|Owner:||Newfoundland Government Railway|
|Route:||Port aux Basques, Newfoundland to Nova Scotia|
|Builder:||Goodwin - Hamilton S. Adams Ltd. Rotterdam, Netherlands|
|Launched:||Schiedam Netherlands 9 June 1925|
|Out of service:||14 October 1942|
|Fate:||Sunk by German U-boat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 14 October 1942|
|Tonnage:||2,200 short tons (2,000 t)|
|Length:||265 feet (81 m)|
|Speed:||14.5 knots (16.7 mph; 26.9 km/h)|
|Capacity:||3,000 horsepower (2.2 MW)|
|Notes:||Information about ship specifications from Gibbons (2006)|
SS Caribou was a Newfoundland Railway passenger ferry that ran between Port aux Basques, in the Dominion of Newfoundland, and North Sydney, Nova Scotia between 1928 and 1942. During the Battle of the St. Lawrence the ferry was attacked and sunk by the Nazi German submarine U-69 in October 1942, while traversing the Cabot Strait as part of its three weekly SPAB convoys. As a civilian vessel, it had women and children on board, and many of them were among the 137 who died. Its sinking, and large death toll, made it clear that the war had really arrived on Canada's and Newfoundland's home front, and is cited by many historians as the most significant sinking in Canadian-controlled waters during the Second World War.
Caribou was built in 1925 at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for the Newfoundland Railway. Launched in 1925, she had a capacity of 3,000 horsepower (2,200 kW) and was able to reach a speed of 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h) when fully loaded. She also had steam-heat and electric lights in all of her cabins, which were considered to be a luxury at the time. Also, due to her ice-breaking design, Caribou also assisted during the seal hunt along the Newfoundland coast each spring.
On 13 October 1942, Caribou was part of the Sydney-Port aux Basque (SPAB) convoy, organized by the Royal Canadian Navy base HMCS Protector. The SPAB series of convoys usually occurred three-times a week, and was carried out in darkness. HMCS Grandmère, a Bangor class minesweeper was the naval escort vessel on this ill-fated voyage.
Unfortunately for the convoy, Nazi German submarine U-69 was patrolling the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was a dark evening, and the heavy smoke from Caribou's coal-fired steam boilers silhouetted it against the nighttime horizon. At 3:51 a.m. Newfoundland Summer Time, on 14 October 1942, it was torpedoed approximately 37 km (20 nmi) southwest of Port aux Basques and sunk five minutes later. Grandmère spotted the submarine and tried to ram it, but, U-69 quickly submerged. Over the next two-hours, the minesweeper launched six depth charges, but did not damage the submarine, and U-69 crept away into the Atlantic undetected. Following procedure, Grandmère then went back for survivors. In the days after the sinking, the Canadian naval vessel was criticized in the media for not immediately stopping and helping save survivors, but that was against operating procedures, and would have placed it in immediate danger of being sunk as well. After picking up survivors, Grandmère sailed for Sydney because it had better hospital facilities than Port aux Basques.
Caribou was carrying 46 crew members and 191 civilian and military passengers. The ship's longtime Captain, Benjamin Taverner, was commanding the boat as it was struck, and perished along with his sons who served as crew members. Of the deceased, two were rescued at first, but they later died from exposure to the cold water. 137 people died that morning, and the passenger and crew totals were broken down as follows: of 118 military personal, 57 died; of 73 civilians, 49 died; of the 46 crew members, 31 died. 34 bodies were found and brought to Port aux Basques by fishing schooners chartered by the Newfoundland Railway Company. To prevent rumours, the Canadian Navy allowed the Sydney Post-Record and other media outlets to report the sinking, almost as soon as it happened, one of the few times that war censorship was temporarily lifted in this period. The sinking made front page news in both the The Toronto Daily Star and The Globe and Mail newspapers later that week.
In 1986, the CN Marine/Marine Atlantic ferry MV Caribou was named after the SS Caribou. It plied the same route as the original ferry, travelling between North Sydney and Port aux Basque. On its maiden voyage, 12 May 1986, the ship stopped at the location where its predecessor sank. At approximately 5:30 a.m., survivor Mack Piercey, one of 13 survivors on board for the occasion, tossed a poppy-laden memorial wreath into the ocean and then the ship continued on to Port aux Basque to complete the voyage.
