War at sea: Paving the way to victory
Local war hero who aided in Canada’s battle efforts at sea passed away this year in July. Frank Simmons was 92.
A sea mine that can blow a hole in the hull of a ship and send a plume of water and debris 80 feet into the air provokes fear when you observe it bobbing on the surface of the water.
“A great big sea mine had broken loose and was floating, bouncing back and forth against our ship,” said Frank Simmons of Medicine Hat who was an able seaman in the Second World War patrolling the Atlantic.
When he first shared his story with the News in 2013 he was 88 years old. He passed away on July 13, 2018 in Medicine Hat at the age of 92.
Sometimes those sea mines did not explode because they were rusty. Sometimes an anti-aircraft gun was used to blow a hole in it and then it would sink, Simmons recalled.
In the Second World War a sea mine was often attached to a cable below the surface of the water. Some were dropped from aircraft and floated on the surface of the water.
In June 1944 H.M.C.S. Thetford Mines became Simmons’ home on water after enlisting for service on his 18th birthday, Aug. 3, 1943. Basic training included learning how to tie knots correctly and march properly, he said. The highlight of his training was a month in Bermuda.
“At first we patrolled the East Coast of Canada and then the Gulf of St. Lawrence before taking a ship convoy to Europe in the fall of 1944. We patrolled along the Scottish Coast the Hebrides and then towards Norway.”
It was in the Irish Sea and the North Channel that the Royal Canadian Navy made a contribution to the final victory, sinking two of three U-boats in March 1945.
“We shared in the sinking of one, took 32 Germans prisoners. Two died and were taken back to sea for burial,” Simmons recounted.
He had been charged with the duty of operating the rear depth charge thrower on the port side. They were mainly on patrol duty and search and hunt missions.
Simmons vividly recalled a night dropping depth charges, targeting submarines, and said he still felt bad about it even though he was following orders.
“I just waited for the order to push the button. We did not know officially we got them until after the war. Anyway they never returned to Germany,” Simmons added with a smile.
Escorting U-boats however brought back some happy memories.
“We escorted eight U-boats that had been surrendered from Scotland to Northern Ireland,” said Simmons.
An old newspaper clipping describes the scene:
“From the mouth of the Foyle they were provided with a British, American and Canadian escort and it was a memorable sight as the procession made its way up the channel.”
The battle of the Atlantic lasted from September 1939 to May 1945. Of 1,162 U-boats, 784 were sunk.
The Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force were credited with sinking 47 German and Italian submarines in the North Atlantic.
Canada suffered the loss of 24 warships, mainly in the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Sir Winston Churchill is quoted as saying the war would have been lost if the German U-boats had been successful in cutting off food and equipment supplies to Britain.
Simmons came home in May 1945 and went to trade school to become a cabinet maker.
His family had a history of working on the railway and he later joined CPR working for eight years on the freight service and some passenger service in the summer.
Simmons had a passion for building boats including numerous cedar strip canoes.
The seventh Remembrance Day story brought to you by the News is in the Special Supplement for Remembrance Day with this issue of the newspaper.
Frank Simmons of Medicine Hat was an able seaman in the Second World War patrolling the Atlantic. He passed away on July 13, 2018 in Medicine Hat at the age of 92.
In June 1944 H.M.C.S. Thetford Mines became a home on water for Frank Simmons after enlisting for service in the Second World War on his 18 birthday, Aug. 3, 1943.