Beyond The Uniform

Canadian Naval Hero Honoured


An Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) is to be named after awe inspiring Canadian naval hero Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Max Bernays.

The week Julian Fantino, Associate National Defence Minister announced Bernays, who was a coxswain on His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Assiniboine during the Battle of the Atlantic will receive the honour.

“Chief Petty Officer Bernays is a true Canadian hero who served our country with great distinction during the Second World War. Our government is grateful for the service of all our men and women in uniform, and will continue to stand behind our serving members and pay respect to our veterans for the sacrifices they have made. The naming of a naval ship in honour of Chief Petty Officer Bernays is a proud moment for the Bernays family and all Canadians,” said Fantino.

During intense surface gun action against the German submarine U-210 on August 6, 1942, HMCS Assiniboine maneuvered in and out of a fog in a brave attempt to ram and sink the enemy submarine. Both vessels were firing high explosive shells at very close range, resulting in a fire which engulfed the bridge and wheelhouse of Assiniboine.

Surrounded by smoke and flames while steering the ship, CPO Bernays ordered two junior sailors to get clear, leaving him alone at the helm and trapped by the blaze. Besieged by flames, he executed all the helm orders as Assiniboine maneuvered for position against the U-boat, and did the work of the two telegraphmen, dispatching over 130 telegraph orders to the engine room.

Several bullets and shells penetrated the wheelhouse as the enemy concentrated their machine-gun and cannon fire on the bridge. Eventually Assiniboine rammed and sank U-210 in what was considered to be an extremely hard fought action, during which the Canadians suffered one fatality and 13 wounded.

Recommended for the Victoria Cross through an unprecedented Canadian Order-in-Council, Bernays was instead awarded the distinguished Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) by the British Admiralty for his valour and dauntless devotion to duty during action.

CPO Bernays was one of only two members of the RCN to receive the CGM during the Second World War. Subsequent amendments to the Victoria Cross warrant process allowed recommendations to be submitted directly to the Sovereign by the Canadian government.

In September 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the new AOPS would be named in honour of prominent Canadian heroes who served with the highest distinction and conspicuous gallantry in the navy.

“Chief Petty Officer Max Bernay’s example of valour and dauntless devotion to duty is a model for all Canadian naval personnel. It is fitting that one of our naval ships will be named in his honour,” said Vice Admiral Mark Norman, commander, Royal Canadian Navy.

The lead ship was named HMCS Harry DeWolf, with the class known as the Harry DeWolf Class. The second ship has been named HMCS Margaret Brooke, and the third ship will bear the name HMCS Max Bernays.

On January 23, 2015, the Government of Canada announced the awarding of the build contract with Irving Shipbuilding Inc. for the construction of the Harry DeWolf-class AOPS as part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). This contract, valued at $2.6 billion (taxes included), marked the start of the construction phase under the NSPS. Construction is set to begin in the fall of this year.

The RCN will employ the AOPS to conduct sovereignty and surveillance operations in Canadian waters on all three coasts, including in the Arctic. The AOPS will also be used to support other units of the Canadian Armed Forces in the conduct of maritime-related operations, and to support other government departments in carrying out their mandates as required.

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Vicki L Morrison

Thanks to her husband's military career Vicki reinvented herself as a writer so she could work from home, while taking care of their three kids. A former MFRC executive director Vicki is a passionate advocate for military families who loves telling their stories.

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