Canadian Submarine History

August 5, 2014 marks 100 years of service in submarines for Canada. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will take this opportunity to highlight the important contributions that these complex vessels, and the dedicated sailors who operate them, have made for Canada over the last 100 years.

The early years

The RCN acquired its first submarines, His Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) CC 1 and CC 2, following their purchase from a Seattle shipyard by then British Columbia Premier Richard McBride at the outbreak of the First World War, on 5 August 1914. CC 1 and CC 2 had originally been built for the Chilean Navy.

Premier McBride is reported to have acquired the boats in order to alleviate his constituents’ fears of an imminent attack by a squadron of Imperial German Navy warships that had been reported in the Pacific. Although the threat never materialized, the mere presence of the new submarines served as a deterrent for enemy forces and reassurance to the population. It was an early example of the strategic advantage of having Canadian submarines.

On the 21st of June 1917, HMCS CC 1 and CC 2 left Esquimalt for Halifax where they would stop over before proceeding on a mission to the Mediterranean. Along with HMCS Shearwater, they became the first war vessels wearing the White Ensign to use the Panama Canal. Both submarines were eventually paid off to disposal and sold for scrap in 1920.

In between World Wars

Over the next five decades, the RCN only commissioned four submarines: two British H-class and two surrendered ex-German U-boats. However, RCN submarine expertise survived as Canadian submariners maintained and honed their skills by serving in Royal Navy (RN) submarines around the world. During both world wars, a total of 34 Canadians served in RN submarines, while Canadian submariners would command 15 British submarines.

Between 1945 and 1966

Following the end of the Second World War, the number of Canadian warships and submarines was significantly reduced, and the RCN was only able to maintain its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability by arranging for the loan of RN submarines through formal agreements. Eventually, various American submarines were also made available for a limited amount of anti-submarine training for RCN ships. Until 1955, RCN ASW training needs were therefore met by rotating two RN submarines per year in Halifax and by taking advantage of training opportunities afforded by the USN off both coasts. In light of the emerging context of the Cold War, the needs of a Canadian-based submarine service were re-evaluated and the RCN came to an agreement with the RN for the creation of the Sixth Submarine Squadron (SM6) in March 1955. Based out of Halifax, SM6 was made up of mostly RN A-class submarines, commanded by RN officers with no more than half the crews being Canadian.

Cold War Era

In the early years of the Cold War, ASW became a critical element of NATO maritime strategy. There was much deliberation about the value of including submarines in the RCN fleet. The new St. Laurent-class of destroyer-escorts were built with excellent ASW capabilities for the period, but it was clear to naval planners that submarines were the best vessels to detect other submarines, because they could more fully exploit the underwater environment to maximum tactical advantage. While surface ships can eliminate most of the noise interference caused by surface activity by towing a submerged sonar array cable, unlike submarines operating at depth they cannot completely eliminate the noise they produce themselves. In a deadly, unforgiving game where the prize normally goes to the most silent platform, submarines are clearly the ASW vessels of choice.

Canada acquired its first Cold War submarine in 1961. Based on the West Coast, HMCS Grilse was an ex-USN Balao-class fleet submarine obtained on a five-year lease agreement. Used exclusively for ASW training, Grilse was operated extensively during its first 16 months of service, travelling a distance equivalent to more than twice the earth’s circumference and spending 374 days at sea. After seven years of service, Grilse was replaced by another USN fleet submarine. The ex-USS Argonaut, a Tench-class submarine purchased in 1968, was commissioned into the RCN as HMCS Rainbow and served in the West Coast fleet until 1974.

In March 1962, approval was received for the purchase of three British Oberon-class submarines. These would be the first newly built submarines the RCN would acquire since the unconventional purchase of CC 1 and CC 2 in 1914. The submarines, HMC Ships Ojibwa, Onondaga and Okanagan formed the Halifax-based First Canadian Submarine Squadron.

