Category Archives: Canada

Imperial Japan’s POWs at War’s End

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 180-182, 187:

VJ Day also was Survival Day to large numbers of prisoners of war and internees in Japanese hands. In August approximately 150,000 Allied personnel were thought held captive in some 130 camps throughout Asia. However, a complete accounting revealed 775 facilities in the Japanese Empire; 185 in Japan itself.

The prisoners represented not only the U.S. but Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, and India. Approximately 36,000 soldiers and sailors were sent to Japan itself with most of the balance in the Philippines, China, Korea, Burma, Malaya, Java, and various Pacific islands. Japan also held large numbers of civilian prisoners and internees, as many as 125,000, mainly in the Dutch East Indies and Philippines, with more than 10 percent in China and Hong Kong. That figure excluded Nationalist Chinese personnel. Frequently the Imperial Army killed Chinese prisoners as a matter of policy.

One quarter to one third of Anglo-American prisoners held by Japan had died in captivity, with about 12 percent dying in the Home Islands. In contrast, about 3 percent of Western POWs perished in German Stalags. War crimes investigators later determined that 27 percent of Allied POWs in the Pacific died in captivity – officially seven times the rate of Western POWs in German camps.

Allied POWs existed in a hellish world of perennial malnutrition during Japan’s food shortage amid disease and routine brutality. Postwar investigators often referred to ritual or informal executions but the killings were largely extrajudicial or, to put it bluntly – murder.

Though Tokyo had signed the Second Geneva Convention in 1929, the government had never ratified the agreement regarding treatment of prisoners of war. After a qualified pledge to abide by the convention in early 1942, Japan quickly reverted.

Prisoners endured horrific conditions in captivity, eventually subsisting on 600 calories per day. What few Red Cross parcels arrived often were confiscated by the captors. The situation could hardly have been improved in the final months of the war, however, because in mid-1945 virtually all Japanese civilians were also malnourished.

Almost lost amid war’s end was the residue of its origin: Japan’s conquest of the Dutch East Indies’ petro-wealth. In 1940 Tokyo had requested half of the Dutch oil exports, but officials in the capital Batavia replied that existing commitments permitted little increase for Japan. That response set the Pacific afire. With only two years’ oil reserves on hand, and denied imports from the U.S. and Java, Tokyo’s warlords launched themselves on an irrevocable course.

The Japanese had to sort out a large, diverse population of some 70.5 million. Upwards of 250,000 were Dutch, mostly blijers, Dutch citizens born in the East Indies. Around 1.3 million Chinese had enjoyed preferred relations with the Netherlands’ hierarchy, but there was also a small Japanese population.

Conquest of the archipelago only took 90 days, ending in March 1942. Japan pledged Indonesian independence in 1943 but never honored it. And despite the Asia for Asians theme of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Indonesians suffered terribly under Japanese rule. The new rulers interned all Dutch military personnel and 170,000 civilians. Conditions were appalling: approximately 25,000 died in captivity. Estimates range between 2.5 and 4 million total deaths, more than half of whom perished during the Java famine of 1944–45.

Additionally, millions of Javanese were pressed into servitude elsewhere, notably on the Burmese railroad.

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Two D-Days: Saipan vs. Normandy

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 540-541:

The American buildup for the invasion of Saipan (code-named Operation Forager) occurred simultaneously with preparations for Overlord; measured by firepower, the Saipan invasion fleet was even larger than the one devoted to Normandy. Raymond Spruance commanded the overall invasion force that included Pete Mitscher’s powerful Task Force 58, which by now consisted of fifteen carriers, seven battleships, eleven cruisers, and eighty-six destroyers. It would provide cover for an invasion force that included fifty-six attack transports and eighty-four LSTs carrying 127,571 soldiers and Marines. The employment of eighty-four LSTs in the Pacific at a time when Eisenhower was scrambling for just one or two more for Normandy was powerful evidence that the Germany-first principle had been virtually abandoned.

