Interviewee: Jeffrey J. Smith
Interviewers: Tony Thatcher & Don Wilson
Date of Interview: 12 May 2016
Location of Interview: Ottawa, ON
Transcribed by: Don Wilson
THATCHER: This is a CNTHA oral history project interview with Jeffrey Smith. It was recorded in Ottawa on the 12th of May 2016. The interview was conducted by Tony Thatcher and Don Wilson and all participants have signed the copy release form. Jeffrey Smith is currently Professor of Law at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa and he served in the Navy in earlier days and was the Engineer Officer of HMCS Qu’Appelle when she was decommissioned on the 31st of July 1992. He recently presented a paper at the 2016 Mari-Tech Conference on the progress of Canada’s federal fleet replacement program and the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. I would ask Jeff first to introduce himself and describe a bit of his career as it relates to this interview and the points he wishes to tell us.
SMITH: Good morning, thank you for that introduction. I’m Jeffrey Smith. In many respects, my career in the Royal Canadian Navy as an Engineer Officer was unremarkable. There are, perhaps, some particular features of my career progress which may be of interest but I suspect it’s the ship I finally served in as Engineer Officer and her circumstances as the first of the Y100 steam-propelled vessels in the Canadian Naval fleet and, within that, on the west coast which was de-commissioned or paid off to make room for or to prepare for Fleet renewal, in particular, the arrival of the Canadian Patrol Frigate – vessels that were beginning to come on stream that year, 1992 in Halifax. I joined the Canadian Forces as an ROTP Program officer in 1983. All five years of my university education were at Royal Roads Military College. At the time, there were two degree programs which allowed a Marine Engineering Officer Branch MS Officer to stay at Royal Roads – the Computer Science degree and the Physics and Oceanography degree, the latter of which I had, which degree I think because it dealt considerably with fluid mechanics and fluid modelling, albeit in an oceanographic setting, prepared me well for my subsequent career. After commissioning in 1988, I moved through the then recently rejuvenated or recast program of Marine (MS) Officer, MARE MS Officer qualification which, a couple of years previously had dispensed with or superseded the former C of C Certificate of Competency Levels I and II stages or progress points. In effect, the training of Marine Systems officers in that era was largely the same – an initial period post-commissioning at sea together with summer time periods as a Cadet, a period with the Royal Navy still at the Royal Naval Engineering College, Manadon in the United Kingdom for about eight months. This was called an Applications Course, a return to sea for Phase 6. The previous analogue would have been a Certificate of Competency Level I. At that point the Certificate of Competency lasted for about eight months to a year. I had the benefit of an extended tour in the Far East aboard HMCS ANNAPOLIS, a ship that many years later I would deal with in an environmental consulting capacity when the ship was sunk on the west coast of Canada as an artificial reef. It became apparent to the authorities on the west coast – the Engineering Commander of the Fleet School, my Squadron Technical Officer and I think probably the Squadron Commander of the then Second Canadian Destroyer Squadron and the so-called operational squadron of four ships in which I was in the ANNAPOLIS and training, that my career was offered some progress or potential so having finished Phase 6 training, certainly on time, I was asked to take the Assistant Head-of-Department billet in the QU’APPELLE in 1990 – over in the Training Squadron where I moved through my Head of Department training with some rapidity, or I should say with some speed, qualifying in a rather fast period. At that time, in 1990, it was decided that certain units – certain vessels of the west coast fleet – should begin to pay off, not so much to make physical room for and certainly not any kind of budgetary or financial space for the arrival of the Canadian Patrol Frigate, but because of the crew crossover training requirements – in particular for non-commissioned members – for ratings in the vessels – there would be, particularly among the technical trades, Mar Eng, Marine Engineers, and Marine Engineering Artificers as well as Electricians and some of the Naval weapons side of the house as well, considerable upgrade or crossover training, to meet the requirements of the CPF. And that entailed or necessitated releasing those non-commissioned members into the training stream in sufficient time in advance. It became evident that the personnel plot was shifting or changing. It was also made clear to me that I should qualify quickly as an Engineer Officer and supersede or simply take the place of my EO, Donald H. Switzer, who had been promoted to Lieutenant-Commander and was off to Ottawa. It was also made clear to me that I should pursue an Engineer Officer appointment early on because it was unlikely that I would return as EO of a CPF. I was destined to go to post-Graduate training thereafter and by the time the CPF’s were introduced and I had gone through the cycle of postings and post-Graduate training, in effect I would have become too senior to return to a CPF which I think later events of the 1990’s proved that true. So, I qualified in 1990 and immediately rolled over as it were superseded my Engineer. At the time, the paying off of ships on the west coast was somewhat uncertain. In 1990, of course, Canada was responding in a modest way after August of that year to the Persian Gulf Crisis – to the multi-national response to Iraq invading Kuwait and the United Nations approved or directed efforts afterwards. So the fleet mix was beginning to change on the west coast, together with the addition in the immediate post-Cold War months of a 280-Class vessel briefly to the west coast, HMCS HURON, before that ship proceeded in 1991-92 into her 2 to 3-year long mid-life upgrade program – into the TRUMP Class program. So the plot generally or the mix of vessels on the west coast after decades of quite static structure – four ships of the Improved RESTIGOUCHE Escort Class in the Second Canadian Destroyer Squadron, primarily with an anti-submarine posture as those ships had been upgraded in the 1970’s and, I think in hindsight, the somewhat inefficient training vehicle or framework that was the Fourth Canadian Escort Squadron – of four unimproved Y100 Class ships, the MacKenzie Class ships, McKENZIE, YUKON, SASKATCHEWAN, and then the final one, hull number 264, the QU’APPELLE, commissioned, I suppose, in 1964, which had seen all of her service on the west coast and, substantially, from the early 1970’s through the early 1980’s as this four-ship squadron or flotilla more or less oriented to training needs for the Canadian Navy.
