At the outbreak of hostilities, the Royal Canadian Navy was a rather modest naval force comprising six sea-faring ships and 3 500 sailors. At the end of the war, it numbered 434 ships and boats, making it the third most powerful navy in the world, and some 90 000 sailors.

Of these, over 95% were Naval Reservists.


The Battle of the St. Lawrence

In 1942, German submarines sailed deeply up the St. Lawrence River. On September 11, corvette HMCS Charlottetown K244 was hit by two torpedoes.

… the torpedo hit just below where I was standing. So I was thrown in the air, somersaulted, and fell back onto the remaining part of the boat. On my feet. […] I was 4 hours in the water, with a broken arm and leg.” — Léon-Paul Fortin

The attacking ship was Unterseeboot-517; her Commanding Officer was Paul Hartwig, who would rise to the rank of vice-admiral in the German Navy after the War.

In an interview he granted the Naval Museum in 2013, Hartwig confided that his crew was akin to a family. The watchword in the German Navy was unity and respect, even towards the enemy. He remembered one occasion when he told his men not to rejoice openly they had sunk a ship: “It could be our turn tomorrow,” he reminded them.

Corvette HMCS Ville de Québec

Almost all Canadian corvettes were named after Canadian cities, and Québec City was no exception. On January 13, 1943, corvette HMCS Ville de Québec K242 came across the course of a German submarine in the Mediterranean. Her attack was one of the quickest in naval history.

In under 10 minutes, the corvette, under the command of A.R.E. Coleman, a former manager with Bell Canada before the War, detected and rammed submarine U-224.

“Everyone hung on to something. The ship rose up on a wave, then crashed onto the sub” — Frank Arsenault, a sailor in Ville de Québec


HMCS Ville de Québec

Corvette HMCS Ville de Québec K242, Laurent Clermont Funds, Naval Museum of Québec Collection


The only survivor of the German crew was Wolf Dietrich Danckworth. He had been sent to the surface to check on the damages to the submarine and had been thrown overboard by the impact of the ramming.

The exploit of Ville de Québec drew congratulations from the British Admiralty, from Winston Churchill, even personally from the King and Queen. And the Québec newspapers made a point of passing on the news.

And something fabulous happened: in 2010, Frank Arsenault and Wolf Dietrich Danckworth started writing each other on the Internet. Against all odds, the former enemies became  friends.


(to read more, click here: Former enemies strike up a friendship 67 years after fateful battle: German officer reaches out to one of the men who sank his submarine – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Wolf Dietrich Danckworth, sole survivor of U-224

“It has really energized me and given me something to look forward to. Somehow, we’re becoming buddies. I think we’ll be friends for the rest of our lives. »


Stanislas Déry and Peter Heisig

On December 27, 1944, corvette HMCS St. Thomas was sailing off the Azores when she spotted German submarine U-877. Once neutralized, the German crew abandoned ship and threw themselves into the frigid waters of the Atlantic.

Stanislas Déry, a young attorney from Québec and a Naval Reservist in St. Thomas, tells the tale:

“Then we [..] saw what seemed to be the sub’s crew, coming up to the surface. So we started to pick them up. It took about 45 minutes…”

Naval custom was that captives of equal rank shared accommodations with the officers. So “Stan” Déry, second in command in St. Thomas, shared his cabin with the second officer of the U-boot, Peter Heisig.

Stanislas Déry

I felt the Executive Officer […] seemed to be a chap not unlike myself. A compassionate fellow, and also a cheerful chap. […] We became friends. We understood each other. Each day, we found we had loads of common traits.” – Stanislas Déry

Their friendship would last over 50 years. And their story would be instrumental in bringing the nations together and building peace after the War.

In 1995, Stanislas Déry donated his private collection to the fledgling Naval Museum of Québec. His collection, comprising over 900 photographs, is one of the richest archival groups on the Battle of the Atlantic.

And the Naval Museum of Québec is today also named the Stanislas Déry Naval Museum, a tribute to the man and his legacy.