The invasion of Saipan also required a much longer sealift than at Normandy. While the invasion forces for Neptune-Overlord had to leap fifty or a hundred miles across the English Channel, many of the transports and amphibious ships loaded up at Pearl Harbor, more than thirty-five hundred miles from the target beach. For Neptune-Overlord, the LSTs could, and did, shuttle reinforcements and supplies to the beaches in a near-constant rotation for weeks after the initial landings. For Saipan, by contrast, the men, the equipment, the supplies, and the ammunition all had to cross the broad Pacific in a single giant stride. Eisenhower had warned Marshall that a shortage of LSTs at Normandy could mean that his invasion force might be stranded on the beach for as long as three days without resupply. By design, the men who invaded Saipan would be stranded there for three months before significant reinforcements or supplies could reach them, though of course the Japanese, too, would have to fight the battle with what they had on hand, since Saipan would be virtually cut off from support.

Like the men who invaded Normandy, the would-be invaders of Saipan first had to load the landing ships and landing craft; it was hard work, and dangerous, too. On May 17, as work parties were off-loading 4.2-inch mortar ammunition from LST-353 in Pearl Harbor, one of the mortar rounds detonated. The explosion ignited nearby barrels of gasoline, and the entire ship went up in a thunderous fireball, setting off a number of explosions on nearby ships. A witness recalled that “whole jeeps, parts of ships, guns, equipment, shrapnel, fragments of metal, all rained down on the waters of West Loch.” Before it was over, 168 men were dead, and six LSTs and three LCTs had been completely destroyed. It was just nineteen days after the loss of three LSTs off Slapton Sands in the English Channel. To replace the lost vessels, eight LSTs were transferred from MacArthur’s command. No doubt Ike wished it had been that easy for him.

The Saipan invasion force departed Pearl Harbor during the last three days of May. While en route, the tedium was broken by a not altogether unexpected announcement: “Now hear this. The invasion of France has started. Supreme Headquarters announced that the landings to date have been successful. That is all.” The news provoked loud and sustained cheering, and no doubt boosted the morale of those who were about to conduct their own D-Day.

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Improvised Invasion Fleets, 1942

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 335-337:

The Allies’ material shortages, especially in shipping, compelled them to improvise. The British had three full-sized aircraft carriers and three smaller ones to cover their assigned targets, but the Americans had only the Ranger. To supplement her, they constructed flight decks atop four oilers and redesignated them as auxiliary carriers. Significantly smaller than regular carriers, and lacking a hangar deck, they could still embark thirty planes each, though all of them had to be carried on the flight deck.

Troop transports were another problem. What few landing ships the British possessed had been lost at Narvik and Dunkirk, and many of the American transports were half a world away, running supplies into Guadalcanal. It was a zero-sum game: ships needed for one undertaking necessarily had to come from someplace else. As the official British history of the campaign puts it, “The transports, store-ships, and auxiliaries of all sorts which had to be taken out of circulation seriously upset the Allied shipping programme throughout the world.” The Allies cobbled together what they could. To carry soldiers to North Africa, they relied heavily on prewar cruise ships; the British even commandeered ferryboats from the Glasgow-Belfast run. Similarly, American civilian cargo vessels metamorphosed into “attack transports.” In effect, the invasion fleets for Torch were jury-rigged (as the Americans put it); in the British idiom, they were “lash-ups.”

Of course, the packed troopships and laden cargo vessels required a substantial escort in order to cross the several thousand miles of hostile ocean to the invasion beaches, and that, too, meant withdrawing forces from other theaters. Britain could escort its contingent only by relying heavily on the Home Fleet, as it had for Pedestal, committing three battleships (Duke of York, Nelson, and Rodney), the battlecruiser Renown, five cruisers, and all five of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers plus thirty-one destroyers. To obtain them, the Royal Navy reduced the escorts for the transatlantic convoys and suspended convoys to Russia altogether. The escorts for the American troopships, which would sail directly to North Africa from the East Coast of the United States, included three battleships (Massachusetts, New York, and Texas), seven cruisers, and thirty-eight destroyers. More destroyers would have been desirable, but in the late summer of 1942, destroyers were in demand everywhere, including the Solomon Islands.