WILSON: Which replaced the old frigates.
SMITH: … which had replaced the old frigates in that role. And I say that was somewhat inefficient because these were large platform vessels that were substantially crewed – with crews in excess of 200, Engineering Departments in excess of 60, heavily geared to officer training and, within that, heavily geared as large-scale platforms to MARS officer training in the era. Doctrinally, and I say this with the benefit of some hindsight and the experience of the Navy’s later necessary change in training, doctrinally there were probably better ways of training non-commissioned members as well as commissioned officers. Any platform will do as we know and perhaps the more efficient yields a better training gain, not that the training in that era of anyone was inadequate but it was probably somewhat cost inefficient. That was beginning, in effect, to shift so at some point – finishing these summary remarks – in 1990, just around when I had been appointed, or superseded my Engineer in the QU’APPELLE, it was determined that the QU’APPELLE would pay off in the next couple of years. The timeline was uncertain, which immediately presented problems for organizing maintenance and, to a degree, the crewing requirements generally in the ship and to a certain extent, in the Engineering Department. When should we let people go either in the routine course of appointments or postings into shore billets; when should we let people go or support them leaving to Advanced Trade Qualifications. I had – although I had just only recently been an Engineer Officer trainee, so to speak, if you can call the Assistant Head of Department billet that – it’s a working substantially sort of a working billet but I think we should regard it as training because it’s the end stage of a qualification after all. Although I had only recently been a trainee, I immediately inherited and, as I recall I had a junior MARE officer posted in for training and so I had to reckon with their career progression now in this immediate space of uncertainty. I think the decision to – I recall because we had discussions with the senior staff ashore in Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters – MARPAC Headquarters. The decision was taken and was seemingly logical or obvious to pay off the QU’APPELLE first among the eight major or large west coast steam-propelled warships. At this time, of course, one of those warships that I had earlier trained in – I spoke of the ANNAPOLIS – had moved over into the Second Canadian Destroyer Squadron and had come through an extensive refit including for the Cantass Towed Array Sonar System on the east coast. So that ship was clearly fixed and it was clearly established that that ship would be one of the last to be paid off. As it turned out, she was paid off somewhat earlier than anticipated in about 1996 – so the chess pieces were beginning to line up. The Tribal Class ship, the TRUMP HMCS HURON, proceeding to her TRUMP refit, was clearly out of the mix or going to be out of the mix at this point. So logically it fell, or so it seemed at the time to everyone concerned, that the QU’APPELLE would be the first to be paid off. Although she was the youngest of the McKenzie Class ships, she’d always been regarded as somewhat not like the others. Because she was youngest, she was the last to receive her deck armament and had been fitted not with a 3-inch 70 calibre forward or “A” mount gun but with a 3-inch 50 calibre gun. Hardly a basis or a decision to pay off a warship or to arrange a fleet mix, particularly as that weaponry was essentially obsolete and scarcely used and used in a limited sense – although quite accurate, actually, scarcely used when the ships were in a training role. Because of the referral of the 280 Class into her mid-life upgrade program, it was then decided logically that, for a period of time, the training squadron otherwise having three operational ships – a point I will return to in a moment because I think it is relevant to the process of paying off the QU’APPELLE – the training squadron, the Fourth Destroyer Squadron having three operational vessels as training platforms that the QU’APPELLE, having been selected to pay off at some point, would move to meet the operational needs including training within the group of the Second Canadian Destroyer Squadron. And at the time, of course, HMCS RESTIGOUCHE, was being assigned and being partly retrofitted to take off her anti-submarine rocket system – or ASROC system and add surface launch missiles to join the Gulf War effort. So there was a raw shortage or a shortage in pure numbers of vessels in the Second Canadian Destroyer Squadron. So, over we moved and I suppose in about mid-1990 the assignment was made. The point that was relevant about the remaining ships in the Fourth Destroyer Squadron, the training squadron, being all in refit and available for use which, of course, to those interested in personnel posting and progression both on the coast and here in Ottawa, meant a continuity of training both officers and non-commissioned members, or NCO’s, as the CPF’s were coming in. In other words, the training – the basis for the capacity to train and qualify people – largely needed to proceed interrupted. It was a quite challenging time for posting, recruitment, retention and career progression which, in the result, was handled with a fair degree of success through the 1990’s. This was a step change in fleet renewal; it was a remarkable story that, in hindsight, appears to have worked out quite well. The point is that virtually all of the west coast ships and the Canadian Navy at that time, more modern vessels such as the four TRUMPed 280 vessels and the 16 or so Y100 plant steam-propelled destroyers – helicopter carrying or not – have been intensively maintained throughout their life cycles. It was an interesting maintenance philosophy or doctrine in which those ships would be taken out of service essentially one year in four for a quite significant or deep refit – a so-called baseline refit – regardless of the actual condition of hull and machinery or operating systems, weapons systems within the ship. In effect, as the 1980’s wore on, while these vessels were aging, this is a sort of a west coast fleet compliment or the Canadian Navy as a whole. The vessels had been extensively and to a high degree of quality, maintained which allowed for some latitude or flexibility and as a case of fortuitous timing, these other three ships of the McKenzie Class, could, in effect, continue to fulfill their mandate or remain in service with a bit of schedule adjustment around their refits. That had been true of the QU’APPELLE when I inherited her. The ship would not have been due until about 1992 or 1993 in this in this ordinary cycle for a next baseline lengthy docking refit, so I had the good fortune, both in this maintenance cycle and from the Engineering Department present to inherit, as it were, a vessel that had relatively few problems – operating problems. I’m quite confident, with the benefit of hindsight, that the vessel could have continued – that the QU’APPELLE could have continued for a number of years in service. There were some late in life aging problems that would have required a degree of ingenuity or longer so-called short work periods – these quarterly three-week intervals that were a part of the doctrine or philosophy – re-tubing of condensers in main steam turbines would have been a factor but they would have been in any other setting or any other Y100 ship as we know. Certain valve replacements, turbo-alternator replacements – the perennial problems of auxiliary boilers – of the auxiliary boiler which was a design that had really passed its life span and would cause me some grief with my Captain because there was never an adequate supply of hot water when arriving in a foreign port out of the auxiliary boiler for his needs.
