Ray A. MacKay

This Article courtesy of Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — During the Second World War, the Allied military and merchant navies faced relentless attacks while crossing the Atlantic to maintain the flow of oil, arms and supplies to support the war effort.

While the majority of those missions were successful, some 72 Canadian merchant ships were lost to enemy action among the estimated 25,000 merchant ship voyages that set out from places like Sydney and Halifax.

“We had to take ammunition mostly and food products because Germany had the ocean so infested with submarines it was hard for the ships to get in,” said Ray MacKay, who served as a radio operator on the HMCS Magog during the Second World War.

“The one that I was on was called a frigate and it had high-frequency direction finding on it and we could home in on the German subs as they were sending their messages back to Germany.”

Never knowing where those subs were lurking made for tense crossings, he recalled.

“You knew they were in the area, but you didn’t know whose number was coming up, and many ships went down. The merchant ships were worse off than the war ships. The convoys that had the corvettes and the frigates, they could maneuver in and out of areas where the other ships were slow travelling — probably 15 knots at the most. They were easy targets for German submarines.”

MacKay witnessed the devastation caused by enemy subs, referred to as wolf packs because of how they travelled together.

“The tankers were the worst. If they got hit they would blow up and there’s very little chance for any survivors if they did get off the ship into the water — the oil on the water would be the end of them.”

Unfortunately, MacKay saw many Allied ships go down, which still causes disturbing memories nearly 70 years later.

“You sometimes have nightmares of it — recurring things that happened — but that is normal with people that are subject to war.”

During MacKay’s time with the navy, his ship escorted convoys across the Atlantic and then escorted empty ships coming back. The HMCS Magog escaped every one of those ocean crossings unharmed, (our research indicates Magog was not on transatlantic runs Ray may be referring to another ship he was on. P.H.)but that was not the case during a mission in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the ship was torpedoed Oct. 14, 1944.

“It happened on a Saturday morning when the ship was on a routine cleanup,” said MacKay.

“If it had happened an hour earlier the whole ship’s company would have got it, but as a result only (three) were killed. They got the watertight compartments closed off and it was towed into Quebec City by HMCS Toronto.”  (our research indicates Magog was initially towed by HMCS Toronto, then HMCS Shawinigan to Baie de Godbout on the St. Lawrence then later by the Lord Strathcona tug to Quebec City. P.H.)

When the torpedo that took 65 feet off the ship’s stern struck, MacKay was nowhere near the ship. Instead, he was beginning a new assignment.

“We came into Sydney on a boiler clean. The communications officer said ‘You’re from this area. Would you take over for this fellow at the wireless station in Sydney and we’ll pick you up after the next trip in?’ Five days after it left Sydney it was torpedoed in the gulf.”

MacKay, in his new duties as a wireless operator, took that message.

“They sent the message in plain language. Usually it was coded. I almost froze there because I figured the whole ship’s company would have gone down, but they were fortunate where the torpedo had struck. If it had hit the magazine the whole ship would have been blown up.”

MacKay worked in Sydney until 1945 when he was discharged from the navy.

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