Introduction

Halifax Herald, May 13, 1942.<br />  Library and Archives Canada NL125952

Halifax Herald, May 13, 1942.
Library and Archives Canada NL12595

The Battle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which saw German U-boats penetrate the Cabot Strait and the Strait of Belle Isle to sink 23 ships between 1942 and 1944, marked the only time since the War of 1812 that enemy warships inflicted death within Canada’s inland waters. The battle advanced to within 300 kilometres of Québec City. A war that pervaded people’s lives but was still somehow remote, had become immediate, threatening, and very real. The Battle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence was part of a larger conflict called the Battle of the Atlantic which included all of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe, and was fought between 1939 and 1945.

On September 11, 1942, <abbr title='Her Majesty's Canadian Ship'>HMCS</abbr> <em>Charlottetown</em> (I) was destroyed<br /> within sight of horrified onlookers on the shores near Cap-Chat. <br />Department of National Defence, CN-3636.

On September 11, 1942, HMCS Charlottetown (I) was destroyed
within sight of horrified onlookers on the shores near Cap-Chat.
Department of National Defence, CN-3636.

The U-boats’ disruption of river traffic was serious, because the greatest volume of shipping passed through ports on the St. Lawrence. Although Halifax and Sydney were crucial marshalling areas for overseas convoys, in 1939 Montreal exported more tons of shipping than all other Canadian east coast ports combined. Even by 1941 the ports of Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City still accounted for more tonnage than half of the shipments from the Canadian east coast. Furthermore, the sailing time from Montreal to Liverpool, the major convoy arrival point in Britain, was shorter than that for a ship sailing from New York to Liverpool. Any activity that hampered St. Lawrence River shipping, with its excellent access to Canada’s industrial heartland, was a serious threat.

Victory Bond advertisement in the <br /><em>Montreal Daily Star</em>, November 2, 1942.<br />  Library and Archives Canada NL12595.

Victory Bond advertisement in the
Montreal Daily Star, November 2, 1942.
Library and Archives Canada NL12595.

Between 1942 and 1944, German U-boats posed this very threat. The moderate but continual toll they exacted on shipping and lives was itself of great concern. Their ability to close the Gulf of St. Lawrence to international traffic, resulting in a 25-percent decrease in associated cargo movements, was of potentially greater significance. Allied plans for the invasion of Europe depended upon the safe arrival of merchant shipping and its precious cargo in Britain.

Those who fought this battle and those who gave their lives in the Gulf of St. Lawrence were engaged in a struggle that would have wide implications.

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