WILSON: I had my leave stopped for that once.
SMITH: In particular the problem of the generally under-used primary diesel ship service generator, the Morse-Fairbanks 500 kilowatt generator which sat forward-most in the Boiler Room, was innovative in its design – in particular its prime mover end – I never thought much of the governor/alternator arrangements around it or some of the switch gear, but as a prime mover it was innovative and it was innovative, the designers of the 1950’s to place that vertically-opposed piston engine in forward in the Boiler Room. I think, with the benefit of hindsight, we would want more redundancy and we would want it in a different space, but that is beside the point. That engine, in particular, that system tended to require a lot of maintenance. Again, it was not heavily used, except perhaps in foreign ports or unusual circumstances at sea. So there would have ultimately been an aging out of the physical plant, less so the hull and hull systems on these ships and its difficult to determine when that would have been but it would have been post-1995.
WILSON: The boilers were ok?
SMITH: The boilers were fine when I inherited the ship except that, as the months progressed, there was a problem with some bypass and, therefore, inefficiency in both sides. Of course the Y100 is boiler port and starboard, right, there was a problem with efficiency and escapage through the super – inside the superheater. Steam wasn’t being directed, in effect, progressively through the “S” curves of the superheater and that was because the superheater divider or division plates were showing wear and needed to be replaced and that we considered was a Dockyard job. That was hardly a headache in the summer of 1990 but by early 1991 it had worked itself up as a priority in a Dockyard-assisted Short Work Period. Unfortunately, and I think this was my last calamity, as Engineer Officer, when the work was done by the Dockyard, the retaining bolts that hold these approximately 4-inch (10cm) square mild steel plates functioning, of course, between 550 degrees Fahrenheit and 650 degrees Fahrenheit – I can recall these temperatures as if it was yesterday – the securing bolts in the centre of the plate that held the plate in place; the plate, of course, was removed for access to clean or otherwise repair superheater header, I should say, this is the header or the bank or the manifold of the superheater that stands about two metres high when it’s removed from the boiler – the boiler front. The Dockyard staff had cut or torched those bolts – as they should have, but the bolts fell into the bottom of the superheater and were not retrieved and were not accounted for and I am unsure to this date of how many worked their way in. It was more than two but less than six sort of thing. A first lesson in a closed steam range, of course, is to account for the security of that upon closing up and so one needs to reverse engineer the maintenance process to have a degree of accountability around this, so to speak – a degree of sort of evidentiary continuity almost of what goes in and what goes out. It was not until some weeks later when we were at sea. We had gone through a Basin Trial alongside which would have been, I think, at B-Jetty in HMC Dockyard, Esquimalt C-Jetty not being fully in place after the construction of a large Dockyard 250 complex at currently the Fleet Maintenance Facility, so I am quite sure we did a Basin Trial, probably at B-Jetty but perhaps at A-Jetty and that would have been fine. A Basin Trial, to make the point, I think in what was my most serious and interesting Engineering calamity, would not of course have introduced a sufficient volume of steam. Of course it would have been sufficient pressure at 550 pounds per square inch, but not a sufficient volume of steam to carry the bolt heads through the main steam range further down line to threaten the turbines. So it was only some weeks later four or five in February, 1992 when, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I got a call to come to the Engine Room and it was explained to me by the Watch Chief and the Chief ERA, the Chief Engine Room Artificer who was following me down the ladder, that the throttles on one side – and I can’t remember if it was port or starboard – appeared to be sticking. The manually engaged throttle for ahead propulsion to admit progressively greater volume of steam into the turbine – and in particular the turbine area or blades of the forward or large ahead turbine – 15,000 shaft horsepower a side – were hanging up or sticking. They could be released but they were misbehaving and physically you could see – this was the elegant of rudimentary design of the throttle control system in that era – you could see the throttle plunger or shaft with its ball or disc at the end of it at the steam inlet opening, was in place or not. We had the profoundly good fortune of having one, evidently, superheater header divider plate bolt head, proceed all the way in the main steam range and hang up at the inlet to the main turbine under the throttle even as it was being worked and, ostensibly, could have been opened to allow the bolt to proceed possibly at some velocity – certainly under some pressure. I can’t recall if we had the problem on the other side or not, but that’s an interesting perceptual thing about responding – to your cognition in responding to an emergency situation which is something Marine Engineers should train for because we should look to non-standard causes and what that may entail. We certainly found, after returning to the Dockyard, and we returned – I think we secured that range, we shut the main stop to that side which I increasingly I recall was the starboard side turbine and then we returned on one turbine, fortunately a short distance. We weren’t a great deal offshore – we were somewhere in the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the time whereupon, of