Once the troopships and cargo vessels arrived at the target beaches, there was the additional problem of getting the men, their equipment, and their vehicles from the transports to the beach. The Marines who had landed at Guadalcanal had benefited from years of practice landings during the 1930s, and their assault on Guadalcanal had been almost routine; they merely had to climb over the sides of their landing boats and wade ashore. The assault in North Africa, however, would involve soldiers, not Marines, and on a much larger scale. To get them from ship to shore, they would have to climb down rope or chain nets from the transports into small plywood boats that would carry them several miles to the beach.

The vessels needed to accomplish that were also in short supply. The British version of this type of small landing boat was called “landing craft, assault” (LCA), and the American version was called “landing craft, personnel” (LCP). Each was capable of carrying thirty-six soldiers at a time, and their navy crewmen were to shuttle back and forth between ship and shore until the landing force was established. Because the American LCPs had been designed and built by Andrew Jackson Higgins, nearly everyone called them Higgins boats (a practice that will be followed here). Later in the war, both the British and American versions would have armored drop-front bows that would enable the soldiers to run directly from the boat out onto the beach, but the early models were simply rectangular plywood boxes with a motor on the back, and when they ground up onto the sand, the men, each of them carrying between sixty and ninety pounds of gear plus their rifle, had to climb out over the sides into waist-deep water before making their way to the beach, as the Marines had done at Guadalcanal.

Getting armored vehicles ashore was a bigger problem. The campaigns in France and Flanders in 1940 had demonstrated that ground combat in the Second World War meant the use of armored vehicles, specifically tanks. Getting tanks from ship to shore was a far more difficult problem than carrying soldiers. The British had experimented with tank-carrying ships that were converted from shallow-draft oil tankers used on Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo. Like so many innovations, this one had originated in the fertile mind of the prime minister, and the vessels were dubbed “Winstons” (smaller versions were called “Winettes”). What made them distinctive was their massive bow doors, which opened like a giant cupboard. After running up as close to the beach as they could get, they opened their big bow doors and deployed a long ramp. In theory, tanks and trucks could then drive out from their commodious hold directly onto the beach. The concept was certainly valid, as later models of such ships demonstrated. The early versions, however, were cumbersome and difficult to unload, and they had proved disappointing, and nearly disastrous, during the ill-fated raid on Dieppe.

The Americans attacked the problem differently, appropriating a large cargo ship, the Seatrain New Jersey, that had been designed to carry railroad cars from New York to Cuba, and modifying it to carry tanks. She was not a true amphibious ship, however, since her deep V-shaped hull did not allow her to steam up onto a beach, and she could unload her cargo of tanks only if she had access to a working harbor.

Carriers, battleships, cruisers, troopships, cargo ships, destroyers, and landing craft: altogether, the British and Americans employed nearly six hundred ships, plus the small Higgins boats, to execute this first major strategic counteroffensive of the war. From the start, the commanders had to scramble to find the manpower, the equipment, and especially the shipping to make it happen. The nickname “Operation Shoestring” that had been used to describe the Guadalcanal landing might just as easily have been applied to Torch.

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U-Boats Off U.S. Coastline, 1942

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 251-255:

On December 9, 1941, the day Hitler unleashed the U-boats for use against American shipping, Dönitz asked OKW to release twelve of them for a campaign in American waters. The German high command allotted him only six, keeping the rest for service off Gibraltar, further annoying an already disgusted Dönitz. Moreover, one of the six boats developed an oil leak, so that in the end, only five of them departed in December to take up positions off the eastern coast of the United States. Dönitz also sent ten of the smaller Type VII boats, packed with extra fuel and supplies, to the waters off Nova Scotia, which was just within their operational range. Those fifteen boats represented a substantial portion of his entire U-boat flotilla.

Crossing the Atlantic in a surfaced U-boat was harrowing. Peter-Erich Cremer, skipper of the U-333, recalled that “the waves were as high as houses.” The boats pitched wildly, banging down on each successive wave with a jarring thump, often knocking crewmen off their feet. They also rolled side to side by as much as 120 degrees. When the seas became so violent as to threaten the safety of the boat, the captain could submerge into the relatively calm waters below the raging surface, but that reduced the boat’s speed to about five knots, which dramatically lengthened the transit time and used up precious fuel, food, and water supplies. Dönitz wanted all of the boats to begin simultaneous attacks on January 13, and running submerged for any length of time jeopardized meeting that deadline.

