The first weekend in May is set aside to remember the members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Royal Canadian Airforce (RCAF), and the Canadian Merchant Navy who served and died during the Battle of Atlantic. This year, as we remember these individuals, we also reflect on the important role that the Halifax Shipyard and its workforce played during this period.
Running from 1939-1945, the Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in World War II. Canada played a key role in the Allied struggle for control of the North Atlantic against Nazi Germany, and Halifax was on the front lines throughout the Battle of the Atlantic.
The RCN and RCAF provided escort duty for the Merchant Navy convoys that would form up and leave from Halifax, sending troops, supplies, and equipment across the Atlantic to provide Britain with the supplies they needed to survive and fight.
As the U-boats and surface raiders of the German Navy did everything they could to stop these convoys, 3,500 Allied merchant ships and 175 Allied warships were sunk and some 72,200 Allied naval and merchant seamen lost their lives. The German Navy lost 30,000 sailors and 783 submarines. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote that the Battle of the Atlantic “was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air, depended ultimately on its outcome.”
The Halifax Shipyards served as the main front-line repair facility in Canada for ships engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. Over the course of the War the Shipyard’s two facilities (at Halifax Shipyard and Dartmouth Marine Slips) repaired 7,145 vessels – an astonishing average of more than 24 ships for every week of the War. In doing so, Halifax Shipyard played a major role in the Allied success at sea and in the overall Allied victory in World War II. The Shipyard additionally built four Tribal-class destroyers for the RCN in the latter part of the War.
The herculean efforts of the workers of the Halifax Shipyard throughout the Battle of the Atlantic played an important part in preserving the freedom of all Canadians.
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