Sunday, February 12, 2006

Leave U-boat where it is, sailor’s sister says

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The Chronicle Herald
By Chris Lambie
February 12, 2006


Halifax woman who lost her older brother to a U-boat attack wants to sink a proposal to raise a Second World War German submarine lying on the ocean floor off Chebucto Head.

Gloria Brown’s brother, Roy Gillespie, was a 22-year-old sailor on Montrolite, a Canadian Imperial Oil tanker sunk by a German U-boat off Bermuda in 1942 as it was heading north to Halifax with a cargo of diesel fuel from Venezuela.

"He was one of the lucky ones to be picked up," Mrs. Brown said Thursday.

"Unfortunately, that ship was torpedoed, too. So he was lost completely. We never heard another word, just that he was lost at sea."

An Alberta marine archeologist plans to hunt this spring for U-190, a German sub the Canadian navy sank for target practice just off Halifax Harbour in 1947. A local amateur historian wants the sub salvaged and put on display at a Halifax waterfront museum.

"Leave it where it is," said Mrs. Brown, now 82.

"I wouldn’t want that brought up for anything. There’s no reason for it to be brought up, as far as I’m concerned."

Her husband, Walter (Buster) Brown, has reasons of his own for opposing the raising of U-190. He spent most of the war as a sergeant on a troop ship that ferried soldiers from Halifax to the battlefields of Europe.

"I was only hit once," said Mr. Brown, adding his ship struck a mine that had been laid by a U-boat.

"It blew us out of the water and did some damage, but we limped into Scotland and got patched up. I think the Lord was with me that I survived the Battle of the Atlantic. But there were an awful lot of lives lost."

Sailors and soldiers were terrified of U-boats, he said.

"You were on edge all the time. It was an awful feeling."

Mr. Brown, 84, also wants U-190 to remain on the sea floor.

"It’s a nerve-racking thought to me to have something like that raised to the surface. Leave it on the bottom where it belongs," he said.

"Why bring back old memories of something like a U-boat? If they could bring back all those ships the U-boats sank in the Atlantic during the Second World War, it would be nice. But why bring back something like that? Look at the sorrow and heartache it would bring to other people."

New Democrat MLA Bill Estabrooks (Timberlea-Prospect) has fielded lots of complaints about the proposal to raise U-190.

"That sub should be left exactly where it is," Mr. Estabrooks said. "Those sort of U-boats have put enough of our men in their graves down under that water. To even give the recognition to float it is just an insult to those many veterans who lost their lives."

Local U-boat enthusiast Wayne Cookson believes U-190 should be brought to the surface.

"As terrible as that time period was, history is history," Mr. Cookson said.

"If you try to hide and bury history, all of a sudden it will repeat itself."

U-190 is infamous for sinking the last Canadian warship lost in the Second World War. It fired the torpedo that sank HMCS Esquimalt off Halifax. Of the minesweeper’s 70-man crew, 44 sailors died in the frigid water on April 16, 1945.

The sub surrendered to Canadian warships nearly a month later. The navy used it for training for two years before sinking it near Esquimalt’s wreck at the approaches to Halifax Harbour.

Local history enthusiast David Brown has proposed U-190 be raised and displayed at a $200-million project that the Waterfront Development Corp. and the Armour Group want to build on the Halifax waterfront. Queen’s Landing is slated to hold a three-storey naval museum with the corvette HMCS Sackville as its centrepiece.

The idea of raising a U-boat and displaying it at Queen’s Landing alongside its former Canadian foe is "intriguing," said Scott McCrea, president of the Armour Group Ltd.

"I don’t think it takes a great leap to see that there’s a thematic alignment," Mr. McCrea said.

But the price tag on such a project would likely be daunting.

"Really, we’re far from a point of determining whether this could or should be a part of (Queen’s Landing)," Mr. McCrea said.

One scientist argues it would be "foolish" to try raising the sub.

The millions of dollars it would take to get U-190 to the surface "would pale into insignificance compared to the costs of stabilizing the steel after 60 years in sea water," said Trevor Kenchington, a marine biologist based in Musquodoboit Harbour.

The wreck would decay rapidly into rust if it were brought into contact with air, he said.

"The outer casing . . . is made of thin steel and typically does not survive well," Mr. Kenchington said.

"The interior, which would be the major attraction for visitors, was once a mass of piping and wiring, all made of a variety of metals. Immerse those in sea water and electrolytic corrosion would be rapid. Whether anything remains that might be recognizable must be doubtful."


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