SS Caribou

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SS Caribou

The Caribou, as delivered

For the 1986-2010 ferry, see MV Caribou; For the Owen Sound ferry, see SS Caribou(1904)

The Caribou in service

The SS Caribou was a passenger ferry which operated between Canada and Newfoundland from October 1925 to October 14th, 1942, when she was torpedoed by the u-boat U-69. She was preceded by the SS Kyle and succeeded by the SS Burgeo on the gulf run.


Principal Particulars

SS Caribou is launched, June 1925
SS Caribou crew agreement, 1935

  • Owner................Newfoundland Railway
  • Official Number......151660
  • Port of Registry.....St. John's, NL (1925)
  • Length...............267 feet WL, 276 feet OA, 84 meters
  • Breadth..............41 feet, 12.5 meters
  • Depth................25 1/2 feet, 7.8 meters
  • Gross Tonnage........2222
  • Net Tonnage..........1362
  • Deadweight...........1319 tons
  • Displacement.........3580 tons
  • Main Engine..........Coal fired, quadruple expansion 4-cylinder steam, single funnel
  • Horsepower...........2,800 shp
  • Nominal Horsepower...212 nhp
  • Speed................14.5 knots max.
  • Built................1925, Rotterdam, Holland by Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij at a cost of $500,000 (CAD)
  • Hull Number..........RDM-130
  • Capacity.............45 crew (up to 70), 400 passengers (150 first, 250 second class), 50 freight cars (upto 1,100 tons cargo total)


SS Caribou in dry dock, 1926

The SS Caribou was ice strengthened, with a icebreaking bow and cruiser stern. Her steel hull had a small amount of forward sheer, and a rather prominent camber to her decks. A short forecastle was fitted with crew accommodations. The forward mast was fitted with a crows nest and two derricks, the aft mast with a single derrick. The three superstructure decks comprised an upper wheelhouse with open bridge wings, backed by a wireless shack; below, the boat deck with officer accommodations foreward, and below the promenade deck/main deck midships deckhouse. The vessel had both a fore and aft hold, with a 'quarterdeck' (an aft deckhouse) aft. The aft deckhouse carried 2 of the 6 lifeboats. All lifeboats were worked by fixed gooseneck davits. Below the main deck are cabins, with a boiler room and engine room amidships. She drove a single propeller. For the era, she was well provisioned, with cold stores and steam heat & electric lights in all cabins.


The Caribou was named for the woodland Caribou (reindeer) which inhabit the island, as well as the large herds of Labrador. The caribou is often symbolically invoked in Newfoundland, such as the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and sometimes shown adorning the top of the coat of arms [1].


1926 Nfld 2c Stamp

The Caribou was operated by the Newfoundland Railway primarily on the 96-mile Gulf route across the Cabot Strait between Syndney, Nova Scotia, Canada and Port-Aux-Basque, Newfoundland. As an ice-capable vessel, she sometimes assisted the seal hunt in the spring of the year. She had also put into Argentia on a few occasions. Her first port of call after leaving Holland was St. John's, a trip made in 17 days with favourable reviews of her ocean-going performance. St. John's was her port of registration, and the graving dock (at the present location of Newdock) would be were maintenance was performed.

War Refit

After the start of WWII, she would continue service in conjunction with the SS Burgeo - as the ferry route connected to the Newfoundland Railway, it was a vital supply link to the island. Her normal 9-hour daytime run was switched to night, and she sailed with Canadian naval escort. Between the start of July and the start of October, 1942, the Caribou had been drydocked in St. John's undergoing a refit. This included blackout provisions, boiler replacements, and repairs and expansion to lifesaving equipment (afterwards equipped with lifeboats for 300 persons - 50 x 6, carley floats x 14, full or partial lifejackets x 46, cork filled lifebelts x 300, 20 first aid kits, and 12 or 13 life buoys).


News of the Caribou's loss


The Caribou was the last vessel to be sank in the first round (May-October, 1942) of the Battle of the St. Lawrence. Though many felt the run safe, particularly with the accompanying escort, tensions were noted as high by many of the passengers and crew. While reports of sunken vessels were often suppressed during wartime, local inhabitants might note unexpectedly absent vessels or infer from the activities of a naval station - and there were a number of worrisome incidents in the preceding days;

  • On the 9th, the SS Carolus sailing in the convoy NL-9 from Labrador had been sunk by U-69.
  • On the morning of the 11th, SS Caribou & SS Burgeo 's escorts had attacked a contact. the SS Burgeo's captain had noted "They [the escorts] were dropping depth charges all the way across". The escorts believed they had a potential contact on the ASDIC sets - while these sets were often unreliable, the U-69 had just crossed west-east on this track, and both U-43 and U-106 had crossed east-west (U-106 being most likely).
  • On the afternoon of the 11th, the SS Wateron, a Bowater freighter, had been sunk en route to Ohio from Corner Brook in convoy BS-31 by U-106.

