Aircraft Carrier vs. Submarine – Exercise RIMPAC 1972

This weekend’s visit to Halifax by the latest and greatest United States Navy aircraft carrier, Gerald R. Ford, has put me in mind of a lesson from fifty years ago. Impressive as these great ships are, and while we can be justifiably awed by the technology, we shouldn’t get over-awed. Let me take you back to 1972 for an example.

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Rhyming Conflicts II – South Atlantic to Black Sea

HMS Coventry sinking

When Russia’s flagship, Moskva, went to the bottom of the Black Sea on 14 April, it became the first major naval combattant sunk in war since a British submarine fired torpedoes into Argentina’s General Belgrano in the battle for the Falkland Islands, exactly forty years ago today. For me, though, the more pertinent memory of the South Atlantic war is the sinking of the British destroyer Coventry a little over three weeks later (pictured above). Someone I knew was among the dead, and some of the lessons still resonate.

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Portents of Putin’s Ukraine War – Halifax, 1993

In preparation for his invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin deployed the flagship of Russia’s Northern Fleet to the Mediterranean. Now, the powerful cruiser Marshal Ustinov stands between NATO’s naval forces (including Canada’s HMCS Montreal) and the Dardanelles, which link the Mediterranean to the Black Sea coast of Ukraine. Twenty-nine years ago the relationship had been very different. Ustinov made a memorably visit to Halifax and conducted friendly exercises with the Canadian Navy before heading on to the U.S. Looking back, there were warning signs even then that if the collapse of the Soviet Union were not handled prudently, sooner or later Russia would become an adversary again. And so it has proved.

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Remembrance Day – Kiel 1989

Each year, thousands of Canadians gather at cenotaphs on November 11th – Remembrance Day – to reflect on the futility of war, and to honour those who have paid a heavy price for their service. I have many personal reasons for standing silently at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month; the anniversary of guns falling silent in 1918, ending what had been optimistically dubbed “The War to End all Wars”. But from a lifetime of Remembrance Day memories the one that still stands out is observing the day in Germany in 1989.

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Prince(s?) of Wales – San Diego, California

March 1st being the feast of David, patron saint of Wales, puts me in mind of meeting the current Prince of Wales, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, at a cocktail party aboard the Canadian destroyer Gatineau. We were both naval Lieutenants, he serving aboard the Royal Navy frigate Jupiter as Communications Officer and me in one of Her Majesty’s (His Mother’s?) Canadian Submarines with the distinctly un-warlike name of “Rainbow”, after a British cruiser transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1910. Our respective vessels were making port calls to San Diego.

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Ship Strikes – A Whale’s Eye View

The last few years have been rough for the 400-odd remaining Atlantic Right Whales; a once-abundant species that’s never recovered from being hunted almost to extinction. A habitat close enough to shore to coincide with fishing zones and ship traffic lanes means that some die a slow death from tangling in fishing gear while others are wounded by ships’ propellers slicing into their backs, sometimes dying from direct blows. Some people may wonder how a species so finely evolved to detect underwater sound can be so vulnerable, but not me. I learned the hard way during a few adrenaline-filled moments on a Cold War submarine patrol.

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