While the British and Americans squabbled, Operation Paukenschlag [Drumbeat] got under way, though not quite with the kind of devastating impact Dönitz had envisioned. Mainly this was because the five Type IX U-boats did not all manage to get into position by the target date of January 13. Hardegen’s U-123 sank the Panamanian tanker Norness off Long Island on the fourteenth, but the last of the five boats did not arrive at its assigned position off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, until the eighteenth.

The Carolina capes constituted a critical choke point for American coastwise trade. In January 1942, 95 percent of the oil pumped from the Louisiana and Texas oil fields made its way to the Eastern Seaboard in tanker ships that necessarily had to pass around Cape Hatteras, where the shoals narrowed the shipping channel to a mere thirty miles. Eventually the United States would shift much of its domestic oil transport to rail cars and pipelines, but when Dönitz’s U-boats arrived off Hatteras on January 18, the shipping there was so abundant that upon surfacing, Hardegen was astonished to see “no fewer than twenty steamers, some with their lights on.” That night he sank four of them.

In accordance with Dönitz’s suggested protocols, the U-boats lay quietly on the bottom of the continental shelf during the daylight hours, surfacing at night to look for passing freighters, and especially tankers. Not only did the targeted ships proceed independently, but many, as Hardegen noted, still had their running lights on, making them irresistible targets. Even those ships proceeding blacked out were often starkly silhouetted against the lights that were still burning on shore, since most cities from Miami to New York did not enforce nighttime blackouts. German U-boat skippers, who had been at war for more than two years, were dumbfounded by such carelessness, and bemused by the sight of car headlights passing along the coastal roads. Peter Cremer, commanding the U-333, recalled that “through the night glasses we could distinguish equally the big hotels and the cheap dives, and read the flickering neon signs.” Peering into New York harbor through his binoculars, Hardegen jokingly told his crew that he could see dancers atop the Empire State Building. In such an environment, the U-boats, few as they were, had a field day. In the last two weeks of January, they sank twenty-three ships, thirteen of them tankers. Counting the ships sunk in Canadian waters by the smaller Type VIIs, the U-boats of Operation Paukenschlag dispatched forty-one Allied ships displacing 236,000 tons in just two weeks. The losses were shocking, all the more so in that many of them occurred within sight of the American coastline.

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Atlantic Convoy System, 1939

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 107-110:

The British response to the U-boat threat was to establish a convoy system. Though convoys had been used by maritime powers to protect trade since the Age of Sail, the Admiralty had been initially reluctant to embrace the concept during the First World War. After all, a convoy conveniently clustered all the merchant ships together, thus creating a target-rich environment for a stalking U-boat. Then, too, convoys necessarily had to proceed at the speed of the slowest vessel. Despite these apparent defects, however, the events of 1917–18 had proved that convoys were by far the most effective countermeasure to a U-boat threat, and in 1939 the British established a convoy system even before the war began.

From the start, each convoy was identified by a code that indicated its origin, destination, and numerical sequence. The first outbound convoy from Liverpool, for example, was OB-1. Eventually, regular convoys were established for routes from Gibraltar (HG), Jamaica (KJ), Freetown, Sierra Leone (SL), and scores of other places, though the busiest and most important route was the transatlantic one between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and either Liverpool or the Firth of Clyde (Glasgow) in Scotland. Eastbound convoys from Canada to Britain were designated as HX convoys (homebound from Halifax), and westbound convoys were ON convoys (outbound to North America). Typically they consisted of twenty to forty merchant ships organized into seven to ten columns of four or five ships each. To avoid collision in rough seas or heavy fog, the ships in each column steamed at intervals of four hundred to six hundred yards, and the columns themselves were a thousand yards apart. As a result, a forty-ship convoy filled a rectangle of ocean five miles wide and two or three miles long, an area as large as fifteen square miles.