Her escort of this night, the HMCS Grandmere, was not particularly well suited to escort duty. A minesweeper of the Bangor class, she could only make a knot or two more than the crossing speed of the Caribou. Her type-128 ASDIC still could not gauge depth and had a maximum range of only 1,500 yards, with a minimum range of 200 yards. The Grandmere was typical of the RCN coastal force at the time - the Gulf had been shut down to ocean shipping, and what resources the RCN had were committed primarily to the Atlantic Convoy system or operations in Africa - most notably, radar sets (which may have had a chance to detect the surfaced U-69). The limited number of ships had to be stretched thin to cover the coastlines. In hindsight, a proper escort may not have saved the Caribou; U-69 had recently sunk a ship escorted by multiple Corvettes, and having logged the Grandmere as a destroyer, certainly not dissuaded by the nature of the escort. Additionally, the minesweepers ASDIC's did possess better accuracy (for mine detection) than the Type-123 units fitted to the larger corvettes.

A Type VIIC U-Boat

U-69 was a Type VIIC U-boat. Her sail carried the image of a French cheese factory - lacking any reference for the bull image of her flotilla, the crew used the cheeses crate label for inspiration. While she was known as the "Laughing Cow of Lorient", or simply the "Laughing Cow", U-69 had already sunk 16 ships since her launch in 1940. U-69 was captained by Kptlt. Ulrich Gräf, operating out of Saint-Nazaire, France with 7 flotilla.

The Caribou herself had put into St. John's that July for updates (see 1942 refit, above). To increase the difficulty of torpedoing, she sailed near full speed (~12-13 knots) along a zig-zag course. This did, however, produce a lot of smoke from her coal-fired boilers, which would be noted as prominent in the logs of both the Grandmere and U-69, visible to 2,500 yards. On the night of the sinking, she had swung four of her lifeboats out on the falls, the aft two chocked for fear of rough seas. When she departed, she carried 46 crew, 192 passengers, and 450 tons of cargo (including three rail cars with 50 cattle in no.1 hold - three hatch covers were left open for fresh air) - she was noted as being quite heavily loaded (assumedly, having full bunkers as her carrying capacity was nearly double the recorded manifest).


The U-69's War Dairy entry;

"Bearing 300, One shadow in sight, behind it a second one. Target's course 40. Speed 10.5 knots. Freighter-passenger vessel belching heavy smoke, approx. 6,500 GRT. Starboard aft, a two-stack destroyer escorting. Visibility very good, weak aurora borealis." Time given 3:21am by Douglas How.
  • Caribou struck by a single 53.3cm/280kg torpedo, amidships on the starboard side. The torpedo was calculated for a straight course, range 1,000m striking at 3:25 a.m. after a 43 second run.
  • Caribou is rapidly flooded, listing slightly to port and goes down by the bow in aprox. 4-5 minutes, location 47°19'N 059°28'W in Grandmere's logs.
  • HMCS Grandmere sights U-69 to starboard, estimated range 350 meters, at the time of impact. Grandmere lies 300-400 meters from the Caribou.
  • HMCS Grandmere responds by turning to starboard and ordering emergency speed, reaching 15 knots in an attempt to ram U-69.
  • U-69 crash dives; avoiding the ram attempt
  • Grandmere drops depth charges shallow (150') (U-69 dives to aprox. 450') along track of crash dive, no effect
  • U-69 turns back to hide beneath sinking Caribou; releases oil & bubble decoy
  • Grandmere unable to locate U-69, ceases ASDIC sweeps; drops charges to 500' (to keep U-69 deep)
  • Grandmere Returns to rescue survivors


MV Caribou named for the SS Caribou
  • Canso flying boat; HMCS Drummondville (Bangor class), HMCS Elk & HMCS Reindeer (armed yachts), Q-055 Fairmille & B-109 (RCAF crash boat)
  • Additional response: Schooners from Port-Aux-Basque & Channel, NF, as well as private vessels from other small communities
  • Preparations in Newfoundland for response: Doctors, nurses, supplies gathered
  • Bodies recovered, losses, choice to return to Sydney Harbour, NS
  • Newspaper reports
  • Failures, percieved/otherwise, rectifications
  • Memorials erected, fundraising & Newfoundland Rail employee donations

U-69's Actions

The act of sinking unarmed passenger vessels had been a running concern with u-boats, constituting unrestricted submarine warfare. By custom (see cruiser rules), unarmed passenger vessels were to be left alone, and crews of merchant ships were to be given a chance to escape before sinking. The realities of submarine operations, however, included a limited crew who could not provide enough manpower to operate prize vessels & which were particularly vulnerable at the time while surfaced (such as to provide warning). Similar actions were well known, particularly in WWI (see SS Arabic, RMS Lusitania & SS Sussex). The actions of U-69 were similarly considered unfathomable at the time by many in Newfoundland.

