History of Manitoba
HMCS CHIPPAWA Serves as a Flood-fighting
following article first appeared in the
Crowsnest Magazine just after the
flood in 1950. It is a very detailed story
about CHIPPAWA's participation during
the 1950 flood. Enjoy!
"REDRAMP" is over, and with its conclusion the
Winnipeg naval division, HMCS CHIPPAWA, "pipes
down" from one of the higgest combined operations
in Canada's peacetime history. It was a combined
operation in the fullest sense of the word,
for in the long, drawn battle with the Red,
everyone, civilian and serviceman, was on the
front line, fighting on the one, big team.
prevailed throughout the operation. In the Navy's
case, this involved not only working in concert
with the civilian authorities and with the Army
and the Air Force, but co-operating within itself.
brought together almost everyone in Winnipeg
who has ever had some interest in the sea and
naval affairs. In the beginning, the Navy's
flood-fighting crew consisted of active reserves,
UNTDs and members of the permanent force staff
from CHIPPAWA. But as the threat of disastrous
flooding developed, the naval effort rapidly
expanded to include RCN personnel from the coasts,
permanent force staffs and reserve volunteers
from other divisions, members of the Naval Officers'
Association, retired officers, Emergency List
men, members of the WRCNS Association, Sea Cadet
officers and ratings, members of the Navy League,
members of the women's auxiliaries attached
to CHIPPAWA and the man and woman in the street
who wanted to pitch in and help the Navy.
the initial stages, during the third week of
April and some time before military control
was established, some members of the Reserve
felt the impact of a flash flood. To their aid
came shipmates with pumps and sandbags, under
the direction of Lieut. S. H. (Barney) Oldfield,
18 to 700
The amount of organizational
and administrative work which had to
be done in "Chippawa" during the flood
emergency can more readity be appreciated
when it is realized that prior to the
crisis period the total permanent force
staff at the Winnipeg division was 18,
while at the height of operations there
were almost 700 officers and men on
This total does not include about 200
civilians working in CHIPPAWA or under
the control of the Navy in Winnipeg.
first party included Sub-Lieut. Bill Wilson,
RCN(R), CPOs Myron Arsenych, Al Care, Charles
Gilraine and Joseph Onysko, POs Stanley Griffon,
James Allen, Charles Brown, Francis Gilraine,
C. Butler, Ian Barron and James Borthwick, Ldg.
Seamen James Cowie and Howard Williams, Able
Seamen George Taylor and Donald Henneberg and
Ord. Seamen Joseph E. Cormack, Eugene Guilbault,
Joseph Hamel and Clifford Marse.
effort grew, and moved into Elm Park, a part
of the suburb of St. Vital soon to be hardest
hit by the flood. Naval headquarters was set
up in a garage, with two-way radio communications
to the St. Vital police station.
for days on end without sleep, and living on
sandwiches and soft drinks, the CHIPPAWA men
spearheaded the fight to save at least part
of this beautiful residential area. But the
rapidly rising Red overcame the best efforts
that could be put forward and eventually the
Elm Park crew had to be pulled out, many of
them working over their waists in water to salvage
the precious pumps. This first round had been
a heartbreaking one . . . and it went to the
to this time the principal effort had been on
diking and pumping duties. Then, with the evacuation
of flood stricken towns in southern Manitoba,
CHIPPAWA was called upon for an additional
Within an hour after an appeal had been broadcast
by the local radio stations, almost the entire
ship's company came aboard on the night of May
4 to set up sleeping and living accommodation
for refugees due to arrive overnight by train.
weary dike worker, Ord. Sea. G. Dickson,
of Winnipeg, amuses Donald Cameron,
youthful evacuee from St. Boniface,
during a brief rest period at CHIPPAWA
various ladies' auxiliaries and members of the
Wrens' Association took in hand the task of
making up the beds which were put together by
reserve and retired officers and reserve ratings
of the division. Members of the NOAC who had
come aboard to discuss plans for their spring
dance promptly cancelled it and pitched in to
make the spaces they planned as cloakrooms and
sitting rooms into dormitories for the homeless.
For almost a week the ship was "home" to evacuees,
who at times totalled 400 men, women and children.
this time it was apparent that help on a volunteer
basis would he inadequate and the commanding
officer, Cdr. L. D. G. Main, RCN(R), in consultation
with Naval Headquarters, called on all reserve
and retired personnel in the \Vinnipeg area
for full-time duty.
response was instantaneous and complete. Not
only were reserve officers and men prompt in
appearing on the scene, hut many whose last
active connection with the Navy was about five
years ago turned up, asked for, and were given
a job to do. It frequently turned out that the
specialized knowledge of some of these retired
officers and men was of great value in the type
of operation which the Navy had by this time
their work on dikes and individual pumping duties,
naval personnel turned to the job of rescue
and evacuation by small boats, a task which
was to be under their exclusive control. In
general charge of the organization of "Boats"
was Lieut.Cdr. Henry Dadson, RCN(R), Ret'd.
