HMCS Sackville: The Last Flower: 1941-2000
Out of 269 Flower Class Corvettes built in Britain and Canada between
1940 and 1945 only one survives today HMCS Sackville
and her survival is more the result of good fortune, rather than good
Built by the Saint John Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co. Ltd of Saint John
NB, HMCS Sackville was launched on 15 May 1941, and commissioned
into the RCN on 30 December 1941. . .. at the time of her commissioning
Sackville had spent 19 months and three days from the time she
was ordered - twice as long as average for a Flower. In fact, only HMS
Balsam took longer to build (19 months and 12 days).
Her first commanding officer, Lt W.R. Kirkland, RCNR joined on 2 January
1942. By March 1942 Sackville was still not ready for action and
Kirkland was discharged as 'Unsuitable'. At the same time her crew was
scattered amongst other ships of the fleet. In their place the already
trained crew of HMCS Baddeck (Lt Alan Easton, RCNR) was transferred
to Sackville. Finally, on 15 May 1942, Sackville left Halifax
to join the war.
Escort Group C-3
Assigned to the Mid-Ocean Escort Force (MOEF). Sackville joined
the veteran destroyers Saguenay and Skeena in Escort Group
C-3 along with other newcomers Galt and Wetaskiwin. These
three corvettes were replacements for the previous C-3 corvettes which
were now undergoing refit en masse.
While escorting convoy ON 115 during early August 1942, Sackville
was involved in attacking three different U-boats within the space of
12 hours, damaging U-43 and U-552.
Sackville's appearance in Summer 1942 is as above. At this time
she is basically as built with a few additions. She sports the highly
ineffective Canadian designed Sw1C radar at the masthead. While a great
technical achievment, it proved impractical in actual usage. It was to
be at least another year before Canadian escorts saw the much more effective
Britsh type 271 radar installed. The colours are interesting in that the
WA Blue has been replaced by ' deck green'. I am unsure whether MS2 is
meant by this, so I have chosen to use a medium green colour. Shortly
after this she added the C-3 Barber Pole band to the funnel. This gave
rise to their being known as the "Barber Pole Group". However
when the corvettes of C-3 went in for refit in May 1943, EG C-5 stole
the band for themselves. So beware the trap of assigning ships wearing
the band to C-3 without being sure of the dates.
Sackville arrived in LIverpool, Nova Scotia on 13 January 1943
to begin 20 weeks of refitting. The main thrust of the work entailed rebuilding
all her mnachinery, and there were few external changes. She emerged from
this refit with her minesweeping gear removed and the bridge wings extended
to accomodate 20mm Oerlikons. During this time, LT Easton was transferred
to take command of the new Frigate, HMCS Matane and in his place
Lt. H A Rankin RCNVR assumed command on 10 April 1943.
Sackville joined EG C-1 under the British Frigate Itchen
and the Canadian destroyer St. Croix - although groups were nominally
of one nation, designated by its letter A= American, B= British, C= Canadian,
they were usually composed of whatever ships were available. In fact most
American groups were made up of Canadian ships!!!
The loss of St Croix, Polyanthus and Itchen
In July 1943, a new group was formed - EG9 - from the ships of C-1 along
with two from C-2. This was a special unit designated to hunt submarines
rather then be tied to a specific convoy. While covering two convoys (ONS
18 escorted by B-3 and ON 202 escorted by C-2) EG9 was ordered to combine
forces with the other two groups to protect the convoys from the gathering
On the afternoon of 20 September 1943 HMCS St Croix was sunk
by U-305, however there was no ship immediately available to rescue the
survivors, so over 100 men spent the night in open boats until they could
be picked up in the morning. Eventually HMS Polyanthus was detailed
to screen the rescue of St Croix's surviviors, but she was not
heard from, so Itchen went off looking for her Polyanthus
had beensunk by U-952 with one survivor being picked up by Itchen.
The next day Itchen picked up 70 of St Croix's men .. but the worst
was still to come. ..
On the 22 September, Itchen gained a radar contact. Itchen
and the corvette Morden opened fire and moments later the U-boat
fired two torpedoes at the ships .. one exploded in Morden's wake,
however the other exploded directly below Itchen and she disappeared
in a massive explosion.