course, both turbine throttle ends were opened up in the Dockyard and we found the bolts as well as some bolts a bit further back in the main steam range which was an interesting incident. We had saved the turbines, in effect. The Naval Engineering Unit of the day, and I’m not sure if I should mention his name because I disagreed with him at the time although he is an eminent Marine Engineer and a former Chief Engineer of at least one vessel. The Naval Engineering Unit’s civilian propulsion expert, so to speak, had said “look, we’ll fit division plates into the main steam range – perforated plates in effect – at the pipe flanges of the main steam range just a short distance forward of the turbines or the turbine throttles and in that way, because we don’t know the number of missing or disappeared bolt that may be in the system, we’ll catch them. And in the next year you can expect to pay off anyway, so that’s fine – we don’t have a larger maintenance. So the point of disagreement was when the calculators came out and we got the steam tables out and we looked at things around the Wardroom table in the QU’APPELLE. I think the Squadron Technical Officer was briefly in at that point and there were some other people around along with me and the Naval Engineering Unit Engineer. The Naval Engineering Unit Engineer was confident we would achieve no more than 60% power. In effect, we ought to limit to about 152 or 186 revolutions on the shaft. We would be speed-limited. I disagreed and I said “well the steam flow through the area – the cross-sectional area – won’t be as impeded as you think and we’re going to develop more power without limiting anything else – without a back-pressure problem or other issues or a localized heating problem.” And in the result, because the requirements in that era were to conduct a Full Power Trial quarterly, which ships in fact struggled to do even though ships were at sea a fair amount of the year – 200 days plus or minus, perhaps even as many as, well, not 240 not with three short work periods a year. But in the day ships were at sea a fair amount of the year, but it was always a struggle to persuade the operational programmers – typically the Captain – that you would wish to reserve four hours of uninterrupted sailing time even for a ship, an internally ship-directed ship-assessed Full Power Trial. Once a year, of course, you had an Annual Full Power Trial in which you took a number of riders aboard from the Naval Engineering Unit, typically, which was a wonderful training exercise for everybody involved. There’s nothing like, forgive me for the expression – a Full Power Trial as a pedagogically-useful device for frankly a ship’s company. It’s an enormous confidence-builder, it forces maintenance checks and maintenance familiarity on the Engineering Department quite like nothing else. There’s no degree of complacency such as coming out of a Basin Trial or commissioning a particular new piece of machinery for this; there is a fair amount riding on it and in those years – the 1980’s – there had been issues with the conduct of Full Power Trials annual and quarterly in the steam-propelled fleet. Ultimately, finishing this story about, I think, my most significant calamity – we had had some fires on some other issues although I think the great dramas of the era were frankly around people and their circumstances more than anything particularly technically. Ultimately, on our last periodic Full Power Trial or Quarterly Full Power Trial, I proved myself correct and I think we developed – and I still have the report of Full Power Trial somewhere in my archives tucked away – we developed something like 190+ revolutions without problem before the rest of the plant, in effect, maxed out so we achieved sort of something on 90% full power out of that, which was quite gratifying. And so on we sailed until it became very apparent that the crew had to be released. There was still a need in a sort of six or seven-ship west coast Navy with a changing overall strategic paradigm in the post-Cold War era around the Asia-Pacific. There was still the need to keep the ship running but clearly the crew had to get released and so the decision was made – that’s it, you’re done. Along the way, during my time, there had been – and I will sort of conclude this part by observing this – there had been an interesting cyclical pattern of desiring not to engage Dockyard support for maintenance of the ship because the ship and similar ships, as yet unidentified, would pay off and therefore it was not cost-effective to do certain things in the vessel. The perennial problem of an auxiliary boiler, which, frankly required a whole new auxiliary boiler at some cost, was never fully resolved because of that. There was, however, late in the day, a desire to make work in HMC Dockyard, Esquimalt and, therefore, to bring on items of Dockyard work – second line maintenance work – that had been put into abeyance or that ship’s staff had done partial work-arounds for or that ship’s staff would simply obtain parts and in an interesting way try to deal with ourselves – which was wonderful for the ship’s crew. In the end, we were substantially left to our own devices which I think was an enormous confidence-builder around the Engineering Department – particularly for people at sort of TQ5 – TQ6, Leading Seaman, Master Seaman and Petty Officer Second Class – confronted with, in effect, something of a regime of self-help.
SMITH: So, I should turn, in this interview, to the paying off the QU’APPELLE. It had, and the record, I suspect, is incomplete. I say that, of course, with the benefit of hindsight in light of my experience through life that it’s always useful, in the event, where it is to be repeated and the event is complex, requires complex regulation, governance, leadership, a degree of material support and certainly for its financial implications to assess the lessons of a unique event.
