Saturday, 6 October 2012

HMCS Sackville

During the period of UK re-armament in the late 1930s the Royal Navy realised that it was desperately short of small escort ships. During the First World War Smith's Docks Co. Ltd., (T & W Smith, Middlesbrough) had supplied a class of small escorts based upon the design of a whaler-catcher (the Z-class) ...

... and they were asked to design a similar vessel to meet the Royal Navy's needs. Smith's Docks based their new design on that of the Southern Pride, a very successful whale-catcher ...

... and this design became the Flower-class corvette (also known to as the Gladiolus-class). By the time that the last ship of the class was completed, a total of 267 Flowers had been built, and they served with almost every Allied Navy (and with the Kriegsmarine!).

The design was kept as simple as possible to enable rapid construction. The machinery that powered the Flowers was a triple-expansion reciprocating steam engine, and the steam was provided by two water tube boilers. This was similar to the machinery used on many merchant ships, and newly-recruited engine room staff who had served in the Merchant Navy required little re-training before they were ready to go to sea.

Likewise the original armament of the Flowers was kept as basic as requirement allowed, and consisted of a 4-inch BL Mk.IX gun, two twin Vickers .50-inch machine guns, two twin .303-inch Lewis machine gun, two Mk.II depth charge throwers, and two depth charge rails with a total load of forty depth charges. During the war this was increased and improved to meet the growing threat of both U-boats and aircraft attacks.

The Flowers saw hard service during the Second World War, and many were scrapped or sold in the immediate aftermath of the war. As a result HMCS Sackville is the only surviving Flower-class corvette, and she serves as a memorial to the ships of that class and all those who served in them. (In fact HMCS Sackville has served as the Canadian Navy's official Naval Memorial since 1985.)

HMCS Sackville: a history
HMCS Sackville was built by Saint John Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., Saint John, New Brunswick and named after the town of the name in New Brunswick. She was laid down of 28th May 1940, launched on 15th May 1941 and commissioned on 30th December 1941.

In early 1943 Sackville was refitted at Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Her existing machinery was repaired and where necessary replaced, her bridge wings were extended so that single 20mm Oerlikon guns could be fitted on each wing.

From 28th February until 7th May 1944 she was refitted in Galveston, Texas, where
  • Her forecastle was extended (thus improving her seaworthiness);
  • A new bridge was built;
  • Her mainmast was moved from in front of the bridge to abaft it;
  • The electronics suite was replaced;
  • She was equipped with a gyro compass;
  • Hedgehog Ahead-Throwing Anti-Submarine Weapons were fitted.
During the middle of 1944 HMCS Sackville had her boilers cleaned in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. One of her boilers was found to have a serious leak and attempts to repair it were unsuccessful. As a result the ship was no longer considered suitable for further service as a convoy escort, and on 29th August 1944 she was reassigned to act as a training ship.

This reassignment did not, however, take place and HMCS Sackville was taken in hand and converted to become a Loop Layer. (Loops were anti-submarine indicator loops that were laid across harbour entrances. They worked by magnetic induction. As a submarine passed over the loop its magnetism induced a current in the cable, thus revealing its presence.) The 4-inch gun replaced with a pair of cranes and the damaged boiler was removed to provide storage capacity for the cable that formed the loops. HMCS Sackville was paid off on 8th April 1946 and laid up in reserve.

Unlike most of her sister ships, this was not end of Sackville's service at sea. In 1952 she was reactivated and converted to a research vessel for the Department of Marine and Fisheries. Her remaining armament was removed and the ship was 'civilianised'. A laboratory was built on the aft superstructure in 1964, and a new enclosed bridge fitted in 1968. She remained in service with the Department of Marine and Fisheries until December 1982 and she was transferred to the Canadian Naval Corvette Trust (now the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust) on 28th October 1983. The Trust decided to rebuild HMCS Sackville to represent her 1944 appearance, and this is how she now appears.

HMCS Sackville: a photo-essay

HMCS Sackville's 4-inch BL Mk.IX gun

The 2-pounder QF Mk.VIII gun on anti-aircraft mount

The starboard 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun

The port 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun

The depth charge racks

The starboard Hedgehog Ahead-Throwing Anti-Submarine Weapon

The starboard Mk.II depth charge throwers

The starboard midships area of HMCS Sackville showing her open bridge and radar 'lantern'

The radar 'lantern' contained the ship's surface search radar


  1. HMS Compass Rose... "good oh, snorkers!"... best O-Level text a wargame mad kid could have! :o)

  2. Steve-the-Wargamer,

    In my case the inspiring book was THE SHIP by C S Forester. It should have been made into a film ... but never was.

    All the best,


  3. Great little ships. I will have to pay a visit to Sackville on our next trip down east.

  4. Pat G,

    I thoroughly recommend a visit to HMCS Sackville if you get the chance to go to Halifax.

    All the best,


  5. Cruel Sea was good but Eagle of the 9th bit deeper.

    I'm proud to say that the Sackville was a familiar sight when I did my 3 year stint as Officer of the Watch with the Queen's Harbour Master in the early 80's and so in a sense we served along side.

  6. Ross Mac,

    It is interesting to note what books inspire wargamers ...

    It must have been quite some job working with the Queen's Harbour Master in such an important and busy port. An enviable appointment.

    All the best,


  7. Bob QHM only looked after Her Majesty's vessels, the Coast Guard and the Port Authority did the heavy lifting. Weekday shifts could be busy but the 12 hour shifts were long stretches of boredom in between rounds nights and weekends for the 1 watchkeeper and myself. I painted a lot of micro armour one year. The most excitement was the time the flooding alarm went off on HMCS St Croix just after midnight one New Year's morning. She was tied up and being used as a training ship for reserves while waiting for decommisioning but I didn't want her sinking on my watch!

  8. Dad was on one of these (HMS Pennywort) throughout his service. Spent a lot of time plodding back and forth across the Atlantic. I intend to make one at 1/72nd when I can find the time.

  9. Ross Mac,

    Being QHM in the largest naval base in Canada must have been fun at times, even if it was boring at others.

    Can you be called before a court martial for losing a ship that you are not actually on board at the time? This would be a nice question for the lawyers to answer ... but it would take them an age to come up with one!

    You painted micro armour? You do surprise me as I thought that all your 'modern' stuff was 20mm-scale.

    All the best,


  10. Joppy,

    The Flowers did a difficult job as well as they could, and in my opinion their crews performed heroically. The corvettes were designed for coastal and short-sea escort duty, and not to cross the Atlantic and back, fighting as they went.

    The old Matchbox model of the Flower-class corvette is one of the top selling warship kits, and one can see why so many of them have been built ... and often converted into RC models as well.

    Good luck with building yours.

    All the best,


  11. Glad you got a chance to visit Halifax and Sackville, Bob. Se is a beautifully maintained piece of history. For anyone with time, Sackville is on an historic harbour walk that includes Pier 21, which is Canada's immigration museum. My own mother and three eldest siblings came through there in 1945 as a war bride seeing her new country for the first time, The harbour walk also passes Garrison Brewery - excellent beer comes out of Halifax.

  12. Mad Padre,

    The problem that we had was that we were only in Halifax for the day ... and we had not realised how much it had to offer!

    We did manage to visit the Citadel, HMCS Sackville, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and the cemetery where most of the bodies recovered from the RMS Titanic were buried (and to have lunch with Ross Macfarlane), but there was just not enough time to walk right along the waterside boardwalk or to spend time partaking of my wife’s favourite pastime … retail therapy!

    Perhaps next time …

    All the best,