HMCS ST. CROIX -
A Tragic Saga
Built in 1919 for the United States Navy,
she operated with the Atlantic Fleet as USS McCook until placed
in reserve at Philadelphia in 1922. She was recommissioned in
December, 1939, and again served with the US Atlantic Fleet
prior to being transferred to the Canadian Navy at Halifax as
HMCS ST. CROIX on September 24, 1940.
She sailed for the U.K. via St. John's on
November 30, but ran into a hurricane and had to return. Arriving
at Halifax on December 18, she remained under repair until mid-March
1941, when she took up the role of local escort.
In August, 1941, she joined the Newfoundland
Escort Force, escorting convoys to Iceland. In May, 1942, following
six months' refit at Saint John, N.B., she escorted her first
convoy, SC.84, to the U.K., and was thereafter employed constantly
on the "Newfie-Derry" run.
In April, 1943, she was assigned to Escort
Group C-1, and in June to Escort Group C-5. During this period
she sank U90 while escorting convoy ON.113 on July 24, 1942,
and on March 4, 1943, while accompanying convoy KMS.10 from
Britain to Algeria, she assisted HMCS SHEDIAC in destroying
Dec 1940. HMCS ST. CROIX returning to Halifax with
THE LOSS OF HMCS
HMCS ST. CROIX had distinguished herself
in the early days of the Battle of the Atlantic. Her crew was
credited with two U-boat kills. Of the Canadian ships she was
one of the most successful.
In September 1943 ST. CROIX was with Mid-Ocean
Escort Group C-9, comprised of another of the ex-USN "four-stackers"
ST. FRANCIS and the veteran corvettes CHAMBLY, MORDEN and SACKVILLE,
plus the British Navy frigate HMS ITCHEN.
By the summer of 1943, the German U-Boat
wolf packs had found the Atlantic battle turning against them,
but by the end of August a large number of submarines had been
re-equipped with a new weapon, the GNAT (German Naval Acoustic
Torpedo) torpedo which homed in on the sounds from the propellers
The ST. CROIX, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander
A.H. Dobson, was headed for the Bay of Biscay (off France) when
she was ordered north to escort a slow moving convoy. A large
wolf pack had gathered, and the extra escorts were required
On 20 September 1943, at 2151, U305 struck
at HMCS ST.CROIX with two GNAT torpedoes, hitting her aft, near
her propellers. The ST. CROIX did not sink immediately; however
U305 eventually fired a third torpedo at her. The third torpedo
was the final blow as it caused ST. CROIX to sink within three
A number of her ship's company were lost in the sinking,
but many of the crew remained in the water looking for possible rescue.
Two RN ships from the escort force rushed
to the area, now astern of the convoy, to see what had taken
place and could be done. The frigate ITCHEN signaled to B-2:
"ST. CROIX TORPEDOED AND BLOWN UP.
FORECASTLE STILL AFLOAT. SURVIVORS IN RAFTS AND BOATS. TORPEDOES
FIRED AT ME. DOING FULL SPEED IN VICINITY. WILL NOT ATTEMPT
TO P.U. SURVIVORS UNTIL POLYANTHUS ARRIVES."
But the RN escort corvette POLYANTHUS,
was herself torpedoed by U952 just after midnight, again in
the stern by a GNAT. ITCHEN then had to become involved in attempting
to locate the attacking U-boat. She was only later able to locate
one survivor of Polyanthus.
ITCHEN was eventually able to pick up eighty-one
ST. CROIX survivors, five officers and seventy-six ratings,
but only after they had been in the very cold water for thirteen
hours. Most of those lost had perished in the sea after abandoning
For the survivors of ST. CROIX and the single
Polyanthus crewman the few hours of rescue came to a bitter
end at approximately 0200 on the 23rd as U666, again using a
GNAT, sank HMS ITCHEN. This time there were but three survivors,
two from ITCHEN and Stoker W. Fisher from ST. CROIX. They were
rescued by a Polish merchant ship, the Wisla.
One of the ST. CROIX seaman, lost
in the ITCHEN, was Surgeon Lt W.L.M. King, RCNVR, Prime Minister
Mackenzie King’s nephew.
- The Naval Museum of Manitoba - 1 Navy Way - Winnipeg Manitoba
- R3C 4J7