Three RCN ships return home in time for the holidays

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Navy News / December 16, 2021

Over 500 Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) sailors, Royal Canadian Air Force aviators and their loved ones have reason to celebrate this week, as Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Winnipeg, Fredericton and Harry DeWolf return from their months-long deployments. All three ships will return to their home ports of Esquimalt, B.C., and Halifax within a 72-hour period, a unique occurrence within the RCN.

A homecoming ceremony is taking place at HMC Dockyard Esquimalt for HMCS Winnipeg on December 16, while two separate ceremonies will take place for HMC Ships Harry DeWolf and Fredericton at HMC Dockyard Halifax, on December 16 and 18 respectively. 

All three ships chalked up impressive successes throughout their deployments, regardless of the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For Harry DeWolf, the first ship in Canada’s fleet of new Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships, this was a ground-breaking deployment. The ship circumnavigated North America, participating in Operations Nanook in the Arctic, and Caribbe in the Eastern Pacific and the Carribean Sea, along the way.

While in the Arctic, the ship and its crew charted its northern course via the fabled Northwest Passage. A first for the RCN since HMCS Labrador’s northern voyage in 1954, Harry DeWolf followed the same route taken by the infamous 1845-46 Franklin Expedition, which was lost with all hands in the very same area.

After leaving Canada’s North, the ship made its way down the West Coast of North America into the Eastern Pacific. There, Harry DeWolf successfully made its first two drug busts on Operation Caribbe, Canada’s contribution to the multinational campaign targeting drug trafficking in the region.

HMCS Winnipeg completed an equally ambitious schedule over the past three months while deployed in the Indo-Pacific on Operations Projection and Neon, transiting over 30,000 nautical miles in the region.

During its time in the area, the ship was part of a multinational coalition to counter North Korea’s illicit maritime activities and to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed against North Korea. As well, it conducted exercises with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force in the East China Sea and with the multinational, UK-led Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group in the Philippine and South China Seas. Winnipeg also transited the Taiwan Strait with the United States Navy, and the South China Sea in company with Australian warships.

While on Op Neon, Winnipeg conducted 48 patrol days at sea and collected intelligence on 23 vessels of interest suspected of violating UN sanctions against North Korea.

Winnipeg’s deployment wasn’t all business, however. The ship hosted a German naval officer on exchange and also provided several crates of Earl Grey tea to the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth, ensuring that they did not run out.

HMCS Fredericton has spent five months in the North Atlantic as part of Operation Reassurance, which supports NATO’s assurance and deterrence measures in Central and Eastern Europe, as flagship for Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1). During this period, the commander of SNMG1 was also Canadian, Commodore Bradley Peats.

While deployed, Fredericton conducted several exercises with allied and partner navies, including the multinational Exercise Dynamic Mariner 21-2 off the coast of Scotland, and a Passing Exercise in the Baltic. These types of exercises are essential training for Canadian and allied sailors, as they provide the experience they need against real aircraft, ships and submarines.

However, being at sea also comes with risk, as evidenced by the engine room fire that broke out on board Fredericton in the early hours of November 18 while sailing off the coast of Norway. The crew took immediate action and extinguished it, ensuring no one was hurt. The ship conducted repairs in Norway before heading home to Canada.

Once all three ships are home, their sailors and aviators will take some well-deserved down time to reconnect with family and friends, and to recharge their batteries for challenges and successes surely to come in 2022.