RCN flagship: HMCS Haida, Canada’s “fightingest ship”

HMCS Haida and Athabaskan


HMCS Haida and HMCS Athabaskan performing high speed manoeuvers circa early 1944.

On May 26, 2018 Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Haida was designated flagship of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) to honour the courageous spirit of this legendary destroyer and all those who proudly served in her.

Haida is the last remaining Second World War Tribal-class destroyer in the world. Moored in Hamilton, Ont., it is now a National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada, welcoming visitors to learn about Canada’s remarkable naval history.

Given that the RCN is a destroyer navy with 108 years of service to Canada, Haida, as the Navy’s flagship, is the very embodiment of the history, valour and fearless dedication of the women and men who serve Canada at sea. Haida is a physical testament to the RCN’s long history as a fighting force and now stands as a permanent reminder of the sacrifice, resolve and courage of Canada’s sailors.

Known as Canada's “fightingest ship,” Haida sank more surface tonnage than any other RCN ship during the Second World War and later joined the "Trainbusters Club" during the Korean War. Haida’s legacy is steeped in Battle Honours: ‎The Arctic between 1943 and 1945; English Channel, Normandy and Biscay in 1944; and Korea from 1952 to 1953.

Vice-Admiral Harry DeWolf and Canada’s Fightingest Ship

Haida links generations, bringing together the RCN's proud past with its bright future. Her original commanding officer, Vice-Admiral Harry DeWolf, is the namesake for both the first of, and the entire class of, the RCN’s new Arctic and Offshore Patrol Vessels. His inspirational, courageous and bold wartime leadership earned him the nickname “Hard-Over Harry.” Post-war, Harry DeWolf rose to the rank of vice-admiral and commanded the RCN.

Although Vice-Admiral DeWolf commanded several ships during his distinguished career, his relationship with Haida came to define his legacy and his bold leadership earned her the nickname the “Fightingest Ship in the Royal Canadian Navy.”

During his 14-month tenure as commanding officer during the Second World War, Haida sank 14 enemy vessels, and his crew called him “Hard-Over-Harry” for his fearless command style.

One story that exemplifies the qualities of his unwavering courage, self-sacrifice and dedication is the story of HMCS Haida’s rescue of HMCS Athabaskan on April 29th, 1944.

HMC Ships Haida and Athabaskan were on patrol in the mine and torpedo-infested waters of the English Channel when they received word of two nearby enemy ships. They pressed on until Athabaskan stopped unexpectedly.

Haida kept going, but returned a short time later to find that Athabaskan was in trouble. They pulled up close and fired a star shell to light up the night sky.

Then-Cdr DeWolf saw that they were surrounded by men scattered at sea on both sides of the ship. Fearful of mines, in range of enemy coastal guns positioned along the French coast, and with daylight looming, Cdr DeWolf made the decision to remain as long as he could. In doing so, Haida’s sailors rescued 42 men from the treacherous waters of the English Channel that night.

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