At the time of their acquisition in the mid-1960s, the Oberons were considered to be among the quietest submarines in the world (they were operated also by a number of other nations). After being refitted with upgraded sonar suites, fire-control systems and Mark 48 torpedoes in the early 1980s, the Canadian Oberon-class submarines continued to be relevant as an ASW weapon platform until the last, HMCS Onondaga, was paid off in 2000.

The Victoria-class Submarines

Preparations for replacing Canada’s ageing Oberon-class submarines began in the early 1980s and became reality when HMCS Victoria was commissioned in 2000.

The Canadian submarine force was re-energized with the announcement that Canada would purchase four submarines from the United Kingdom in 1998. These submarines were the only four Upholder-class (Type 2400) built by the RN. The four former Upholders became the Victoria Class as they adopted the names HMC Ships Victoria, Windsor, Corner Brook and Chicoutimi. Before the new submarines could be added to the fleet, the  submarines required an extensive Canadianization package to accommodate national communications, fire control, and the in-service Mk 48 heavy-weight torpedoes. Tragedy struck in 2004 when a fatal fire erupted aboard HMCS Chicoutimi (former HMS Upholder) at the beginning of its voyage to Halifax.

The RCN persisted in its efforts to bring the new class of submarines towards full operational readiness. The ranks of Canadian submariners continued to fill as training progressed, and HMCS Victoria successfully fired a warshot Mark 48 torpedo in 2012, becoming the first submarine of its class to reach high readiness. Victoria spent most of 2013 at sea, culminating with its successful deployment on Operation CARIBBE when the submarine excelled in its covert role.

In the year of its Submarine Centenary, the future of Canadian submarines is promising. After overcoming many significant challenges, Canada now has a sustainable operational submarine capability that has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. The number of trained submariners continues to increase and the RCN continues steady progress towards its objective of having three of four Victoria-class submarines at sea by the end of 2014.

Canadian Submarines Throughout History

In 100 years of history, the RCN has commissioned a total of 15 submarines. They are, in order of year commissioned: HMC Ships CC 1, CC 2, CH 14, CH 15, U-190, U-889, Grilse, Ojibwa, Onondaga, Okanagan, Rainbow, Victoria, Corner Brook, and Windsor (Chicoutimi should be commissioned later this year). Below is a list of characteristics of each submarine.






CC 1, CC 2 1914-1918


CC 1 Surfaced, 313 tonnes – Dived, 421 tonnes

CC 2 Surfaced, 313 tonnes – Dived, 421 tonnes


CC 1 Length 144 ft 6 in - Beam 15 ft 6 in - Draught 11 ft

CC 2 Length 151 ft 6 in - Beam 15 ft 6 in - Draught 11 ft

Propulsion: Twin screw, direct diesel drive and electric motor

Engines: 300 horsepower, 6 cylinders MAN reversible

Main Motors: 130 horsepower, Electro-dynamic

Speed: Surface, 13 kts – Dived, 10 kts

Max Depth: 200 ft

Crew: 20

Torpedo Tubes:

CC 1: 4 x 18 in. forward - 1 x 18 in. aft

CC 2: 2 x 18 in. forward - 1 x 18 in. aft

CH 14, CH 15 1921-1922


Surfaced, 364 tonnes

Dived, 434 tonnes


Length, 15 ft 3.5 in

Beam, 15 ft 9 in

Draught, 12 ft 4 in


Twin screw, direct diesel drive and electric motors


480 horse power, 8 cylinders, 4 cycle NLSECO

Main Motors:

Electro dynamic, 640 horsepower


Surface, 13 kts – Dived, 10 kts


Surface 2,800 nautical miles at 11 kts - Dived 130 nm at 2 kts

Diving Depth: 200ft

Torpedo Tubes:

