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‘It was one we had to win’: Veterans and CFB Esquimalt remember the sacrifices made in the Battle of the Atlantic

There’s nothing like a fresh coat of paint. But HMCS Regina’s new naval camouflage paint, often referred to as “dazzle” paint, is also a nod to the past.“HMCS Regina was painted in the disruptive paint scheme, to commemorate the sacrifices that were made by the people in the Battle of the Atlantic,” said Lt.-Cmdr. Darren Sleen.

Battle of the Atlantic was the longest fight of the Second World War – a war popularly defined by the trenches. But Allied success there wouldn’t have been possible without success on the seas.“It was one we had to win. Otherwise, it was game over,” said Peter Chance, a retired commander who served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 30 years and served in The Battle of the Atlantic.
On the Atlantic Ocean, Canadian warships and aircraft hunted German U-boats and convoyed life-sustaining supplies like food and fuel from Canada to the front lines.It kept entire armies, and communities, fed and able to fight the war.“Britain was down to three weeks of supplies at one point,” remembered Chance.

Chance is almost 99 now, but his memory of the Battle of the Atlantic remains crystal clear.“Those seas were pretty murderous,” said Chance.“In the wintertime with an open bridge, it was freezing. The attitude was…we’re going to win the bloody war against the Germans, and we did!”

HMCS Regina’s new paint job is CFB Esquimalt’s way of remembering people like Peter’s sacrifice.“Even while the junior members of the ship’s company are applying that paint, thinking about why we’re doing it, and to have that ownership for our current ship’s company, and have that link with our heritage, I think that makes it even more special for everybody,” said Sleen.

“It looks fascinating!” said Chance.“It reminds me so much of what we used to see in our ships during the war.”The new paint job linking the present to the past. Bringing life back the many sacrifices on seas.

Base museum displays Cdr Simmon’s medals

Base Commander, Capt(N) Sam Sader and Cdr (Retired) Peter Chance chat during an unveiling ceremony for the war medals of Cdr Ted Simmons at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum on July 10. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer 

Seven medals that once belonged to Second World War hero Commander Edward ‘Ted’ Simmons have returned to his home province on short-term loan to CFB Esquimalt.

The medals, including a Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Service Cross, and a 1939-45 star, were unveiled at a ceremony at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum on July 10.

Base Commander, Captain (Navy) Sam Sader presided over the ceremony, and Second World War veteran and Battle of the Atlantic survivor, 98-year-old Commander (Retired) Peter Chance was the special guest of honour.

The two men pulled away a black curtain revealing the glistening and freshly polished medals inside a cubed glass display case. They are now the focal point of the museum’s new HMCS Beacon Hill exhibit celebrating the River Class frigate and its daring commander Simmons.

Simmons was the most highly-decorated member of the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve during the Battle of the Atlantic. His most notable heroics include the thwarting of a German U-Boat attack and boarding and later sinking the submarine once he acquired its code books, exploits which are featured prominently in the museum’s exhibit.

“Simmons was an ordinary man who rose to the challenge and made an extraordinary impact during the Second World War,” said Capt(N) Sader.  “We are truly honoured to be able to display his medals and it’s great to have the decorations earned here with us today.”

Chance, who was attending the event on behalf of the Naval Association of Canada – Vancouver Island, wore his own rack of medals and awards from his Royal Canadian Navy career, including being named a Chevalier (Knight) of the Ordre national de la Légon d’honneur, France’s highest honor. Like Simmons, Chance fought his own battles against German subs aboard HMCS Skeena as the ship’s navigator.

Chance says it was men such as Simmons, coming from other jobs and walks of life, who through perseverance eventually helped turn the tide of the war in favour of the Allies.

“He was one of the guys who found himself in a position to take on the opposition and did well,” said Chance. “His exploits tell the story…he was highly respected.”

Cdr Simmons retired in the United Kingdom and his medals remained with a relative following his death in 1988. Despite continued efforts by the Canadian branch of the family to bring them back to Canada, they were eventually sold at auction in England. The Canadian War Museum came to the rescue in 2017 and was able to acquire them. The war museum then agreed to loan the medals to CFB Esquimalt once made aware of the current exhibit at the base museum earlier this year.

Retired Admiral donates collection of beer steins

Lieutenant (Navy) Eric Dignard, Division Commander, Venture Division, Naval Fleet School (Pacific); and Commander Jeanne Lessard, President Mess Committee, stand with Vice-Admiral (Retired) Nigel Brodeur and Acting Sub-Lieutenant Charles Boyes in the Gun Room at Work Point.

