Monday, 11 August 2014

Royal Canadian Navy Celebrates 100 Years of Submarines

This year marks the centenary of something near and dear to me; Canada’s submarine service. The history of the Royal Canadian Navy’s experience with submarines has been told over and over again on the internet so I won’t repeat it here. I have included a few earlier blog posts below regarding the Victoria class submarines to give a few highlights of the submarine world as I saw it when it seemed everybody was intent on seeing these boats scrapped.

Since then, HMCS Victoria has launched a live torpedo and sunk a target ship during a RIMPAC exercise, HMCS Chicoutimi is almost fully repaired and updated. HMCS Corner Brook is entering (finally) her refit and repair of damage sustained when she ‘bottomed out’ while on a training exercise and here in Halifax, HMCS Windsor has entered refit and repair of a generator that went US during a recent cruise.

All in all, it’s looking pretty good for the four Victoria’s and the boats will be fully operational in the not too distant future – an amazing feat as the ratio of in-service to being in some stage of refit for most navies in peace time is 1 to 3 meaning Canada should only have one operational boat available at any given time. Of course ‘most’ has never applied when it comes to the Royal Canadian Navy.

Another bright spot in the past few years is the opening of Canada’s newest submarine museum starring HMCS Ojibwa in Port Burwell, Ontario. Please visit their website here.

All in all, I’d say the future looks bright for Canadian submariners. In spite of the usual whining from the nay-sayers, they have done a remarkable job and surely will continue to do so.

Bravo Zulo!

March 25, 2011
HMCS Corner Brook Headed West

On February 25th, I was enjoying a break at my desk and decided to take a quick look at what was transiting the Panama Canal at their webcam.
Lo and behold, a submarine was making its way through the Miraflores Locks! Upon closer scrutiny, I thought it REALLY looked like one of our Victoria’s which could only have been HMCS Corner Brook as she was currently the only boat in the water.
The Trident - - contained an article on Corner Brook’s trip to the west coast for maintenance as per the new agreement with CSMG in Victoria. Although this contract originally met with controversy, it really only made sense as over time we will probably see a large majority of Her Majesty’s Canadian Warships moved to the west coast.
Let’s face it – the Cold War is over and there are far more countries with questionable intent along the Pacific Rim then along the Atlantic coasts.
Meanwhile, back to HMCS Corner Brook, I grabbed a screen shot of her going through one of the locks. You'll see a ‘cover’ was erected atop her sail which is necessary in that area to protect you from the hot sunshine, or drenching rain.
Hopefully the boat’s work will proceed quickly and she will soon be sailing the oceans again.

June 13, 2009
Onondaga Museum Opens!

The submarine Onondaga is finally opened to the public! After what became a harrowing adventure to bring the submarine to Rimouski and taking her out of the water, the former HMCS Onondaga is now a proud reminder to all who visit her of the daring missions undertaken by Canadian submariners.
This is Canada's first submarine museum and hopefully Canadians from all walks of life will take the opportunity to see how the crew of this Cold War veteran went about their duties. It is well worth the trip to Rimouski where not only will you get to tour the submarine, but also have a chance to enjoy the beautiful scenery and friendly hospitality of the area.
A hearty congratulations to all who have worked so hard to realize this dream and please visit their website here.

April 10, 2009
HMCS Chicoutimi Heads For New Home

HMCS Chicoutimi had a bit of a long farewell to Halifax this week as she sat upon a heavy lift ship anchored in the harbour awaiting her departure to the west coast. Of course a few politicians who should know better waded into the topic of the boat's transfer to the west coast – questioning the cost of moving her, why they were moving her in the first place and of course trying to gain valuable media points in the process. Party-less MP Bill Casey was loudest with his wailing about the move. Sad he didn’t take the time to study the issue and find as most people would that it only makes sense to move the boat to BC. Sure it will be an economic loss for Halifax, but it is a strategic gain for Canada. Bill might not have noticed, but the cold war with the Soviets is over and the antagonists faced by the West today are, well, west. China and North Korea, that bastion of stability have both been rattling their sabres harder for well over a decade now and as the US Navy has been doing for the past few years, Canada too will have to eventually look at basing the bulk of its navy on the west coast. A bit of a scary thought for the Warden of the North, but one which will have to be accepted as common sense.
So we watched this week as the first of these moves took place with Chicoutimi beginning the long trek towards her new home and eventual repair. She will rejoin the fleet in the future and like her successful sister HMCS Corner Brook, will be a proud unit of Canada’s Navy. Godspeed to her and those who will sail in her.

