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HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK 879)
HMCS Chicoutimi
HMCS Chicotimi aboard the heavy lift ship Tern
Career (UK)
Name: HMS Upholder
Builder: VSEL, Barrow-in-Furness
Laid down: February 1983
Launched: 2 December 1986
Commissioned: 7 December 1990
Decommissioned: 29 April 1994
Fate: Transferred to Canada
Badge: File:Badge of HMS Upholder (official).gif
Career (Canada)
Name: HMCS Chicoutimi
Acquired: 1998
Commissioned: October 2004
Honours and
Atlantic, 1941–44.
Status: in active service, as of 2022 – awaiting repair (Dry-docked)
Badge: File:Badge of HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK 879).jpg
General characteristics
Class & type: Upholder/Victoria-class submarine
Displacement: 2,260 long tons (2,296 t) surfaced
2,500 long tons (2,540 t) submerged
Length: 230 ft 7 in (70.28 m)
Beam: 23 ft 7 in (7.19 m)
Draught: 24 ft 11 in (7.59 m)
Speed: 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) surfaced
20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h) submerged
Complement: 48 officers and crew, plus 7 trainees
Armament: • 6 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes
• 18 × Mark 48 torpedoes

HMCS Chicoutimi is a Victoria-class long-range hunter-killer (SSK) submarine of the Royal Canadian Navy, originally built and operated by the Royal Navy as HMS Upholder. Shortly after being handed over by the UK to Canada she was involved in a partial flooding incident which resulted in a fire at sea. The incident sparked a fierce debate over the value of the purchase of this group of second-hand vessels, as well as the handover inspection process. The accident was later attributed to an error in operational procedure.[1]


This submarine was built for the Royal Navy as HMS Upholder (S40), the lead ship of the Upholder (2400) class of submarines, named after the original Upholder. She was laid down by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd (VSEL) in February 1983, launched on 2 December 1986, and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 7 December 1990.[2] Her commissioning was delayed because of a problem with the operation of the torpedo tubes.

Operational history

Royal Navy

Following the end of the Cold-War and subsequent cancellation of the programme, along with the other three vessels in the class, she was decommissioned on 29 April 1994,[2] amidst some controversy, as a financial measure.

Royal Canadian Navy

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The factual accuracy of this article may be compromised due to out-of-date information

Looking to discontinue the operation of diesel-electric boats, the British government offered to sell Upholder and her sister submarines to Canada in 1993.[3] The offer was accepted in 1998.[3] The four boats were leased to the Canadians for US$427 million (plus US$98 million for upgrades and alteration to Canadian standards), with the lease to run for eight years; after this, the submarines would be sold for £1.[2]

Problems were discovered with the piping welds on all four submarines, which delayed the reactivation of Upholder and her three sisters.[2] Upholder was the last to be restored. When work commenced on the submarine, internal steelwork was found to be corroded, hull valves were cracked, air turbine pumps were defective and equipment used to refit sister boat HMCS Corner Brook (the former HMS Ursula) was missing.[4]

Upholder was commissioned as HMCS Chicoutimi, named in honour of the then-city of Chicoutimi, Quebec (now a borough of the city of Saguenay).[2]

October 2004 fire

File:Chicoutimi fire damage.jpg

Fire damage, October 2004

Chicoutimi was the last of the newly renamed Victoria-class vessels to complete the refit and was handed over to the RCN on 2 October 2004 at Faslane Naval Base. Two days later, Chicoutimi set sail for her new home port at CFB Halifax in Nova Scotia.

On 5 October, Chicoutimi was apparently surfaced and running through heavy seas 100 miles (160 km) north-west of County Mayo, Ireland. Both hatches in the bridge fin lock-out chamber were left open and an estimated 2,000 litres of seawater entered the vessel. The seawater caused an electrical panel to short out, which in turn started a major fire and caused all power to cut out, leaving the submarine adrift.[2] Nine crewmembers were affected by smoke inhalation and the ship was left drifting without power in heavy seas.[5]

The RNLI lifeboat stationed on Achill Island, County Mayo (the "Sam and Ada Moody"), was put on standby to assist, but was later stood down. An Irish Navy ship, the Róisín, responded to the submarine's mayday signal and set out to assist it, but was seriously damaged by the rough seas and forced to return to harbour. The only other Irish Navy ships available to help, the Aoife and Niamh were patrolling off Ireland's southern coast. At 2 p.m. local time, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose and the auxiliary vessel RFA Wave Knight reached the crippled Chicoutimi, with an additional three British ships en route. The LÉ Aoife later reached the area and took over coordination of the rescue and salvage efforts. Other British ships dispatched to assist the submarine were HMS Marlborough and RFA Argus, as well as a number of specialist vessels to handle the situation. The rough conditions in the North Atlantic were impeding efforts to rescue the surfaced Chicoutimi, and a former Canadian naval officer said of the Chicoutimi that "[it's] not [a] good surface rider at all. It’s by no means unsafe; it’s just very uncomfortable."[6]

Three of the crew were airlifted by a Royal Navy helicopter for medical treatment after their condition deteriorated. Its original destination was Derry, Northern Ireland, but the helicopter diverted to Sligo, Ireland after one crewman, Lieutenant Chris Saunders, 32, became severely ill. The three crewmen were taken to Sligo General Hospital, where Saunders was pronounced dead.[7] The other two were admitted to the hospital, where one was listed in "critical" condition and placed in the intensive care unit, while another was reported as being in a "stable" condition.[8]

By the evening of 7 October, the weather had abated, and the Chicoutimi was taken in tow by the British Coast Guard tugboat Anglian Prince to return to Faslane Naval Base in Scotland. The tow was later taken over by the United States Submarine Support Vessel MV Carolyn Chouest, which was able to increase the towing speed from three knots (6 km/h) to eight or nine knots (15 or 17 km/h), and reached Faslane on the evening of 10 October. Chicoutimi was escorted into the Royal Navy base by HMCS St. John's, a Canadian frigate which rushed across the Atlantic after the navy learned of the fire.

