Memoirs of John W. Wray
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1943 - 1945
Atlantic Ocean
ASDIC (Anti Submarine Detection Investigation Committee) Operator - Royal Canadian Navy

From the memoirs of JOHN W. WRAY (1923 - 2005)

I joined the Canadian Navy as a ship's writer. However, the Navy needed officers and anyone with a fair education was encouraged to appear before an Officer's Candidate Board. I appeared before this board of 12 officers and apparently made a fairly good impression. However, they felt I was immature and needed some wordily experiences. They recommended that I change to an ordinary seaman and get some sea going experience then appear before another Officer's Candidate Board in St. Johns, Newfoundland. I did this and was transferred at once to Comwallis Naval Training base on the Bay of Fundy, near Digby, Nova Scotia. There I trained as a ASDIC I Operator. "ASDIC" stood for Anti Submarine Detection Investigation Committee. It was an underwater sonar system. An ASDIC dome, housing sonar equipment was lowered down from the ship's keel, approximately 30 feet from the front of the ship, by hydraulic system (similar to a four inch hydraulic hoist in a car service station).

When my ASDIC training course was completed, I was assigned to a brand new Corvette ship being built in Blyth, England (near Newcastle). Including officers, our entire ship's crew totalled 120 men. Our crew was shipped overseas on a Troop ship named "The Andes". We left from Halifax and landed at Liverpool, England. There were 10,000 troops on the ship, mostly army and air force. We were served two meals a day, starting at 5:00am. Each meal sitting consisted of 1,000 men. If I can recall, the meals were mostly "stew" (meat and vegetables all mixed together). There were about 50 men seated at each table. The men were like animals - each for himself! For example, they didn't take time to slice a loaf of bread, you just ripped out a handful and to heck with the other guy. When we got on board, we were each assigned a blanket, tin cup, metal plate and flatware. You slept on the deck anywhere you could find a spot.

Our New Castle Class Corvette was one of 14 built in England for Canada. It was the most modem Corvette in the Canadian Navy. The first thing we did after moving on board was to have our ship officially commissioned. It was named "Coppercliff", after a copper mining town in northern Ontario near Sudbury. We immediately sailed to Tobermory, located off the northern part of Scotland. Here, along with several other new ships and one new submarine, all from the British Navy, we were put through what was called "Evolutions" which lasted four weeks. Our entire ship's crew was put through every type of naval action we were ever to encounter, as well as possible unknown emergencies which might arise. A small airplane towed a target on a tow line for our anti-aircraft gunners to shoot at for practice. Other targets were floated on the ocean for our heavy guns to shoot at for their range and accuracy. We practiced actual sonar action runs on a real submarine.

A submarine is laid out similar to a railway coach, with a centre isle running from front to rear. The periscope and escape hatch were located mid ship. The periscope can be raised and lowered very quickly at the command of the sub's captain. This particular sub (a small one) carried eight torpedoes. Four were loaded right in the firing tubes and an extra four stored in special racks adjacent to the firing tubes. The sub's crew strung their steeping hammocks among the torpedo storage racks.

Our ship, "Coppercliff', did actual training runs on a submarine, but of course did not fire live ammunition. One exciting manoeuvre was to transfer a man from one ship to another by means of a Bos'N'Chair. A light line would be shot from a special gun, from one ship across the bow to the second ship. A cable would then be attached to the light line and pulled across the water to the second ship. A Bos'N'Chair would then be inserted on the cable with special pulleys. The Bos'N'Chair was built to carry only one man. A line from one side of the chair ran to the mast of one ship and similarly a line from the opposite side of the chair ran to the mast of the second ship. Thus with crew members on the ends of each line, the chair could be pulled towards either ship at the command of officers in charge. On a calm ocean, the transfer of a man from one ship to another was quite simple using this method.

After evolutions, our ship was assigned to convoy duty, escorting freighter convoys back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean between St. Johns, Newfoundland and LondonDerry, Ireland. There were six naval escort ships in our group. Our senior ship was a Frigate , named the" Lanark". A Frigate was a naval vessel slightly larger than a Corvette but smaller than a Destroyer. Of the six naval escort ships, one would normally position itself at the front of the freighters in the convoy, two at each side and one at the rear. German submarines had some special torpedoes which would zero in on noises from a ship's propellers etc. Since our ship was equipped with a "Rattler", we were often assigned to the rear escort position. A "Rattler" was a chain noise making devise which we dragged astern of our ship. The German torpedoes seeking a propeller noise, would zero in on the "Rattler" and explode harmlessly.

Our "ASDIC" or sonar system was designed to send out underwater sound beams from the sonar dome, located under our ship's keel, about 30 feet from the front of the ship and mounted on the bottom of a hydraulic shaft which could be raised or lowered from the ASDIC cabin located directly behind the ship's bridge. Our ASDIC controls consisted of two separate types of systems. The main one sent out a sonar sound beam, projected out approximately two miles and the beam covered about 5 degrees on the compass. The second sonar system was employed only in times of action when in actual contact with a target or submarine. The second beam of this secondary system was shaped like a pie plate and sent out a sonar sound beam to determine the actual depth of the submarine or target. It was controlled by the operator sending out sonar sound beams from deep in the ocean up to the ocean's surface. Only the main system was employed at all times at sea.

To become an ASDIC operator, the candidate first had to pass a musical test. If the sonar sound beam detected a submarine moving from left to right or visa versa, at a right degree angle, the echo coming back to the operator would be on the same sound pitch as the outgoing sound. If the echo came back at a higher sound pitch, you would know the submarine was coming towards your ship. Similarly, if the sound pitch trailed off or was lower than the out going sound, you would know the submarine was going away from your ship.