The sinking of the Caribou, however, must be approached with similar scrutiny. The logs of U-69 list the Caribou as a freighter, a role she partially fulfilled by carrying significant amounts of cargo to the island nation. It would not be hard to mistake her derricked masts and single stack for a similar silhouette, particularly with the portlights blacked out. The blacked out portlights are important to note, as it would have presented great ambiguity as to the configuration and purpose of the vessel. The Caribou was also sailing under escort and was indeed carrying uniformed military men, though it would be beyond the ability of the commander of U-69 to know the particulars of the vessels load. While it was common for u-boat logs to note incorrect information, particularly over-estimating size, tonnage, and escorts of targets, the release of the logs would seem to indicate the SS Caribou presented a reasonable target of war from the vantage point of the u-boat.

The war diaries log would list this report for the sinking;

4) U 69 sank a 6,500-GRT passenger ship escorted by a destroyer in BB 5190, course 400. Boat suspects outward-bound convoys through the Canso Straits, and a further route for small convoys via BB 5450 to 5130.
After a steamer had been sunk, strong sea patrol and constant patrol by aircraft with radar in BA 36, BB 14, 18.[2]


  • SS Burgeo shifted to daytime crossings after the crew refused to sail at night. Easier detection was now considered secondary to being able to respond, both to attack the submarine and rescue survivors.
  • Memorial stands in Port-Aux-Basque
  • MV Caribou named for the SS Caribou in memory of the sinking, dropped a wreath over the wreck on her first crossing.
  • MV Caribou carried a commemorative plaque as well.

Passenger Manifest

SS Caribou crew agreement, 1942, noting 15 crew survivors
Survivors on Grandmere deck; Ralph Rogers holds infant Leonard Shiers

Of 238 passengers and crew, 102 survived. Of 136 lost, 57 were military personnel, 31 were crew, and 49 were civilians including 10 children. Thirty-four bodies were recovered. Of 102 saved, 61 were military, 15 were crew, and 26 were civilians including 1 infant. Total compliment was 46 crew, 118 military personnel, and 74 civilians. Sources vary with regards to number lost (136 vs. 137), number saved (101 vs. 102), and total compliment (237 vs. 238).

