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HMCS Sackville(K181): Mutineer, Defender, Hunter, Salvager, Scientist, Museum

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I'm posting this topic to prove that even the smallest warships can have interesting histories and the story of HMCS Sackville (K181) is as colourful as any of the big girls.




Sackville was laid down as Patrol Vessel 2 at the Saint John Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Saint John, New Brunswick in early 1940, the second of the Flower-class corvettes ordered by the Royal Canadian Navy. She was launched on 15 May 1941 by Mrs. J. E. W. Oland, wife of the captain of the port, with the Mayor and entire town council of her namesake town in attendance. Sackville was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy on 30 December 1941 by Captain J. E. W. Oland, husband of the ship's sponsor.[2] Her first commanding officer, Lieutenant W. R. Kirkland, RCNR was appointed on 30 December but did not join Sackville until 2 January. That is when Sackville's problems began.



Problem Captain, noob crew


Sackville's three-month workup period beginning on 30 December, 1941, in St. Margaret's Bay. During this time a captain is supposed to get to know his crew, to drill them, establish watches, and conduct combat exercises, and in the case of the brand new corvette, put the ship through her paces to ensure the crew knew her 'personality'. Unfortunately, the logs of Sackville's first three months were almost barren. No mention of drills, closing up a watch, action stations or stand-to. This would be bad enough but for the crew, and especially the officers and ratings, things were even worse than that.


Kirkland seemed like an able enough captain. As they escorted convoys and encountered a three-day storm, the captain "enjoyed the complete confidence of all on board and was considered an excellent seaman" said W. Creighton Reid, a Sub-Leiutenant on Sackville at the time. The problems arose when they arrived in port as Kirkland was a hard drinker and a very bad drunk. Upon returning to the ship he would be "verbally abusive, obstructive and quite irrational." Reid recalls that the drunk captain had a habit of calling him up in the middle of the night to ask him if he knew his duties as OOD.


Contrary to common belief, Kirkland never drank at sea but he still suffered horrible hangovers. But was often ratty with the crew and frequently chewed them out. Things immediately got worse when they entered port when Kirkland would immediately return to the bars and get drunk all over again. Overtime this alienated him from the crew and created discontent aboard the ship.


One reason Kirkland might have been having such a hard time could be the fact that few of Sackville's crew, even the officers had any experience at sea other than the navigator (which might have actually been Kirkland since Reid is "almost certain" that the captain [Kirkland] acted as navigator. Among the ratings, only the Coxswain had previous sea experience.



Sackville's first mission?


After being commissioned at the end of December 1941, Sackville moved to Halifax, arriving 12 January, 1942. According to the ship's log she went out to see for "patrol" on the 30th. The next day, the 31st, she was ordered, in company with her sister HMCS Weyburn (K173), to search for survivors of the torpedoed destroyer HMS Belmont, a Clemson-class destroyer, formerly USS Satterlee (DD-190). However, according to the ships log, no search action was taken, in company or otherwise.


On 7 February she reported a "boiler leaking badly" and returned to Halifax the next day. The CO's patrol report dated 6 February was unrevealing about the ship's movements, conduct of the search or the engine trouble. Accordingly, Captain G.R. Miles, Captain (D), summoned Kirkland to his office for 0900 the following morning (Saturday).


That morning, Kirkland did not appear to Captain Miles, instead sending an odd signal that he was sending a report. On Sunday he was drunk, abusing the XO, a leading signalman and 'blasting' another signalman about handling the signal from Captain Miles. That same day he sent another signal to Captain Miles, a memo reading "The signal was received. I failed to observe it." Captain Miles was fast losing his patience and ordered Kirkland to bring his ship's log the following morning.


Next morning (Monday), Kirkland was drunk again, having realized the spot he was now in with Captain Miles and anticipating getting in spot of trouble as a result. He took out his frustrations on his crew, berating one of the sub-lieutenants and the 1st lieutenant for "letting him down". On top of that he came down hard on an Able Seaman (AB), calling him a failure and telling him to quit the Navy. Tuesday's log entry signed by Captain (D) admonished Kirkland for failing to show up the previous day. On Wednesday the drunken Kirkland abused the other Sub-Lieutenant.


