HMCS Sackville (K181)

November 21, 2013

HMCS Sackville moored in Halifax NS

HMCS Sackville, a now National Historic Site, was one of more than 120 corvettes built in Canada during the Second World War and the last of the Allies 269 corvettes that played a significant role in winning the pivotal Battle of the Atlantic. She was commissioned in Saint John, NB in December 1941 and served in several well-known escort groups operating primarily between St John’s, Newfoundland and Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

According to Winston Churchill, the Battle of the Atlantic (1939-1945) was “the dominant factor throughout the war” and described the quickly constructed corvettes as the “cheap but nasties.” They were the North Atlantic’s workhorses, escorting convoys (25,343 merchant vessels carrying critical supplies and war material across the Atlantic) and engaging German U-boats to maintain the vital lifeline to Britain. Sackville and her sister ships played a significant role in ensuring Allied victory in the Atlantic.

She was a class of ship that could be produced quickly and cheaply in the future, to meet the urgent demands of convoy escort.

Nicholas Monsarrat, author of Three Corvettes (1942-45)

Reservists primarily made up the crews of the 123 Canadian corvettes. They formed the core of the ocean escort groups, defending merchants’ convoys from the U-boats. On any given day, dozens of ships carrying food, fuel and other war materials departed Halifax and other East Coast ports for the United Kingdom.

Sackville’s most memorable engagement happened in early August 1942 in the North Atlantic when she engaged three U-boats in 24 hours and put two out of action before they could escape.

Chasing U-Boats

Sackville was then under Lieutenant Commander Alan Easton’s command, DSC (author of ’50 North’). As part of a western bound convoy 250 miles east of Newfoundland, she encountered a U-boat on the surface. She fired a star shell at a range of less than a quarter-mile and forced the U-boat to crash-dive. She then steamed into the swirl of water left by the submerging U-boat and fired a pattern of depth charges. The powerful blast threw the U-boat to the surface before it slipped back into the water and disappeared.

And 90 minutes later, Sackville engaged another surfaced U-boat in a lethal ballet. When Sackville zigged to ram, the U-boat zigged to avoid, but not before Sackville fired a four-inch shell that punched a large hole in the base of the conning tower forcing the sub to return to port.

K181 is under attack

In September 1943, Sackville came under attack as part of another escort group for the combined westbound convoys ON 202 and ONS 18. During the engagement, the U-boats sank several merchant ships and four escorts, including HMCS St Croix, all with a heavy life loss. During the action, Sackville was rocked by an explosion that severely damaged her number one boiler, probably caused by one of the corvette’s depth charges detonating a torpedo close alongside.

HMCS Sackville as she appeared in 1944. Image courtesy of HMHPS 

When efforts to make repairs were unsuccessful, it was decided to take Sackville from active service, remove the defective boiler and use her as a training ship for HMCS Kings officer training establishment and harbour loop layer. After the cessation of hostilities, Canada’s other corvettes were sold to other navies or scrapped but Sackville was converted and continued to serve as a naval and civilian oceanographic research vessel until she was paid off in 1982.

K181 continues to serve

Sackville — named after the Town of Sackville, NB– is owned and operated by the volunteer Canadian Naval Memorial Trust and was designated Canada’s Naval Memorial in 1985. During the summer the ship welcomes visitors at her berth next to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and throughout the year supports naval, community, youth and corporate events and activities. Given Sackville’s age and the need for hull and related repairs, the Canadian Government announced in January 2018 a significant funding contribution to ensure the long-term preservation and operation of the iconic wartime corvette.

Greyhound, the naval battle drama, stars HMCS Sackville as one of the convoy escorts for the film.

HMCS Sacville (K181) as seen on Greyhound movie
HMCS Sacville (K181) as seen on Greyhound movie

Greyhound, starring and written by Tom Hanks, is based on the Good Shepherd, a 1955 novel written by C.S. Forester. Based on true events, Hanks plays a U.S. destroyer captain protecting a convoy sailing across the Atlantic in 1942. That year, it happened to be a big year for the Sackville as she flexed her muscles on German submarines.

Current location of “Canada’s Last Corvette”

HMCS Sackville is berthed in Halifax’s Naval Dockyard from November to mid-June each year. She is moved from the Dockyard to Sackville Landing, near the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, from late June to late October each year. For future events and to learn more, visit Canada’s Naval Memorial website.



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