The Canadian Rangers, complete in their arctic high-viz uniforms and WWII-vintage Longbranch Enfield .303s, are temporarily posting sentries at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at the National War Memorial in Ottawa as part of Canada’s National Sentry Program.
The members of the Canadian Rangers are from Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups (CPRGs) based in Western and Eastern Canada.
“They are honoured to be in Ottawa to stand vigil for all Canadians who served, from the First World War to the present.”
Ownership of the two ships, Adm. Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two of the most archaeologically important wrecks in the world, was formally transferred to the Canadian government with the signing of a Deed of Gift at a ceremony last month with the Inuit of Nunavut, who played a key role in their discovery, recognised as joint owners of the wrecks and artifacts.
After a local Canadian Forces Ranger pointed out where Franklin’s lost Arctic survey ship HMS Terror was in 2016, a group of 17 Inuit was enlisted by Parks Canada last year to camp out in rotating four-person shifts to protect the historic site and that of Franklin’s other ship, HMS Erebus, which was discovered in much the same way in 2014.
The two ships, under the command of Sir John, set sail from England in 1845 through the Canadian Arctic to find the Northwest Passage. During the treacherous journey, the ships became trapped in thick sea ice. The crews abandoned the ships to trek overland to safety, but tragically none survived.
“The story behind these vessels is both fascinating and incredibly important to the history of both our nations. The UK joined forces with the Canadian government and Inuit population to search for these ships for 172 years and I’m delighted they will now be protected for future generations,” said UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
Artifacts from the wrecks will be available for display at museums in both countries. Currently, there are examples on display at the Canadian Museum of History as part of the “Death in the Ice” exhibit.
The Expedition’s timeline, from the Canadian Museum:
May 19, 1845: The Franklin Expedition departed from Greenhithe, near London, England.
July 4, 1845: The ships arrived at the Whale Fish Islands, Greenland, after a stormy Atlantic crossing.
July 12, 1845: Officers and crewmembers mailed their last letters home.
July 29 or 31, 1845: HMS Erebus and Terror were sighted in Baffin Bay by whaling ships. This was the last time the ships and their crews were seen by Europeans.
Winter 1845 to 1846: The expedition spent its first winter in the Arctic off Beechey Island. Three members of the crew died and were buried on Beechey Island.
Summer 1846: The expedition headed south into Peel Sound.
September 1846 to Spring 1848: The ships were beset — surrounded and stuck in ice — northwest of King William Island.
June 11, 1847: Sir John Franklin died. He was 61 years old and had served in the Royal Navy for 47 years.
April 22, 1848: The expedition had been stuck off King William Island for over a year and a half. Fearing they would never escape, the men deserted the ships.
April 25, 1848: The men landed on King William Island. Nine officers and 15 seamen had already died. There were 105 survivors. Officers left a note stating their plan to trek to the Back River.
January 20, 1854: Franklin’s Expedition is missing for more than eight years. The Admiralty announced that its officers and men will be declared dead as of March 31, 1854.
1847–1880: More than 30 expeditions sailed, steamed or sledged into the Arctic from the east, west, and south. Very few found any trace of the expedition.
2008: A renewed search for Franklin’s ships began under the leadership of Parks Canada.
September 1, 2014: An important clue is found on an island in Wilmot and Crampton Bay: an iron davit pintle (fitting). Parks Canada refocuses its efforts near that island.
September 2, 2014: 167 years after the British Admiralty’s search began, the first wreck, HMS Erebus, is found.
2016: Almost two years to the day after the discovery of Erebus, Terror is located in Terror Bay, off the southern coast of King William Island.
After a local Canadian Forces Ranger pointed out where Franklin’s lost Arctic survey ship HMS Terror was last year, a group of 17 Inuit has been enlisted by Parks Canada to camp out in rotating four-person shifts to protect the historic site and that of Franklin’s other ship, HMS Erebus.
It’s a unique arrangement at this historic site — the first in Nunavut to be jointly managed by Parks Canada and Inuit — with the groups getting an equal say in how the site is managed and preserved in the years ahead.
This August, four Inuit guardians set up a base camp on Saunitalik Island — “place of bones” in Inuktitut — a five-kilometer-long sandy island a short Zodiac ride from the Erebus. A second group of guardians is camped near the Terror.
Along with keeping an eye out for polar bears while archeologists are at work, the guardians scan the horizon for unauthorized ships and the ground for artifacts. They call in any activity by satellite phone.