On 13 February, the ship was once again at sea "on escort" with no mention in the log of convoy designation, course, ships in company, speed, etc.16 February, Sackville was back in Halifax. The captain [Kirkland] was reported as drunk by the 1st Lieutenant and again on the 20th. However, this is disputed by Lieutenant Kenneth G. Clark who served with Reid as part of Sackville's first crew. He insists that the captain's drunkenness was never entered in any log.



Mutiny on the Sackville?


On the 28th, the ship returned to convoy escort duties. After six days at sea, Sackville returned to St. John's on 6 March. Kirkland came back aboard drunk. He turned the Coxswain out of his bunk and tore stripes off him in front of three junior ratings. This resulted in an altercation between Kirkland, his 1st Lieutenant and one Sub Lieutenant. On 9 March they were back at sea with a west-bound convoy (possibly ONS 68). On the 12th, the Greek ship SS Lili was torpedoed, and Sackville picked up 29 survivors from the frigid waters. Unable to find their convoy afterwards, Sackville returned to Halifax.


It is popular myth that during or shortly after the event with SS Lili, Kirkland was relieved of command by the officers with support from the senior ratings and then locked drunk in his cabin until they reached Halifax. However, this is not the case according to Reid and Clark. According to them, there was never any thought of mutiny among the officers, although admits there was a considerable amount of discontent among all ranks.



Board of inquiry


After Sackville's return to Halifax, nearly the entire crew put in for transfers from Sackville. Combined with Kirkland's apparent conduct thus far, Captain Miles ordered a board of inquiry. Kirkland and his three officers were ordered in for an interview. At this time Reid recalls a sober Kirkland telling him "You'll be alright, but it will be the end for me."


A board of inquiry was convened in Sackville's wardroom and all officers and ("almost") all ratings were interviewed. Kirkland was judged "unsuitable" and discharged that month. Sackville's crew was broken up and dispersed, assigned to other ships.


I read about this part of Sackville's history from two articles written in 1995 in the HMCS Sackville Newsletter. The first article, from May 1995, was based on a report from 1993 by Commander Tony German (the irony isn't lost on me) and his research. The second article is from November 1995 and features "corrections" from two former crewmembers on Sackville, [Reid and Clark], regarding the "inaccuracies" in the first article. You can read the first and second articles here and here.



Sackville's new crew


HMCS Baddeck (K147) was undergoing repairs for engine problems, leaving her in harbor. Her entire ship's company was thus moved to Sackville to bring them quickly back out to sea. In his book "50 North", Lieutenant-Commander Alan Easton recalls that when meting with Captain Miles for the transfer, he gathered that there had been a breakdown in Sackville's "conduct of affairs." Sackville was also fitted with the Canadian made SW1C radar.



Sackville back in action


By 15 May, 1942, Sackville was assigned to Escort Group C-3 along with two sisters, HMCS Galt (K163) and HMCS Wetaskiwin (K175), replacing other corvettes in need of repair and refit. In August 1942 Sackville fought a series of fierce actions escorting Convoy ON-115. Deprived of air cover by heavy fog, the convoy was attacked by two successive U-boat "wolfpacks" off the coast of Newfoundland. On August 3, Sackville caught the German submarine U-43 on the surface and, as the submarine dived, made a series of depth charge attacks that blew U-43 out of the water. The submarine managed to survive but had to flee to Europe for repairs. The next day Sackville attacked U-704 as it dived, causing the submarine to break off its attack leaving Sackville to rescue two survivors from an abandoned but still floating merchant ship. Only a few hours later, Sackville detected U-552 on the surface with radar and landed a four-inch shell on the submarine's conning tower followed by a depth charge. U-552 nearly sank but managed to regain control and creep back to Germany heavily damaged. Sackville's attacks had played a key role in allowing the 41 ship convoy to escape with the loss of only two ships.


Sackville continued in her escort role until starting an extensive refit at Thompson Bros. Machinery Co. Ltd. in Liverpool, Nova Scotia in January 1943. She returned to service in April and was assigned to Escort Group C-1 where she remained until reassigned to a new group Escort Group 9 in July.