June 20, 2008
HMCS Chicoutimi Fire Produced a Deadly 'Soup' of Toxins...and Heroes

Can you imaging what it must have been like for the firefighters working the forest fire in the Halifax Regional Municipality last weekend? Smoke; heavy brush; always the danger of the wind shifting the fire towards them... Can you imagine what a firefighter goes through battling a house fire? The possibility of a wall or floor collapsing, the dense smoke, little ventilation and few avenues of escape...
No? Me either.
Now, try to imagine, fighting a fire aboard a submarine in smoke so thick you cannot see anything. You feel your way around, trying to locate a breathing mask, because unlike the previous two scenarios, you did not go to this fire prepared to fight it. It came at you - with no warning.
In the brush or forest, you might try to escape the flames by running if the wind changes direction, or perhaps call in a water drop over your position.
In the house, you might manage to escape through a window or door to safety.
Inside the dark, cramped confines of a submarine however, you have no choice but to fight the fire where you stand. There is nowhere to run. No windows or doors to escape through. Anyone who has been through a submarine realizes how difficult it can be to move around in normal circumstances let alone when there is no light, no air and no escape. You desperately try to remain calm because that is what you have been trained to do during countless fire drills. Finally, you find a mask and take a few gulps of clean air which slowly clears your head. You don’t have time to consider what you might have already inhaled. You and your crewmates turn to and begin to fight the fire. In this scenario you MUST win or you will surely die. Now imagine you are fighting the fire, slowly moving towards it, making headway. Crouched as low as you can while still moving forward...then you feel it…something at your feet…something soft...
Stop right there, because like me, you have probably never been in that situation and there is no way you or I can begin to imagine what that particular hell would be to experience. To those who have, I thank you. Thank you for the sacrifice, the bravery and the pain. Your service in the Armed Forces make my country a safe place where I can sit and write this note of respect and gratitude and post it without fear, where others may read it.
You ask so little in return…and we in turn offer so little to you.
To the family of one submariner who paid the ultimate price, my thanks and prayers go out to you in the hope that you may know his sacrifice was not it vain then and is not in vain now. We remember him…and his shipmates, who faced hell that day aboard HMCS Chicoutimi.

May 24, 2008
General Rick Hillier, CDS, Presents Unit Commendation to HMCS Corner Brook Crew

Recognition for a job well done has always proven to be a great motivator. When it comes from the highest level of management, the effects are immediate and lingering. Thus was the case this past week when General Rick Hillier, CDS presented the Armed Forces Unit Commendation to the crew of HMCS Corner Brook. Surely this is a perfect example of the comradeship, loyalty and perseverance Canada’s submariners have displayed in the face of seemingly endless negativity directed towards them, mostly by the media. Again and again they have shown the capabilities of their boat; and again and again, the media in general refuses to acknowledge them. Perhaps that is their lot in life. Submariners know all of their exploits cannot be made public. Surely however, intelligent people will realize that what we hear is only a small fraction of their total accomplishments and that Unit Commendations are not handed our freely. The local media of course, gave short shrift to the event. How odd. It is their freedom which would be the first to disappear were it not for the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.

January 12, 2008
2008 Brings Activity in Canadian Submarine World

2008 is hardly dry and there has been a lot of activity in the Canadian submarine community. At the forefront of course is the ongoing battle over the upgrade contract awarded to Canadian Submarine Management Group, a consortium in British Columbia being legally contested by the Irving/BAE consortium on the east coast. Irving is crying foul over a technicality in the awarding of the contract, but the Canadian Conservative government, in what has to be this years best example of common sense so far, has said sorry, the contract is awarded and we are not going to have our sailors wait another three years for their submarines while the courts have an episode of 'he said' - 'she said'. Good for Prime Minister Harper! The argument by the east coast group that three of the boats are based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, so why should they have to sail to British Columbia on the west coast for upgrades does not hold water. What are they suggesting? That is too far for the boats to sail? Give it a rest Irving. You lost! No one likes a sore loser. In a related development in the pages of today's Chronicle Herald, military correspondent Chris Lambie reported that the 'pizza pan sized dent' in HMCS Victoria's hull is now repaired and a new device developed by engineers called a 'Sub Mouse' will be used to test the integrity of the repair as well as the circularity of the boat's hull - a crucial aspect to its ability to withstand increased water pressure at depth. The future is indeed looking bright for Canada's submariners and good for the federal government for not resting on its laurels as it continues to look at future replacements of the Victoria class SSKs.

November 8, 2007
Submarines To Be Replaced?