The Royal Canadian Navy had payed off ships on previous occasions, but it had not payed off a ship of any consequence on the west coast for largely a generation – probably since about 1972 with some of the singular one-offs of the excess Y100 complement of the CHAUDIERE, of course in about 1971 or 1972, which placed considerably into reserve status or as a derelict scarcely of any use or interest to us on the west coast fleet. And then the curious partial paying off as it were – formally, of course, a decommissioning – of the COLUMBIA which was turned into a Harbour Training ship and maintained as such through a somewhat working engineering plant and upper deck or deck equipment for a number of years. The west coast Navy, in other words, had not payed off vessels, including the Bay Class minesweepers which would go on into the 1990’s until they were replaced by the MCDV’s in a number of years. Clearly the Navy had not needed to concern itself with the ultimate end state or disposition of its vessels being retired in anticipation of receiving the CPF’s. We come to an interesting historical point and that’s whether some of those existing vessels – west coast or east coast – should have or could have continued to enjoy a role. Was there a necessity for a mixed fleet? Of course, depending on the number of ships needed for various tasks by the government or according to policy or defence commitments of the day. And to a certain extent, the overlap or mixed fleet or a somewhat in theory larger fleet was planned for. This is relevant to the QU’APPELLE in paying off in a way that I’ll explain in a moment in that four 280 Class ships would continue to enjoy a number of years of life. In effect, they were at mid-life upgrade at years 16 through 18 of their existence and would carry on from a bench-mark date of about 1990. Together with three fleet support ships, or operational support ships AOR-type vessels through the Navy, clearly the decision to overlap or carry on with some steam-propelled vessels – warships as such – was made because HMC Ships ANNAPOLIS & NIPIGON, the youngest of the Y100 and built, in effect, from the keel up as helicopter-carrying vessels – single helicopter DDH’s – would carry on and the ANNAPOLIS, as the west coast counterpart to the NIPIGON, was expected to carry on past 2000, in part because she was carrying a CANTASS Towed Array Sonar System that was state-of-the-art at that point. In the result, that did not happen and that’s for others to inquire into. It could have been crewing, it could have been cost – it would have been fleet allocation and so, in effect, it was a step change from largely that technology, that maintenance doctrine, those crewing practices – in a significantly steam-propelled Navy if I can call it, with clear ramifications for Engineer Officers, Engineer Officer development, in ways that probably 20 years on as the CPF’s settled down if you will, in the mid-1990’s - are likely being reckoned with. What’s the state of education development, recruiting, retention and training after this? It went successfully, but the Navy, in sheer numbers of fleet units, remained at a constant level – essentially 16 capital ships – twelve CPF’s, four 280 TRUMPed Class vessels – replacing essentially that number of Y100 ships – perhaps a few more on the east coast because it had long been out of balance. Out in Maritime Forces Pacific, there was no, as I said earlier, no recognition or comprehension – no instructions from higher authority as to an ultimate end state of the vessel. Will the vessel be disposed of outside of Canada, sold or broken up in a classic ship-breaking setting? There was no, of course – given the age of the QU’APPELLE and, in particular her unimproved weaponry status in general terms – there was no prospect of her being sold to another government or another navy. Weapons systems had significantly outstripped what the McKenzie Class vessels had had at this point. In theory it would have been possible to retrofit them but then you would have had a significant training problem or challenge in training another navy’s crews to operate such a ship. So there was never any of that prospect. It would have been fanciful but, the point is that there was not a directed end state of the vessel. Pay off the vessel into this state. Clearly, the ship’s and, for a while I think it was entertained but it would have been a fiction, would not go into any kind of extended readiness or reserve for later use or return to use of some kind. Immediately as a plant of that age would have been retired with some of the necessary laying up or storage maintenance if not dealing with some fundamentals – auxiliary boiler, main steam turbine, condenser cooling tubes, a variety of other issues – the inefficiency of HVAC issues, some habitability issues. Immediately as a ship like that is payed off, in effect it’s done. But how they ultimately be disposed of was somebody else’s business – it was somebody else’s part of ship quite literally, and, as it transpired, another government department’s. So that set, if you will, the paradigm or limited the work requirement for everyone concerned in Maritime Forces Pacific. It was sufficient, in a fact, to one day operate the ship and the next day walk away from it which, in real terms is essentially what happened. There was a span of only days between my last Quarterly Full Power Trial, fully efficient plant and all that that entails including, sort of – by comparison or necessarily – the rest of the vessel. If you’re going to get a ship to sea and drive it around 25+ knots, 90% of full power, everything else intrinsically is part of that – navigation system, and everything else and so it was and, not long after that Full Power Trial in the spring or the early summer of 1992, did we come into port and de-ammunition at Rocky Point Ammunition Depot, south of Victoria and immediately as the ship was tied up, people received postings ashore. We had a problem of needing to depart the ship wholly partly because it would go cold or essentially not be habitable. That’s a good decision to be made if you are going to move people and move on from a ship, maintaining a ship as office space alongside takes up a berth and takes up substantially more electrical power and frankly care and husbandry, in any event, you’ve got to continue doing rounds so it’s sort of a live active asset that’s consuming of resources. But we in QU’APPELLE faced the problem of having a partial crew with no home. Some of the crew would have been drafted or posted away including some NCM’s in the Engineering Department who clearly needed to get away for either conversion training for CPF’s or simply needed to get on with trade qualifications, right. I’ll return to them in a moment. So, our paying off window – as it were – the period of time to prepare the ship was very short in light of a quite sudden or precipitous decision to begin to move people – that at some point there was a step change or sort of a cascading or a saw tooth pattern in the requirement for personnel that saw us fall off a kind of fictional cliff, as it were, that said these forty members of the ship’s company, together with officers who were in stream for qualifications, typically Sub-Lieutenant or Lieutenant ranks. I’ll come back to that point in a moment because it was interesting about training doctrine in the Navy that is always a complexity in shifting over a pattern of ships and attempting a block change in your fleet. Future Canadian Surface Combatant planners would be well-advised to think about block changes in vessels and what they entail for the training progression of people – it’s a point I’ll come back to. The general point is that because there was no stated end state or goal for the disposition of the ship, and therefore no stripping out or specific or required decommissioning or giving up of machinery and systems, that limited, fortunately, the work we the crew had to do to prepare, coupled with in early or mid-1992 with the clear exigency to get crew moving ashore for re-qualification. So it was a space of weeks, in effect, to deal with the laying up of the ship which was both comprehensive and rudimentary. Everything could remain in situ and only stores, fuel, ammunition and food, of course – victual provisions – would need to come ashore and it was largely a self-directed effort. So it was sufficient to lay up machinery into reserve, to preserve it with a notion that it not fail – it would never return to use – such that the ship would not be compromised. So, what should we do with cathodic protection? I mean, in a very passive setting, that would be an immediate anxiety of the Engineer which is – although I’m leaving this asset for an untold period of time – it may remain at berth and, if we look across Esquimalt harbour, we see the COLUMBIA and the CHAUDIERE. I have to be accurate about the CHAUDIERE. The CHAUDIERE would move in about 1992 to be the first of artificial reefs on the west coast of Canada. There was no anticipation of this for the QU’APPELLE and none or some of the other ships would later follow but none of this was of any interest. There was a senior Commander in the Dockyard who spearheaded that, because a great deal of technical and environmental competency was needed to satisfy the various authorities that a ship could be placed on the sea bed of the Strait of