Canada requires the building of three submarines on account of the Cold War : HMCS Onondaga, Ojibwa and Okanagan. The career of the Onondaga is mainly devoted to carrying out missions of surveillance, training and anti-submarine combat with other NATO member countries. It becomes integrated in the Maritime Forces Atlantic and its home port is Halifax. After its active career, it becomes a submarine museum accessible to the public.
Origin of the name
Onondaga is the name of an Iroquois nation meaning « people of the hills». That nation lives in the southern part of Ontario in Canada and in the State of New York in the USA. The two other Canadian submarines, the Ojibwa and the Okanaga, also bear names of indigenous nations.
HMCS is an acronym for Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship. This prefix comes before the name of any ship belonging to the Canadian Navy.
The inscription 73 on the tower of the submarine refers to the number of the hull allocated by the Canadian Navy when it was launched. Accordingly, the Ojibwa and the Okanagan submarines bear the numbers 72 and 74 respectively.
Coat of arms
These coats of arms represent the wampum of the Iroquois nation. A wampum is a highly valued ceremony bracelet among the indigenous cultures. The head of the stick represents the one that was used when the First Assembly of the Upper House of the Parliament was inaugurated in 1792 when lieutenant governor John Graves Simcoe sailed all the way to the Parliament on board a schooner named Onondaga.
The three submarines ordered by Canada were built at the Chatham shipyard in England. The Onondaga was the second one to be assembled.
The launching was the ceremony when the Onondaga was set out to the water for the first time. At that time, the building of the ship was not entirely completed and the remaining work would be carried out at the wharf.
Ship commissioning is the ceremony marking the beginning of the active service of the submarine. In other words, on that date, the Onondaga is officially integrated in the Canadian Navy fleet.
Refit is a period during which the submarine is hauled out of the water as major maintenance work has to be carried out. During refit all the systems are inspected, cleaned and if needed replaced. Obsolete or inefficient technology is therefore upgraded. Duration of refit: 23 months.
This refit brings about many equipment changes: the sonars, the periscopes, the communication device and torpedo-launching equipment get renewed. The torpedo launch tubes get modified for the new MK-48 torpedoes to fit in. This major refit is called SOUP for Submarine Operational Upgrade Program). Duration of refit: 28 months.
The current round-shaped bow of the Onondaga gets built during that refit, after the sonar device gets modified. Duration of refit: 28 months.
January through July the Onondaga is deployed for a mission along the Pacific coast. No other Canadian submarine has set course over there since 1977.
That last refit lasted 22 months. When adding up all the periods of refit you realize that the Onondaga spent more than 8 years out of the water for maintenance, that is, a quarter of its military service. Evolution of technology and the required performance for ships means that maintenance must be done on a regular basis.
That was the end of the military career of the submarine. 33 years of service represent a lifespan record for a Canadian submarine as the siblings Ojibwa and Okanagan were decommissioned in 1998. The Oberons got replaced by the Victoria-class submarines, that is, HMSC Victoria, Windsor, Corner Brook and Chicoutimi which are still in service.
The team of the Site Historique Maritime de la Pointe-au-Père visits the Onondaga and comes up with a project to turn it into a museum. In 2005 the organization purchases the submarine in order to move it to Rimouski.
After seven years of preparation, research of financing and negotiations, the submarine leaves Halifax. It is towed by the Jerry Newberry tugboat.
The Onondaga arrives in Rimouski after a two-day pause on account of a storm. A crowd of onlookers is looking forward to seeing it.
The Onondaga will be hauled out next to the Pointe-au-Père wharf. The crane sets up a section of the railway line. Everything will get covered with concrete the following days.
A simulation of the final position of the carts takes place in the exact spots where they will be placed when the haul of the submarine is completed. Each and every cart is brought down to the end of the railway line for the Onondaga to be dropped off at high tide.
The tackle pulley system uses a 20-gauge wire which is close to a kilometre long. Its strength is multiplied by 20 so that the 1400-ton submarine can be hauled in.
The Onondaga that left the wharf in Rimouski is getting closer to its retirement location in Pointe-au-Père. It is being towed by the Épinette II.
At 2 A.M. thanks to the high tide the block and tackle is tied to the submarine and hauling starts. Three long trucks are needed to haul the Onondaga.
At the end of the second night of the operation the Onondaga has covered a total distance of 50 metres.
In the morning, huge disappointment. As the tide goes out the submarine keels over as it was not set properly on the carts. The camera which had been set by the film crew for « Monster moves » shoots the scene.
The pulley system gets moved onto the wharf for the Onondaga to be straightened up. It is completed on October 10th. Two tow-trucks are needed to get it done.
Resuming the hauling of the submarine is impossible on account of its positioning beside the tracks and the submarine has to be towed back to Rimouski for it to remain there the whole winter. Many jacks get settled in order to lift the Onondaga for rollers to be installed so that it can be rolled down into the water.
While trying to set it afloat again the Onondaga keels over for a second time. Strangely enough after keeling over the keel of the submarine is now in a better position on the tracks! Resuming hauling is now possible after straightening up the ship.