Bow 4 x 18 inch - Torpedo Reloads: 4 x bow



U-889 & U-190 1945-1947


Surfaced, 1,120 tonnes

Submerged, 1,232 tonnes

Total, 1,545 tonnes


Length, 253 ft

Beam, 23 ft

Draft, 15 ft 6 in

Height, 32 ft


Twin screw, direct diesel drive and electric motors

Diesel engines: 4,400 hp

Main motors: 1,000 hp


Surface, 19 kts

Dived, 7.3 kts

Range: 11,000 nautical miles at 10 kts

Diving depth: 750 ft

Torpedo tubes: 4 bow, 2 stern tubes

Deck Gun: Utof 105/45 with 110 rounds

Crew: 48 to 56

Grilse (S71) 1961-1969


Surfaced, 1,800 tonnes

Dived, 2,425 tonnes


Length, 311 ft 6 in

Beam, 27 ft 3 in

Draught, 16 ft 10 in

Propulsion: Diesel-electric (electric main motors powered by diesel generators and a main battery)

Main Motors: 2 General Electric 2,700 hp

Diesel Generators: 4 X 9 cylinder 1,600 hp Fairbanks-Morse diesel and 1 X 1,100 kW Elliot diesel generator

Auxiliary Generator: 450 hp Elliot 300kW diesel generator


Surface, 20.25 kts

Dived, 8.75 kts - dived while snorkeling (running diesel generators while submerged with snorkel mast up), 10 kts (with diesel generators running)


Surface 12,000 nm at 10 kts

Dived 96 nm at 2 kts

Torpedo Tubes:

Bow 6 x 21 inch

Stern 4 x 21 inch

Torpedo Reloads 14

Crew: 72

Ojibwa (S72)

Onondaga (S73)

Okanagan (S74)



Surfaced, 2,007 tonnes

Dived, 2,406 tonnes

Overall Dimensions:

Length, 295 ft 3 in

Beam, 26 ft 6 in

Draught, 18 ft

Max Dive Depth: 600 ft


Diesel-electric (electric main motors powered by diesel generators and a main battery).

Main Motors: 2 x 3,000 hp electric motors

Diesel Generators: 2 x 3,680 hp, V16 Admiralty Standard Range 1

Battery: 448 cells in two sections, 7420 Ah


Surface, 12 kts

Dived, 17 kts

Dived while snorting (running diesel generators while submerged with snort mast up), 10 kts

Range: Surfaced 10,000 nm at 10 kts

Torpedo Tubes: Bow 6 x 21 in - Stern 2 x 21 in (removed as part of SOUP)

Crew: 65

Rainbow (S75) 1968-1974


Surfaced, 1,526 tonnes

Dived, 2,391 tonnes


Length, 311 ft 6 in

Beam, 27 ft 4 in

Draught, 16 ft 10 in

Max Dive Depth: 400 ft


Diesel-electric (electric main motors powered by diesel generators and a main battery).

Main Motors: 2 x 2,700 horsepower Elliot motors

Diesel Generators: 4 x 1,600 horse power 9 cylinder Fairbanks-Morse diesel linked to 1,100kw Generators

Main Battery: 252 cells, Gould


Surface, 20.25kts

Dived, 10 kts

Dived while snorkeling (running diesel generators while submerged with snorkel mast up), 10 kts

Range: Surfaced, 8,000 nm at 12 kts

Torpedo Tubes: Bow, 6 x 21 in – Stern, 4 x 21 in – Reloads torpedoes, 14

Crew: 75

Victoria (SSK-876)

Windsor (SSK-877)

Corner Brook (SSK-878)

Chicoutimi (SSK-879)

2000 to Present


Surfaced, 2,221 tonnes

Dived, 2,475 tonnes


Length, 232 ft

Beam, 25 ft

Draught 18 ft


Main Motor: One 86.36 ton General Electric Company 4.028 MW dual armature electric motor

Diesel Generators: 2 x 2,035 horsepower Paxman Valenta 1600 RPA SZ

Main Battery: 8800 Ah battery divided between 2 compartments

Maximum Diving Depth: In excess of 200m (660 ft)


Surfaced, 12 kts

Dived, 20 kts

Dived while snorting (running diesel generators while submerged with snort mast up), 12 kts

Range: 8,000 nautical miles at 8 kts

Torpedo Tubes: 6 x 21 inch bow torpedo tubes

Crew: 48


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