Georgia, as the Strait of Georgia was then called, in an environmentally sound condition. That there would be sufficient removals, cleanliness and so on. I should add, by the way – it’s not relevant to the QU’APPELLE – that that standard of cleanliness set the stage for, and remains, the leading governmental regulation born out of any nation state for the cleanup of warships and commercial ships to be sunk as artificial reefs in inshore waters. It’s a complex exercise; in the case of the ANNAPOLIS in 2014-2015 on the west coast reveals that, because there was a bit of litigation, in particular, which you can read at the Federal Court website. If you search ANNAPOLIS efficiently, you will read the interesting story of a concern about environmental contaminants in that ship which was overcome. All of that resulted, if you will, from the paying off or decommissioning of a steam vessel fleet, both as some public utility in having artificial reefs diving attraction and apparently to attract or promote the growth of marine life in inshore settings and other places, globally, have sort of made up of both benefits, was an unintended consequence and there would have perhaps also been a cost saving that’s interesting to compare to current fleet disposal – to the current disposal of the ALGONQUIN and the PROTECTEUR – in this case for breaking up on the east coast of Canada, but that’s another story. We had no such remit, so in many respects, our work was easy to pay off. It was a case of stripping out and laying up and there were some interesting sidelines to that. Of course, you have just – you have gone from sixty to zero as it were in automotive driving terms – from having a fully-functioning available warship to being told “Pay her off”, which is probably a good way to go, mostly for the people involved, to keep them engaged. If you are on a glide slope or decreasing tempo of operation, or substantially alongside because you are in a quasi-payed off state, I rather suspect that’s inimical or prejudicial to morale. It’s not giving people sea time; it’s not engaging them in a going concern. Going from sixty to zero, where people otherwise have an outlet – including the anticipation of working in a Canadian Patrol Frigate-equipped fleet – was a good thing. I think morale was tremendous. I think in my department morale was even more enhanced because we particularly had some of our own challenges to look to. We were, in effect, in something of a self-help regimen. I don’t think there was scarcely a harsh word or a discipline problem so motivated were people – and this sort of speaks to being boastful – but at the time, the Marine Engineering Technician Training Plan (METTP) that would take Marine Engineering ratings – typically Ordinary and Able Seamen at some point in their first three years of engagement, right. We engaged our sailors initially on three-year terms, then on a later term and then extended those. That was sort of the era of the day which was sort of an interesting way to recruit and get people. In the day when the Navy was running the quite highly successful METTP Plan, one applied for it as a very promising Ordinary Seaman or junior Able Seaman and off you went three years at college you came back; there was accelerated promotion – there was an accelerated advancement through certification processes. I think, empirically I can say I had a very motivated Engineering Department – shipwrights, hull technicians and electricians alike – by the fact that I had a number of applicants for METTP and I had three from my ship be selected which was all out of proportion to the west coast of the Navy as a whole. There were only 18 or 24 a year from the entire fleet – both coasts and everywhere else – that moved through this and three of them, in effect, were mine. Because people were motivated – they had lots of sea time, they performed very well, it was easy to write letters of recommendation for them that clearly, in effect, saw them through. Nevertheless, so that’s perhaps one interesting aside on the human side. In discussion in the paying off of the QU’APPELLE, we the ship’s company did not particularly have to worry about the laying up status or where the ship would be but clearly it was an imperative that largely fell to me as the Engineer Officer to ensure the preservation of the hull so I talked about cathodic protection, that systems wouldn’t fail, that hull valves or so-called skin valves would clearly be in good repair because this could clearly go for a number of years. So, all of those were sort of issues or concerns that sort of other issues – should fuel tanks be completely drained? Of course they should be. Should they be drained to the point of being able to be opened up with confined space issues? There were sort of issues around that.
WILSON: What about gearboxes?
SMITH: What did we do with the gearboxes? That’s a good question. My answer would have been – given a long lay up – of course this is right out of the Naval Engineering Manual, right that, over a long lay up, they probably they should have been emptied and dried in some way and, of course, and secured from any kind of foreign objects entering them, right. You would certainly want to remove the oil – removing the lubricating oil from that system would have entailed opening up things, leaving them dry in the classic fashion. I’m fairly certain we did that. I’m fairly certain we would have secured turbine and shaft line from any movement, opened them up and limited them, as it were, against corrosion or other problems. Conversely, and therefore, the condensate and steam systems – feed water systems – same thing. In fact, I have a very clear recollection of feed tanks being opened up and assessed to dispose of them as any kind of confined space problem. Conversely, I am quite sure we left refrigerants in the HVAC systems of the vessels – the air conditioning plants – which is a bit of an historical anomaly that would be of interest to some, in that the refrigerant was Freon R11, at the time and, of course, the portable – we never had fixed firefighting suppression systems in the Y100 vessels. There were never carbon dioxide style or halon 1211 or 1301 space flooding systems, had a significant fire in either of your machinery spaces – Boiler Room or Engine Room – the only remote suppression system was, in effect – there were no sprinkler systems fitted – would have been, in effect, to introduce firefighting foam into the bilges of those compartments against a bilge fire. The spaces were ostensibly too large for anything else which, sort of some years on, reveals the sort of primitive nature of firefighting. There would have been portable firefighting extinguishers that were halon-equipped but, at the time, we clearly remember the discussions about ozone-depleting substances and the problem of stratospheric ozone in the atmosphere and it was a good and wonderful – if terrible thing – to train on portable halon firefighting extinguishers, so the Engineering Department would pick up – or certainly the Marine Engineering side of it – Mar Eng Arts and Mar Eng Mechanics – and myself and the Assistant Engineer, would pick up once a year to go over to the Firefighting Training Centre on the other side of Esquimalt Dockyard in Colwood and part of the refresher annual refresher training would be to use the portable fire extinguishers, which were halon extinguishers which were at that time known – given the ozone destruction potential of halon – to be rather destructive. That is sort of substantially gone and perhaps beside the point, but there were some things in the ship left in situ. I quite clearly remember the decision that we weren’t going to pump down or deal with Freon 11, which I think, given the actual laid-up capacity of the ship and the clear need to not work HVAC, more or less after the fact, people would enter the ship and would have to deal with it for its towing away about 24 months later – or perhaps 30 months later – that that ought to have been dealt with. And given the problems of Freon R11 and sort of vapor pressure – how it evaporates. Ultimately over time, in an inert system, it would have been lost to atmosphere anyway, right. But we’d had these discussions about laying things up. What’s the best way to preserve, in effect? What should the boilers look like? How should we deal with confined spaces? What’s the state of fuel and fuel went out of the ship and I recall having a conversation with the Captain after we’d pumped out fuel to the Dundurn, which was the harbor fuelling auxiliary vessel in Esquimalt at the time. Dundurn was steam-powered and was ancient but was a handy vessel. After we pumped down all the tanks, I said “here’s the fuel we removed”, to the Captain – which was somewhat of interest. How much did we burn, etc. Engineers are always thinking about fuel – even when it’s gone, right? And the Captain to some exception to the use of the word “ullages”, starting with the word “you”, which, to any Engineer, would represent the distance or draw for available space in a fuel tank to the level of the fuel. I don’t think the Captain had ever seen the word “ullage” before and he thought it overly technical or a Marine Engineering obscurantism, as it were. I quite recall that conversation because clearly I had to tell him what the state of his vessel was – which was that the fuel was finally removed.