Crew & Passenger List (!!Incomplete!!)
Name Class Fate Notes
Taverner, Benjamin Crew, Master Victim A veteran captain of the Coastal Fleet.
Barrett, Israel Crew Victim
Carter, Lew (Llewellyn?) Crew Victim
Coffin, Elias Crew Victim
Coffin, James Hubert Crew Victim
Cutler, Howard Crew Victim
Feltham, Richard Crew Victim
Fitzpatrick, Miss Bride Crew, Newfoundland Merchant Navy Victim Only woman to be lost in WWII serving the Nfld Merchant Navy. Body wearing uniform great coat over pajamas recovered with Sister Agnes Wilkie.
Ford, Charles Crew Victim
French, Maxwell Crew Victim
Gale, George Crew Victim
Gale, Jerome Crew Victim
Hann, Clarence Crew Victim
Hann, Harry Crew, Chief Steward Victim
Hogan, William Crew Victim
Humphries, Charles Crew Victim
Lomond, Victor Crew Victim
Moyst, Thomas Crew Victim
Pearcey, Charley Crew Victim
Pike, James Crew Victim
Prosper, James L. Crew Victim
Richards,Joseph Crew Victim
Samms, William Crew Victim
Sheaves, Israel Crew Victim
Skeard, John Crew Victim
Strickland, Albert Crew Victim
Strickland, Garfield Crew Victim
Taverner, Harold Crew, 1st Officer Victim
Taverner, Stanley Crew, 1st Officer Victim
Thomas, Arthur Crew Victim
Thomas, George Crew Victim
Bateman, Alex Crew, Steward Survivor of Channel, NF.
Currie, William Crew Survivor
Dominie, Ernest Crew Survivor
Dominie, John Crew Survivor
Fleming, Thomas P. Crew Survivor Only surviving officer.
Ford Jr., Charles Crew Survivor
Hickey, Martin Crew Survivor
Jeans, Harold Crew Survivor
Matthews, John Crew Survivor Believed to be the last surviving crew member to die, 2008.
Melbourne, Cyril Crew Survivor
Pearcey Jr., William Crew Survivor
Pearcey Sr., William Crew Survivor
Skeard, Freeman Crew Survivor
Spencer, Earl Crew Survivor
Spencer, James Crew Survivor
Barrett, E. Navy, Royal Victim
Bishop, Eli Maxwell Navy, Royal Victim
Nash, A. Navy, Royal Victim
Poole, W.C. Navy, Royal Victim
Quinlan, E.R. Navy, Royal Victim
Rowe, N. Navy, Royal Victim
Smith, R. Navy, Royal Victim
Vey, W.J. Navy, Royal Victim
Warren, Francis Navy, Royal Victim
White, R. Navy, Royal Victim
Windsor, J.W.H. Navy, Royal Victim
Marshall, A. Navy, Royal Canadian Victim
May, G.N. Navy, Royal Canadian Reserve Victim
Skinner, R.J. Navy, Royal Canadian Reserve Victim
Tapper, J. Navy, Royal Canadian Reserve Victim
Glasgow, William A. Navy, Royal Canadian Volenteer Reserve Victim
Masson, J.R. Navy, Royal Canadian Volenteer Reserve Victim
Randall, G.W. Navy, Royal Canadian Volenteer Reserve Victim
Bothsa, E.T. Navy, United States Victim
Burns, J.M. Navy, United States Victim
Schultz, E.G. Navy, United States Victim
Elzer, J.C. Navy, United States Reserve Victim
Legge, L.E. Air Force, Royal Victim
Barrett, J.H. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Chatson, R. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Coulson, F.G. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Cummings, T.H. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Elkin, H.H. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Glover, D.C. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Howse, W.P. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Jones, A.W. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
McCaroon, C.M. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Mitchell, D.L. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Oiring, M.N. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Parker, G.W. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Thistle, E.A. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Truesdale, L. William Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Walker, E.G. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Watson, R. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Wilson, W.B. Air Force, Royal Canadian Victim
Cochrane, C.G. Army, Royal Canadian Victim
MacIntyre, L.A. Army, Royal Canadian Victim
Currie, T.A. Army, Prince Edward Island Highlanders Victim
Diamond, P. Army, Prince Edward Island Highlanders Victim
Francis, E.S. Army, Prince Edward Island Highlanders Victim
McDonald, J.C.B. Army, Prince Edward Island Highlanders Victim
Sheppard, L.M. Army, Prince Edward Island Highlanders Victim
Sullivan, A.A. Army, Prince Edward Island Highlanders Victim
Abernathy, J.C. Army, United States Victim
Hand, E. Army, United States Victim
Penfield, R.M. Army, United States Victim
Waldman, J. Army, United States Victim
Ableson, C.R. Army, Unknown Victim
Mills, H.R. Army, Unknown Victim
Tough, H.M. Army, Unknown Victim
Creston, C. Other Victim
Wilkie, Sister Agnes W. Canadian Nursing Victim Died in lifeboat, See Margaret Brooke. Only Canadian Nursing woman to be lost in WWII.
Abbott, Fred Navy, Royal Survivor
Andrews, Eric Navy, Royal Survivor
Barry, Arthur Navy, Royal Survivor
