Watercress Line

What’s in a Name? The naming of Canadian Pacific.

The numbers of locomotives are an important part of their identity. However, the name that a class received and ultimately the name of each locomotive within that class is just as important and can tell us much about the era from which it originates.

The name of our flagship steam locomotive, Canadian Pacific (35005), has posed many problems for the team when engaging with the general public. The name Canadian Pacific is normally associated with the Canadian Pacific Railway (Railroad), however this is not the basis of the engines name. Canadian Pacific (35005) was named after the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company, who provided Merchant Navy vessels in World Wars I and II.

Why the Merchant Navy class?

The original themes for names considered for Bulleid’s new class of locomotive were those that honoured the British land, sea and air victories of WWII, but in 1941 authentic victories were somewhat thin on the ground. Ultimately the idea was dropped. The Chairman of Union Castle Shipping Line suggested to use the names of the shipping lines which called regularly at Southampton during peacetime. By doing so the class became a tribute to the efforts of the merchant navy shipping lines involved in the Battle of the Atlantic. Interestingly, Oliver Bulleid did not want the class to be named after shipping lines but was ignored!

The naming of the class highlighted the importance of the link between the ports and the railways in both peace and wartime. Canadian Pacific was the fifth of the class to be built at Eastleigh Works. Its naming ceremony was held at Victoria Station on 27th March 1942 when it was named Canadian Pacific by Mr F.W. Mottley, the acting European Manager.

 

Canadian Pacific and the Battle of the Atlantic

The Canadian Pacific Steamship Company was established in the 19th Century. From the late 1800’s until after WWII it was Canada’s largest operator of Atlantic and Pacific steamships. It provided Canadian merchant navy vessels in WWI and WWII. During WWII it carried over a million tons of cargo and a million troops and civilians, at the cost of 12 lost vessels. The company suffered the largest loss of any Western company during WWII, including the loss of 'Empress of Britain' which was the largest ship lost to enemy action during the Battle of the Atlantic and the largest sunk by U-boat.

 

The story of ‘Empress of Britain’ is not the only incredible yet rarely told story of the Canadian Pacific Merchant Navy in WWII. The ‘SS Beaverford’ was a Canadian Pacific fast cargo liner built in 1927 that before the war had rescued 400 passengers when the Cunard Liner ‘Ascania’ ran aground in 1938. In 1940, it was one of 38 ships that formed convoy HX-84. The was attacked by German heavy cruiser (Pocket Battleship) ‘Admiral Scheer’. After ordering the convoy to scatter, the convoy’s only escort, Armed Merchant Cruiser ‘HMS Jervis Bay’ bravely, but unsuccessfully, engaged the Pocket Battleship head-on and was sunk in 23 minutes. This gave many ships an opportunity to escape, but nevertheless ‘Admiral Scheer’ then attacked tankers from the convoy. At that point the crew of the ‘Beaverford’ (armed with a four-inch gun on the stern and a three-inch gun on the bow) decided to engage the German warship. Despite being outgunned by ‘Admiral Scheer’s’ 5.9 inch and 11 inch guns, ‘Beaverford’ used speed, excellent seamanship and a thick smokescreen that had been laid by the dispersed convoy to survive a battle lasting more than 4 hours. Eventually ‘Admiral Scheer’ sunk ‘Beaverford’ with a torpedo that detonated ammunition carried in the cargo, killing all of the (mainly British) crew of 77. Because of the brave actions of those aboard ‘Jervis Bay and ‘Beaverford’, only 6 ships of the convoy were sunk by ‘Admiral Scheer’. Captain Fegen, the Royal Navy’s Commander of ‘Jervis Bay’ was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, but the crew of the ‘Beaverford’ received no official recognition for their incredible selfless act of bravery.*

The Battle of the Atlantic lasted from September 1939 until the defeat of Germany in 1945. It was the longest continuous military campaign of WWII. It saw German U-Boats and warships and Italian submarines pitted against allied convoys transporting military equipment and supplies across the Atlantic to Britain and the Soviet Union. Britain was highly dependent on imported goods and required more than a million tons of imported material per week in order to be able to survive the fight. The first Atlantic convoy took to the sea on 2nd September 1939. However, the first meeting of the ‘Battle of the Atlantic Committee’ didn’t take place till 19th March 1940. The Royal Navy introduced a convoy system for the protection of trade. Each convoy consisted of between 30-70 (mostly unarmed) merchant ships.