I think, in terms of paying off, the other thing that was vexing – and I can only say this with, sort of, some years of hindsight, or some years’ distance – the other thing that was vexing was that the ship had gone from sixty to zero and was very considerably stored. If you look through an empty McKenzie Class vessel, the amount of available store room on 4 Deck and 5 Deck below – at the waterline and below – essentially forward in the ship but to a degree aft – aft of bulkhead 53 – the after bulkhead of the Engine Room, is very considerable. You can get a lot of stuff into these ships and, inevitably, sailors have – and I suspect, still have – a mentality of carrying everything to sea with them on an extended voyage and it is remarkable that, as a young man, as an Engineer Officer, I would inculcate that. There was, for example, only one boiler test pump in the Squadron. The ability, in effect, to put pressure onto the water or feed water side of a boiler to assess things in a static cool capacity – a squeeze as it were – this is a good thing to have, right, though I think I used it once – or saw it used once in my entire career. There was only one and it was jealously guarded by whoever had it and, inevitably, he, the Engineer Officer in temporary possession of it, and it would never trade between Chief ERA’s or even Boiler Room I/C NCO’s, a Petty Officer Second Class, who should have been dealing with it. “Hay, I need – Bob I need to borrow your boiler water test pump. Great, I’ll be over with it. I will send two Leading Seamen and it. Inevitably, it would go up the chain of command as it were – if you can call it that – and it would land on the EO’s desk. And the EO’s around the Squadron would fight about it and it would have to get brokered by the Squadron Technical Officer. And, inevitably, I would want to hold onto it. The one time I thought I would need it again, and I’m determined to go to sea with it, and thereafter my Squadron Technical Officer would obviously get a call and then angrily call me and tell me to release it. This was the sort of mentality of being fully provisioned against all consequences. And so the stores in the QU’APPELLE that had to come off – Engineering and otherwise – were considerable. They obviously had great value and the Supply Officer, Larry Rider – the most important relationship probably in a Wardroom of a ship is the Engineer Officer and the Supply Officer and not the Engineer Officer and the XO or perhaps other people. And we worked very well together; we got along rather I think, famously – sort of partners in crime. The two of us were horrified that the system would not receive back a significant number of spares and expendables. The Base Supply Officer was not interested in getting any kind of refrigerants back, spare refrigerants, any kind of machine oil or lubricating oil sitting in smaller drums or hand-carried sort of vessels, as it were. Tools were not wanted in inventory and began to populate the more aspiring or the brighter Marine Engineer’s tool boxes, and so it went, right. And, in the result, only sort of very significant items – motor workboats, life rafts, obviously, significant or consequential materiel was moved off. Obviously, confidential books, would have been, radio systems and cryptographic materials would have gone. Ship’s Records would have gone after a fashion. And even with all of this, even with the desire not to receive – well therefore how do we get rid of it because we are in a closed environment? We don’t have a commercial outlet; we can’t hold a sale on the side of the dock. We had a Supply System that was unfavourable to receiving things back and that very quickly began to gather momentum. So, if you went into the ship in the evening, routinely I found senior Non-Commissioned Officers, in effect, loading up their vehicles with things that could not go back into the System. So the piping stock, for example, the stock of smaller diameter – smaller gauge piping, or very small milling stock, copper tubing and all that one evening, all of that was getting loaded by the Main Propulsion Chief – a Chief Petty Officer Second Class – into his pickup truck under cover of darkness in the Dockyard because the System wouldn’t, in effect, take it, right, which was, in a way an innovative way to deal with things. We know, with the benefit of hindsight, that stores coming back into a System are really, really expensive; that of many settings, you are better off taking it to a land fill, quite frankly, because the transactional cost in a stores system of receiving this back is too consequential and otherwise administratively dealing with it.
WILSON: How much of it, if any of it, went to another ship?
