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.

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE - GIL­LIAN SLADE gslade@medicine­hat­news.com Twit­ter:MHNGil­lianSlade

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.

FILE PHOTO

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

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