Early in the war the German warships made a number of forays into shipping lanes with limited success. This was due to the Kriegsmarine (Navy of Nazi Germany) lacking the strength in 1939 to challenge the combined British Royal Navy and the French Navy for command of the sea. U-30 sank SS Athenia within hours of the declaration of war in breach of orders not to sink passenger ships. The most successful attacks on allied ships was completed by the Pocket Battleship 'Admiral Graf Spee', which sank 9 Merchant ships in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean during the first 3 months of war, whilst on its South Atlantic cruise. From 1940 onwards the German Navy focused on escalating U-boat warfare. They attacked on the surface at night and had great success against Allied convoys, sinking merchant ships and escorting warships. The fall of France in June 1940 gave the advantage to the German Navy as U-boats gained bases on the Atlantic coast.

 

During 1941 tactical advantage shifted towards the British due to the receipt of 50 American destroyers (in exchange for US access to British bases), Canadian increases in escort missions, and RAF Coastal Command intensifying its air cover. In 1942 the balance swung back in the Germans favour. This was greatly influenced by the large numbers of new submarines entering service. Between January and June 1942, 500 Allied ships were sunk and Allied losses reached their peak in this year. In 1943 the advantage returned to the Allies, who now had sufficient escort aircraft carriers and long range aircraft to cover the Atlantic Gap (a black pit in the Mid-Atlantic which was not covered by anti-submarine aircraft).

The battle reached its peak between February and May 1943. The ‘Hedgehog’ depth charger mortar made life more and more dangerous for U-boats. ‘Black May’ 1943 saw unsustainable U-boat losses resulting in their withdrawal.

During the Battle of the Atlantic 100 convoy battles took place. The Merchant Navy lost 30,000 men and 3,000 ships; while the Germans lost 783 U-boats and 28,000 sailors. Canada was vital to the Allied cause and lost 70 Merchant vessels and 1600 Merchant sailors including 8 women! It was the longest, largest and most complex naval battle in history. The Germans failed to stop the flow of strategic supplies to Britain resulting in the build-up of troops and supplies needed for the D-Day landings. The defeat of the U-boat was a necessary precursor for the accumulation of Allied troops and supplies to ensure German defeat.

‘Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air depended ultimately on its outcome’ Winston Churchill

The merchant navy shipping lines involved in the Battle of the Atlantic kept Britain fighting. Without their sacrifice the war would have been lost. The Merchant Navy Class locomotives were also integral to the war effort. Both the naming of the locomotive class and the name ‘Canadian Pacific’ are a tribute to the sacrifices of the merchant navy during WWII, whose effort in the war is often largely unrecognised. Our flagship steam locomotive can still serve as it was intended, as a tribute to the massive contribution and sacrifices of the Canadian Pacific Merchant Navy line. So be sure to remember the reason for Canadian Pacific’s name and share it with those you know, so that the losses of the Battle of Atlantic are not forgotten.

If you have any stories of the Canadian Pacific shipping line that we could share, please get in touch with us by emailing canpac@watercressline.co.uk, dialling 01962 733810 and asking to speak to or leave a message for either Becky Peacock or Dave Deane.

Thank you to all of you who have donated to support the Canadian Pacific project. Excluding gift aid, the Sponsor a Stay appeal that many of you have generously supported, has raised £25,825!  As part of the appeal we had a prize draw for a Hornby 00 scale model of Canadian Pacific. Mr. Brian Cross is the lucky recipient of this prize draw.  Congratulations Brian!  Although there is no longer a model of CanPac to give away, we have decided to keep the appeal open, so that the other benefits of sponsorship still apply.  Those who sponsor 8 stays will get a seat on the inaugural train when Canadian Pacific returns to service and those who sponsor 40 stays will get a 20 mile round trip footplate ride on Canadian Pacific when it returns to service. To Sponsor a Stay, please click here.  If you wish to make a donation without Sponsoring a Stay, please click here.  The estimated cost of the new firebox is £120,000 so we still have more donations to find!

* Thank you to Martin Perry for the suggested inclusion of text refering to SS Beaverford.

Photo gallery

Return to the Can Pac site