It is being widely reported that the Canadian government is examining its options regarding the Victoria class submarines. On the table is scrapping, modifying or replacing the four boats. Scrapping them would certainly be a huge mistake. No matter what the choice, the Canadian navy cannot risk being without operating submarines and lose the ability for its submariners to train and sharpen their skills. Replacing, while a nice thought is impracticable at this time. The Canadian army operating in Afghanistan is draining most of the defence budget, as it should. It is imperative that our men and women in harm’s way be provided with the very best equipment available and the government has shown that it is prepared to follow through on its promise to better equip them. So it comes down to modifying the current boats, which obviously means some form of AIP systems to allow them access below the Arctic ice shelf. Whether or not that is practical or even possible, time will tell. In the meantime, the Canadian navy possesses a quartet of modern, deadly submarines which can be brought to operational standards with a fairly modest budget expenditure. Anyone who thinks new is better should study the Australian experience with their new Collins class SSKs. They passed on the Upholders and decided new was better making that decision long before Canada decided to acquire the four submarines. One would expect that those Aussie boats must be well broken in by now – guess again. The Victoria’s have been through their teething pains and have come through no better or worse than most new naval weapons systems. Now that the crew of HMCS Corner Brook has shown the world what these boats are capable of, let us hope cool heads prevail in any decisions regarding their future.

August 27, 2007
The Halifax Daily News Discovers Submarines!

After years of making sure we were immediately informed whenever anything leaked or someone stubbed a toe aboard the boats, usually quoting some disenchanted, ex-navy type, a paper that SHOULD have been trying to raise the moral of the Canadian navy, managed to finally print something in a positive vein, always adding the inevitable 'only operational submarine' to Corner Brook's name as though it had been part of her christening - perhaps because of some misguided disappointment that all four boats did not arrive in Halifax fully operational.A big thank you to Bob Bergen however, freelance writer for The Edmonton Post for taking to task the role of reporter and getting to the heart of the story behind what the submarine crews have been up to as of late. Granted, no navy makes a habit of promoting what their 'Silent Service' is up to, most times not even after the fact. Some might say that perhaps the Canadian navy, certainly aware of the bad press its submarines and submariners were being buried under, should have let something 'leak' to the press, but then again, most would agree the navy did the right thing. No navy in the world would respect another which regularly publicized the deeds performed by its submarine arm. So for now, a tiny glimpse has been had at the silent, secret world of the Canadian submariner. Read the article, cherish the rare privilege, and the next time you happen to notice a sailor wearing the insignia of dolphins on either side of a red maple leaf, thank him. For his lot is not one of glory or fame...only silence. But that's okay. He'd have it no other way. See the article here.

The Halifax Daily News has since ceased publication.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

World Wide Bullies

Cold War, RCAF, Duck and Cover, Halifax AuthorBullies come in all shape and sizes. They are usually larger and stronger than their victims. We hear of them all over the news today; in schools, on the internet – sometimes with fatal results - and even in the workplace.

A couple of bullies on the world stage today however, overshadow all others. One is a people wanting to eliminate another people, while the other is a nation, wanting to take over a much smaller nation. Both are equally frightening as they attack their victims and in both cases, the situation could escalate into something the world may not survive.

Historically, it has taken much less than a simple bully to send the world spiralling into warfare. As we remember World War I during its 100th anniversary, and look back at the chain of events that lead to that conflict, you can’t help but wonder how one person shooting another could have resulted in all the pain and misery the world sustained for almost five years (not including the pain and misery suffered by veterans after the war).

First and the worst of the two bullies, is Hamas (along with other so-called ‘Muslim’ terrorist groups), that sick bunch of people who would rather buy cheap rockets to rain down upon their neighbour instead of feeding and clothing their own people who live in squalor. This far flung band of people is filled with so much hate that they are able to sit back and watch their own children die as a result of their actions. They blame the Israelis, the Americans, or anyone else they can think of for their actions while all who die are considered martyrs of their cause. Sadly, a few other countries whose governments apparently share their views, cheerfully support this insanity with money and weapons. I expect that Allah will have a special unexpected surprise waiting for the likes of these animals when they die.

Our second bully is a familiar one from the past (and my previous blog). Russia’s leader probably suffers from some psychological issues – no doubt feeling a bit impotent having lost all the slave countries formally attached to it, along with the Cold War. The country that used to be a world wide threat to democracy has now lowered itself to beating up the little kid next door. Oh sure, some ‘Russians’ live there, so that of course trumps a country’s sovereignty, right? President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has stumbled in his attempt to annex the whole of Ukraine, culmination with the ‘accidental’ shooting down of a civilian jetliner, killing all aboard. That should have been his wake-up call to forget about the ‘world’s slowest invasion’ he’s embarked upon, but no, he’s still hard at it.

So, what does all that have to do with World War I and the photograph above? Remember, that the first world war started as a result of one person shooting another. Imagine what all the unrest out there today could potentially bring. For those too young to know, the photograph above is a school desk with a nuclear missile coming through the roof above it. When I was a child in school back in the early sixties, we had the occasional ‘duck and cover’ drills, where under threat of nuclear attack, we’d quickly scoot under our desks, surely safe from whatever might fall from the sky. This display from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario shows the futility of that exercise. Let’s hope the bullies out there today realize the danger and futility of their actions and stop what they are doing – now.