For Posterity's Sake
A Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project
HMCS EARL GREY
Former CGS EARL GREY
Then Russian Icebreaker CANADA (1914)
Then Russian Icebreaker FYODOR LITKE SKR-18 (Фёдор Литке, СКР-18)
The following is from the blog of Harry Holman - Sailstrait
The Earl Grey was launched in June 1909 from the Barrow-in-Furness yard of Vickers Sons and Maxim. It had an overall length of 279 feet, was 46 feet wide and drew 18 feet of water. The steel hull was reinforced for ice. Accommodations included a first class dining saloon forward on the promenade deck with seating for 60 and first class staterooms amidships. The several staterooms included berths for one, two, or three persons. The aft section of the upper deck held the mail room and storage. The freight was found on the main deck as were the accommodations for second class passengers (sofa seats with folding backs which could form 20 beds), engineers, firemen and trimmers.
The vessel had a rough trip across the Atlantic. After 20 days she had exhausted her fuel, even burning the planking from the lower deck. Changing course for Newfoundland she neared Baccalieu Island when the fuel gave out completely and members of the crew had to row to shore for help. Prevented from re-fueling because of heavy seas she had to be towed into St. John’s. Transferred from the builders to the Dominion government in 13 October the ship went into service on Northumberland Strait on 30 December 1909.
Islanders were relieved that she gave satisfactory performance being rarely delayed by ice on her regular trips between the Island and Nova Scotia. In the summer of 1910 the ship was sent to Hudson’s Bay where at Port Nelson it picked up the Governor General and party who had traveled to the Bay from Lake Winnipeg by canoe and returned them to Quebec. The pattern was established with winter service in Northumberland Strait and use by the Governor General for official tours in the summer. In 1911 the ship with the dignitaries aboard went aground in Labrador which resulted in an official inquiry (probably because of the embarrassment). A more serious event took place in April of 1912 when the ship, traveling in fog at speed went aground off Toney River, about 5 miles east of Cape John, Nova Scotia. She was only 400 feet from the shore and at low tide the tips of her propellers were two feet out of the water. It was not until her cargo and most of her coal were offloaded that she was able to be hauled off. A commission of inquiry found Capt. Brown at fault for the grounding and his masters ticket was suspended.
Later that year the ship was brought to Quebec for repairs from the grounding damage and to outfit the ship for use of a new Governor General in a Maritime tour. New quarters for the Governor General were constructed and the officers rooms on the upper deck were converted to a Royal saloon. For the tour the vessel, commissioned as the HMCS Earl Grey, was manned by a special crew of naval officers and men.
The ship continued to serve in maritime waters, visiting Charlottetown a number of times in addition to her winter service. However she was not destined to remain much longer in Canada. The Dominion government was committed (again) to solving the transportation issue once and for all. Instead of the succession of seasonal ice-breaking steamers dispatched to other duties in the summer a huge new railcar ferry, the S.S. Prince Edward Island, coupled with the widening of the Island rails to standard gauge was in the works. The Earl Grey, as well as the Stanley and the Minto would be made redundant with the launch of the S.S. Prince Edward Island in the spring of 1914. But for other circumstances the Earl Grey might be expected to be transferred to other Dominion Government duties.
The Earl Grey Purchased by the Imperial Russian Government to keep the supply lanes through the frozen White Sea open it was one of dozens of ships converging on the northern coast of Russia, the normal routes west through the Baltic having been blocked by the German navy. The Earl Grey (which had been renamed Kanada) and other icebreakers helped guide 146 British transport ships with military supplies through the ice and extended the shipping season to the end of January 1915. She also worked through 1916 but in January 1917 she sank following a collision. She was raised and repaired in England, returning to become part of the White Russian fleet after the October revolution when Arkhangelsk remained in government hands. However when the city fell to the Reds in February 1920 the crews of the Kanada and the Ivan Susnian (formerly the DGS Minto) aligned themselves with the Bolsheviks. The ship, now armed, became involved in a battle with an icebreaker under White Russian control. This is probably the only sea battle in history to take place between icebreakers. The Kanada was forced to withdraw with damage to her hull. Under the Bolsheviks the name of the ship was changed to III International and later to Fyodor Litke.
Fyodor Litke was a 19th century geographer, arctic explorer and navigator who contributed to the mapping and exploration of Arctic Russia and Russian Alaska. The name assigned to the ship was particularly apt as in many ways her activities over the next thirty years extended knowledge of the area. Based in Leningrad in 1923 she was transferred to the Black Sea in 1925 and to Vladivostok in 1928.
In 1929 the ship was dispatched to rescue a scientific expedition which had traveled to Wrangel Island, north of eastern Siberia, which had been trapped on the island by ice for three years and was unlikely to survive a fourth winter. Sometimes making only a few hundred metres a day the ship battered its way to the island rescuing the exploration party. The ship was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour for its success.
During the winter of 1932-33 the Litke conducted a convoy of six transport ships, a motor schooner and 26 smaller craft carrying 867 passengers from Vladivostok to the Kolyma river where a new settlement serving gold mines was to be established. Owing to damages fighting the ice the Litke was forced to overwinter in the area. In fighting her way out of the ice in the fall of 1933 she was badly damaged, lost propeller blades and warped one shaft effectively reducing her power by half.
After being refitted in Japan in 1934 the Litke achieved fame being the first vessel to complete the Northern Sea Route (North East Passage) from East to West in one season. The following year she traveled the same route from west to east. She served as an escort for a number of Northern Sea traverses in the following years. Stamp commemorating the F. Litke. Part of a series depicting Russian icebreakers
With the outbreak of World War II she was armed and assigned to the White Sea flotilla. As in the Great War, shipping of material to the northern ports such as Murmansk was essential to the war effort however this time the German air and naval forces in northern Norway made the work more than just smashing ice. The Litke helped a number of convoys through the dangerous ice-filled waters throughout the war as well as supporting vessels carrying essential raw materials from ports in northern Russia to Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. She successfully dodged a number of German attempts to disrupt the trade.
In 1947-48 the ship had a major refit in England and returned to arctic exploration , mostly detailing the hydrography of the Arctic Sea. In 1955 she set a world record for the furthest north by a surface ship at 86 degrees, only 440 miles from the North Pole. In 1958, just shy of 50 years of service her work came to an end and she was towed to a Murmansk scrap year where she was broken up two years later. Several reports indicate that owing to her service record her wheelhouse and radio shack are preserved in the maritime museum in Moscow however this has proven difficult to confirm. There is a fine model of the ship and other information regarding her at the State Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic in St. Petersburg.
Photos and Documents