This Week in History


Canadian Made Commander-in-Chief

For the week of Monday April 26, 2010

On April 30, 1943, Rear-Admiral Leonard Murray, from Grafton, Nova Scotia, was made Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Northwest Atlantic. During the Second World War, Canadian military personnel served alongside their allies in many other theatres of war, but Rear-Admiral Murray was the only Canadian who was made Commander-in-Chief of a theatre of operations, reflecting Canada’s leading role in the North Atlantic.

Then Commodore Murray congratulates the crews of HMCS Skeena and HMCS Wetaskiwin for sinking U-588.
© Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-115347

Between 1939 and 1940, Canada and Canadians played a prominent role in producing and shipping badly needed war supplies to Britain after Nazi Germany had seized control of most of Europe. Even before the outbreak of the war in September 1939, Germany had conquered or annexed other nations in Eastern Europe. Britain, a maritime nation that relied on imports, was thus cut off from what had previously been a large source of the war materials that it needed to continue to fight. As a result, Britain turned to Canada to find a source of supplies, including food, which was needed to feed its population.

Canada was far enough away from Germany and the other Axis powers that its manufacturing and industry was protected from attack, and not vulnerable to bombing like Britain was. Britain also looked to the United States to help provide war materials for similar reasons, but because the U.S. remained neutral until December 1941, much of what it sold to Britain was shipped through Canada. To ship the supplies to Britain, Canadian and other Allied cargo vessels were used. These ships were attacked and often sunk by the German U-Boats (submarines), which patrolled the Atlantic trying to stop the supplies from reaching Britain. To combat them, the cargo ships were grouped into convoys, which were escorted by Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) vessels equipped to fight submarines. This system proved successful in reducing the amount of damage caused by German U-Boats.

German U-boat U-190 after being surrendered to Canada at the end of the war.
© Edward W. Dinsmore / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-145584

Rear Admiral Murray was instrumental in the creation of the convoy system, and after he became Commander-in-Chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic, in 1943, he commanded the Canadian naval and air forces that were protecting the convoys. These forces would escort the convoys to a designated point mid-ocean, where the British Royal Navy would take over and the RCN ships would return to Canada to escort another convoy.

The fact that Rear-Admiral Murray, a Canadian officer, was appointed to command the Canadian North Atlantic theatre shows the importance of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic and to the convoy system. Rear-Admiral Leonard Warren Murray was designated a National Historic Person in 1977. The Battle of the Atlantic was designated a National Historic Event in 2000.

This is the 100th anniversary of Canada's Navy. For more information, visit The Canadian Navy Centennial 1910-2010 website, of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. For more information on Rear-Admiral Leonard Warren Murray, see The Organizer of the North Atlantic Convoy System is Born! For more information on the convoy system during the Battle of the Atlantic, see The Battle of the Atlantic - War on the Homefront.

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