Our WWI Submariners

Canada had no submariners when CC1 and CC2 arrived unexpectedly in Esquimalt harbour. The RCN rooted around and found a couple of Brits for command who had retired from RN submarines. Their first task was to train the mostly volunteer crews before the torpedoes were delivered. The recently recruited Canadian ratings had not even received basic training when they joined CC1 and CC2, but they were leavened with several British regulars, a few of whom had submarine experience.

Two Canadians, amongst a few others, joined the CC boats as officers and were to serve later with distinction in RN boats. They were in sharp contrast: one was a seasoned master mariner and the other, a midshipman who had graduated from the first class in the Royal Navy College of Canada in 1913. 

Barney Johnson watched the comic opera that played out when the first Canadian submarines came alongside in Esquimalt on 5 August 1914. He was a young master mariner of considerable repute from Vancouver and had been "lent" by the BC Pilotage Authority for one month to the RCN to assist with the navigation of warships in the hazardous Inside Passage.

In the turmoil at the naval base in August 1914, Johnson found himself appointed to CC2 as her First Lieutenant (second in command). He was not officially in the navy yet, wore no uniform and was addressed as "Mister." However he attended all the hastily arranged submarine classes and learned with gusto. In late September the RCN persuaded the Pilotage Authority to release Johnson for the duration of the war and he donned the uniform of an RNCVR acting Lieutenant. The one month loan ultimately extended to nearly five years - all but a couple of weeks spent in submarines.

In May 1915 Johnson heard that his request for overseas service had been granted and with it the command of a brand new submarine, H8. He went to Montreal for her commissioning and took her across the Atlantic - the first Canadian to command a submarine and a reservist at that! After work-ups, Johnson and H8 had an exciting time in the North Sea when they hit a mine in March 1916. Both the submarine and the crew survived, thanks to Johnson's brilliant seamanship, but that is another story.....

Lt. B.L. "Barney" Johnson, RCNVR
SLt. WIllie Maitland-Dougall, RCN, (centre) when 1st Lt of D3

Young Willie Maitland-Dougall became the third hand in CC1 and energetically absorbed the crash course in submarines in Esquimalt. He was put in charge of the torpedo compartment leading several ratings who knew more than he did and stood watches on the surface and submerged.

​Dougall officially volunteered for submarines in 1915 and sailed in H10  from Montreal across the Atlantic to Portsmouth and the Royal Navy. Luck was on his side and, when he was promoted to First Lieutenant, he served with Johnson, D3's CO​. They made a good team in the Western Approaches, claiming one U-boat sunk and another damaged.

By now, the RN had earmarked the young submariner for command. He said goodbye to Johnson and entered the newly established Periscope School at Ports-mouth. Maitland-Dougall returned to D3 as her captain inheriting a happy and efficient crew that he knew well. They began patrolling in the hectic waters of the English Channel

On March 7, 1918, Lt. Maitland-Dougall, RCN, took D3 to patrol off Le Havre, France. He was in high spirits – it would be a short patrol and he would be ashore in time to celebrate his 23rd birthday. But D3 never returned ....