Vice-Admiral (Retired) Nigel Brodeur donated beer steins from the early part of his naval career to the Naval Fleet School Pacific’s Gunroom Feb. 23 in hopes of inspiring the Royal Canadian Navy’s future leaders.

Lt(N) Eric Dingnard, Venture Division Commander at Naval Fleet School (Pacific), introduced VAdm (Ret’d) Brodeur by affirming that the Brodeur family “are of great significance to the Royal Canadian Navy.”

The Admiral’s grandfather, Louis-Philippe Brodeur, introduced legislation to create the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) while he was Minister of the Naval Service. His father, Rear-Admiral Victor Brodeur, served in the RCN through both world wars.

VAdm (Ret’d) Nigel Brodeur, followed in his father’s footsteps and served from 1952 until he retired in 1987.

“These mugs, I hope they be put to good use,” he said to a host of Acting Sub-Lieutenants currently undergoing their Naval Warfare Officer courses. “I hope they will give you an indication of the starting out, from lieutenant to captain…Learn all you can. Learn about the sea, learn about other navies.”

While some of the donated steins were departure gifts from ships VAdm (Ret’d) Brodeur served in, others were gifts from friends within the fleet.

After the presentation, the Admiral spoke one-on-one with a few students, curious to know how far along they were in their training.

Acting Sub-Lieutenant Travis Boyko said the steins were a great addition to the Junior Officers Mess.

“I think it re-instilled some life into the Gunroom. I know a lot of people were keen on using them.”

The ceramic steins will be kept on display while the pewter ones can be signed out for use in the Gunroom.

 


French medal bestowed upon Canadian naval veteran

Crowsnest – Fall 2014 / October 31, 2014

By Carmel Ecker

Seventy years after his ship, HMCS Skeena, took part in the D-Day landings, Commander (retired) Peter Chance received recognition from the French government.

Along with 500 other Canadian army, navy and air force veterans of the pivotal Second World War battle, the 93-year-old was named a Chevalier (Knight) of the Ordre national de la Légon d’honneur, France’s highest honour.

Five hundred are all that remain of the more than 34,000 Canadians who participated in Operation Overlord and began to push German forces back out of France.

Cdr Chance and 14 other veterans gathered in Vancouver on May 21 to accept the medal from the Consul General of France, Jean-Christophe Fleury, who presented it on behalf of the President of France.

Each recipient was assigned a cadet escort “to make sure we didn’t fall down,” Cdr Chance jokes.

Though he earned several other medals and awards during his more than 30-year naval career, this one is special, he says.“It is very special because it recognizes Canadian participation in the Normandy landings.”

Cdr Chance was the navigating officer in Skeena when the allies made their Normandy assault on June 6, 1944. As part of Escort Group 12, Skeena’s duty was to block German submarines from entering the landing area.

The most memorable moments of that mission came on June 8 when two homing torpedoes – designed to target the frequency of a ship’s propellers – streamed through the water and exploded in Skeena’s anti-acoustic torpedo gear.

It was a terrifying experience for the crew, says Cdr Chance. “We saw these damn fish go whizzing by. The next thing, a periscope went by us and we fired our Hedgehog [bomb] at it,” he recalls.

The ring of Hedgehog bombs landed ahead of Skeena and U953 disappeared, presumed damaged. “We didn’t see it again and we couldn’t pick it up either. But obviously we had damaged it.”

That might have been the end of the story, but many years later, Cdr Chance got a phone call from Virginia in the United States. A man with a thick southern accent asked, “Mr. Chance, were you navigating HMCS Skeena on the 8th of June 1944?”

Upon learning he had the correct Peter Chance, the man proceeded to say he had come to know someone named Karl Baumann, who was serving in U953 on that day. Just 19 years old at the time, he had been wounded on board and was taken to a hospital in Brest, France. When allied forces overtook the area, Bauman became a prisoner of war and was eventually sent to Virginia to wait out the war.

“I was able to speak to Karl,” says Cdr Chance. “He said, ‘You know Peter, we were trying to kill each other on the 8th of June 1944, ja?’”

With a chuckle, Chance says he replied, “Absolutely.”

“Now we can be friends?” Bauman asked.

The two stayed in touch until Baumann died a few years ago, and Cdr Chance even wrote the foreword for a book about Baumann’s life entitled The Longest Patrol.

“The common enemy was the sea,” says Cdr Chance. “We had no ill feelings toward these guys, you know, individually.  They were the enemy, sure, but individually, of course not.”