History of the Battle of the Atlantic

RCN History / April 23, 2015

The Battle of the Atlantic campaign was fought at sea from 1939 to 1945 with the strategic outcome being sea-control of the North Atlantic Ocean. It was the longest, largest, and arguably the most complex campaign of the Second World War. Over the course of 2,075 days, Allied naval and air forces fought more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single ship actions against the submarines and warships of the German and Italian navies. Enemy vessels targeted mainly the convoys of merchant ships transporting material and troops vital to safeguarding the freedom of the peoples of North America and Europe.

On any given day, up to 125 merchant vessels were sailing in convoy across the North Atlantic.  It was during these treacherous, stormy crossings that Canada’s navy matured and won the mantle of a professional service. Our navy escorted more than 25,000 merchant vessels across the Atlantic. These ships carried some 182,000,000 tonnes of cargo to Europe — the equivalent of eleven lines of freight cars, each stretching from Vancouver to Halifax. Without these supplies, the war effort would have collapsed.

Thousands of Canadian men and women - members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Merchant Navy (MN), the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service, and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), mostly volunteers from small town Canada - had to face situations so perilous they are difficult for us to imagine. As Canadians, we should be proud of their courage.

Although largely unprepared for war in 1939, Canada’s navy grew at an unparalleled rate eventually providing 47 percent of all convoy escorts.  Rear Admiral Leonard Murray, who as Commander-in-Chief Northwest Atlantic from March 1943, would become the only Canadian to hold an Allied theatre command during the war and direct the convoy battles out of his headquarters in Halifax.

During the Second World War the RCN grew from 13 vessels to a strength of nearly 100,000 uniformed men and women and nearly 400 vessels, the fourth largest navy in the world.  It had suffered 2,210 fatalities, including six women, and had lost 33 vessels. It had destroyed or shared in the destruction of 33 U-Boats and 42 enemy surface craft. In partnership with Canada’s maritime air forces and merchant navy, it had played a pivotal and successful role in the contest for seaward supremacy.

Each year on the first Sunday in May, Canada and its naval community commemorates those lost at sea during the Second World War. They uphold the legacy of the Battle of the Atlantic by pledging themselves “Ready, Aye, Ready,” to face today’s security challenges with pride and professionalism. The ceremony of National Commemoration of the Battle of the Atlantic provides an important reminder of the contributions made to Canadian history by the sea services of Canada over the century of its existence. This day also helps Canadians remember the continuing dangers of the naval profession, both from the violence of the enemy and from the sea itself.

The hard-won victory resulting from that battle – the gift of the RCN, the MN and maritime air squadrons of the RCAF to Canada – is a legacy that time cannot diminish and that is an inspiration beyond all else to the Navy of today.

While the RCN commemorates the Battle of the Atlantic based on “Victory in Europe” Day in 1945, also known as VE-Day, the United Kingdom commemorates the campaign based on the turning point in the battle in 1943 when Allied forces finally gained the upper hand and managed to turn the tide against the German U-Boat threat. Even though the tide turned in May 1943, the fighting was not over and the RCN suffered nearly half its losses to the enemy and inflicted the majority of its U-boat sinkings after May 1943. The last RCN ship lost was His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Esquimalt with 44 lives lost at sea, in the approaches of Halifax harbour on April 16, 1945, less than three weeks before VE-Day. The Battle of the Atlantic officially ended on VE-Day, when German naval forces formally surrendered to Allied naval forces on May 8, 1945. The RCN commemorates the Battle of the Atlantic based on the year the battle ended.

For further information on the Battle of the Atlantic, please visit the Veterans Affairs Canada web site:



Following is a list of the RCN vessels and the bulk of the sailors lost during the Battle of the Atlantic:

HMCS VesselDate sunkLives lost
HMCS Ypres 12 May 1940 Lost, no lives lost
HMCS Fraser 25 June 1940 Lost with 47 lives
HMCS Bras d’Or 19 October 1940 Lost with 30 lives
HMCS Margaree 22 October 1940 Lost with 142 lives
HMCS Otter 26 March 1941 Lost with 19 lives
HMCS Levis 19 September 1941 Lost with 18 lives
HMCS Windflower 7 December 1941 Lost with 23 lives
HMCS Adversus 20 December 1941 Lost with no lives
HMCS Spikenard 10 February 1942 Lost with 57 lives
HMCS Raccoon 7 September 1942 Lost with 37 lives
HMCS Charlottetown 11 September 1942 Lost with 10 lives
HMCS Ottawa 13 September 1942 Lost with 113 lives
HMCS Louisbourg 6 February 1943 Lost with 37 lives
HMCS Weyburn 22 February 1943 Lost with 8 lives
HMCS St. Croix 20 September 1943 Lost with 147 lives
HMCS Chedabucto 21 October 1943 Lost with 1 life
HMCS Athabaskan 29 April 1944 Lost with 128 lives
HMCS Valleyfield 6 May 1944 Lost with 123 lives
Motor Torpedo Boat 460 2 July 1944 Lost with 11 lives
Motor Torpedo Boat 463 8 July 1944 Lost with no lives
HMCS Regina 8 August 1944 Lost with 30 lives
HMCS Alberni 21 August 1944 Lost with 59 lives
HMCS Skeena 25 October 1944 Lost with 15 lives
HMCS Shawinigan 24 November 1944 Lost with 91 lives
HMCS Clayoquot 24 December 1944 Lost with 8 lives
Motor Torpedo Boats
459, 461, 462, 465, 466
14 February 1945 Lost with 26 lives
HMCS Trentonian 22 February 1945 Lost with 6 lives
HMCS Guysborough 17 March 1945 Lost with 51 lives
HMCS Esquimalt 16 April 1945 Lost with 44 lives