The River class was a class of fourteen destroyers of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) that served before and during the Second World War. They were named after Canadian rivers.
The River class was a dissimilar collection of warships, consisting of twelve vessels purchased from the Royal Navy and two built specifically by British yards for the RCN. They included two A class, five C class, two D class, one E class, two F class, one G class and one H class.
HMCS Saguenay and HMCS Skeena were the first ships specifically built for the RCN and were adapted from the Royal Navy's A class.
The majority of the River-class ships began the Second World War with the same equipment that they were built with; however, this was gradually modified as the war progressed. Modifications included removing gun mounts to make room for additional depth charge and torpedo systems, as well as adding new communications and radar masts. The River class were the backbone of the RCN destroyer fleet and served as leaders of the Mid-Ocean Escort Force during the Battle of the Atlantic. Four of the class were lost and one severely damaged during the war: HMCS Fraser and HMCS Margaree were sunk by collisions in 1940; HMCS Ottawa was torpedoed by U-91 in 1942, and Skeena was driven aground on Viðey Island near Reykjavík, Iceland in 1944. Saguenay lost much of her stern in a November 1942 collision, and was subsequently relegated to training duties. The surviving ships were all decommissioned and scrapped following the war.
On 23 October 1939, the German-flagged tanker Emmy Friederich scuttled herself on encountering Saguenay in the Yucatan Channel.
On 8 March 1940 Assiniboine, along with HMS Dunedin intercepted and captured the German merchant ship Hannover near Jamaica. Hannover was later converted into HMS Audacity.
On the night of 25 June 1940, Fraser was tasked to join the destroyer HMCS Restigouche and light cruiser HMS Calcutta on Operation Ariel to rescue 4,000 refugees trapped by the German Army from the coast of Bordeaux, France. The warships encountered rough seas and poor visibility, forcing the commanding officer of Fraser to close quarters with the other two vessels. Fraser executed a turn to port to bring the ship behind Calcutta but in doing so, the two ships collided. The bow of the heavier Calcutta sliced into Fraser with such force that the destroyer was cut into three pieces. Fraser lost 47 sailors, and a further 19 were lost from Calcutta. Many of the survivors from Fraser transferred that summer to Margaree and were lost when that vessel sank on 22 October 1940 as a result of a collision with the freighter MV Port Fairy.
Margaree was lost on 22 October 1940, when she collided with the freighter MV Port Fairy at position 53°24′N 22°50′W. Of the 176 aboard Margaree at the time, 34 were rescued by Port Fairy, but the other 142, including the captain and four other officers, were lost.
In November, Ottawa assisted HMS Harvester in sinking the Italian submarine Comandante Faà di Bruno.
On 31 July 1942, Skeena and HMCS Wetaskiwin depth charged and sank the German submarine U-588 while escorting ON 115 at 49°59′N 36°36′W.
While escorting convoy SC-94 on 6 August 1942, Assiniboine achieved her first victory when she rammed, depth charged and shelled U-210 south of Cape Farewell, Greenland.
On 14 September 1942, while escorting Convoy ON-127 500 nautical miles (930 km) east of St. John's, Newfoundland, Ottawa was torpedoed by U-91. Less than 30 minutes later, unable to maneuver, she was hit by a second torpedo. The second attack broke her in half, sinking her. 114 crew lost their lives, including the commanding officer, while 65 survivors were rescued by nearby vessels.
On 15 November 1942, Saguenay was rammed by the Panamanian freighter Azra off Cape Race, Newfoundland. The impact of the collision set off Saguenay's depth charges, which blew off her stern. She made port at Saint John, New Brunswick, where her stern was plated over. On 23 May 1943, Saguenay was transferred to Halifax, to serve with the Western Ocean Escort Force working from Halifax and St. John's, Newfoundland. In October 1943 Saguenay was towed to Digby, Nova Scotia, as a tender assigned to HMCS Cornwallis, the Royal Canadian Navy's training depot for new entries (recruits). She was used for teaching seamanship and gunnery until 30 July 1945, paid off in late 1945, and broken up in 1946.
St. Laurent had her first victory on 27 December 1942 when she was credited with sinking U-356 while escorting Convoy ON 154 north of the Azores, along with the corvettes HMCS Chilliwack, HMCS Battleford and HMCS Napanee.
On 2 March 1943 Assiniboine was damaged by her own depth charges during a battle with U-119. She made Liverpool on 7 March and took 3 months to repair.
HMCS Saskatchewan, formerly HMS Fortune joined the River class in May 1943. HMCS Gatineau joined in June.
On 6 March 1944 at 1830 hrs, the German U-boat U-744 was sunk in the North Atlantic, in position 52.01°N 22.37°W / 52.01; -22.37 following a lengthy hunt to exhaustion. It was initially torpedoed by the British I-class destroyer HMS Icarus and an unsuccessful attempt was made at towing the submarine to port. The U-boat was subsequently sunk by depth charges from Icarus, Canadian corvettes HMCS Chilliwack and HMCS Fennel, Canadian frigate HMCS St. Catharines, Canadian destroyers HMCS Chaudière and HMCS Gatineau, and the British corvette HMS Kenilworth Castle.
St. Laurent was credited with the 10 March 1944 sinking of U-845 in the North Atlantic, along with the destroyer HMS Forester, corvette HMCS Owen Sound and frigate HMCS Swansea.
On 6 July 1944, Ottawa and Kootenay were detached from a convoy to assist HMS Statice with a submarine contact off Beachy Head, Sussex. As Ottawa swept the area, she gained sonar contact and attacked with depth charges. Shortly afterward, large amounts of debris appeared on the surface, including caps marked U-678.
On 7 July 1944, Kootenay, Ottawa, and the corvette HMS Statice depth-charged and sank the German VIIC-class U-boat U-678 in the English Channel south-west of Brighton.
On 18 August Kootenay, Ottawa, and Chaudière depth-charged and sank the German VIIC-class U-boat U-621 in the Bay of Biscay near La Rochelle. On 20 August, the same ships depth-charged and sank the German VIIC-class U-boat U-984 in the Bay of Biscay west of Brest.
Skeena was lost in a storm on the night of 24 October 1944. She was anchored off Reykjavík, Iceland and dragged her anchor and grounded in 50-foot (15 m) waves off Viðey Island with the loss of 15 of her crew. Her hulk was written off and sold to Icelandic interests in June 1945; she was then raised and broken up. Her propeller was salvaged and used in a memorial near the Viðey Island ferry terminal.
On 14 February 1945 Assiniboine collided with merchant ship Empire Bond in the English Channel. She made Sheerness for repairs and was operational again in early March.