HMCS Haida was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943, serving in the Second World War, two tours of duty in the Korean Conflict, and the Cold War. HMCS Haida was a fighting ship and in twenty years of service only lost two men.
Some ships are famous for winning a single battle: HMS Victory. Some ships are famous for a single tragic loss: USS Arizona. HMCS Haida is famous for an entire career of exemplary service. HMCS Haida is “the fightingest ship” and the ceremonial flagship of the Royal Canadian Navy.
When the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated HMCS Haida as being of national historic significance in 1984, they gave two reasons: because of her role in naval combat, and because she is the last of the Tribal class destroyers.
In the late 1930s, war loomed on the horizon; the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) needed new ships, and was determined to obtain the ‘Tribal' Class destroyers, being built to a new design developed in Britain. Twenty-seven Tribals were built for use in the navies of three countries – Australia, Canada and Great Britain. Thirteen were sunk during World War Thirteen were scrapped after the war. HMCS Haida is the only one left, anywhere in the world.
So what did Haida do? Everything she was ever asked to do and more.
Haida was a fighting ship, and it didn't matter what came at her: destroyers, armed trawlers, submarines, even trains. Haida and her crews distinguished themselves in every theatre of war and peace in which they played a part. The goal was always the same – to defend or exemplify Canada. And Haida was a happy ship, a lucky ship. In twenty years of service, she only lost two men.
Haida was commissioned into the RCN on August 30th, 1943. She began her career escorting supply convoys to Murmansk, in Russia, above the Arctic Circle. Convoys were run in winter, when there is almost constant darkness, to make it more difficult for the German Lufftwaffe to spot them and direct submarine wolfpacks to attack. Haida and her men earned their first battle honour for this Arctic service, during which the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst was sunk.
In January 1944, Haida and her sister Tribals, Athabaskan and Huron, were transferred to Plymouth, for manoeuvres in the waters of the English Channel. Preparations for D-Day were in full swing, and the 10th Destroyer Flotilla, which they joined, was busy clearing enemy ships from the Channel. The next few months were perhaps Haida's finest, although they were marked by tragedy, too.
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.
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 they were left behind.
In the end, DeWolf 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.
Converted after the war to a destroyer-escort, (DDE) and bearing the new pennant number 215, HMCS Haida served two tours of duty in the Korean War. In co-operation with the navies of other nations in the UN forces, her duties included blockading supply lines, protecting aircraft carriers and ‘train busting': blowing up communist supply trains as they sped between the cover of railway tunnels.
The final few years of Haida's professional career were full of variety, not violence. In 1949 she rescued the crew of a downed US B-29 bomber. Throughout the 1950s she participated in numerous training missions with vessels from other NATO partners, and visited many cities, including her old home port of Plymouth, representing Canada on goodwill missions.
In October 1963, Haida was decommissioned from the Navy; she was considered obsolete. The years and the miles had caught up to her – in 20 years she steamed 688,534.25 nautical miles, the equivalent of 27 times around the world. Unlike so many of the Tribals, she was spared from the scrapyard, thanks to the efforts of a private organization, HAIDA Inc. which bought her from the Navy for use as a museum ship. She was acquired by the Government of Ontario in 1970, and many people toured the destroyer when it was located at Ontario Place, Toronto. Ownership was transferred to Parks Canada in 2002.
After that transfer, to ensure her long-term preservation, Haida spent nine months undergoing essential repairs. This was a complex job. She had to be removed from the lagoon at Ontario Place, and towed across the open waters of Lake Ontario. In dry dock at Port Weller, over four tons of steel hull plates were replaced, and repairs made to her superstructure. Once fixed, she was moved to Hamilton, Ontario.
Opened in June 2004 as a Parks Canada National Historic Site, docked at Hamilton Harbour, HMCS Haida serves as a reminder of the sacrifice, courage and tenacity of the Royal Canadian Navy.