Sydney Harbour ~ In the Second World War



In the Second World War, Sydney Harbour played a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic and played a critical role in the conduct of the war.  Sydney served as a convoy gathering point for supplies being shipped to the United Kingdom; and provided a major naval base from which warships sailed to protect Allied convoys and to hunt enemy submarines.

In 1940, a naval base was located at Sydney Harbour to support the naval group called the Sydney Naval Force comprising approximately 22 British and Canadian warships including the corvette Louisburg.

The first of the Sydney to Clyde convoys sailed from Sydney Harbour on August 14, 1940 and comprised 40 Allied ships.  On October 5th of that year, the first convoy was attacked by German U-Boats; with 20 of 34 ships lost to enemy action.

In November, 1940, the German battleship Admiral Scheer attacked a convoy from Halifax.  The heroic sacrifice of the armed merchant cruiser Jervis Bay allowed the convoy to escape to the safety of Sydney Harbour, bringing the total number of ships in port to  127, filling both the South and North West Arms.

During the period June to November 1941 a total of 1764 Allied vessels sails from Sydney Harbour.

In 1942, Allied ships were being sunk in the St. Lawrence River and the German Navy had actually established a permanent weather station a few miles north of Goose Bay, Labrador.  In response to the growing threat of submarines in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the coast of Labrador, coastal convoys were inaugurated.

In October, 1942, the war was brought to our doorstep when the passenger ferry Caribou was sunk with heavy loss of life on route between North Sydney and Port Aus Basgues, Newfoundland.  During this period, three vessels of the Dominion Coal Company, the Rosecastle, Strathcona, and Watuka were lost with casualties.

In December, 1944, a merchant ship and a naval ship were torpedoed in the approaches to Halifax Harbour while a convoy was being assembled; and at on point in the war, the HMCS Georgian reportedly ask a German U-Boat in the approaches to Sydney Harbour.

In May, 1940, the naval staff in Sydney numbered 120 officers ratings and civilians operating out of the old Post Record newspaper building.  In October, it was decided to build a base at Point Edward, across Sydney Harbour, with facilities to repair and maintain Allied warships, to operate harbour defences, to maintain communications with ships and other establishments and to provide stores, accommodation and training of personnel.  By war’s end, base personnel numbered 2327.  The Point Edward base remained until 1960.

In support of all this naval activity, the Canadian government built a network of fortifications surrounding Sydney Harbour.  Eight fortifications were built stretching from Glace Bay around the Harbour to Alder’s Point with guns that had a range of up to 21 miles.  The last of these fortifications, Fort Petrie at New Victoria, did not officially close until 1956.

Anti submarine nets and anti torpedo nets were installed to provide added protection to Sydney Harbour.

By the war’s end, the Royal Canadian Navy was the third largest navy in the world with a fleet of 278 warships plus 400 auxiliary ships; and was the most highly specialized anti submarine force in the world.

During the course of the war, Canadian warships escorted 25, 343 merchant men carrying 180 million tons of cargo safely to their transatlantic destinations.  They captured 24 U-Boats, destroyed 23 and assisted in the destruction of many more.  This was achieved at the cost of 1981 lives and the loss of 24 Canadian ships.

During the course of the war, thousands of men and women serving in the navy and merchant marine passed through Sydney and were supported and comforted by people Sydney and surrounding communities.


The Cape Breton Naval Veterans Association want to acknowledge this support and to Thank the people of Sydney and surrounding communities for their compassion and their generosity during this difficult period in our nation’s history.

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