- Harry DeWolf
Infobox Military Person
name=Henry "Harry" George DeWolf
died=death date and age|2000|12|18|1903|06|26
Royal Canadian Navy
serviceyears=1918-1960 (42 years)
commands=warship|HMCS|Festubert, warship|HMCS|St. Laurent|H83, warship|HMCS|Haida|G63, warship|HMCS|Warrior|R31, warship|HMCS|Magnificent|CVL 21
battles=Arctic, 1943-1945; English Channel, 1944; Normandy, 1944; Biscay, 1944
Commander of the Order of the British Empire Distinguished Service OrderDistinguished Service Cross Legion of Merit Légion d'honneur
Vice AdmiralHenry "Harry" George DeWolf CBE, DSO, DSC, RCN ( 26 June 1903– 18 December 2000) was a Canadian naval officer who was made famous as the first commander of warship|HMCS|Haida|G63 during World War II.
DeWolf is considered by military historians to be Canada's greatest naval officer for having won a string of victories at sea, and for having helped negotiate an independent role for the
Royal Canadian Navyin the North Atlantic, rather than have it operate as a subsidiary to the Royal Navyor United States Navy.
DeWolf was born in
Bedford, Nova Scotia. His father owned and operated DeWolf & Sons, a shipbrokerage business.
DeWolf entered the
Royal Canadian Navyin 1918 at age 15 when he attended the Royal Canadian Naval Collegeat Royal Roadsin Esquimalt, British Columbia. The original RCNC had been destroyed in the Halifax Explosionthe previous winter.
DeWolf graduated from RCNC in 1921 and was sent on an exchange with the
Royal Navyto serve on board the battleshipwarship|HMS|Resolution|09. He was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant in 1924 and took a 6-month course in gunnery, torpedoes and navigation at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Returning to Canada in the summer of 1925, he was posted to one of the RCN's two destroyers, warship|HMCS|Patriot.
In early 1930, Lieutenant (Navy) DeWolf received his first command, the
Battle class trawlerwarship|HMCS|Festubert at Halifax. In May 1931 he married Gwendolen Gilbert of Somerset, Bermudawho he had met while serving aboard HMCS "Patriot" which had spent a winter training there several years earlier. In 1932, Lt. (N) DeWolf was posted to the destroyer warship|HMCS|Vancouver|F6A and then in 1933 to the destroyer warship|HMCS|Skeena|D59.
In July 1935 he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and posted to National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) in Ottawa. He was made Assistant Director of Intelligence and Plans and was part of the RCN's negotiation team for acquiring four used destroyers from the RN.
In 1937, Lt. Cmdr. DeWolf studied at the
Royal Naval College, Greenwichand then served on an exchange with a RN cruisersquadron in the Mediterranean Seaduring the Spanish Civil War.
World War II
HMCS "St. Laurent"
DeWolf returned to Canada in 1939 and was appointed Commanding Officer of the destroyer warship|HMCS|St. Laurent|H83. The "St. Laurent" was posted to convoy duty out of Halifax. The "St. Laurent" under DeWolf reportedly fired the RCN's first shots of the war as they helped rescue British and French troops escape from continental Europe during Operation Dynamo after the Fall of France in late May and early June 1940. "St. Laurent" returned to convoy duty in the North Atlantic and the following month in July 1940, DeWolf's ship rescued 859 German and Italian
prisoners of war, survivors of the SS "Arandora Star" which had been torpedoed by a U-boat; DeWolf was promoted to Commander in 1940. He and his ship were mentioned in dispatches twice during his service on "St. Laurent".
Years later, he recalled the following incident, which took place while in command of the "St. Laurent":
"The mechanism of a live, armed torpedo was being painted by a sailor, who first lifted the safety catch to paint underneath it, and then lifted the firing handle to paint under that. The torpedo fired, naturally, and ran wild on deck," he said. "It slammed into the deck house, bounced off and kept changing around. Everybody, including me, was scared. The decks cleared pretty rapidly. Since we thought we were all going up any second, Petty Officer Ridge and myself decided to try and tame the torpedo. We got astride it. It was as slippery as a greased pig and we thought its propeller might cut our feet off. We rode and guided it over the rail and stuck one leg over the rail to hold it steady. The propeller was making a tremendous racket on the iron deck. We finally managed to release the air cock (the torpedo was driven by compressed air). We still had a live torpedo. When we got to port (in the United Kingdom) we hoisted it on the wall and left it there. I reported to headquarters, but I don't know what became of the torpedo." (The warhead was eventually placed in a
North Sea naval minefield.)"
Cmdr. DeWolf took command of warship|HMCS|Haida|G63 in August 1943. Under Cmdr. DeWolf, "Haida" earned the reputation as "the Fightingest Ship in the Canadian Navy", and was responsible for sinking 14 enemy ships in just over a year, earning numerous accolades. "Haida" and DeWolf saw service with convoys to
Murmanskas well as operations to secure the English Channelin preparation for Operation Overlord. Most of his more famous battles took place at night in the English Channel, when DeWolf secured his reputation as a fearless and skillful tactician and became known to his crew as "Hard-Over-Harry" for various bold manoeuvres off the coast of France. DeWolf earned the Distinguished Service Orderfor rescuing survivors of warship|HMCS|Athabaskan|G07 in range of coastal guns along the French coast.
Cmdr. DeWolf left "Haida" and was recalled to
Ottawawhere he was promoted to Captain in September 1944, becoming Assistant Chief of Naval Staff.
During the postwar years, Capt. DeWolf commanded the aircraft carriers warship|HMCS|Warrior|R31 and warship|HMCS|Magnificent|CVL 21 between January 1947 and September 1948 before being promoted to Rear-Admiral.
He served as Flag Officer Pacific Coast at Esquimalt from 1948 to 1950, then was recalled to NDHQ where he served as Vice Chief of Naval Staff from 1950 to 1952, then was posted to
Washington, D.C.as principal military advisor to the Canadian ambassador from 1952 to 1956.
DeWolf was promoted to Vice-Admiral in January 1956 and served as Chief of Naval Staff before retiring from the RCN on
31 July 1960.
Vice Admiral DeWolf (Ret.) and his wife retired to her home in
Bermuda, although they spent their summers in Ottawa, his last RCN posting. DeWolf was an active golfer and fisherman and he was active in the Royal Canadian Navy Benevolent Fund, which raises money for retired sailors down on their luck.
He died in Ottawa on
18 December 2000at the age of 97 and was buried at sea on board the HMCS "Ville de Quebec".
23 September 1992, the Town of Bedford named a 1.4 hectare waterfront park on the Bedford Basinafter DeWolf. The minutes of the 28 November 2000meeting of the Halifax Regional Councilreveal that DeWolf contributed $100,000 CDN to the municipality, presumably as thanks for naming the prominent Admiral Harry DeWolf Park after him. [http://www.halifax.ca/council/minutes/2000/c001128.pdf]
* [http://www.hmcshaida.ca/dewolf.html Vice-Admiral Harry DeWolf: A Canadian Naval Legend]
* [http://www.mishalov.com/DeWolf.html Harry DeWolf, Canada War Hero, Dies at 97]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.