The merchant ships were under the supervision of a convoy commander, a civilian who was usually a retired Royal Navy officer and who rode one of the merchant ships as commodore. His job was to maintain order within the convoy and issue the periodic course changes by flag hoist or blinker light that kept it zigzagging across the sea, a protocol designed to throw potential attackers off their stroke. Maintaining order in a convoy was often difficult since civilian merchant captains were unused to making the precise tactical maneuvers required to reorient forty ships simultaneously on a new course. The commodores necessarily had to adjust their expectations of instantaneous execution when ordering a course change.

In the van and on the flanks of this large rectangle of ships, and often maneuvering independently as well, were the armed escorts. If Dönitz was frustratingly short of operational U-boats, the British were equally deficient in the number of available escorts. Destroyers were the most effective convoy escorts, but destroyers were needed everywhere, and the heavy losses during the Norway campaign and especially off Dunkirk meant that the Royal Navy had a severe shortage of these critical workhorse warships. To make up the shortfall, all sorts of vessels were called into service for escort duty.

Among them was a new type of small warship called a corvette. Because the first generation of corvettes were all named for flowers, they were known as Flower-class ships and they bore such unwarlike names as Azalea, Begonia, Bluebell, and Buttercup. At only 940 tons each, they were tiny and carried only a single 4-inch gun on their foredeck plus twin .50-caliber machine guns; against virtually any conventional warship they were all but helpless. They were not only small, they were also slow. With a maximum speed of sixteen knots, corvettes were no faster than a surfaced U-boat. They were nearly as uncomfortable as well, especially in the volatile North Atlantic, where even in a moderate sea they bounced around like so much flotsam. A crewman on the Rhododendron recalled that being on a corvette “was like a terrier shaking a bit of rag. The old ship [would] corkscrew up on top of a wave and you’d be up and you’d look down into this trough and you’d think crikey, and the next thing you’d be down in there and a bloomin’ great wave’d come over the top.” That, plus the fact that a crew of fifty men was crammed into a 190-foot hull made service in a Flower-class corvette a challenge to one’s constitution and endurance. The novelist Nicholas Monsarrat, who served three years in corvettes, vividly recalled the challenge of simply eating a meal: “When you drink, the liquid rises toward you and slops over: at meals the food spills off your plate, the cutlery will not stay in place. Things roll about and bang, and slide away crazily.” Standing topside watch was an ordeal. “Every night for seventeen nights on end,” Monsarrat wrote, “you’re woken up at ten to four by the bosun’s mate, and you stare at the deck-head and think: My God, I can’t go up there again in the dark and filthy rain, and stand another four hours of it. But you can of course.”

On the plus side, the corvettes were inexpensive, could be built quickly, and had both Asdic [early sonar] and depth charges. Churchill extolled them as the “Cheap and Nasties,” meaning that they were cheap to build and nasty to the enemy. Fifty-six of them were laid down prior to September 3, 1939, and forty-one more soon after the war began. Eventually, Britain and Canada built 269 of them, including 130 for the Canadian Navy. Despite their floral names, minimal armament, and cramped quarters, they played a crucial role in sustaining Britain’s maritime lifeline to the outside world.

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Seals vs. Cod

From Cod, by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998), pp. 200-202:

Marine ecology is complex and tightly interwoven. When large factory ships in the North Sea overfish sand eels and other small fish that are ground into fish meal for heating fuel in Denmark, not only cod but seabirds go hungry. In 1986, seal herds ranged south in the North Sea and ate the coastal fish off of Norway because they were famished from the overfishing of capelin. Fishermen were calling for a seal hunt to save the North Sea fisheries from the seal. In 1995, both Norway and Canada rescinded their ban on seal hunting because the populations were growing and they eat cod.

