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Guardian of the Gulf

Guardian of the Gulf: Sydney, Cape Breton, and the Atlantic Wars

Brian Tennyson
Roger Sarty
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 534
  • Book Info
    Guardian of the Gulf
    Book Description:

    A vivid and long overdue account of one of the great untold Canadian military stories: Sydney's importance as a major convoy port, a base in the hunt for German submarines, and an industrial centre producing critically important coal and steel.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7553-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
    Brian Tennyson and Roger Sarty
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    This is the first attempt to tell the story of the full range of military activities at a defended Canadian city from colonial times to the era of the cold war. While the literature of Canadian military history is rich, no one has previously examined the Canadian military experience by focusing on a single community that not only played a significant role during the long sweep of that history but was also largely shaped by it. That this has not yet been done for Halifax, St Johnʹs, or Victoria and Esquimalt would seem to be a remarkable oversight on the...

  6. chapter one Outpost of Empire, 1696–1802
    (pp. 9-36)

    Sydney Harbour is the finest on Cape Breton Island, being wide at its mouth and penetrating eight miles inland to where the present city of Sydney sits at the mouth of the river of the same name. Only one hundred miles across Cabot Strait from Newfoundland, Sydney Harbour is geographically at the heart of Atlantic Canada, opening onto the Gulf of St Lawrence, guarding the entrance to the great river and the interior of eastern Canada, abutting the formerly rich fishing grounds of the Grand Banks, and offering the shortest transatlantic passage from North Americaʹs East Coast to the British...

  7. chapter two War and Peace, 1802–1859
    (pp. 37-63)

    The Peace of Amiens of 1802–3 proved to be only a temporary lull, and the European war soon resumed, dragging on until 1815. In 1812 the situation in North America was considerably complicated by the outbreak of war between Britain and the United States as well. Although there was little actual fighting at Britainʹs imperial outposts between 1803 and 1812, there was ʹmuch dreary watching and arduous patrol work.ʹ¹

    At Sydney some repairs were made to the fortifications in 1804, Captain Cox being appointed to supervise the work. He was by now the barrack master, and, in the opinion of...

  8. chapter three Preparing for War, 1859–1867
    (pp. 64-91)

    The local military authorities had no sooner disposed of the military lands at Sydney than the War Office began to give serious consideration to building new fortifications there. The growing importance of the areaʹs coal deposits, particularly to the increasingly steam-powered Royal Navy, could not be ignored, and their protection became a significant strategic issue. British naval expenditures increased when France and Austria went to war in the spring of 1859. In the previous year, the General Mining Association had surrendered its monopoly on coal mining in Nova Scotia. Coming four years after the approval of a Canadian- American reciprocity...

  9. chapter four Coal and Steel, 1867–1914
    (pp. 92-112)

    Cape Breton did not figure prominently in the military concerns of the new federal government. Nor, on much of the island, does there seem to have been the sort of local commitment needed to raise volunteer units on a substantial scale under the new dominion Militia Act that came into force in 1868. The 718 volunteers who presented themselves for paid drill that year were organized on the basis of the old provincial militia regiments. These included one in the Sydney area but none on the northern side of the harbour.¹ Independent infantry companies, each with an authorized strength of...

  10. chapter five The Call to Arms, 1914–1916
    (pp. 113-137)

    Cape Bretoners enjoyed the summer of 1914, disturbed only slightly by news from Europe of a political assassination that somehow threatened, by the end of July, to engulf the western world in its first major war in a century. As the likelihood of war became more apparent, they shared the general enthusiasm, fuelled by the strident patriotism that had become increasingly popular in recent years and by the promise of over seas adventure in the service of the empire. Early on the afternoon of 1 August, ʹhundreds crowded about the bulletin board at the post office till midnight,ʹ as the...

  11. chapter six East Coast Port, 1916–1918
    (pp. 138-159)

    The nightmare of a submarine raid on Canadaʹs ill-protected coast suddenly seemed to be coming true on 7 October 1916 whenU-53ostentatiously put into Newport, Rhode Island, to show off its powerful armament and machinery to officers of the U.S. Navy. Its appearance disproved the British conviction that combat submarines could cross the Atlantic only on a one-way suicide run, or if followed by a vulnerable supply ship.U-53ʹs commanding officer boasted to the Americans that he had no need to top up with fuel, and he put to sea that same evening. Next morning, it sank five Allied...

