My dad was in the Canadian Navy during World War II. He never really talked about the war but he did write this for our family. I would like to share it with you.
H.M.C.S. Fort William-J 311, 31st Minesweeper Flotilla
Built: Port Arthur, Ontario
Stationed: Halifax, Nova Scotia - North Atlantic Ocean
Duties: Minesweeping and Convoy escort off Canada’s East coast and the English Channel
Approximately one week prior to the invasion, HMCS Fort William was anchored with hundreds of other ships in the harbour at Portland England. No leave was granted or mail allowed going ashore during that period. All mail was being held until after the landing. No sailing orders had been received and we could only guess why we were there.
In the early hours of the morning of June 6th 1944 all ship’s companies were informed by their captains of the time and place of the invasion. HMCS Fort William was to mine sweep Omaha Beach to allow American battleships, cruisers and destroyers to get close enough to shell the German shore batteries and prevent them from shelling the Allied ships.
The ships in the harbour had been at the ready and only required the extra boilers to be flashed up and the anchors lifted. Each ship had been given their orders as to the time and place as they left the harbour and steamed toward France. All along the coast of the west of England thousands of ships sailed in the dark with out any lights showing, heading for their designated beaches to carry out their part in the operation. This was the start of Operation Neptune.
Operation Neptune was the code word for the naval operation to support the “D”- Day landings and the Fort William was to go in first with the other mine sweepers to sweep Omaha Beach.
It was pitch black that morning and the water was pretty rough. It was also deadly quiet until the big guns on the battleships suddenly started firing over our ship. We could see the mass of ships, when the sky lit up with the gun flashes.
When we had finished our sweep our orders were to steam back behind the gun ships. Before turning we snagged our sweep wire on an underwater obstacle that the Germans had left to catch enemy ships or tanks. While we were stopped trying to free the ship from the wire we could watch the American landing barges heading for the beaches. I am sure many of them were seasick as well as being scared.
Some of the sailors manning the barges were unable to locate the beach they were to land the troops at and had to come along side our ship calling up to the bridge where our captain would give them directions to their landing position. Getting stuck was not planned but supplied the Yanks with a needed traffic cop.
The planners chose a good day even if it was rough because the following day proved to be rougher still and caused a lot of ships that tried to anchor plenty of problems and damage.
We were required to remain off the coast of France, refueling and sweeping Cherbourg Harbour. We returned to Canada in September 1945.
C.P.O. Andy Holwerda 1921 - 2005
Chief Petty Officer