The Sinking of Four Dosco
By Sydney S. Slaven
The sinking of the ferry MV Caribou 60 years ago, which was commemorated
on Thanksgiving Day in Port aux Basques, Nfld., and North Sydeny,
brings to mind the sinking of four Dosco (Sydney Steel) ore-carrying
Production at Dosco was essential to the war effort, especially
the manufacture of plate steel for ship building. In 1942, the four
main ships assigned to transport iron ore to Sydney from Bell Island,
Nfld., were the company owned Rose Castle, two chartered ships,
the Saganaga and the Lord Strathcona, and the free French ship,
the PLM 27.
The French ship had been at sea when France fell to Germany and
was assigned to the ore run by the Allies. Ore was mined at the
Wabana works on Bell Island and shipped from Conception Bay to Sydney.
In terms of safety, the discharge area at Sydney was much safer
then the loading docks at Bell Island. Sydney was the assembly area
for the convoys made up of coal-fired steamers because they could
take on bunker at the coal piers.
At times there were as many as 200 merchant vessels in Sydney harbor.
Because of the German U-boat threat, an anti-submarine net was installed,
stretching from South Bar to the Northside. This provided a safe
haven for the ships unloading ore. Unfortunately, this was not the
case at Bell Island, Nfld.
It was evident to Canadian authorities early in the Second World
War that the two Bell Island loading piers would be vulnerable to
enemy attack. Two 4.7 inch guns and two searchlights were installed
on a cliff above the loading area. Also, the area was to be patrolled
regularly by corvettes and minesweepers. One or more ships would
remain in the area while ships were loading.
Also, the ships were to travel in escorted convoys of four. These
ships were armed with four inch guns fore and aft which were manned
by the regular navy. It was felt that will of these measures would
nullify the submarine threat. However, there were two major items
ignored. One was that ships were to remain at anchorage while waiting
for other ships of the convoy to load. The other problem was that
there was no submarine net at Conception Bay.