In 2014, as part of a special dedication service in the town of Port Hawkesbury's Veterans Memorial Park, the SS Caribou's passengers and crew were honoured. Part of the dedication service included the unveiling of the anchor from the decommissioned MV Caribou as a new feature for the memorial.
- In the Canadian series Bomb Girls, Caribou is mentioned to have sunk the previous day and give the people of the home front a good shock. It is also seen in the newspapers.
- Gibbons (2006), p. 9.
- Tennyson & Sarty (2000), pp. 274-275.
- Helgason (2012).
- Tennyson & Sarty (2000), pp. 276-277.
- Gibbons (2006), p. 1.
- Caplan (1987), pp. 37—41.
- How (1988), pp. 108-109.
- Caplan (1987), pp. 46—49.
- Tennyson & Sarty (2000), p. 278.
- Caplan (1975), p. 25.
- Torstar (1942-10-17)Large Headline
- G&M (1942-10-19).
- Morgan (2009), pp. 119.
- Caplan (1987), p. 49.
- Caplan (1987), p. back cover.
- Post Staff (2014), p. A3.
- Caplan, Ronald (1975-03-31). "The Sinking of the 'Caribou' Ferry". Cape Breton's Magazine (Wreck Cove, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia: Breton Books) (10): 23–29. ISSN 0319-4639. Retrieved 2013-01-06.
- Caplan, Ronald (1976-06-01). "Sydney Harbour in World War 2". Cape Breton's Magazine (Wreck Cove, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia: Breton Books) (13): 27–40. ISSN 0319-4639. Retrieved 2013-01-06.
- Caplan, Ronald (1987-08-01). "Procedure Report of Bodies Brought to Port-aux-Basques from the Ill-Fated Vessel S.S. Caribou". Cape Breton's Magazine (Wreck Cove, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia: Breton Books) (46): 46–49. ISSN 0319-4639. Retrieved 2013-01-06.
- Gibbons, Henry K. (2006). "The Last Voyage of the S.S. Caribou (October 13/14, 1942)". St. John's, Newfoundland: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Archived from the original on 2013-01-23. Retrieved 2013-01-12.
- Hague, Arnold (2000). The Allied Convoy System 1939-1945. St Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-861-76147-7.
- Helgason, Gudmundur (2012). "Caribou: British Steam Merchant". Uboat.net. Reykjavik, Iceland. Archived from the original on 2013-01-23. Retrieved 2013-01-13.
- How, Douglas (1988). Night of the Caribou. Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press. ISBN 978-0-88999-410-2.
- Milner, Marc (2010). Canada's Navy: the first century (2nd ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto. ISBN 978-0-8020-9604-3.
- Morgan, Robert J. (2009). Ronald Caplan, ed. Rise Again!: the Story of Cape Breton Island - Book Two. Wreck Cove, Nova Scotia: Breton Books. ISBN 978-1-895415-85-8.
- Post Staff (2014-07-11). "Special service to honour people who died aboard SS Caribou". Cape Breton Post (Sydney, Nova Scotia). p. A3. Archived from the original on 2014-07-11. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
- Rohwer, Jürgen; Hümmelchen, Gerhard (1992). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-1945. Derek Masters (trans.) (2nd revised, expanded ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-105-9.
- Sarty, Roger F. (2012). War in the St. Lawerance: The Forgotten U-boat Battles on Canada's Shores. Toronto: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-670-06787-9.
- Tennyson, Brian Douglas; Sarty, Roger F. (2000). Guardian of the Gulf: Sydney, Cape Breton, and the Atlantic wars. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-4492-1.
- "Only Child Survivor". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). 1942-10-19. p. 1.
- "16 Women, 14 Children Among 137 Lost on Torpedoed Ferry". The Toronto Daily Star (Toronto). 1942-10-17. p. 1.
- van der Vat, Dan (1988). The Atlantic campaign: the great struggle at sea, 1939-1945. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-37751-2.
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