In the late 1950s, Canada’s seal hunt had become a target of environmentalists when high prices for seal pelts and a huge herd had drawn packs of ruthless, unskilled amateur hunters with helicopters to the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts. In 1964, the anger of animal lovers throughout the world was stirred by a film made by Artek, a Montreal film company, that depicted a seal being skinned alive. The international protest did not abate when it was revealed that the skinner had been paid by the film company and that two of the other “hunters” turned out to be part of the film crew. In 1983, after intensive pressure from environmental groups culminated with a European Community boycott of seal products, Canada finally banned seal hunting, a traditional activity in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Not surprisingly, the 1995 reopening of the seal hunt met with national and international condemnation from environmentalist and animal-rights groups. The seal defenders claimed that there was no scientific basis for the seal hunt. Some even denied that seals eat cod. Before protecting the seal became a cause célèbre, everyone in Newfoundland knew that seals ate cod. The familiar label of the leading Newfoundland soft-drink company, G. H. Gaden, is a seal on an ice floe with the words keep cool. But in the less politically correct nineteenth century, a cod was in the seal’s mouth.

According to the Canadian government, the seal-hunting ban caused the harp seal population to double to 4.8 million, and if the ban had not been rescinded, it would be expected to be at 6 million by 2000. Seals eat enormous quantities of fish and are particularly disliked by fishermen because they are wasteful. Like the average North American consumer, gray, harbor, and harp seals do not like to deal with fish bones. They tear into the soft belly of the cod and leave most of the rest. “Seals don’t have to eat a lot of cod to have a big impact,” said George Rose. “It doesn’t mean we have to declare war on the seal. But we have to control the seal population.” One Canadian journalist, recalling Brigitte Bardot’s 1977 campaign in which she posed on an ice floe with a stuffed baby seal, suggested that the French actress pose hugging a codfish.

Given the interdependence of species, the fundamental question is whether other species—not just the seals but the phytoplankton, the zooplankton, the capelin, the seabirds, and the whales—will wait fifteen years for cod to return. Nature may have even less patience than politicians. “Whatever will work is going to work. It will not necessarily come out the same way,” said Rose. If the species that were eaten by cod become plentiful because the cod are not there to prey on them, other species may move in, and if the intruders are successful, there might not be enough food to support a large cod population again. Some biologists worry that rays, skates, and dogfish, which are small sharks, may already be moving in.

In addition, an unwanted relative has already shown up: the arctic cod (Boreogadus saida). This may not be bad for the marine ecology, but it is very bad news for fishermen. Arctic cod are about eight inches long and until now have been deemed of little commercial value. Because they are a much smaller fish, the adults do not compete with the Atlantic cod for food, but the young do. Even worse, arctic cod eat Atlantic cod eggs and larvae.

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Overfishing Problems Worldwide

From Cod, by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998), pp. 198-200:

Overfishing is a growing global problem. About 60 percent of the fish types tracked by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are categorized as fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted. The U.S. Atlantic coast has witnessed a dramatic decline in the bluefin tuna population, though Gloucester fishermen refute this on the grounds that they still have good catches. Mid-Atlantic swordfish stocks are diminishing. Conch and redfish are vanishing from the Caribbean. Red snapper, which is a by-catch of shrimp, is in danger of commercial extinction in the Gulf of Mexico. Peru is losing its anchovy population. Pollock is vanishing from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk. With 90 percent of the world’s fishing grounds now closed off by 200-mile exclusion zones, fishermen have been searching greater depths for new species. Little is known about the ecology of these depths, but since they often have very cold water, reproduction is probably very slow. Orange roughy was introduced to the world markets after implementation of the 200-mile zone and immediately gained such popularity that five tons an hour were being hauled up from the depths near New Zealand. In 1995, the catch nearly vanished.

The collapse of the Soviet Union destabilized many fishing agreements. Russia has become a major cod fisher, and cod has become almost the equivalent of cash in the Russian Barents Sea fishery. The reason the Canadians have been buying Russian cod processed in Norway is that Russia has been flooding the Norwegian market.

With the Atlantic long overworked by Europeans, the action has been switching to the Pacific, where not only are there large Japanese, Russian, American, and Korean fleets, but the Chinese, who do not have a history of international cooperation, have been notably enlarging their fishing capacity.