Following claims made in the Canadian media about the cause of the fire, blaming the UK for supplying an unsafe vessel, the situation was further exacerbated by controversial comments made by Secretary of State for Defence Geoff Hoon. He accompanied his condolences for Saunders with a proposal that the Royal Navy would charge Canada for the cost of the rescue while also stating that Canada as the buyer had to beware. In Canada, many World War II veterans were outraged by his comments.[1] As well as promoting speculation regarding problems with the Victoria class, the incident also sparked debate in Ireland over the country's search and rescue capabilities.[citation needed]

HMCS Chicoutimi in HMC Dockyard, Halifax, in early 2007

After some repairs were made at Faslane, the Department of National Defence contracted Eide Marine Services to transport Chicoutimi aboard the submersible heavy lift ship Eide Transporter to Halifax. She departed Faslane on 13 January 2005 and arrived in Halifax on 1 February 2005 where she was dry docked at HMC Dockyard for further work.[2]

2009 transfer to Victoria

In April 2006 the Department of National Defence announced that repairs to Chicoutimi would be deferred until 2010 when the submarine was to undergo a previously scheduled two-year Extended Docking Work Period (refit).[9]

From 2006-2008 the Department of Public Works and Government Services worked with DND to issue a Request for Proposal for the Victoria Class In-Service Support Contract Project (VISSC). The result of this RFP saw the VISSC awarded in June 2008 to the Canadian Submarine Maintenance Group (CSMG), a private-sector consortium led by Babcock Marine and Weir Canada Inc. The initial 5-year contract for the VISSC will see CSMG establish a submarine maintenance and repair facility at DND's graving dock at CFB Esquimalt near Victoria, British Columbia. The DND graving dock is operated by Washington Marine Group as Victoria Shipyards Inc.[10][11]

Under the terms of the VISSC, CSMG contracted Dockwise USA Inc to transport Chicoutimi from Halifax to Esquimalt. On 1 April 2009 Chicoutimi was loaded aboard the submersible heavy lift ship Tern in Bedford Basin. Tern departed Halifax on 5 April 2009 and arrived in Esquimalt on 29 April 2009 where Chicoutimi was transferred to the CSMG facility.


File:Badge of HMS Upholder (un-official).gif

'Unofficial' badge designed by Lt Cdr Wanklyn, in about 1941.

HMS Upholder (S40)

The precursor of Upholder (S40) was Upholder (P37). In 1941 Upholder (P37) was granted a badge which contained a caryatid. The ship's captain, Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Wanklyn, described the badge as "an armless Greek bint standing in a dustbin"; and designed his own unofficial badge for the ship. Upholder (S40) originally sailed under the earlier Upholder's official badge, yet was allowed to sail under the badge designed by Wanklyn.[12]

HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK 879)

File:Badge of HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK 879).jpg

Badge design of Chicoutimi

The badge's blue and white "V" is in reference to the Victoria-class submarines and the colours of Quebec. The bear represents the bears which are indigenous to the Chicoutimi area. The bear protects a fleur-de-lis and stands upon waves; representing the lakes and rivers in the Chicoutimi region as well as the maritime environment in which the submarine operates.[13]

The badge of Chicoutimi is blazoned:

Azure in front of a pile argent bordered throughout by a letter "V" also argent fimbriated azure surmounting three bars wavy in base argent a bear rampant sable holding in the forepaws a fleur-de-lis azure.[13]

The colours of Chicoutimi are blue and white. The motto of Chicoutimi is MAÎTRE DU DOMAINE, which translates into English as "master of the domain".[14]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 HMCS Chicoutimi Board of Enquiry website
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Wertheim, Eric, ed (2007). The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World: Their Ships, Aircraft, and Systems (15th ed.). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 77–8. ISBN 978-1-59114-955-2. OCLC 140283156. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ferguson, Julie H. (2000). Deeply Canadian: New Submarines for a New Millennium. Beacon Publishing. p. 152. ISBN 0-9689857-0-X. 
  4. Halifax Daily News: Fourth sub delayed by rust :: PEJ News :: Stories, Features, Opinion and Analysis :: Peace, Earth & Justice News
  5. "Nine hurt on stricken submarine". BBC News. 6 October 2004. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  7. "Canadian sailor dies in submarine accident". CBC News. 7 October 2004. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. 
  8. "Dead and wounded airlifted from submarine". The Guardian. London. 7 October 2004. 
  9. "Fire-damaged sub won't be operational until 2012". CBC News. 28 April 2006. Archived from the original on 12 December 2006. 
  12. "Barrow Built Upholder Class, 1990 – 1994". Retrieved 11 October 2009. [dead link]
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Volume 2, Part 1: Extant Commissioned Ships". Chief Military Personnel. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  14. "HMCS Chicoutimi" (pdf). Chief Military Personnel. 15 September 2005. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 

External links

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