In September 1943, Sackville was an escort for the combined westbound convoys ON. 202 and ONS 18, the first victims of acoustic torpedo's. While these advanced torpedoes rarely worked right, the allies had (at the time) no defense against them. In addition to numerous merchant ships, four of the escorts were sunk, including frigates HMS Lagan, destroyer HMCS St. Croix, and British corvette HMS Polyanthus.


Sackville chased after the U-boats and began firing depth charges when it experienced a huge explosion. It is believed that one of the depth charges detonated a torpedo alongside the ship, severely damaging Sackville's #1 boiler.


Just after this, HMS Itchen who was carrying survivors from the first two ships to be sunk when she herself was torpedoed, creating such an explosion that pieces of her superstructure landed on HMCS Morden (K170). Escort Group C-1 was disbanded following the loss of three of its ships and the ship was assigned to group C-2, where the ship remained on Atlantic escort work until going for refit in Galveston, Texas in February 1944.



Sackville's new job


Returning to Halifax in May 1944 the vessel worked up in Bermuda and was then assigned to Escort Group C-2 which left for Derry escorting convoy HX-297 on 29 June 1944.

At Derry the boilers were cleaned, which revealed a serious leak in one of them. Repairs were unsuccessful and the ship was no longer considered suitable for convoy escort work. Since the ship had only recently been modernized she was reassigned for training at HMCS King on 29 August 1944. However almost immediately afterwards the decision was made to convert her to a Loop Layer, laying anti-submarine indicator loops across harbour entrances, her damaged boiler removed to provide storage for the cable and the 4 inch gun replaced with a pair of cranes.


Sackville never actually laid any cables as by the time her modifications were complete in 1945, the war in Europe was essentially over. Instead, her role was revised as a cable salvage ship. By this time, her designation had been changed from 181 to Z62.


Patrick Onions, who had actually signed on and been trained to serve on HMCS Magnificent (CVL-21) in the Pacific (and ended up on a cable ship, wow that sucks), explains: "There were two reasons to salvage this cable. While some of it was covered with woven steel, most of it was lead covered and the lead was a valuable salvage. The other reason is that the fishermen were getting their down riggers and nets caught in the loops, with reported losses to their gear. It was not unusual for us to pick up a net, most times full of fish. What a mess this would cause. If we could track the owner of the net, he would get compensated for his loss but not the loss of his catch.


The routine of the Sackville commenced by leaving harbour in the early hours of Monday morning in order to be on station by daybreak. We would spend three or four days at sea, grappling for the loops of cable, which were raised on deck, cut in two with each end buoyed off, then dropped back into the sea. In most cases we always seemed to make it back to port for the weekend. The next week was supposed to be spent retrieving the cable that we had buoyed off. The weather played an important part in the retrieval of the cable, and if it was too rough we would go off to grapple for more cable. Retrieving the cable was a nasty, dirty, stinky job. While steam hoses and water were sprayed on the cable before it would enter the winch to be led amidships where it traveled to the storage hold, a lot of seaweed and scum remained on the table. This made the job of coiling the cable in the storage hold a wet and slimy, miserable job. Also, the smell of rotten and decaying seaweed seemed to permeate through the ship. During my time aboard the ship we traveled to St. John, New Brunswick, and up to Sydney, Cape Breton, and major harbours in between to pick up cable. A considerable time was spent around Sable Island giving me a good understanding of how the currents and shifting sands have claimed so many ships around the Island."


One overlooked duty of HMCS Sackville Z62 was the final part she played as a Navy ship in WW 2. Sackville was part of a flotilla that went out to capture U-190 and U-889 who had been spotted cruising on the surface. With a huge array of Canadian warships surrounding them, the two subs surrendered rather quickly. Enough German crews were left on the subs to operate them while the rest were dispersed throughout the flotilla. Sackville took several German officers on board. Patrick Onions recalls: "As a young seaman coming face to face with the enemy, I can only remember the utter disrespect and arrogance they showed towards us, and as we escorted them towards the Ward Room, they spat at our feet."


