Tag Archives: HMS Upholder

Cantankerous Canuck Submarines Nearing Sea Again

The 30-year-old Canadian Upholder-class submarine HMCS Victoria (SSK 876) passing the Fisgard Lighthouse, Esquimalt, BC, Sept 2020, on her way to sea trials after extensive refits. (RCN photo)

The Type 2400/Upholder/Victoria-class diesel submarines have been something of an albatross of naval history. The last snorkel boats built in the UK, they were to replace the hard-serving Oberon-class boats for surveillance and coastal special operations but the end of the Cold War found the Admiralty rapidly losing interest in the series. Of the eight planned ships, only four (Upholder, Unseen, Ursula, and Unicorn) reached the Royal Navy between 1990-93. Then these boats, just barely past their shakedowns, were all paid off in 1994.

After a deal fell through to sell them to Pakistan (!) London and Ottawa got to talking and Canada picked up the quartet for a song to replace their own Oberon-class boats in 1998. Then came an extensive refit/rework on these low-mileage boats that only saw them begin to enter Canadian service in 2003.

Canadian submarine HMCS Victoria, ex HMS Upholder

Since then, the four boats, (now the HMCS Chicoutimi, Victoria, Corner Brook, and Windsor) have had a mixed bag of incidents to include a fairly serious fire at sea (Chicoutimi), “catastrophic damage” to the electrical system of another boat (Victoria) and a sea-floor collision (Corner Brook, followed by a dry dock fire), as well as mechanical issues and hundreds of bad welds that have left them tied up for years at a time.

Nonetheless, they have had periods of good luck, including a 105-day training cruise in 2015 for Windsor followed by a 133-day Atlantic/Med patrol in 2018 (the first time a Canadian submarine was operational in the Mediterranean in more than four decades) and a 197-day West Pac deployment by Chicoutimi in 2018 (the first time a Canadian submarine has visited Japan since HMCS Grisle in May 1968). Now, pushing into their third decade of service, they are getting closer to being right with Victoria recently finishing sea trials and crew training following an extensive refit. Corner Brook, which had been laid up since 2014, is supposed to be repaired enough to return to service sometime late this year. Windsor is reportedly doing the same, recently completing a lengthy Transitional Docking Work Period (TDWP).

Tusker 333 (CC-130H) Hercules provides top cover for Tusker 912 (CH-149) while conducting hoist training with HMCS Windsor off the coast of Nova Scotia. Photo by SAR Technician Matthew Sebo, 413 Squadron

Three of the boats so far have ditched their old Type 2040 sonar for a new AN/BQQ-10 A-RCI sonar suite, similar to American submarines. They are also now armed with the Mark 48 MOD 7AT torpedo, an upgrade from the previous Mark 48 MOD 4M that required significant upgrades to the 1990s-vintage weapon handling, weapon discharge, and fire control systems.

The RCN recently released this sizzle reel, planning to keep the quartet around for another decade. 

Oh, Canada…

The Canadian Navy has been heavy into the submarine biz for generations.

The Canucks got into subs in a weird way when in August 1914, Sir Richard McBride, KCMG, the premier of British Columbia, bought a pair of small (144-foot, 300-ton) coastal submarines from Seattle Construction and Drydock Company, an act that your local government normally doesn’t do. The boats had been ordered by Chile who later refused them as not up to snuff.

Sailing for Vancouver in the dark of night as they were technically acquired in violation of a ton of international agreements (and bought for twice the annual budget for the entire Royal Canadian Navy!) they were commissioned as HMCS CC-1 and CC-2. The Dominion Government of Canada later ratified the sale while a subsequent investigation was conducted into how they were acquired.

CC-class

Nonetheless, the two tiny CC boats were the first submarines of the Maple Leaf and continued in service until after the Great War when they were laid up and replaced by a pair of American-made 435-ton H-class submarines from the Royal Navy, HMS H14 and H15, which remained in the Canadian fleet as HMCS CH-14 and CH-15 until broken up in 1927.

