The Cadillacs

The Cadillacs      by Mike Creasy


 Ever seen a ’55 Cadillac? ​​ They were hard to miss with those big fins, lots of chrome and big red taillights. Elvis Presley on the two-speaker radio, a rat-tail comb in your back pocket….the American dream.

 A Canadian Cadillac was a little bit different: ​​ 366 feet long, 2,800 tons with two steam turbines to push them along at 28 knots, and a very unique, rounded look. ​​ They were, of course, state-of-the-art destroyers designed and built entirely in Canada. ​​ 

 The first of the class, HMCS St. Laurent, was launched in 1951. ​​ These ships were the first of a new generation of submarine hunters, built to replace the aging WW2 Tribal class (and others) in the face of the newly evolving nuclear submarine threat from the Soviet Union. ​​ Just like surface ships, submarines were undergoing major changes. ​​ Submerged speed, dive depth, weapons technology and the introduction of nuclear power all combined to overwhelm surface ships which had been designed to fight WW-2 U-boats, not nuclear submarines. ​​ Other navies had not yet begun to redesign their destroyer fleets, hence there was no “off the shelf” design available and, since Canada had specialized in anti-submarine warfare during WW2, it seemed reasonable that Canada should lead the way. ​​ 

 The clean, rounded shapes of the upper works came from Captain Rowland Baker, RN, who was largely responsible for the design. ​​ His intent was to improve seagoing characteristics in heavy weather, needed to hunt these new high-speed submarines then coming into service.

 Baker also established the RCN’s Naval Central Drawing Office, which would be critical to Canada’s ability to design and build these complex new ships in Canadian yards. ​​ Previous Canadian-built warships had relied on getting a complete package of builder’s drawings from foreign designers. 

 The St.Laurents marked an important milestone in Canadian design and shipbuilding because, as the first of a completely new class of ships, an intensive “debugging” and redesign period was needed. ​​ This couldn’t be done without a Naval Design Office to work with the shipyards and sort out problems.

 St. Laurent and her six sisters (HMC Ships Saguenay, Skeena, Ottawa, Margaree, Fraser and Assiniboine) came to be called Cadillacs because of all the tremendous improvements from the British designs and ancient American hand-me-downs used in WW2. ​​ 

 Some of these features seem incredible today – bunks rather that hammocks rails, an enclosed bridge (Think about that when you step outside into a 60 knot breeze at minus 20!), AC electrical systems and a command centre for the latest new weapons and sensor systems.  ​​ ​​​​ 

 All these ships were commissioned between 1955 and 1957 and given the NATO designation DDE for destroyer-escort. ​​ None was equipped with a helicopter or hangar, although the need for such equipment was quickly proven. ​​ Most ships were upgraded in the 1960’s with helicopter and hangar, adding another 200 tons to full load displacement, and redesignated as DDH (destroyer/helicopter).

 The St. Laurents were quickly followed by an updated version known as the Restigouche class – HMCShips Restigouche, Chaudiere, Columbia, Gatineau, Kootenay, St. Croix and Terra Nova – and then the Mackenzie class - HMCShips Mackenzie, Qu’appelle, Saskatchewan and Yukon. ​​ All of these ships were originally built without a helicopter hangar and deck, although most were soon refitted. ​​ The final two Cadillacs – HMCS Annapolis and HMCS Nipigon – were built from the start with helicopter hangars.

 These ships served Canada throughout the world during from the 1960s until the 1990s, and showed the way for many other innovative naval designs. ​​ Unfortunately, the last visible traces of the Canadian Cadillacs will soon disappear - most of these ships ended up at the breakers yard or as artificial reefs except for the lead ship, HMCS St. Laurent which sank off Cape Hatteras on the way the breakers yard in 1980.

All the more reason why ​​ Rob Ross’ beautiful job on his huge Mackenzie class model deserves to end up in a museum when he’s done having fun! ​​ 



 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ 

- 30 -




Cadillac of Destroyers, Ron Barrie and Ken MacPherson, Vanwell Publishing, 1996

Canadian Warships Since 1956, Roger G. Steed, Vanwell Publishing, 1999

The Ships of Canada’s Naval Forces 1910-2002, Barrie and Ken MacPherson, Vanwell Publishing, 2002