One man from St Croix and two from Itchen were rescued.
This was all that was left of three ship's companies.
EG9 was disbanded with Sackville and Morden going to EG
Escort Group C.2 and Modernization
Sackville spent the autumn of 1943 with EG C-2 escorting convoys
between Britain and Canada. By December she was starting to experience
more and more frequent engine problems and she was once again due for
refit and modernization. However the RCN had no intention of modernizing
the remaing short focsle corvettes. they had enough of the newer long
focsle corvettes and frigates coming into service that the older corvettes
were just going to have routine maintenance done to them. Eventually,
in the interest of crew morale, it was decided to upgrade the older corvettes
as well, and consequently Sackville went to Galveston Texas for her long
awaited modernization. Arriving there on 28 February 1944, she had her
focsle extended; a new open bridge fitted; hedgehog added; the mast was
moved to a position abaft the bridge; the two 16' dinghys were replaced
with a single 27' whaler;
new electronics were fitted and numerous other details attended to.
Sackville returned to Halifax on 15 May 1944. On the 17th Lt
Rankin left the ship and Lt A R HIcks arrived to take command. She then
went to Bermuda to work up following the refit and was finally ready for
the war again on 29 June when she sailed with C-2 as escort for HX297.
At the conclusion of this trip she was in Londonderry for a routine boiler
cleaning which in the end was to prove her salvation.
The cleaning revealed a flaw in her boilers - one was leaking. After
repairs it again failed and an inspection showed that faulty construction
was at fault .. Sackville's war was now over. If her boiler had
failed earlier in the war it would have been repaired as escorts were
badlt neeeded. Now, however, they were a dime a dozen and one 'damaged'
escort wasn't going to alter the balance, and she may have been scrapped
then and there. However There was one saving grace, Sackville had
just been thoroughly modernized, therefore she was assigned to the officer
training establishment HMCS King's to serve as training ship on
29 August 1944.
One month later it was decided to convert Sackville to become a Loop
Layer for the ring of detection cables around ports. Her damaged boiler
was removed, its location provided an excellent storage well for the cables.
Originally there were few external changes .. gone was the 4" gun
and in its place were a pair of cranes. She served in this role until
March 1946 at which time she entered the reserve fleet.
The Korean War saw Sackville ready to provide her unique skills
if needed, but she wasn't needed. However in 1953 it was decided to convert
her once again - this time to a research vessel. She emerged from this
refit looking much the same as before, but with no armament [eventually
I plan to show her in this guise - RNP]. The only difference really being
the black hull with 532 on its side (by the late 1950s this was changed
to 113). In 1964 a laboratory was added tje the aft superstructure. She
kept this same basic appearance until her next major change in1968 when
she had a new fully enclosed bridge.
Sackville is seen as she appeared circa 1982, prior to her conversion
back to her 1944 guise. Of interest is the new bridge and laboratory aft.
By the 1970s interest was beginning to arise in preserving a Flower
Class corvette for future generations. Towards this end various groups
in Canada began to search for a suitable subject to purchase for such
a role. The eventually settled upon the former HMCS Louisburg II
which had beens old to the Dominican Republic following WWII. However
she was damaged beyond repair in Hurricane David in 1979. . this left
one Flower* HMCS Sackville.
Negotiations then began to save Sackville, especially as it was learned
that she was being slated for retirement soon. Her final operational cruise
was in July 1982, and she was paid off in December 1982, with final details
of her transfer to the Canadian Naval Corvette Trust taking place on 28
The original idea was to convert her back to her 1942 appearance, however
in the end it was deemed cheaper to backdate her to her 1944 appearance,
and this is how she looks today.
Although supposed to depict Sackville in 1944, the current appearance
isn't completely accurate. By 1944 the funnel bands were gone. There is
also some minor differences to the camouflage pattern. But by-and-by,
she does look good. To see some current photos of her, go to the
LINKS page and follow the Sackville links.
* Actually there was at least one other Flower still in existance - the
former HMS Bryony was in Norwegian service as a weathership until 1980.