A BLUE WATER NAVY: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1943-1945. Volume II, Part 2

By Cafferky, Shawn | International Journal, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

A BLUE WATER NAVY: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1943-1945. Volume II, Part 2


Cafferky, Shawn, International Journal


A BLUE WATER NAVY The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the second World War, 1943-1945. Volume II, Part 2 W.A.B. Douglas, Roger Sarty, Michael Whitby, with Robert H. Caldwell, William Johnston and William G.P. Rawling St. Catharines: Vanwell Publishing, 2007. 05opp, $60.00 cloth (ISBN 1-55125-069-4)

For three-and-a-half grueling years, from 1939 to 1942, the primary role of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was shepherding convoys across the Atlantic Ocean. It was an important role but not one that senior Canadian naval authorities relished. The long-cherished dream of building a "balanced" fleet dominated thinking at naval service headquarters. After three years of rapid and uneven expansion, that dream came to fruition and the RCN began to participate in a far wider range of operations, from fleet destroyer and escort carrier actions to dispatching one of its newly acquired cruisers to the Pacific theatre in 1945. In addition, the Navy performed a myriad of other tasks ranging from amphibious operations in the Mediterranean to minesweeping both at home and overseas, as well as taking part in the D-Day landings in Normandy. And the inshore campaign waged against modern German U-boats late in the war required new tactics, equipment, and skills. The scope of Canadian operations in the final two-and-a-half years of the war was extraordinary, especially when one considers that the navy consisted of some n ships and 2,700 personnel in 1939. The story of how and why the RCN took on these new roles is the subject of this long-anticipated operational history.

Work on the two-volume history began in 1987 when a team of naval historians was assembled under Roger Sarty, then senior naval historian at the directorate of history, Department of National Defence. Twenty years later, this volume and its companion-No Higher Purpose: The Official Operational History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, 1939-1943, Volume II, Part i, Vanwell, 2002-are the results of their painstaking work. Until now, the operational history of the Canadian navy in the period 1943-45 has not been examined to any great extent. This volume redresses that imbalance in the scholarship.

The research is exhaustive and, equally important, the synthesis of the many themes and disparate operations is impressive. The book is divided into two main sections. The first section, comprising six chapters, deals with the consolidation of planning and naval operations, and examines such wide-ranging topics as fleet modernization in the period 1942-43, destroyer and coastal forces' operations with the home fleet, and Operation Neptune-the naval assault on fortress Europe-among other topics. The second section, entitled "new directions," examines the inshore antisubmarine campaign in European waters and the northwest Atlantic, fleet operations in European and Arctic waters from July 1944 until V-E Day, and operations with the British Pacific fleet in 1945.

The authors have not shied away from controversial issues such as the equipment crisis in 1943 that led to the sacking of Admiral Percy Nelles, the chief of the naval staff. Their examination of that particular issue is both objective and balanced. Angus L. Macdonald, the minister of national defence for the naval service, observed at the time that "[i]t seems to me that some officers at NSHQ are impressed mainly with size. Careful planning and estimating, efficiency of equipment, and high skill of personnel rather than mere numbers of ships or men ought to be our watchword" (182). The authors contend that "the minister [did not] realize that his advisors considered the modernization issue an integral part of the refit crisis and presented it to him as such. Without making that connection, therefore, Macdonald missed what Nelles was trying to tell him." Consequently, "it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Macdonald was not interested in the workings of his department as long as the problems did not run the risk of becoming political ones" (182). …

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