Brown, Harvey Navy, Royal Survivor
Clarke, Bob Navy, Royal Survivor
Lake, Hedley Navy, Royal Survivor
Moores, Percy Navy, Royal Survivor
Piercey, Mack Navy, Royal Survivor
Samms, Fred Navy, Royal Survivor
Cox, F. Childers Navy, United States Survivor
Derwis, M. J. Navy, United States Survivor
Scheller, T. Navy, United States Survivor
Smothers, George A. Navy, United States Survivor
Plitz, K. W. Navy, United States Reserves Survivor
Webb, Kelvin Navy, Royal Survivor
White, Cyril Navy, Royal Survivor
Rouse, W. B. RCMP Survivor
Brooke, Margaret Navy, Royal Canadian Nursing Survivor Dietitian. Awarded Order of the British Empire for attempts to save Sister Wilkie. Would later teach Geology at University of Saskatchewan.
Barrett, John H. Unknown Survivor
Bastow, Gerald Air Force, RCAF or RAF Survivor P/O, recently completed a Fighter Operational training course
Borque, Aloysius Unknown Survivor
Brown, Harry Unknown Survivor
Butt, Bob Air Force, RCAF or RAF Survivor P/O, recently completed a Fighter Operational training course
Fielding, Alfred Unknown Survivor
Hickey, Ira Unknown Survivor
McCabe, Roy Unknown Survivor
McCauley, Lloyd Unknown Survivor
Monkley, Lorne Unknown Survivor
Morgan, Billie Unknown Survivor
O'Brien, Jack Unknown Survivor
Rogers, Ralph Unknown Survivor
Vanalstyne, E. D. Unknown, United States Survivor Capt.
Allan, Ada Civilian Victim
Allan, Caroline Civilian Victim
Allan, Constance Civilian Victim
Bang, Claus Civilian Victim
Bernard, Harriet Civilian Victim
Bernard, Female Baby Civilian Victim
Berry, Charles Civilian Victim
Beswick, Pearl Civilian Victim
Butler, Robert Civilian Victim
Coombs, Albert Civilian Victim
Cowley, Preston Civilian Victim
Chislett, Harold Civilian Victim
Freeham, William Carteret Civilian Victim
Gagne, Louise Civilian Victim
Gardner, Katherine Civilian Victim
Garth, William H. Civilian Victim
Gilbert, Myrtle Civilian Victim
Gillis, Hugh B. Civilian Victim Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation superintendent of mines
Hammond, Gerald Civilian Victim
Hathaway, Wilfred Civilian Victim
Hedd, Maggie Civilian Victim
Kettle, Miss Myrtle Civilian Victim
Martin, Edgar Civilian Victim Recent McGill B.Sc. graduate
McCarthy, Harold Civilian Victim
McCarthy, Kevin Civilian Victim
Penham, George Civilian Victim
Pike, George Civilian Victim
Randell, Elizabeth Civilian Victim
Ronan, John Civilian Victim
Rose, Margaret Civilian Victim
Ryan, William Civilian Victim
Sheppard, John Civilian Victim
Short, Blanche Civilian Victim
Skinner, Basil Civilian Victim
Skinner, Kathleen Civilian Victim
Skinner, Nancy Civilian Victim
Strickland, Gertie Civilian Victim
Strickland, Holly Civilian Victim
Strickland, Myrtle Civilian Victim
Strickland, Nora Civilian Victim
Tapper, Donald Civilian Victim
Tapper, Hazel Civilian Victim
Tapper, John W. Civilian Victim
Tapper, Lillian Civilian Victim
Walsh, Catherine Civilian Victim
Walsh, Patrick Civilian Victim
Wightman, Helen Civilian Victim
Young, Mary Civilian Victim
Bailey, Uriah (Urias?) Civilian Survivor
Barrett, Marjorie Civilian Survivor
Beatty (Betty?), Harold B. Civilian Survivor
Danson, John Civilian Survivor
Fielding, Zoe (Joe?) Civilian Survivor
Gosse, Leonard Civilian Survivor of Grand Falls, NL
Hatcher, John Civilian Survivor
Hillier, Media Civilian Survivor
Lundrigan, William J. Civilian Survivor founder of W. J. Lundrigan Ltd.
May, Clara (James T.) Civilian Survivor of Belloram, NL
May, Herbert Civilian Survivor
Metcalf(e?), William Civilian Survivor of Glace Bay, NS
Moore(s?), John Charles Civilian Survivor of St. John's; Newfoundland Railway ticket agent
Newman, Robert "Bob" Civilian Survivor Not on passenger manifest; jumped passenger ramp on pull-away
Northcott, E. Civilian Survivor
Porter, Howard Hollis Civilian Survivor
Ryan, Jerome J. Civilian Survivor
Shiers, Gladys Civilian Survivor
Shiers, Leonard Civilian Survivor Infant survivor photographed on Grandmere
Stark(s?), Ivan Civilian Survivor
Strickland, William Civilian Survivor
Swinamer, Vivian Civilian Survivor
Walters, Nathan Civilian Survivor
Weisansal, John Julias Civilian Survivor
York(e?), Howard Civilian Survivor

Cargo Manifest

450 tons, including:

  • 1145 bags of mail.
  • 50 cattle in 3 rail cars.


  • Night of the Caribou, Douglas How, 1988
  • U-Boats Against Canada: German Submarines in Canadian Waters, By Michael L. Hadley, 1985
  • Marine Atlantic Historical Ships List, [3]
  • [4]
  • Newfoundland Shipwrecks [5]
  • Newfoundland Heritage [6]
  • U-Boat.Net's Patrol Maps [7]
  • Naval History [8]
  • 'Last Voyage of the Caribou', Henry K. Gibbons [9]
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Crew Lists [10]
  • Reading and Remembering: Homeland Stories [11]
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