Bring Back Canada’s Fighting Corvettes Pt 1
Like many Western Navies of late, Canada has endured numerous obstacles in replacing well-used but aging warships, while hoping to build newer versions for 21st Century threats. A replacement for her nearly-40 year old anti-air warfare destroyers have been consistently put off, as have the new Joint Support Ships intended to substitute for the even older Protecteur-class replenishment ships. Recent plans to build arctic patrol ships to plug this gap in its Northern defenses was canceled for cost overruns even before they were built!
The Government recently detailed plans to spend $40 billion to salvage the shipbuilding industry and by building up to 50 large vessels over the next 30 years. Considering the track record so far of promises not kept and programs consistently delayed, the public might understandably be skeptical of such a plan, especially in these doubtful economic times. As an alternative to grandiose plans often dashed by reality, the great maritime nation might look to its roots during the last world war when it was the 3rd largest Navy in the world with over 400 warships and hundreds of naval aircraft. The backbone of this battle-hardened force was its light frigates and Fighting Corvettes:
HMCS Sackville is the last of the 123 Corvettes used by the Royal Canadian Navy in WW 2. Harbored at Halifax, Nova Scotia, she stands as a lasting memorial to the courageous men who fought on her lively decks. The Canadian Corvette was based on a British design, which derived from a “whale catcher”. They were small and cheap to build, and so could be produced quickly and in large numbers.
Both Navy’s versions were much the same. Each were 209 ft. long, 33 ft wide, and displaced 950 tons. They were slow at 16 knots max, but still good enough to catch the U-boats of the day.
For armament, they carried a 4-inch gun in front and a small 2 pounder at the rear of the ship. Later they were given smaller guns for anti-aircraft, including the 20mm Oerlikons, probably the most widely used gun of the war. Seeing HMCS Sackville today, it is hard to imagine how important these “Davids” were against the Nazi “Goliath”. By August of 1941, the large number of Corvettes were making their presence felt in the Battle of the Atlantic, so much so that U-boat commanders were said to be “boiling with rage” by the German press.
Though disliked by the regular officers, who wanted cruisers and destroyers, Winston Churchill paid homage by dubbing them “cheap but nasties”.
By turning to low tech assets such as the modern corvette, much more powerful and capable than those from the war years, Canada could replace the difficult to build and replace, larger assets and restore numbers to the fleet as well. Thanks also to modern weapons, notably stand-off missiles, she’d need not give up capabilities for this switch in procurement.
If the West could grasp hold of the concept, that the technology deployed late in the Cold War and perfected in the ongoing Middle East wars like smart bombs, cruise missiles, robot vehicles, advanced tracking sensors, ect, are the answer to replacing their aging, shrinking force structures, we would see a revolution in weapons procurement. First, this would require an end to traditional bias against small, low tech platforms, which are now so much more capable due to the miniaturization of warfare (smart bombs+common platforms). Western force structures in planes, armored vehicles, and warships have been steadily shrinking throughout the latter half of the last century, because of a desire to possess high tech and high performance vehicles. But the strain of placing this new wine brought on by the microchip revolution into old bottles of the Industrial Revolution has become unbearable even for the richest of nations.
Corvettes of 1000-1500 tons can mount the same weapons as larger destroyers and frigates, only lacking the range,performance, and payload. For Canada’s needs, short range light warships would be more than adequate since they would operate most often close to home, or for extended periods could always travel with logistics motherships. Vessels which performed the exact same functions, of basically the same size, and possessing the same limitations during the World War years were known as destroyers and frigates!