H-class

After this, Canada went out of the submarine business for a while until 1945. Then, Ottawa inherited two newly surplus German Type IXC/40 U-boats, sisters U-190 and U-889, both in working condition and constructed in the same builder’s yard. After transferring them on paper to the Royal Navy, they were transferred back (apparently the same day) and both became vessels of the RCN, dubbed HCMS U-190 and U-889, which they kept as working souvenirs for a couple years.

Canadian war artist Tom Wood's watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John's. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat's crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190's crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine's surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

Canadian war artist Tom Wood’s watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John’s. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat’s crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190’s crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine’s surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

Fast forward a bit and the Canadians began using two U.S. boats, —USS Burrfish (SS-312) and USS Argonaut (SS-475), as HMCS Grilse (SS 71) and Rainbow (SS 75), respectively– from 1961 to 1974.

Then they bought their first new subs since CC-1 & CC-2, a trio of British Oberon-class diesel boats– HMCS Ojibwa (S72), Onondaga (S73) and Okanagan (S74), which served from 1965 to 2000.

Three O-boats (Oberon-class) submarines of the Royal Canadian Navy in Bedford Basin, Halifax, 1995. RCNavy Image 95-0804 10 by Corp CH Roy

Since then, they have been using the quartet of second-hand RN Upholder-class subs, HMCS Victoria (SSK-876), Windsor (SSK-877), Corner Brook (SSK-878) and Chicoutimi (SSK-879) which are expected to remain in service in some form until the 2030s.

HMCS Submarine Chicoutimi.

The thing is, the Canadian Navy managed exactly zero (-0-) days underway with their subs last year– but not without cause.

As reported by CBC:

“The boats were docked last year after an intense sailing schedule for two of the four submarines over 2017 and 2018. HMCS Chicoutimi spent 197 days at sea helping to monitor sanctions enforcement off North Korea and visiting Japan as part of a wider engagement in the western Pacific. HMCS Windsor spent 115 days in the water during the same time period, mostly participating in NATO operations in the Atlantic.”

It is hoped that three of the four may return to sea at some point this year.

Yikes.

197 days on a snorkel boat is a hell of a thing

Here we see the Canadian Navy’s Victoria-class submarine HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK 879) tied up at her home at CFB Esquimalt, B.C. after completing a 197-day deployment in Asia-Pacific.

That’s a long time in any platform, much less on a 230-foot diesel electric sub which are designed for 45-day trips. In fact, according to a presser from Ottawa, this is the longest deployment of a Victoria-class submarine to date.

“I am incredibly proud of the work done by the submariners on board HMCS Chicoutimi,” said Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander Royal Canadian Navy. “Their consistent dedication and professionalism is an inspiration. The advantage that submarines can bring to a battlespace cannot be underestimated. They are stealthy, lethal, and persistent. They are an important strategic asset that the Canadian Armed Forces brings to the table when working with our partners and allies around the world.”

Chicoutimi deployed on patrol in the Asia-Pacific region as part of a strategic engagement mission, for 197 days. This is the longest Victoria-class deployment to date. Prior to this, the longest Victoria-class single deployment was a 101-day North Atlantic patrol by HMCS Windsor in 2015. HMCS Windsor is once again deployed, currently supporting NATO operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Chicoutimi operated with the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) and the United States Navy (USN) for several months, a period which included participation in the annual USN-JMSDF ANNUALEX – a three week bi-lateral exercise which was made tri-lateral for the first time with the inclusion of Canada in 2017. She visited Hawaii, Guam, and Japan during the six-month deployment. The visit to Yokosuka, Japan was the first by a Canadian submarine since the visit by HMCS Grilsein May 1968.

Chicoutimi is one of four Victoria-class submarines in the RCN. Chicoutimi along with HMCS Victoria and HMCS Corner Brook are based out of CFB Esquimalt, while HMCS Windsor is based at CFB Halifax in Nova Scotia.

Commissioned in 1990 as HMS Upholder, Chicoutimi was transferred to the Canadians in 1998 as the Royal Navy got out of the diesel sub game for good.