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HMCS Haida National Historic Site of Canada

Rescuing Athabaskan Survivors

In late April, on night patrol in the Channel, Haida sank a German destroyer. A few nights later, on April 29th, the 10th Destroyer Flotilla came upon two more German destroyers off the coast of France. Haida and Athabaskan pursued them. Unfortunately, a torpedo struck Athabaskan; there was a tremendous explosion and she began to sink. Haida continued the chase, driving one destroyer hard on shore, and chasing off the other. And then she returned to where Athabaskan lay.

Moving the wounded
Moving the wounded
© Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

Haida 's Captain Harry DeWolf ordered all Haida 's boats lowered in an effort to rescue as many of Athabaskan 's crew as possible. Heavy scrambling nets were hung over the sides and Haida seamen began to pull exhausted and oil-soaked Athabaskans aboard.

DeWolf said ‘I'll wait 15 minutes'......and those minutes ticked by.

Fourteen. Athabaskan 's Captain, a very brave man named John Stubbs, called from the water ‘Get away, Haida, get clear!'

Fifteen. Dawn was coming.

Sixteen. When the boats were lowered they were supposed to be unmanned, but three Haida seamen jumped into the motor-cutter to pick up Athabaskans from the water.

Seventeen. Those three seamen would have a hazardous journey ahead of them, a daylight voyage across the Channel to safety when Haida inadvertently left them behind.

In the end Harry stayed eighteen minutes, and when Haida slowly began to gather speed and turn away from Athabaskan, she had 47 rescued men on board. Six more were rescued by the motor cutter. When Haida sailed into Plymouth, it was to the cheers of the entire fleet. The Canadian Navy had come of age.

Haida went on to avenge the sinking of her sister ship and distinguished herself further through her participation in D-Day and successful efforts to block German shipping in the Bay of Biscay. She earned battle honours for the English Channel, Normandy and the Bay of Biscay before heading to Halifax for a much needed rest and refit in September 1944. She finished the war much as she started it, escorting convoys to Murmansk, and participated in the Liberation of Norway when hostilities ended.

Washing Party
Washing Party
© Photo courtesy of Department of National Defence

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