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Excerpt from The Maple Leaf, 2 May 2007, volume 10, number 12

Cloridorme, Quebec; May 12, 1942: Commander Arnit of HMCS Fort Ramsay and a local fisherman help survivors of SS Nicoya out of their lifeboat.
Photo by Acting Sub-Lieutenant (A/Slt) Ian Tate, published in Victory in the St. Lawrence by James W. Essex.

"In the chilly depths of the Atlantic about 20 miles southeast of Scatarie Island, off Cape Breton, the crew of the Type VIIC submarine U–553 listen apprehensively to the distant boom of explosions. The U-boat sustained damage to her periscope in a battle with a convoy escort off the Burin Peninsula a few days ago and skipper Kapitänleutnant Karl Thurmann hoped Cape Breton Island would offer a quiet cove in which to effect repairs, but those explosions sound unpleasantly like bombs dropped by a patrolling surveillance aircraft. One of five boats operating independently in Canadian waters, U-553 is assigned to the target-rich environment of the approaches to Halifax; however, Kptlt Thurmann has permission to range anywhere between Nova Scotia and New York, so he decides to move into an area as yet untouched by the U-boat flotillas, where the air patrols might be less attentive.

During the evening of May 11, lighthouse-keeper Joseph Ferguson of Cap-des-Rosiers on the Gaspé coast overhears some fishermen laughing at a crewmate who insists he saw a stovepipe sticking out of the water. The fishermen think it's a great joke, but Mr. Ferguson is electrified; recently he's been hearing about great holes torn in fishing nets, and that afternoon, while scanning the sea with his long-range binoculars, he spotted an odd furrow in the water—the wake of a submarine's periscope. He immediately telephones HMCS Fort Ramsay, the new Royal Canadian Navy base at Gaspé, but unfortunately no one there speaks French.

Toward midnight, U-553 slides gently to the surface, for Kptlt Thurmann has identified a perfect target: the unescorted freighter SS Nicoya out of Montréal bound for Halifax. His first torpedo cripples the merchantman but does not sink her, so the sailors have time to launch the ship's boats and make for shore; of 87 people aboard, only six lives are lost. The sinking of Nicoya is only the beginning of Kptlt Thurmann's work. Shortly after midnight, with a single torpedo, he destroys another unescorted freighter, SS Leto, which goes down so fast that only one life-raft and one boat get away and many of the crew have to swim for their lives. Within the next hour, U-553 also attacks the freighters Dutch Mass and Titus, but Kptlt Thurmann's luck is gone as he has run out of torpedoes. As dawn lightens the sky and the U-boat submerges, Dutch Mass and Titus find the scattered wreckage of Leto and pick up her survivors—only 31 of the 43 known to have been aboard when the torpedo struck.

The boats from Nicoya and Leto land on the Gaspé coast at the villages of Anse au Valleau and Cloridorme, while fishermen alerted by the great explosions of the sinking freighters search the sea for more victims. The only boat at HMCS Fort Ramsay, an examination vessel called Venning, is still up on chocks, but Lieutenant Paul Belanger and his crew launch her to join the rescue effort. Meanwhile, the fishing families of Anse au Valleau and Cloridorme take the survivors into their homes and give them such thorough care that the two RCMP officers who arrive later in the morning can find nothing more to do for them."

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