Painting commemorating the loss of HMCS Athabaskan presented to the Naval Museum of Quebec

LINK - October 2016 / November 4, 2016

By Samuel Venière, historian, Naval Museum of Quebec

On 22 July 2016, Commodore (ret) Jean-Claude Michaud, on behalf of the Naval Association of Canada, presented the Naval Museum of Quebec with a painting of HMCS Haida rescuing sailors thrown overboard during the torpedoing of HMCS Athabaskan in 1944. The work, “Canadian destroyer Haida stops to pick up survivors from the Athabaskan,” was painted by William McDowell shortly after the war. The original hangs in the wardroom of HMCS Bytown in Ottawa. A reproduction of the painting was presented by Mr Michaud to André Kirouac, Director of the Naval Museum, in an official ceremony held at the Museum. Others present were historian and Commander (ret) Charles-André Nadeau; Gaston Pettigrew, a Royal Canadian Navy veteran who served in the Second World War; veteran and Naval Museum volunteer Octave Boulianne; and Paul-André Cloutier, also a Navy veteran.

HMCS Athabaskan was a Tribal-class destroyer commissioned by the Royal Canadian Navy on 3 February 1943. She was struck by a torpedo while fighting two German destroyers with HMCS Haida in the English Channel on the night of 29 April 1944. The blast caused one of the destroyer’s ammunition magazines to explode, and the ship quickly sank. After repelling the two enemy ships, the Haida quickly headed back to the site of the shipwreck, despite the danger, to rescue the Athabaskan survivors from the icy waters. The Haida managed to save 44 sailors. When it returned to the port of Plymouth, it was greeted with acclaim from the entire fleet. Their peers were well aware of the risk taken by the Haida’s crew and impressed by their courage and solidarity.

One hundred and twenty-eight members of the Athabaskan’s crew perished at sea, and 83 were taken prisoner. Among the prisoners was a sailor from Quebec, Émile Beaudoin. His life was saved by the German commander of the T24, the ship that had sunk the Athabaskan, who rescued him in the hours following the wreck. There is a display case in the Naval Museum of Quebec honouring Émile Beaudoin.

The painting given to the Naval Museum shows the Haida crew lowering large rescue nets over its side so that the Athabaskan sailors could grab them and climb aboard. The work is a vibrant homage to the bravery and sense of duty of the Canadian crews who distinguished themselves in the Second World War.

Bibliographie

  1. Limited Edition Print presented to HMCS Haida, Maritime Engineering Journal, No. 72, Automne 2013, p. 17-19.
  2. Rescuing Athabaskan Survivors, Parks Canada, (online) refered back to on July 25 2016. http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/on/haida/natcul/page4.aspx 
  3. The Navy in European Waters - Coastal Operations: United Kingdom and European Waters, War Museum: Canada's Naval History (Online), refered back to on July 25 2016.              http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/navy/galery-e.aspx?section=2-E-4-a&id=13&cluster=&title