Battle of the Atlantic – longest of World War II

By MPP Toby Barrett

On behalf of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition I recently paid tribute in the House to Canadians who fought and died in defence of liberty during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Over 2,000 courageous members of the Royal Canadian Navy gave up their lives during the Battle of the Atlantic. This was the longest battle of World War II. It also claimed the lives of over 700 members of the Royal Canadian Air Force. These sacrifices were not made in vain.

For six long and arduous years, and facing German ships and U-boats, the weighty responsibility of protecting vital Allied service lines increasingly fell on Canadian shoulders. Without Canadian sacrifice in defence of those supply lines and the transportation of precious cargo, by the Canadian Merchant Navy, victory in Europe may not have been ours.

Canada’s invaluable contribution to the war effort in the Battle of the Atlantic saw the successful completion of more than 25,000 merchant voyages from North America to British ports under RCN escort with 165 million tonnes of cargo delivered.

Following debate, my colleague, Jim Wilson, MPP for Simcoe–Grey, introduced the Merchant Navy Veterans Act to honour the work of merchant mariners during World War II.

Canada’s navy began with only 13 vessels and 3,500 servicemen. By the end of the war, our capacity had grown to 375 fighting ships and more than 110,000 sailors and officers, including 6,500 women. Such was Canada’s answer to the call of duty in the defence of our freedom and our friends and our values.

On May 8, 1945, after six years of fierce warfare, Germany signed the final terms of surrender, marking the end of war in Europe.

I grew up on war stories. My father, Sub-Lieutenant Harry B. Barrett, manned the fore gun on board HMSC Assiniboine – a destroyer that was called on to engage and ram enemy submarines on more than one occasion. He and his mates spent years on convoy duty – young men in the dark, in the wet and in the cold. It would be an understatement to say that the weather could be rough on the North Atlantic. My father also survived the tragedy of the Halifax fire, returning to haul out hundreds of dead, including his friend, Bob Presnail.

So many tales of heroism that continue to inspire our admiration, the countless untold stories of bravery of our sailors, our airmen, our soldiers.

All told, the staggering Canadian cost of defending liberty in Europe and the Asia-Pacific theatre meant that more than 42,000 Canadian defenders of freedom would not return home—this from a country of a little more than 11 million citizens in which one million served in the armed forces.

For all that they have done for us, a grateful nation is forever in their debt. And, as a reminder, we should all continue to read and watch films and continue to learn, to remember what this generation – the Great Generation – did for us by shipping out to fight on our behalf.

Thank you to their families, thank you to those who proudly wear the uniform today, and thank you all who sacrificed so much not only in the Battle of the Atlantic, but in all the battles that ensured victory in Europe.