With everything from canoes to naval diesel
cutters coming into the boat pool, and arriving
from such points as the Lakehead and Portage
Ia Prairie, and including a splendid contribution
of boats and fishermen from the fishing town
of Gimli, the boat pool at one time came to
more than 150 small craft.
the period between May 5, the date of the major
break in the Winnipeg dikes, and May 10, organizational
changes had to be made to meet the rapidly developing
situation. On May 10 a necessarily complex,
but smoothworking organization went into effect
under the orders of the commanding officer,
CHIPPAWA, as Naval Officer in-Charge, Winnipeg,
perhaps the first time such a title has been
given in a completely landlocked city.
with a suction pump behind a dike in
one of the flooded areas of Winnipeg
are Lieut. K. A. Laidlaw, RCN(R), Ret'd.,
PG James Harris and Lieu. D. A. MacDonald,
RCN(R), all of HMCS CHIPPAWA (0-1408-31)
XV. G. Brockie, RCN(R), executive officer of
the division, was placed in direct control of
the ship's activities and routine, Lieut. E.
J. Hyman, RCN, the staff officer, became Chief
of Staff to NOIC and Lieut-Cdr. Eric Pinfold,
RCN(R), went to Flood Control Headquarters as
permanent naval liaison officer. This latter
position developed into a direct liaison, as
well, with "Pumps" and "Boats" as reports and
requests for aid came to Flood Control Headquarters
through the flood area distress officer.
about this time "Pumps", under the command of
l.ieut.-Cdr. (E) W. P. Jean, RCN(R), moved it's
maintenance shop from CHIPPAWA, where it had
been working night and day on the repair and
servicing of outboard motors and pumps, to the
Provincial garage, where greater facilities
reserve motor mechanics and ERA's working side
by side with volunteer civilian mechanics and
the staff of the garage, somewhere in the neighborhood
of 150 pumps, with capacities varying from 10,000
to 250,000 gallons per hour, were kept in operation.
Although the Navy's main pumping effort was
in the badly flooded areas, white caps and blues
could be seen in many parts of town as solitary
seamen and stokers manned pumps at strategic
by now were pouring in from neighboring divisions
and from the coasts. The Senior Officer of the
Reserve Fleet, Halifax, Cdr. R. A. Webber, DSC,
RCN, arrived to place his experience at the
disposal of boat and amphibious craft operation.
Cdr. Webber was Chief of Staff to the Flag Officer
Pacific Coast at the time of the 1948 Fraser
Valley flood and was responsible for much of
the staff work in connection with the Navy's
participation in Operation Overflow.
the same time, a shallow water diving team,
led by Lieut.-Cdr. (P) H. J. G. Bird, RCN, came
fully equipped to assist in rescue and salvage
work. It was a common, if somewhat unusual,
sight to see a Navy amphib. and diving team
working at a downtown manhole in an attempt
to restore or preserve electrical services.
this time, too, the Navy had been assigned control
and manning of DUKWs and other amphibs. In some
cases Army drivers and signallers remained with
the vehicles to give invaluable help. In other
cases, naval drivers were given a hasty course
in their operation and took over. All but one
of the craft were commanded by naval officers,
the exception being a Sea Cadet officer. One
of the finest drivers was Petty Officer Bill
Smith, RCN(R), who had never before driven such
Navy-manned DUKWs evacuated all patients,
including two iron lung patients, from
the King George Hospital. The photograh
shows the first DUKW moving away from
the hospital with a 600-pound iron lung
secured amidships The patient, who can
live outside the lung for about 10 hours,
may be seen just aft of the iron lung.
DUKWs chalked up two particular feats, which
are selected as only being among many worthy
of recognition. One was the splendidly organized
and swiftly carried out evacuation of a stranded
refugee train. Within five hours more than 550
people had been successfully transferred by
five DUKWs to a place of safety. These included
more than 45 babies under one year of age.
other operation involved the delicate task of
bringing out from an isolation hospital two
paralysis patients and their 600-pound iron
lungs. In spite of a swift current flowing in
water ten feet deep, the entire operation was
carried out without a hitch.
had been set up, each with the general title
of "Naval Area". These areas took in eight of
the badly flooded districts and each had its
quota of power and rowboats, manned by civilians
and servicemen under the charge of the local
naval officer. The reason for establishing these
areas was to allow the constant patrol of flooded
homes, to assist in evacuation and to work closely
with municipal authorities as required. Some
of the areas, notably No. 1 in St. Vital, under
Lieut.-Cdr. William Mason, RCN(R), and No. 3
in Fort Garry, under Lieut.-Cdr. Colin Angus,
RCN(R), had as additional tasks the rescuing
or feeding of stranded livestock.
back up this front line operation there were
various vital departments in CHIPPAWA. The Communications
branch was in the thick of the fight from the
beginning and was almost swamped by the volume
of work and by its initial lack of equipment,
plus the fact that Emergency List communicators
were not, at first, well versed in new procedures.