  12. chapter seven Victory, 1918
    (pp. 160-188)

    Suddenly, just three months before the end of the war, Sydney became the most important military port in Canada. At the highest councils of the naval war in London and Washington, this was no great surprise because of the excellent information on the transatlantic U-boat missions that was being obtained as a result of the British penetration of Germanyʹs naval radio codes. Although the German signal traffic identified only general operating zones, senior British and American authorities prepared rapidly to redeploy shipping so that the most valuable merchant vessels could be routed clear as soon as the enemy struck in...

  13. chapter eight The Years of Neglect, 1919–1939
    (pp. 189-208)

    There was some local concern about the unseemly haste of the military withdrawal. J.C. Douglas, MP, called on C.C. Ballantyne, minister of marine and fisheries, to keep the patrol vessels at Sydney over the winter because many of them required repair work that could be done ʹas satisfactorily in Sydney as elsewhere.ʹ It was not to be. Ballantyne thought this ʹwould not be practicable,ʹ adding optimistically that the British vessels then at Sydney would remain there for the winter.¹ In a different vein, the mayor of North Sydney ʹgot the wind upʹ about bombs and ammunition stored at the nearby...

  14. chapter nine Improvising Defences, 1939–1940
    (pp. 209-228)

    Canadian mobilization for the Second World War began quietly on 22 August 1939. On that date, British authorities responded in part to Hitlerʹs threats to Poland by sending out the first of a series of short coded telegrams that activated the war books of the self-governing dominions and dependencies of the empire. The summer schedules of the British cruisersYorkandBerwickhad already brought them to the vicinity of Nova Scotia, their war station. Memories of the panic about German raiders that had stopped North Atlantic shipping in 1914 and of the vital role Nova Scotian ports had played...

  15. chapter ten Building Fortress Sydney, 1940–1941
    (pp. 229-257)

    The whole face of the war changed with the electrifying German offensive in the spring of 1940. Norway fell in April, then France in June, when Italy entered the conflict in support of Germany. For Britain the situation was grave, and nowhere more so than in the North Atlantic. German submarines and surface warships had previously had to make the long passage from the Baltic through the North Sea to reach the Atlantic. Now the Germans had direct access to the ocean at Britainʹs very doorstep through French and Norwegian ports, and their U-boats especially began to inflict grave damage....

  16. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  17. chapter eleven Battle of the St Lawrence, 1942
    (pp. 258-287)

    Just as the 1941 shipping season at Sydney was coming to a close, fardistant events were bringing the war even closer to Canadaʹs shores. On 7 December 1941, Japanese carrier-based aircraft attacked and crippled or sank much of the American battleship force at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Hitler, respecting the terms of the German-Japanese alliance, promptly declared war against the United States. He also lifted a ban on operations close in to the North American coast that he had previously imposed to forestall full-scale American participation in the war. Admiral Dönitz dispatched five big long-range Type IX submarines...

  18. chapter twelve Convoy Port, 1942–1943
    (pp. 288-317)

    During the course of the hectic 1942 season, all three services continued ambitious development in the Sydney area to strengthen local defences and sustain better their operations at sea. Most important was the construction of a complete and self-contained new naval base at Point Edward, an 850-acre site across the South Arm from the Sydney waterfront.¹ The original intention was to construct modest facilities to provide basic services – fuel, running repairs, ammunition, and other stores – for the Sydney Force and visiting warships. The project did not have a high priority, however, because essential defences and accommodation had been...

  19. chapter thirteen The End, 1943–1945
    (pp. 318-346)

    While the Point Edward base and commercial repair firms continued to expand, the army and air force presence at Sydney – and elsewhere on the Atlantic coast — began to contract in late 1943 and early 1944. The successful invasion of Sicily on 10 July 1943 marked the initial step in the liberation of western Europe, and Lieutenant General Kenneth Stuart, chief of the General Staff, advised the government that home defences could safely be reduced because Germany and Italy were now so thoroughly on the defensive that it was inconceivable that they could attempt large-scale raids on the North...

  20. Epilogue
    (pp. 347-360)

    Although the army and air force establishments at Sydney were quickly scaled down in the late spring and summer of 1945, the Point Edward naval base was busier than ever. With its large and still expanding blocks of warehouses, it was one of the principal depots for the stores and equipment removed from the scores of now surplus warships. Meanwhile, both the naval and private refit facilities in the Sydney area were fully employed ʹtropicalizingʹ warships selected for service in the Pacific in the final offensive against Japan.¹ The unexpectedly abrupt end of the war as a result of the...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 361-458)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 459-474)
  23. Illustration credits
    (pp. 475-476)
  24. Index
    (pp. 477-495)