The HMCS Fort William

November 2020

As the Second World War raged in the summer of 1941, the Canadian Navy was in the process of constructing dozens of warships to aid in the war effort. One of these ships was the Bangor-class minesweeper HMCS Fort William.

The Bangor-class minesweeper was a type of small warship first built by the Royal Navy in early 1940 to counter sea mines laid down by U-boats in Allied waters with the Bangor supplementing the already existing Halcyon-class and the old first world war vintage Racecourse-class minesweepers. With a crew of eighty-three men the early versions of the Bangor-class were often called crowded and unpleasant to work on by their crews. When WW2 began Canada was quick to adopt the Bangor-class and would use them beyond the war and into the 1950s and even early 60s.

Built by the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company from August 18th, 1941 to December 30th, 1941, and named after the city of Fort William, Ontario, the Fort William would finally be commissioned on August 25th, 1942 after a number of delays and departed for Halifax the same day.

The HMCS Fort William arrived on the 24th of September. Her new crew had found a number of construction flaws during the journey that would leave her in drydock in Halifax until mid October before finally being deemed ready for service. The ship was assigned to the Halifax Force guarding local convoys. That would not last long however, as on January 11th, 1943 the Fort William would suffer heavy damage after she collided with the government vessel Lisgar in Halifax harbor that put the ship in drydock for another month. From June of 1943 until February of 1944 the Fort William found itself in Newfoundland guarding against possible U-boat raids before being recalled to Halifax for a brief refit before being sent across the Atlantic to the UK on February 20th along with three of her sister ships, HMCS Blairmore, HMCS Milltown and HMCS Minas.

The four ships had been selected to take part in the planned Operation Neptune, the naval component of the greater operation known as “Operation Overlord” which was the planned invasion and liberation of Europe.

The four ships arrived on March 8th and were immediately put to work training to sweep and destroy the mines that had been placed all over the English Channel as well as the french coast by the occupying German forces. On the night of May 27th the Fort William got her first taste of action while stationed near the Isle of Portland. German aircraft raided the nearby port of Weymouth and the Fort William, along with her sister ships added their anti-aircraft guns to the defence. During the raid the Germans dropped mines in the harbour giving the small Canadian ships something to do after the shooting had stopped. It was seen as all good practice for the day they all knew was rapidly approaching.

On the evening of June 5th, the crew of the Fort William, along with dozens of other minesweepers from Canada, Britain and the United States received the orders they’d been waiting for and departed to clear the English Channel so the largest fleet ever assembled in known history could cross relatively safely to France. In total six thousand nine hundred and thirty nine vessels took part in the operation and the minesweepers led the way.

The following morning would see the Fort William clearing sea mines in the American landing area along with HMCS Caraquet when, after fouling up their sweeps on a previously unknown shipwreck, both ships came under fire from a shore battery leaving the two ships to try and return fire with their small three inch (76 mm) deck guns and attempt another sweep for mines. Help would come in the form of the USS Arkansas, an older American dreadnought battleship that reportedly destroyed the offending battery with a single salvo from her twelve, twelve inch (305mm) main guns with free-French cruisers clearing up the rest.

With the threat eliminated the Fort William spent the rest of the day “mostly” unopposed and would stay in European waters clearing mines until September before returning to the UK for resupply.

The HMCS Fort William made its triumphant return to North America in March of 1945 and aside from a rescue mission to save downed airmen in the water spent most of her time in St.John’s, Newfoundland undergoing refits for a possible transfer to the Pacific. This is where she’d be when the second World War came to an end. She’d be moved into the reserve fleet in 1946.

The last chapter of the HMCS Fort William’s life would begin on the 29th of November, 1957 when Canada sold the now aging ship to the Turkish navy who renamed it the TCG Bodrum. She served with the Turkish navy until 1971 when finally the old warship would be sent to the scrapper. While researching for this article I could find almost nothing about the ship’s time in the Turkish navy so it is unlikely the ship took part in anything major between 1957 and 1971.

In 2020 no ships of the Bangor-class survive in museums and few if any Bangor-class seamen are still alive today.

I hope that this article can help educate those who otherwise would have never heard this story. The Fort William was not a big ship or all that famous but her history is rich and hopefully the story of the ship and her crew will not ever be completely forgotten.

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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