Saturday, December 03, 2016

HMCS Iroquois

HMCS Iroquois, Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 2013.
That's probably the former HMCS Provider behind her.
Last week, the former HMCS Iroquois was towed out of Halifax harbour to its final destination in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. She was paid off (retired) on May 1, 2015 and was the lead and name ship of the 4 ship Iroquois class of destroyers. With her retirement, HMCS Athabaskan is the sole remaining ship of that class in service with the Royal Canadian Navy.

The four Iroquois class destroyers were built to provide area air defence for the navy. This defence used to be provided by the Banshee fighters aboard HMCS Bonaventure, Canada's last aircraft carrier. When the Banshees were retired in 1962, Canada's navy had no air defence, so the Iroquois class was conceived. Their armament included a fully automatic 5 inch gun, a Mk III RIM "Sea Sparrow" system for air defence, a Mk 10 Limbo anti-submarine mortar and two torpedo launchers.

These ships were also called the Tribal class, because they were each named for native tribes in Canada: Iroquois, Huron, Athabaskan and Algonquin. They shared the names of 4 of the 8 ships of the World War 2 Tribal class destroyers, a very successful anti submarine destroyer escort.

A Long Aside

Before I was a train geek, I was a ship geek. My dad was in the military. When we were posted to Moscow, USSR, I remember reading his Jane's Fighting Ships books he would bring home from work. I knew all the aircraft carriers in the world and studied all of the Soviet ships and compared them to their equivalent American, British and French ships. I had a lot of time on my hands in Moscow...

In 1979 my dad was posted to CFB Shearwater outside Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Our house was on Barracuda Drive and this was the view from our house (courtesy Google Street View).

To the left is a large jetty at Shearwater and Halifax is visible to the right. Often visiting US Navy warships and submarines would dock at the jetty in front of my house, because Halifax didn't permit nuclear-armed vessels to dock and the US Navy would never admit whether they were carrying nukes or not. My dad and I toured many ships and submarines and I have many fond memories of those visits.

One time we were in a US attack submarine and I looked at our house with the periscope. Great optics on that thing!

Another time we were awoken early one morning by a guided missile cruiser playing the "Star Spangled Banner" over their loudspeakers, complete with the forward missile turret moving up and down and around in tune with the music.

We would often see the Canadian ships sailing in and out of Halifax harbour, and they were a familiar sight when we would go into Halifax to shop. When I was a little older I would bike by myself to Dartmouth and take the ferry across to Halifax to visit the gaming stores in Halifax (I remember "Odyssey 2000" was one of them). The naval ships were easily visible from the ferry.

I believe Iroquois and Athabaskan were assigned to Halifax and Huron and Algonquin were assigned to Esquimalt on the west coast. They were a common sight as were a few of the retired St. Laurent class of frigates, and of course the Oberon class of submarines.

A Tracker on display in Winnipeg
Being in Shearwater, the sound of Sea King helicopters and Tracker patrol planes flying overhead was common. I remember one time my cousin was visiting and we were inside my house, when he asked, "what's that noise?"

"Noise?" I replied. "I don't hear anything."

"It sounds like a really loud airplane."

I listened again. "Oh, that's a Tracker." I was so used to the sound that it didn't register any more.

Back to the Iroquois

Iroquois was towed to Liverpool to R.J. MacIsaac Construction, where she joined sister ship (ex) HMCS Algonquin and the former supply ship (ex) HMCS Protecteur for disposal. I'm not sure if they will be completely scrapped on site but their military material and all recoverable material will be removed.

The Iroquois class were built between 1969 and 1973. It was 46 years and two days ago that HMCS Athabaskan was launched, which is a long darn time for a warship to still be in active service. Many of our ships are worn out.

Former Iroquois (L), HMCS Fredericton,
and CNAV Quest (R), Halifax, October 2015
For example, HMCS Protecteur. She was not a lucky ship in her last few years. Protecteur collided with Algonquin in 2013 during a training exercise, tearing a huge gash in the port side of Algonquin's hangar and hastening her retirement. In 2014 Protecteur suffered two fires in 2014. One of those fires left her powerless and adrift for 11 hours before being taken in tow to Hawaii. Protecteur and her sister Provider were slightly older than the Iroquois class and they suffered many failures before retirement.

All four of the Iroquois class received TRUMP* (Tribal Refit and Upgrade Modernisation Program) upgrades in the 1980s. This upgrade was really a rebuilding, as they were converted to anti-air warfare vessels with the addition of SM-2 Block 2 surface-to-air missiles to replace the marginal Sea Sparrows, a Phalanx close-in weapons system (CIWS), and major electronics upgrades. Their turbines were replaced, the twin funnels were replaced by a single funnel, and they received new command, control and communications features to enable them to operate as lead ships for the new Halifax-class frigates.

(* a topical acronym these days)

Today's Fighting Ships

HMCS Charlottetown (Halifax class), in Halifax
Only HMCS Athabaskan remains and she is scheduled to be retired next year (update: last sail was March 10th 2017). That will leave the 12 Halifax-class  frigates as the Royal Canadian Navy's sole warships until the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy starts delivering ships.

The Halifax-class ships were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Saint John at the former shipyards there. I remember seeing them under construction as I traveled to the nearby Courtenay Bay power plant for work. They are in the midst of being upgraded with new electronics and will serve the navy for many years to come.

The RCN also has the 12 Kingston-class coastal defence vessels, which are primarily manned by naval reservists. These vessels are lightly armed and are not what I would call "fighting ships".

RIP HMCS Iroquois and let's hope that we get some new ships into our fleet soon to continue defending Canada's long shorelines and serving overseas as required.

Thanks for reading this little departure from my usual train and photography related topics. I read about the last voyage of HMCS Iroquois and was inspired to write this.

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DaveM said...

Hi Steve,

Have you read any of the "War Nerd" stuff?


Steve Boyko said...

Hi DaveM, no, I haven't. Do you have any links?

Unknown said...

Hi Steve;

We must be on the same wavelength with trains and ships. This spring I was going through some of my dad's navy pictures from the end of WWII and decided to do more research, as he never really talked about his service much. I came across Garry Weir's website, For Posterity's Sake, and contacted him. Have you visited the site? Lot's of great information. Here is a link to my pictures of my Dad's ship:

Steve Boyko said...

Hey Gary, thanks for your comment. I hadn't stumbled across Garry's site but I think I will be spending way too much time there!

Peter Payzant said...

Hi, Steve-

That "unknown ship" in your October 2015 shot is the CNAV Quest, a research ship operated by the navy. She's now laid up and scheduled to be divested by the end of the year.


BWBandy said...

Great post!

Steve Boyko said...

Thanks Peter for the identification of CNAV Quest! I will update the caption.

Steve Boyko said...

Thanks BW Bandy! :)