“Sure, I was scared! Sailing on HMCS Thunder, one of the first little minesweepers to reach Juno Beach on D-Day, I was scared as hell. Our job was clearing a path for the landing craft, and I was as scared as I have ever been in my life. But then I realized that I was probably in one of the safest places I could be. The Navy was firing over our heads at the German gun emplacements, and the Germans were firing back over our heads at the Navy ships. No one was firing at us, thank, God!”
As a young boy I remember hearing my uncle, (Chief Petty Officer) Jim Robins, talking to his younger brother, Don, my father, about his experiences aboard the minesweeper HMCS Thunder off Juno Beach on June 6, 1944. Of course I didn’t know the significance of it at the time, but I do remember being fascinated by the tale. Only later did I learn some of the details of the role my uncle and his little ship played in the greatest military operation ever undertaken. Their job in the minesweepers was perhaps one of the most ticklish jobs Canadian sailors were called upon to perform. They had to clear 10 shipping lanes through a minefield that was eight miles deep, and then clear an anchorage for the huge invasion fleet to use.
What follows is what I’ve since learned about my uncle’s ship the HMCS Thunder. For the full story of Canadian minesweepers on D-Day click HERE.
The History of the THUNDER (1st)
One of the Bangor-class minesweepers, HMCS Thunder was commissioned at Toronto on October 14, 1941. After working up in Halifax, she joined Sydney Force in November 1941, but in January, 1942, was transferred to WLEF and subsequently to Halifax Local Defence Force, Shelburne Force, Halifax Force, and back to Sydney Force where she performed coastal defence duties.
She sailed with HMCS Bayfield, Georgian and Mulgrave from Halifax on February 18, 1944, for Plymouth, England, via the Azores. Arriving on March 13th she was allocated to the 32nd Minesweeping Flotilla as Senior Officer’s ship but was later transferred to the 4th Flotilla, and was present on D-Day.
Thunder returned to Canada in August, 1944, to refit at Sydney but was back at Plymouth in late November assigned to the 31st Flotilla. In May, 1945, in the Bay of Biscay, she accepted the surrender of the German auxiliary minesweeper FGi 07.
She sailed for Canada in September 1945, to be paid off on October 4 at Halifax, and was broken up at Sorel in 1947.