Saturday, April 11, 2009

Prince Rupert's Armored Train!

Port Townsend, today. I spend considerable time mining the Internet for interesting sites. And I find one or two damn near every day. Today was no exception.

Whilst searching the Internet for information on an upcoming article, I tripped over a fascinating account of one of World War II's best kept secrets!

"The Armored Train" apparently operated out of Tyee, about 25 miles east of Prince Rupert. This would have been an ideal place for this train to tie up, because of it's remoteness, away from the City of Prince Rupert.

Having ridden that subdivision so many times, I can image this train snaking its way up the Skeena River. What a sight it must have been! What an experience for the Officers and Enlisted, manning the guns!

I sent an email to Mr. Ted Hackett, requesting his permission to share his story with you here on "Oil-Electric."

I was unprepared for the response:

Greetings Robert, Bill Hillman, our Web Master, forwarded your request regarding subject. I'm sorry to say that Ted Hackett passed away in March of 2009. Ted was a Wireless Air Gunner in Bomber Command, 426 Squadron, during WW II. He was an avid contributor to our newsletter, SHORT BURSTS.

I was a wireless air gunner stationed at #7 BR Squadron, Prince Rupert, B.C. during 1942 - 1943, but we never heard of the armored train. Security was very tight. Air crews had to take turns being at the 'ready', sleeping in the hangers.

Sub Hunting Team at Seal Cove, Prince Rupert, May 1942. Aircraft is a Blackburn Shark.. Left to Right - Me - John Moyles, wireless operator & air gunner, age 19, Hank Hankinson, Navigator, age 19, Gerald McKenna, Pilot, 20, age 20. Gerald was killed in action 1944, age 22, buried in Iceland.

In all that time, we had only one "scramble", May 8, 1942, when the Japanese task force attacked Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians.

I'm sorry I cannot give you any further information on the armoured train.

And so I would like to dedicate this article - republished on "Oil-Electric" in memory of Mr. Hackett, who lived in Spruce Grove, Alberta.

Jon Moyles


The Armoured Train
by Ted Hackett

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the enemy’s successes in the following weeks and months caused great concern on the West Coat of Canada. Prince Rupert was now a strategic port, and embarkation point for US Army Personnel and supplies destined for Alaska. The United States had already built an installation and had several personnel stationed at the port. The Canadian National Railway line that ran along the Skeena river now became very important. At that time no highway ran to Prince Rupert.

The defence of Prince Rupert was supported by seven coastal batteries and, in 1942, by two railway guns supplied by the United States Army.The RCAF 7 BR Squadron patrolled the area using Blackburn Shark aircraft on floats. John Moyles was stationed there and hopefully he will write an account of his adventures at that time.

In early 1942 it was decided to build an armoured train to patrol the railway line between Prince Rupert and Terrace, B.C., a distance of 95 miles. The train was assembled at the CNR Transconna Workshops in Winnipeg, Manitoba and consisted of seven pieces of modified, armour plated, rolling stock pulled by a steam locomotive. The locomotive was a CN class H-10, number 1426 and 4-6-0 commonly called a “10 wheeler”. That last bit of information is for any railroad buffs amongst our readers. There were plans to replace the steam locomotive with a diesel electric and CN No.9000 was chosen, but by the time it was obtained through the US Navy the need for the train was downgraded.

The train was manned by a company from the Winnipeg Grenadiers and equipped with Bren Guns, 75mm and Bofor guns. The assigned task was to patrol the Skeena river and engage any ships that attempted to sail up the river and, perhaps land troops.

The Japanese departure from Kiska in the Aleutian Islands and the reoccupation of the Island by the US Army certainly lessened the threat to Prince Rupert and the train was eventually taken out of service. The train was parked on the siding at Terrace and eventually returned to the CNR for dismantling., a little over two years since its creation.

Ted refers to an excellent book on the topic; THE ARMOURED TRAIN IN CANADIAN SEVICE by Roger V. Lucy. Your Editor was able to obtain this book, courtesy of Robert Henderson. Following are some interesting excerpts from Roger Lucy’s book.

With the attack on Pearl Harbour December 7, 1941 and the fall of Singapore 15 February 1942, public opinion on the West Coast, in the words of C.P. Stacey were ….in a state approaching panic…..
[Editor – at that time plans for the mass evacuation of Vancouver Island where being formulated.] Security was so tight that people in Prince Rupert did not know of the armoured train until after the war.

The CNR train crew consisted of, engineer, fireman, conductor, and two brakemen. Department of National Defence reimbursed the CNR $100.00 per day for each crew member and $80.00 per day for rental of equipment.

The train at all times was to be in charge of the CNR crew, who in turn were under the orders of the O.C. Troops and move the train in accordance to his instructions subject to the standard of operating rules.

The five officers and 145 Other Ranks were made up mainly of Home Defence conscripts and moral was not high. Major General W.A. Giesbach , Inspector General for Western Canada states that he found them unenthusiastic, even sullen. On the first run to Prince Rupert two went AWOL.

And you tail gunners thought you had it tough.

To add to the problems the rail bed was in need of up grading. Ties were rotting and some spikes were so loose they could be removed by hand. The resulting vibration necessitated lowering the speed to 10 to 15 mph. The vibrations played havoc with the search lights and gun mountings which were attached solidly to the floors of the rail cars. The cars had to be sent to Vancouver for adjustments.

For security reasons the train did not adhere to scheduled runs. As a result it ran over a man asleep on the tracks severing both is legs. It was determined that he was a local sleeping off a binge. Two CNR rail line workers were killed when the train hit them when they were using jackhammers. Due to the non scheduled runs they were not expecting the train and they did not hear it approaching over the sound of jackhammers .Due to the status of the roadbed, the train was located at Tyee, close to the mouth of the Skeena.

On November 7, 1942 the train complement consisted of a Major, Company Sgt. Major, Quarter Master Sergeant, 3 Corporals,, clerk, artificer, and cook. The remainder of the crew were detailed from 14th Brigade, an Infantry company (5 officers and 119 Ors) gun crew (2 officers and 24Ors, searchlight crew (8 Ors), signals (3Ors), Medical staff, and 3 Royal Canadian Engineers.

Prince Rupert Regiment Badge provided by
stamp and Military Memorabilia Collector
Nick Kainer, Regina, SK.
Nick served with 5th Canadian Armoured Troop W/S
in the Italian Campaign.

The first Commanding Officer of the Armoured train was Captain N..K. Gateson of the Winnipeg Grenadiers who served from 27 June, 1942 to 28 February 1943. He was replaced by Major J.C. Herbert of the Oxford Rifles who served until the train was moth-balled in October 1943.

On July 31, 1944, Royal Assent was given to the Order in council disbanding the Unit.

2 Comments - Click here:

Bill ~ {The Old Fart} said...

I totally enjoyed reading this, I read of this train, but this is the first that I read in detail.

Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

This is really fascinating stuff and a good read. It really gives an insight to just how serious the government took the possibility of an invasion on the west coast.
Bill Trbovich
Toronto, Ontario

Post a Comment

"Comment" is for sharing information related to this article. "Anonymous" comments are not published.