Replacing the Atlantic with Pacific fisheries is an old idea. Pacific cod was one of the reasons the United States bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867. But since the major markets were far away along the Atlantic, the Pacific cod did not have the same success as the Atlantic cod. Nevertheless, in 1890, a half million Pacific cod were landed. An 1897 book by an American scholar, James Davie Butler, suggested that with the alternative of a Pacific cod fishery, the only remaining bone of contention between the United States and Canada, cod fisheries, would be less important, and the way would now be cleared for “eventual union with Canada.”

But the Pacific cod is a different fish, its flesh less prized. It does not migrate, and it does not appear to live more than twelve years. More important, the catch has never measured up to that of its Atlantic cousin. Instead, walleye pollock has become the prize of the northern Pacific, “the cod of our times,” as a Gorton’s employee put it, and that fish is becoming so overfished that not only its stocks but its predators, sea lions and several species of seabirds, have dramatically declined since the mid-1970s.

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Different Markets for Cod

From Cod, by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998), pp. 104-105:

From the Middle Ages to the present, the most demanding cod market has always been the Mediterranean. These countries experienced a huge population growth in the nineteenth century: Spain’s population almost doubled, and Portugal’s more than doubled. Many ports grew into large urban centers, including Bilbao, Porto, Lisbon, Genoa, and Naples. Barcelona in 1900 had a population of almost one million people—most of them passionate bacalao consumers.

But North Americans did not succeed in this market. Though Newfoundland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia remained almost entirely dependent on fishing, there was little quality and they largely sold to Boston or the Caribbean. The one North American exception was the Gaspé, where a quality Gaspé cure was sold to the Mediterranean. Some 900 years after the Basques won the competitive edge over the Scandinavians by salting rather than just air-drying fish, the Scandinavians became competitive by perfecting salting. Norway and Denmark, which controlled Iceland and the Faroe Islands, moved aggressively into the top-quality Mediterranean markets and have remained.

Even today, with goods and people moving more freely than ever before, most salt cod eaters are attached to the traditional cure of their region. Modern Montreal is a city of both Caribbean and Mediterranean immigrants. At the Jean Talon market in the north of the city, stores feature badly split, small dried salt cods from Nova Scotia and huge, well-prepared salt cod from the Gaspé. The Caribbeans consistently buy the Nova Scotian, while the Gaspé is sold to Portuguese and Italians.

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Dangers of Cod Fishing

From Cod, by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998), pp. 113-116:

One of the worst enemies of cod fishermen, especially in the days before radio, was fog. Since cod grounds are zones where warm and cold currents meet, fog is commonplace. It can be so thick that the bow of an eighty-foot vessel is obscured from midship. A lantern on the bow cannot be detected 100 feet away. Fishermen drift in a formless gray, tooting horns and blowing whistles, hoping other craft hear them and avoid collision. But the greatest danger was for the dorymen.

From the seventeenth century to the 1930s, the common way to fish for cod and other groundfish was to go out to the Banks in a ship and then drop off small dories with two-man crews. The Portuguese, who were infamous on the Grand Banks for the harshness of their working conditions, used one-man dories. Europeans would cross the ocean in large barks built for deck space and large holds; New Englanders and Nova Scotians went out in schooners that could swiftly run back to shore to land fish; but all the dories were the same: twenty-foot deckless skiffs. The dorymen would generally use oars, and occasionally sail power, but they had to provide their own sails. Often they or their wives made them by sewing together flour sacks.

Being competitive with each other, dorymen sometimes secretively took off to grounds they had discovered. Many dorymen drowned or starved to death or died of thirst while lost in the fog, sifting through a blank sea for the mother ship. They tried to fish until their boat was filled with fish. The more fish were caught, the less sea-worthy the dory. Sometimes a dory would become so overloaded that a small amount of water from a wave lapping the side was all it took for the small boat to sink straight down with fish and fishermen.

