Starting from scratch: St. John's, Newfoundland as a case study in second world war naval base development

Collins, Paul (2011) Starting from scratch: St. John's, Newfoundland as a case study in second world war naval base development. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.

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Contrary to popular belief, St. John's, Newfoundland, rather than Halifax, Nova Scotia, was Canada's major convoy escort base during World War II. This is significant for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that Newfoundland was a separate dominion, and the base - commissioned HMCS Avalon - was built and operated by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) but owned by the British Admiralty. Furthermore, the RCN managed to create a major naval facility in the heart of a capital city with a civilian population of 40,000 when American and Canadian army forces already occupied most of the available vacant land. -- Historians have suggested that the establishment of the Newfoundland Escort Force in May 1941 was a milestone in Canadian naval history and that its creation elevated the RCN into a major combatant. They argue that the importance of the naval base can hardly be exaggerated and that it was actually the key to the western defence system. Yet relatively little has been written on how this base arose from what originally was merely a defended harbour. -- While much has appeared on the ships and men involved in the Battle of the Atlantic, the various bases from which they operated have received scant attention. This is a significant oversight because how the forces fared at sea was often bound up inextricably with the operation of the facilities ashore. This was especially so for the RCN due to its rapid expansion during the war. Its defence of the convoys was a direct reflection of the efficiency, maintenance and training capabilities of the shore establishments. For the Newfoundland Escort Force/Mid-Ocean Escort Force this was HMCS Avalon located at St. John's, Newfoundland. Yet both contemporaries and historians remember the presence of the US army more than the RCN despite the fact that thousands of sailors and hundreds of warships were stationed in St. John's during the war. This may be due to the longevity of the American presence in Newfoundland and the haste with which the Canadian facilities were dismantled at the end of the hostilities. Or perhaps it is a hangover from Newfoundland's still contentious decision to join Canada in 1949. The story of how St. John's evolved from a defended harbour to a major Allied escort base makes a significant contribution to Canadian, Newfoundland and naval historiography.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 10329
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 317-331).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: 2011
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Navy-yards and naval stations--Newfoundland and Labrador--St. John's; World War, 1939-1945--Newfoundland and Labrador--St. John's--Naval operations; Naval convoys--Atlantic Ocean.

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