They trained with experience and with the aid
of RCN personnel from the coasts and other divisions.
With wholehearted co-operation from Army Signals,
the messages got through.
presented a major problem and in the first stages
of the operation was handled by WRCNS personnel
from their dry canteen. Working in the face
of the odds imposed by having only two electric
plates, the Wrens did a splendid job in keeping
wet and hungry men well fed.
the arrival of large drafts from outside points,
it became apparent that a larger victualling
system must be set up. This was accomplished
under the direction of Lieut. (S) Jack McBurney,
RCN, at a few hours' notice. Lieut. (S) R. A.
Fee, RCN, opened up the old ship's galley and
within 24 hours it was operating on a short
order, round-the-clock basis, serving between
1,500 antI 1,600 meals a day.
this, the CHIPPAWA galley was the "manufacturing
centre" for coffee and sandwiches which were
sent out to working areas all over town. This
was a major undertaking in itself.
the fort and keeping CHIPPAWA from putting to
sea in the flood which reached the south wall
to a depth of three feet was a vital task involving
at first the Engine Room branch and then all
those not engaged in outside duty. Engine room
personnel closed off sewer outlets and improvised
washing and sanitary facilities, at the same
time putting the immediate stock of pumps to
working parties built at top speed one of the
best dikes in the whole area. Composed entirely
of sandbags, it finally was holding back over
three feet of water. Lieut. J. Currie McMillan,
RCN(R). Ret'd. president of the Naval Officers'
Association, was OIC CHIPPAWA dike and was ably
assisted in his job by Lieut. Earl Grant, RCN,
and CPO J. Freeman, RCN(R).
effort which should not go unnoticed was the
work carried on by the women's personnel office.
Wives of CHIPPAWA officers and men took on the
problem of organizing teams of volunteer women
workers and of training them in the intricacies
of naval procedure. Working with a total of
205 women, this office was an indispensable
part of the entire operation.
work done by any one department would make a
story in itself. The Electrical branch, for
example, refitted an air conditioning system
which had not operated for four years, placed
sterilizers in the sick bay, installed an inter-office
communication system and was out in the field
with portable floodlights strung up under hazardous
and difficult conditions. CPO J. Steele, AB
A. Rostick, AB R. Kerr and AB A. Thompson were
the original members of this hard-working party.
During the period when flooding of the ship
itself was expected, the electrical personnel
set up a complete auxiliary lighting system.
DUKWs rescued more than 550 men women
and children from a flood marooned special
train six miles south of Winnipeg. The
flood refugees, who had been driven
from their homes by rising water, were
transferred to another train which took
them to Dauphin, Man. Five DUKWs, under
the command of Lieut-Cdr. (P) H. J.
G. Bird, RCN, took part in the five-hour
operation. (Canadian Army photo PC-2499)
like 6,000 TABT inoculations were given to servicemen
and civilians by the Medical branch, under the
direction of Surgeon Lient.Cdr. R. W. MacNeil,
RCN(R). The "docs" and nurses coped with everything
from running a baby nursery to ordering over-fatigued
workers to bed. The greatest period of stress
on the medical staff came during the evacuation
period, when so many women and children were
aboard, but it was successfully dealt with and
no danger of disease was ever apparent.
operations in particular were handed over to
this branch - one the "iron lung" evacuation,
the other the rescue by small boat of the skipper
of the Winnipeg Canoe Club, isolated by flood
water and ill with bronchial pneumonia.
a factor in keeping up the morale of all concerned
in the field operations and in maintaining close
contact with civilian agencies, the Navy-Civilian
Liaison Office played a most important part.
Under the general direction of Instr. Lieut.-Cdr.
Larry Bennett, RCN(R), small comforts were made
available to all ranks and ratings and postal
facilities and motion picture shows were provided
at all hours of the day and night for off duty
men. As the operation drew to a conclusion,
the main effort in this office consisted of
gathering and correlating information regarding
flood losses to naval personnel, with a view
to eventual aid.
this report is being written, Operation REDRAMP
is almost history and so, to a great extent,
is CHIPPAWA's part in it. But for some time
yet, specialists will be working at the hundred
and one tasks that remain.
they are done and rehabilitation is complete,
there'll be another story to be told - of how
the Navy can clean up the "bits and pieces"
equally as well as it carried through the job