To seagoing people of the North Atlantic, the hardships and bravado of dorymen were legendary. In 1876, Alfred Johnson, a Danish-born Gloucester doryman, responding to a dare, sailed his sixteen-foot boat from Gloucester to Abercastle, Wales, in fifty-eight days, the first one-man North Atlantic crossing ever recorded. Nova Scotians still recall a nineteenth-century doryman who was lost in the fog for sixteen hours before being found—the Nova Scotian survival record. But the most famous Nova Scotian doryman was Howard Blackburn, who immigrated to Gloucester. On January 23, 1883, Blackburn and his dory mate rowed away from their ship to longline halibut and became lost in a snowstorm. His mate froze to death, but Blackburn shaped his fingers around the oars so that he would still be able to row after he lost feeling in his hands. He rowed 100 miles and reached Newfoundland with the frozen corpse of his mate on the stern. Though the misadventure cost him all his fingers and most of his toes, he went to sea in sloops designed for his disability, set a thirty-nine-day, one-man Gloucester-to-Lisbon record, and even rowed the Florida coast with oars strapped to his wrists.

Not only dories were lost. Whole ships went down. John Cabot’s was the first of many. The number of Gloucester fishermen lost at sea between 1830 and 1900—3,800—was 70 percent greater than all the American casualties in the War of 1812, and this from a town of about 15,000 people. On February 24, 1862, a gale swept Georges Bank, and 120 drowned in one night. In the 1870s, as schooners became shallower and carried more sails, making them even faster and more beautiful, but much more dangerous, Gloucester losses became horrendous. These shallow, loftily rigged “clipper schooners” did not stand up well in gale winds. In 1871, twenty schooners and 140 men were lost. In 1873, thirty-two vessels and 174 men were lost, 128 of them in a single gale. An easterly gale on the banks in 1879 sunk twenty-nine vessels with a loss of 249 men.

The ports that sent fleets to the Grand Banks held religious ceremonies before the beginning of what was called “the campaign.” In St.-Malo, in late February, fifteen days before the Terre-Neuvas sailed, the cardinal of Rennes came to the port to say mass before the fleet. A wreath was tossed to sea to remember the fishermen who had been lost in previous campaigns.

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Enjoying the Canadian Maritimes

The Far Outliers spent most of July visiting the far side of Canada, the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia (NS), New Brunswick (NB), and Prince Edward Island (PEI), all in the Atlantic (Daylight) Time Zone, 7 hours ahead of Hawai‘i. We broke our trip in both directions with overnights in Calgary, Alberta, and had an absolutely splendid road trip around the Maritimes. We arrived in Halifax, NS, on Canada Day, and stopped for (1, 2, or 3) overnights at B&Bs in Lunenberg and Annapolis (Royal) in NS, St. Martins and Hopewell Cape in NB, Charlottetown in PEI, and Baddeck in Cape Breton, then back to Halifax. We put more than 2000 km on our rented Toyota Corolla, enjoying many almost empty two-lane country highways and car-ferry rides from Digby, NS, to St. John, NB, and from Wood Islands, PEI, to Pictou, NS.

The weather was very cooperative, the people were everywhere hospitable, and the Atlantic seafood was a nice variation on our usual seafood-heavy diet. The most unexpectedly spectacular scenic drive that we took was the Fundy Trail Parkway, which was not mentioned at all in our Canadvac suggested itinerary. It was completed in 2020 and became accessible from both ends in 2021. We started from the St. Martins end and stopped many times to view and photograph the beautiful scenery, which exceeded even the Cape Breton Cabot Trail cliffside views between Beddeck and Ingonish. Not far after we exited the eastern park entrance, we turned onto a brand new (2021), nearly empty road to Alma that allowed us to continue on toward Hopewell Cape, hugging the coast along NB Route 915, past Cape Enrage.

We were mostly a party of two (the ideal number), although we joined larger parties for excursions by boat to go whale-watching off Digby Neck in the Bay of Fundy, and to go bird-watching off St. Anns Bay in Cape Breton. We especially enjoyed being just a party of two at an Experience PEI mussel and lobster boil in tiny St. Georges, PEI, with Jim Conohan, a local fisherman, mussel farmer, and raconteur of wide experience who used to host larger parties before Covid.

My best photos and videos from our trip can be seen at Joel Abroad on Flickr.

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