The HMCS Port Arthur

September 2020

On September 1st, 1939 the world went to war for the second time in fifty years when Germany invaded Poland. This would lead to Canada declaring war on Germany on September 10th. At the time I’m writing this, it is the first and only time Canada has ever declared war on another nation. The following six years would see Canada transformed into one of the world’s largest military power houses with one of Canada’s biggest contributions to the war effort being the nation’s greatly expanded navy. By the end of the conflict the Canadian Navy was the third largest in the world behind the United States and the British Empire.

One of the shipyards chosen for the building of new warships was the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company (now Heddle Shipyards) due to its relative safety from possible enemy submarine or ground based attack. Here they’d build the Flower-class corvette HMCS Port Arthur, named in honor of the city in which she was built. The Port Arthur is the subject of this article.

The Flower-class corvettes were a class of small warship first built for the Royal Navy in 1939 and 1940 to fill the need for a small, cheap anti-submarine and escort ship to protect the Atlantic convoys going between Europe and North America. The class was extremely successful despite their small size with a total of two hundred and ninety-four ships built and would go on to see service in over twenty nations with the Canadian Navy having the second largest number of the ships total after the Royal Navy. The Port Arthur’s life began as Canada began to build our own corvettes.

The Port Arthur was launched in September of 1941 and was fully commissioned in May of 1942. Assigned to the Western Local Escort Force (WLEF) she’d take part in Operation Torch which was the invasion of North Africa by the allies and served as an escort for troop and cargo ships moving from Gibraltar to the shores of Africa.

The highlight of her four month tour in the Mediterranean was in January of 1943. The Port Arthur, along with the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Antelope located, engaged and sunk the Italian Futto-class submarine Tritone off the coast of Algeria giving the small ship a combat victory.

In March of 1943 the Port Arthur returned to Canada and underwent a refit that would see the ship out of action until December where the Port Arthur returned to her unit doing convoy escort until April where she was reassigned to Western Approaches Command in preparation for Operation Neptune and the invasion of Europe. Port Arthur would be part of the massive fleet that was present at D-Day where the Port Aurthur conducted escort patrols up and down the English Channel protecting the stream of supply ships entering France from possible U-Boat attacks. From what I’ve been able to find, she was never in combat during her operations protecting the convoy ships and their valuable cargo on their missions to France. From September to the end of 1944 the Port Arthur was assigned to coastal escort duties as part of Portsmouth Command before returning to Canada in February of 1945 for another refit. The Port Arthur would still be in refit when the war in Europe came to an end.

With the war in Europe now over and the war in the Pacific and Asia going clearly in the favor of the allies, the Canadian Navy decided to pay off and decommission HMCS Port Arthur along with a number of her sister ships and was sold for disposal in October of 1945 with the small ship finally going to a scrap yard in Hamilton, Ontario in 1948.

For some it is disappointing that the only Canadian navy ship to ever carry the name Port Arthur was a small corvette, but in my opinion the HMCS Port Arthur and her sister corvettes filled an essential role in the allied war strategy defending the vital convoy ships from submarine attacks and while Port Arthur didn’t have the “glory” of battle like other more famous ships both in Canada and other countries, I think the Port Arthur and the men that served on her deserved to be remembered as heroes for without them and many others like them victory would never have been achieved in the Second World War.

While the Port Arthur is long gone, one of her sister ships still remains today as a museum in Halifax. The Flower-class corvette HMCS Sackville was built in the same year as the Port Arthur and is believed to be the last Flower-class in existence today. Visitors will get a sense of what it must have been like for the crew of both the Sackville and the Port Arthur and the challenges they faced.

Next issue I will cover the history of the other lakehead area namesake, the HMCS Fort William.

Connor Kilgour is a local history enthusiast that has a fascination with the history of Thunder Bay and the Lakehead area

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