There were seven men on our ASDIC team. Our leader was Vie Cummings, a leading seaman who wore an anchor on his right sleeve (similar rank to a sergeant in the Army). Our duty watches - red, white and blue consisted of two hours on duty and four hours off duty with two operators assigned to each watch. The last names of the six ASDIC operators were Thompson, Scott, and Wray from Toronto, Murro from Hamilton, and Ferguson and Ostrum from Saskatchewan. I worked the red watch and my partner was Ostrum, the youngest member of the entire ship's crew and the son of a Minister. Each operator listened to the sonar sound beams via head phones. Since the sound beams sounded similar to a sound "Ping", ASDIC operators were referred to by other crew members as "Ping Merchants". Any echoes received in our head phones were immediately reported to the officer in charge on the bridge.

During the early war years, Canadian ships had sonar ASDIC systems but their only underwater ammunition was depth charges. Depth charges were barrel shaped and weighted about sixty pounds. They would be set to explode at any given depth. However, when attacking a sub, the sonar system would lose contact when the ship passed over the top of the sub thus, the sub could make a quick manoeuvre to get out of the way of an exploding depth charge (which had been dropped off the rear end of the ship). The next stage was to develop a system called "Hedge Hogs". A ship attacking a sub would fire 24 hedge hogs ahead of the ship, while still pinging off the target. The 24 hedge hogs (each weighing about 25 pounds) would land in a complete circle around the sub and if one of them hit the sub, all 24 would explode.

Our ship, the "Coppercliffe", was equipped with an even more fool proof devise. A huge special gun, located at the front of the ship on the Forecastle could fire six squid about 400 feet ahead of the ship. Each squid weighed approximately 300 pounds and all six would land in a circle and explode at a prematurely set depth. Just as soon as the squids were launched, the ship had to turn hard to port or starboard to avoid the full force of the resulting explosion. When attacking a sub, the ship would still be in sonar contact with the target and the secondary sonar ASDIC system would automatically set the actual depth of the sub on each squid to explode at that depth. Thus, this system was almost fool proof and the chance of a sub getting away was almost impossible.

I made 17 round trips between St. Johns and LondonDerry. We lost only two freighters during this time. It happened near the end of our escort run, just south of Ireland, as we were completing our easterly run. Our ship made contact with a sub after the sinking of the two ships and were given credit for a possible hit. However, to get full credit there had to be survivors from the sub or debris come to the surface from the damaged sub. Hence, the sub we attacked was either sunk or escaped.

Some of our ocean crossings were very rough, during some Atlantic winter storms. The worst one was during the winter of 1944. We were sailing west when the storm hit us in mid Atlantic. Some days our engines going full out which would normally make our speed about 19 knots, we barely made any headway at ail. Our ship pitched {up and down motion at both ends) white we rolled from side to side. We were just like a small cork on the large ocean. The front end of the ship would bury it's nose deep in the ocean and the Forecastle was completely out of sight. As the ship would right itself and as the nose came up, tons of water rolled off the Forecastle. This slow movement caused the ship to shudder from end to end. On this trip our ASDIC sonar dome and hydraulic shaft were completely severed from the ship at the keel line. Water poured in the gaping hole which had to be shored up with timber to stop the leak Since the ASDIC crew had no sonar equipment to operate.

With the system of three duty watches (red, white and blue), one third of the crew were given leave while our ship remained in port in LondonDerry, Ireland. I was on the red watch, so every third trip our red watch had one week on leave. We could stay in Ireland and visit small resort towns like Port Rush or Port Stewart or take a ferry across the Irish Sea to Scotland. I spent several leaves in Edinborough and Glasaow, usually staying at an Armed Service Hostel. With so many service personnel and so few girls, it was hard to make a date, but I did manage a few. Usually we went to movies or dances.

One trip our ship's ASDIC crew were sent to Dunoon, Scotland, for a refresher course. This was a summer resort town on the northern side of the Clyde River where my mother's brother, Jim Robinson, met and married his wife, Nettie MacPherson. I looked up her family and had a visit with two of her brothers. Two of Uncle Jim's sons, George and Mac Robinson were Army tank drivers and had visited their uncles in Dunoon on several occasions. Our ship's crew were not permitted to go the London, England on leave due to the "German Buzz Bombs" which were targeted on London at this time during the war. My first Christmas on board ship was spent in LondonDerry. It was naval tradition for the youngest crew member to be made Captain for this one special day. It was my working buddy, Ostrum, who was given this honour. All the ship's officers donned ordinary seamen uniforms and helped serve Christmas dinner to the crew.

It was navy tradition to give a tot of rum to sailers each day or to those not wishing to participate, to be given a modest amount of money in their monthly pay. Needless to say, I chose the money. Those taking the rum would line up in the heads each day and be given their ration of run by the Chief Petty Officer. Rather than drink their tot at the time, some of the men would carry a coke bottle in their uniforms and pour their ration into the bottle. This way they could save it up and really tie one for a later special occasion.

On my last ocean run into St. Johns, I was called before an Officer's Candidate Board and this time was successful in passing. This meant that 1 was transferred to Cornwall's Naval Training Base near Digby, Nova Scotia, to take a 12 week officer's course. However, before the end of my course, the war in Europe ended - V.E. Day at last! I was discharged from the Navy and was home in London by July 1945.

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Unit Identification Patch
Insignia of the Royal Canadian Navy.
The complete crew of the "Copper Cliff".

John's Corvette ship the "Copper Cliff".

Passing the Queen Mary.

Chritsmas card John sent home.

Boom!....Close call...