We could take the fight to the enemy, no matter where he tried to hide. Our ships could hunt and kill enemy submarines underwater! At least that is what we told the American sailors making fun of our HMCS OTTAWA.
It was a wonderful warm Caribbean night at the US Naval Base, Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico, we had an unscheduled return to the base to replace the cable for our Variable Depth Sonar (VDS). We were in the Caribbean for CARIBOPS in January 1981, it had been a busy schedule of work ups and evolution’s, including fleet manoeuvres and anti-submarine exercises.
During our anti-submarine operations we had been chasing HMCS OJIBWA and our VDS cable failed. This was a unique Canadian designed sonar that could be lowered behind the ship and towed, eliminating almost any chance of a submarine from hiding in the various layers of warm/cold water. Without our VDS operational we were blind, so off to Rosie Roads to replace it.
This evolution was also treated as an exercise, get in, get the damaged cable off the ship, replace and attach the VDS cable to the sonar array and get back out to sea and back to the job of sub-hunting in a timely and efficient manner.
We were at Harbour Stations as OTTAWA silently slipped through the dark harbour, as we approached the jetty we could see a new VDS cable, a crane and several US Sea Bees waiting for us to secure our lines. My Harbour Station was aft, and we were kept at stations while the repair was being made, so we could slip our lines and get back to sea quickly.
The commotion and activity had attracted a small crowd of American sailors from other ships secured nearby. When one of them in a strong southern drawl called out to his mates, “Just look how funny this here little ship looks, all rounded.” His mates standing with him laughed.
Suddenly work stopped as every Canadian sailor turned their attention to our American friends standing on the jetty. Ya, we heard that, they’re laughing at our ship, our OTTAWA, our Cadillac of destroyers!
Our Buffer, had been coordinating the crane lifting the cable, calmly walked the few steps over to the laughing sailors and in a gentle voice that could still be heard by all of us stated to the sailors, “There is a reason for our rounded ship, but its a secret.”
The laughing stopped, the Buffer now had the full attention of every American sailor.
He finished his statement, “But, we’re allies, so you know that.”
The sailor replied, “Know what?”
The Buffer asked, “You do know Canada’s part in NATO is to hunt and kill submarines.”
The sailors then asked, “OK, but why so funny looking?”
We all waited with baited anticipation to see how the Buffer was going to rip this belligerent sailor a new one for criticizing our OTTAWA a second time!
To our surprise he simply asked the sailors, “What do submarines do?” When there was no response, other then a dumbfounded stare, he stated, “They go underwater, right.”
This too was met by a dumbfounded stare from the group of sailors, now quiet, their laughter replaced with intent curiosity.
The Buffer leaned into the group of Americans and with a serious tone, began to explain. “A submarines greatest weapon is stealth, they can hide under the water, unseen and attack without warning. A truly dangerous weapon. This cable we are replacing allows us to put our sonar down to where the submarines hide, taking away their invisibility.”
The group of American sailors stood spell bound, focusing deeply on every word, as the Buffer explained the fine art of anti-submarine warfare, developed by the Canadian Navy.
After a brief dramatic pause, waiting for the sailors to lean in a little closer, the buffer began again. “Once we find the submarine, and we find every one, that’s it for the sub.”
Another dramatic pause, the Americans hanging, waiting for the Buffer’s next words.
“Once we find the sub, we close our hatches, the ship is fully watertight, with the rounded hull we are sleek and streamlined, we go after them!”
“There isn’t a place underwater that a submarine can hide from the Canadian Navy!”
The Buffer then stepped out from the group of Americans and once again in his usual tone of voice, bellowed out, “Back to work, all of you! We need to get this job done, the Old Man wants to get back to hunting subs!
We all turned too, back to the job at hand, each of us with a stifled grin and a quiet chuckle, attempting to keep a serious composure, as our confused American friends slowly walked down the jetty deep in discussion. Debating how well the sleek design of the Canadian destroyer could defeat an enemy submarine and occasionally pointing to our “funny” looking ship, HMCS OTTAWA.
All photos in this post from the Roger Litwiller RCN Collection, courtesy of Roger Litwiller.