After having had many problems in straightening up the ship, hauling can now resume. But this time a scuba diver will be watching and making sure everything is running smoothly.
After having moved over 11 metres a loud sound of metal can be heard. The first two carts have fallen off the tracks. The whole setting is showing signs of wear.
Despite the slight inclination of the Onondaga the team agrees not to chance it any more and calls it quits. Congratulations to the whole team. / Photo : Jacques Vaillancourt, Donald Tremblay, Annemarie Bourassa, Yves Tremblay, Maurice Allard et Serge Guay
The next morning the brackets are installed as a support for the submarine, just in time before the first snowstorm of the winter.
During close to three months the only way to have access into the submarine for work to be done inside is through the torpedo loading hatch which is located on the top of the submarine. In order to climb over there two ladders get set up on the hull.
Time to start working on rock riprap for the protection seawall to be built. The submarine is not set in a perfectly waterproof basin and needs to be protected from the ice that could damage it.
A door gets finally installed in the front of the submarine for an easier access for the workers as well as for the materials needed for the works.
The welcome center is made up of four prefab modules. It will house the offices and the room that will be used for the distribution of the audio guides that are needed for the visit.
During the winter the team of the Site Historique carrries out cleaning activities, electrical installation, painting and reconditioning of the equipment. / Photo : Jean-Philippe Bégin, Lode Mortier et Yves Tremblay
It is now time to proceed with the installation of the back door and the two walkways that make the access to the ship easier for the visitors. Usually, the only access into the submarine is the hatch located on the top.
The official inauguration takes place with the participation of many submariners who were part of the crew. / Photo : Irvin Pelletier, Gaston Gendreau, Larry Hickey et Serge Guay
Barely 6 months after the putting in place of the submarine, the first visitors can go on board.
The Onondaga is an Oberon class submarine. It has a diesel-electric type of propulsion which makes it particularly silent. Ships of this class are known for being the non-nuclear most efficient submarines of that era. In all 27 Oberon submarines were built for various countries, including Great-Britain, Australia, Brazil, Chile.
Buoyancy depends on the content of the ballasts. These are the large tanks surrounding the pressure hull of the submarine that can be filled with water or air in order to affect its weight. The heavier the submarine, the lesser its buoyancy.
For the submarine to stay on the surface, the ballasts are filled with air.
In order to dive, the valves located on the top of the ballasts are opened. The air comes out at the top and the water comes in through the openings at the bottom.
When the ballasts are full of water the submarine has a neutral buoyancy. The propellers and the diving rudders are used either to go up or dive down below the surface.
To go back up to the surface compressed air is used to push out the water from the ballasts and the submarine regains positive buoyancy.
The SCHNORKEL enables the air needed for the operation of the DIESEL ENGINE to come in whereas the exhaust emissions are evacuated through the EXHAUST TUBE. These tubes cannot be used unless they go above the waterline.
The DIESEL ENGINES power the generators. They suck the fuel from the FUEL TANKS located in the ballasts.
The GENERATORS are used to recharge the BATTERIES.
The BATTERIES provide power to the ELECTRIC MOTORS.
The ELECTRIC MOTORS handle the propulsion of the submarine.
The crew of the Onondaga is made up of 70 men who need to collaborate with each other and coordinate their actions to ensure the ship’s smooth operation. Proper training and organization are needed to reach that goal. Moreover, the crew have to share a cramped environment in which intimacy is nonexistent. Keeping the spirits up and maintaining the cohesion among the crew become aspects of the utmost importance for the tasks to be completed.
TRAINING OF THE SUBMARINERS
The trainees take an 8-week theoretical training that is followed by a 7-month practical training in a submarine. Those who have completed their training and passed the exam are granted their dolphin badge which confirms their qualification. In order to do so, they have to know, among other things, all the systems, all the valves and all the pipes on board the submarine.
Many countries have been using the dolphin on a badge for the qualified submariners. This tradition comes from the HMS Dolphin, a ship that was converted in a training school for British submariners from 1904 through 1999.
WOMEN ON BOARD
As of the year 2000 women have been admitted on board the submarines of the Canadian Navy. Radar Master sailor Colleen Beattie became the first woman to qualify for the post in 2005. Hence the fact that not a single woman was part of the crew of the Onondaga since its career ended in 2000.
There are but three showers on board and they are at times used for storage. As water is being rationed one uses a simple face cloth to wash up.• Sleep
Each submariner had his own bunk bed and all of them were spread throughout the submarine. Yet as these cramped spaces were being used by many men some submariners installed makeshift beds in the torpedo room which turns out to be the largest place on board.• Food
Food is good and abundant. Even though the kitchen is very small meals and snacks are cooked to meet the submariners’ appetite whatever the time of day during their shift. Meal service turns out to be the time marker in a submarine.• Leisure
During their free time the submariners can read, play cards listen to music, or watch movies in the rearranged front torpedo room according to the needs. The trainees also use this spare time to study to get ready for the exams.• Shifts
The shifts change constantly. The main goal behind this is to make sure routine doesn’t take hold which in turn might bring alertness down, needed at all times.