You can read all about Patrick Onion's time on Sackville here.



Sackville retired from the navy


Sackville was paid off in April 1946 and laid up in reserve in May of the same year. Most Flower-class corvettes were scrapped shortly after the war, however Sackville was laid up in reserve. She was reactivated in 1952 and converted to a research vessel for the Department of Marine and Fisheries. The armament was removed, the hull repainted black in place of the original dazzle camouflage and the new pennant number 532 painted on the hull (changed to 113 in the late 1950s). A laboratory was built on the aft superstructure in 1964 and the bridge enclosed in 1968. She remained in service until December 1982, with her last cruise in July 1982. A rather long career for an old corvette.



Sackville saved by a hurricane (Museum ship)




The original intention had been to acquire HMCS Louisburg, which had been sold to the Dominican Republic and renamed Juan Alejandro Acosta but this vessel was wrecked (along with another Flower-class corvette - Cristobal Colon, the former HMCS Lachute) by Hurricane David in 1979. This left Sackville as the sole remaining Flower-class corvette. The ship was transferred to the Canadian Naval Corvette Trust (now the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust) on 28 October 1983 and restored to her 1944 appearance (apart from minor details in her camouflage and the presence of the "barber pole" red and white pattern around her funnel which had been removed before 1944). It had originally been planned to restore the ship to her 1942 appearance but this proved too expensive.


In 1988, Sackville was designated a National Historic Site of Canada, due to her status as one of the last Flower-class corvettes known to exist.





So yes as you can see this little ship had quite a colourful and varied career, both as a warship and in other roles, it's not just the big girls.


I know it will be a long time before Sackville ever appears in VB if she ever does, but I figured she deserved a little limelight and it makes good reading. I hope you enjoyed reading this little blurb of mine.

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If this is pulled from the Wiki then someone obviously added to it, even altering HNLMS Tromp to remove her 'Ghost Ship' status. Glad someone decided to add more to Sackville because that's more information I worked with few months ago. Many thanks for spotlighting Sackville :)


Heh well I started with the wiki and then looked at other sources online, including some newsletters from 1995. I linked the articles in the post. Wikipedia just provided me a foundation for the research. Wikipedia is one of the best places to start your research but one of the worst places to end it.

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  • 4 years later...

Patrick Onions asserts that HMCS Sackville "was part of a flotilla that went out to capture U-190 and U-889 who had been spotted cruising on the surface." and further states that "Sackville took several German officers on board... As a young seaman coming face to face with the enemy, I can only remember the utter disrespect and arrogance they showed towards us, and as we escorted them towards the Ward Room, they spat at our feet."

The following is from the website Uboat.net: U-889 surrendered on 13 May 1945 at Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in position 43.32N, 65.12W, and was transferred to Halifax on May 14th. U-190 surrendered on 14 May 1945 at Bay Bulls, Newfoundland.

HMCS Sackville could not have been in two places hundreds of miles apart on consecutive days.

Details of the surrenders can be found on the web pages below. There is no mention of HMCS Sackville's being one of the RCN warships taking the surrender.



Finally, Marc Milners' 1998 book HMCS Sackville 1941-1985 (page 55) states that in May 1945 HMCS Sackville was undergoing conversion to a loop layer. Her conversion was not completed until 21 May 1945.

I'm unable to account for Onions' account of having met with German prisoners of war aboard HMCS Sackville.

Carl Anderson

Member, Board of Directors, Canadian Naval Memorial Trust, Halifax NS



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  • 6 months later...

It honestly amazes me how much digging I just have to do just to get a full roster on the Canadian navy back in WW2. If we can just get one game with the full list then everything shall be made easier. Problem is, nobody wants to do it. I'm still pinging and poking every WW2 naval developer constantly getting resistance and its genuinely irritating me. 

I'm glad I saw this thread again because it makes me happy how I've seen little Corvettes gain their own fair share of history. It was noted they wouldn't have any fun in Victory Belles, though love the fun stories I'm coming across, something various people want to deprive us of. 

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