Lieutenant-Commander Fred Sherwood: “Always a submariner in his heart”

Lieutenant-Commander Fred Sherwood


Lieutenant-Commander Fred Sherwood

Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Frederick Henry Sherwood was the first Canadian to command a Royal Navy (RN) submarine during the Second World War. 

As Commanding Officer of His Majesty’s Submarine (HMS) Spiteful stationed in the Far East, he completed the three longest patrols for a submarine at the time, sinking multiple Japanese ships.

He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for “courage and skill in successful submarine patrols” while sailing in the Mediterranean near Malta.

Born in Winnipeg but raised in Ottawa, LCdr Sherwood joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1933.

When the Second World War broke out Canada did not have any submarines, and LCdr Sherwood became one of 27 Canadians who volunteered for service in the British submarine service.

He and a friend, J. D. Woods, were the first two Canadian naval reservists to take the RN’s submarine officer training course in 1940. On completion, they were offered a choice of postings: the North Atlantic or the Mediterranean. They flipped for it, and LCdr Sherwood ended up staying home while his classmate shipped out to Alexandria, Egypt. As it turned out, J. D. Woods made one particularly unpleasant patrol and decided submarines were not for him.

LCdr Sherwood served as a watchkeeping officer in HMS Sealion from 1940 to August 1941; as First Lieutenant in HMS L23 from August 1941 to January 1942; and as First Lieutenant in HMS P211 (later renamed Safari) from January to November 1942.

In December 1942, he completed the legendary “Perisher”, the RN Submarine Command Course, so named because it had a failure rate of 40 to 60 per cent. Pass, and you were guaranteed to get a submarine command. Fail, and you were immediately returned to surface ships never to see the inside of a submarine again.

On graduation, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander and became Commanding Officer of HMS P556 and served from March to June 1943. He then took command of Spiteful and served from July 1943 until July 1946.

In April 1945, Spiteful bombarded installations on the Andaman Islands and Christmas Island, and it was here that he earned the Bar to his DSC.

It was during his time in the Far East that Sherwood met Mary Clarke, an officer from the Women’s Royal Naval Service stationed in Ceylon, and two years later they were married in Santiago, Chile. The couple later settled in Ottawa where they raised three children, with LCdr Sherwood eventually becoming a partner in E.S. Sherwood Company Ltd., his father’s real estate business.

Submariners, both past and present, have always had a strong bond as they serve beneath the waves in service to Canada.

As an example, in 2010, a dinner was held in Halifax for Canadian Perisher graduates and submarine commanding officers. LCdr Sherwood sat across the table from LCdr Alex Kooiman – the oldest and the newest Canadian Perisher graduates, who completed their courses 65 years apart.

In July 2011, the Submarine Command Team Trainer, part of the Canadian Forces Naval Operations School in Halifax, was named after LCdr Sherwood.

“We honour a fine submarine officer who was tested in war, and who delivered the goods,” said the Canadian Atlantic Fleet Commander at the time, Commodore Larry Hickey, himself a graduate of Perisher. “The Command Team Trainer named in his honour ensures that Fred Sherwood will not be forgotten by the Navy writ large, and more importantly, by the Canadian submarine community.”

On May 14, 2013, LCdr Sherwood passed away in Ottawa at the age of 98.

“He was many things to many people during his life,” said his son Tim Sherwood, “but he was always a submariner in his heart.”

You can read more about LCdr Sherwood’s life and career in his book It’s Not the Ships…My War Years, published shortly after his death.

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