With their vintage .303 No. 4 Lee Enfield rifles being phased out, the part-time soldiers of the Canadian Rangers are standing tall at the Canadian Armed Forces Small Arms Concentration.
The military shooting competition, in which some 450 shooters from Canada’s Regular Force and Primary Reserve, Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and teams from the United Kingdom and the United States are competing, was first organized back in 1868.
Held from September 5 to 17 at the Connaught Ranges and Primary Training Centre in Ottawa, it will be one of the final competitive shooting competitions in which the Canadian Rangers will use the Enfield, which is being replaced by the Sako/Colt Canada T3 CTR (Compact Tactical Rifle) rifle in .308.
While the Canucks plan to destroy surplus Enfields left after the conversion, those Rangers currently with them will be gifted their guns.
The below video from the Canadian Army, which shows some No. 4s at work at the Small Arms Concentration, details Sergeant Cyril Abbott of the 5th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. Abbott served 20 years active with the Black Watch and 2 RCR, and has spent the past 32 years with the Rangers, giving him an impressive 52 years with the Colours.
Canada’s plucky Ranger force, a group of some 5,000 part time soldiers organized in patrols in 200 far north communities in the nation’s huge arctic expanse are sparsely equipped. Armed with WWII-era Longbranch No.4 Enfield .303 rifles to ward off polar bears and issued a pair of camo pants and an orange pullover and ballcap, they are Canada’s search and rescue and sovereignty in the arctic.
And sometimes they stumble upon some neat stuff in their travels. Six years ago Inuit Ranger Sammy Kogvik came across a ship’s mast sticking out of the ice in isolated Terror Bay in winter, named after Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated ship HMS Terror.
Terror was one of two Royal Navy ships that set out in 1845 on the Franklin to find the Northwest Passage to Asia. The ships became trapped in thick Arctic ice and all 129 crew members died. The other ship — HMS Erebus — was located in September 2014 in the Queen Maud Gulf, along the central Arctic coastline– with the help of Inuit oral history.
“When I was getting off the snowmobile I looked to my left and saw something sticking out of the ice,” he said.
The men decided to check it out.
“I told [Uncle James] it’s one of those … might be one of those old ships that they’ve been looking for.”
Kogvik says he pulled out his camera and had his friend take a photo of him and the mast.
“I gave it a bear hug, and both my legs around that mast.”
But after Kogvik lost his camera, the men kept quiet about their find.
“I told Uncle James, don’t tell anybody, because we don’t have any proof … we didn’t want to keep secret, but it might seem like lies to people, because we don’t have any proof.”
Well, fast forward a few years and the Ranger found himself on an expedition to find HMS Terror, and, with the Arctic Research Foundation team looking in the wrong area, he gave expedition leader Adrian Schimnowski a tip.
Schimnowski says it took just 2½ hours to locate the ship in the bay.
“My boss said, ‘Sam, we found the ship!'” Kogvik recalled. “Everybody was yelling, too — happy.”
Almost all of the hatches on HMS Terror were closed and all three masts were standing.
“It just followed Sammy’s story,” Schimnowski said.
Here is an interesting video that the Canadian Forces posted showing the highlights of the Canadian Ranger Basic Military Indoctrination Course. The course was held from April 10 to 16, 2016 at the Farnham Garrison in Quebec. For those who don’t know, the Rangers are a breed apart from most military organizations.
Most of the land mass of Canada, that sparsely inhabited region away from the population centers near the U.S. northern border, has very little military presence. There, the country is protected by the Rangers. A small, scarcely funded sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve founded in 1942, they are spread out in 160 small units known as ‘patrols’ in 200 of the most remote villages in the world. Like the U.S. National Guard, these part-time soldiers serve a few weekends a year in their community. They conduct armed patrols of their area, report suspicious activities, and help with search and rescue. Their job is huge and their equipment is scarce.
And while they are fielding new Sako rifles, it is interesting to see them still drilling with the good old Longbranch SMLEs.
It seems the replacement program to purge the Canadian Ranger’s vintage WWII-era Short Magazine Lee Enfield .303s for the new C-19 Canadian Ranger Rifle is moving right along as these images from the 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group/1 GPRC show.
The .7.62x51mm NATO C-19 is based on the Tikka/Sako T3 CTR (Compact Tactical Rifle) but, seeing as the Rangers have to use their guns in whiteout conditions at -50 C weather, their version has an oversized bolt and trigger guard so that it can be used with heavy gloves (you don’t want to touch metal with bare hands when its that cold) as well as a high-viz laminated stock complete with the Ranger crest.