The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945–1960,” in International Security (Spring 1983).

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