The Battle of the St. Lawrence at the doorstep of Forillon

The Battle of the St. Lawrence at the doorstep of Forillon


September 1942 World War II is raging German submarines penetrate the St. Lawrence and torpedo Allied ships. Off the coast of Forillon, fisherman find themselves on the battlefield The Battle of the St. Lawrence took place right here, in the St. Lawrence River and Gulf, from 1942 to 1944. German submarines – the famous U-Boats – would successfully enter coastal waters and sink upwards of 20 warships and merchant ships. It’s worth recalling that, during the war, ships departed from Montreal for Great Britain with troops, armament and tons of cargo on board. Thus, when the Nazis deployed submarines in St. Lawrence, their objective was to sink merchant ships and thereby obstruct efforts to supply the Allies. Among the more than 20 ships torpedoed during the battle, 5 were sunk off Forillon’s shores, including three off Cape Gaspé, and two, right here, off Cap-des-Rosiers We saw convoys going by rather often. It had become commonplace. We knew that people in our family were off fishing. We didn’t know that they were exactly in the area where boats got sunk, but we knew they had gone fishing in those places. The submarines came in very close to the shoreline. Paul Hartwig, commander of the U-Boat U-517, said that he was able to see smoke coming out of chimneys and hear the music of dances in the village! This battle disrupted the daily lives of the inhabitants of the peninsula. A curfew was imposed and blackout orders were issued on a regular basis. On several occasions, fishermen found themselves caught between merchant ships and submarines. Mr Ste-Croix: It was a bright sunny day. There was no fish for the taking. And then, we saw the convoy coming. Mr Giasson: As I remember it, I was standing in front of the family home. We were waiting to go back to school after lunchtime. We could see the convoy sailing by. Mr Ste-Croix: As the ships were arriving, there was a fisherman – a Packwood – who shouted out: “So now we’ll know whether there are any submarines in the Gulf!” No sooner did he say it than the first ship exploded! Mr Giasson: Bang! It made quite an impact, for sure. And you could hear the boom echo afterwards. It was like a huge shotgun blast. I can remember very clearly seeing the ship sink. When it sank, it stood upright in the water. Mr Ste-Croix: That’s when the corvettes launched the depth charges. The water burst created by the explosion rose about thirty feet into the air. It wasn’t far from where we were. We were scared! We started up the engine. The first ships in the convoy were supposed to go around our fishing barges. But once those ships had been sunk, they changed direction and headed for shore. And so we were stuck between them. It was the first year I fished. All in all, the Battle of the St. Lawrence constituted a closely felt experience for the inhabitants of the Gaspé, particularly so right here, off Forillon in the Cap-des-Rosiers area.

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