SMITH: That’s a good question; some of it went informally and some went informally because we made a point of it. I think the Chief ERA and I were troubled by the fact that clearly valuable materiel should go wanting and I think, at the time, we probably – within the Dockyard – yes, some of it went to other ships, certainly a lot of consumables did which led to some sort of interesting things – a lot of consumables did. I suspect much of the alcohol in the ship never went ashore, but went across to another ship berthed alongside. But we were concerned with also doing right by the Dockyard and paying back a number of the shops that had latterly looked after us in this sinusoidal or cyclical effort or engagement or deployment of Dockyard resources. We, in the end running, had been grateful for a number of favours and the quality of work. I think as you inevitably are, the payback or gratitude period is a long one. You would remember something out of the last refit that was particularly done well or a vexing problem or support to somebody in the Engineering Department in getting something done. You would carry that because that’s your currency in these things; this is how the world works. And in those days, things were much less formal around engaging the Dockyard – much less cost-centric. I mean, as an Engineer Officer, I had no budget to worry about; I had no budgetary allocation or financial accounting aspect to my work at all. I was not concerned with the cost of fuel or how efficiently the ship burned it. I could not have quoted to you the cost of what that fuel would have been in that era – which seems troubling or maybe even scandalous. I had no financial remit and was not evaluated on it – on the day. And yet, corporately, you would think there are some implications for this – somewhat around the cost – but probably on the material readiness, generally, of the west coast. That sounds sort of grand, but we have a System here where spares, supplies, ships’ stores are important to the System. They need to go back into that System intrinsically would be the thinking and not from a financial perspective. So, yes, some of it would trickle back up the hill, yes, some of the materiel would trickle back up the hill. The only scandal out of that – I’ll sort of pause because you may have some particular questions. The only scandal was that the senior Engineer Commander who received the ship – who took custody of the ship in Maritime Forces Pacific – Commander Gary Olmstead, and there were about six or seven MARE Commanders on the west coast at the time, which was consequential in my career. It was a very small environment, a very small number of Engineer Officers that, as a relatively young commissioned officer, you were somewhat oblivious to. You had your work to do and you were oblivious to the politics of the thing. But people were able to sort of watch and enquire into situations and evidently I had done a decent enough job that my career path coming out of this was clear – that I would next move on to post-graduate training back at the Royal Naval Engineering College – to do a two-year Master’s degree. This was sort of ordained and was a good thing. That conclusively proved that I was not likely – as a junior officer – to go back to sea again as an Engineer Officer and, in the long run, given the number of ships and the sort of rank and the posting cycle for Engineer Officers, that I would have never gone to sea again, which was a remarkable thing – in hindsight. You had four, or in my case, five years of university education, a very expensive three-year qualifying period by any means. Here’s an officer in Halifax, taking up a bunk at sea with only a handful of other Engineer Officers, an officer going to England, an officer going through various board qualifications. This is a very expensive process to arrive at a competent Engineer Officer and directly as he or she is done with that posting, then – as now – given the size of the fleet, and the dynamics of people, that’s it! In a complex Navy, that’s probably a good thing. Acquiring that experience and doing that, is probably a good thing. For the person involved, well who knows what their aspirations are. On the other hand, it’s very cost-inefficient because the Navy’s role clearly is to put people in ships to sea and you get this six, seven or eight-year qualified person – two or maybe three years of sea time in that mix – and then you are done with them and then you have them only in higher managerial capacities. It’s an interesting kind of prospect; in a Navy of our size you probably have to stick with that. What was the point I was trying to make out of that? Ultimately, we had this sense of corporate kind of obligation – oh yes, the scandal and – it was hardly a scandal. Commander Olmstead formally received the ship for a Materiel authority. I can’t remember his title, or where he worked. He wasn’t Ship Systems Readiness; that was Commander Hansen, who I went to work for – in an environmental capacity. Hence my knowledge about artificial reefs. Commander Olmstead received the ship, however some deal had been brokered. Two deals had been brokered with people ashore. The CFB Esquimalt – the Base Automobile Club had brokered a deal with one of the Engineering Department NCO’s, to get table-top grinders – disc grinders – stripped from the ship and sent ashore. Someone else had brokered a deal with, or through, the Queen’s Harbour Master or the Auxiliary Fleet, for the ship’s lathe – to get removed from the ship. That one passed unnoticed and, one day, in the stripping out period with largely the ship inactive and the crew leave it within weeks of formally locking her up, turning over and being done with it, a Canadian Forces Auxiliary Vessel came alongside. I can’t remember what of the tugs it was and, very quickly, evidently with Dockyard support, in the Engineers’ Workshop – so up above, starboard side Boiler Room Bulkhead 36, right, above the waterline, a hole was cut in the side of the ship and the lathe was removed onto the CF Auxiliary Vessel out of inventory – and off it went – and the plate went back in and it was painted over. There was no scandal or inkling over that; it was an elderly lathe that had probably been in the ship since 1964 but the two small grinders, Commander Olmstead made no end of trouble about those and ultimately the deal had to be backed up and the grinders were subsequently delivered to Commander Olmstead in boxes – in his office right? So, you know, it was a funny time – in effect micro-management over some inconsequential issues. And there the ship sat and she was ultimately – in an interesting footnote that’s sort of relevance to today’s fleet and the fleet of tomorrow to be payed off – she was ultimately sold for breaking up outside of Canada; I think the sale occurred about 1994. That was perfectly fine then; you could not do that about after about 1996 or so – or today – because of a federal legislative change, which is rather interesting. A going concern vessel, inactive or not, and particularly a government vessel after all under federal law – the Canadian Environmental Protection Act – is not going to be sold for breaking outside of Canada. So, it’s either derelict or it’s sunk as an artificial reef – and there are issues with environmental quality there – or it’s breaking up in Canada. All of which actually would inform or could inform the paying off Engineers’ work because you would think “how should the ship – we now have the ability of people and a deep working knowledge of the vessel to deal with it comprehensively at this point – because once a ship begins to be derelict or laid up, entering back into has a host of problems.
WILSON: So you turned the ship over to Gary Olmstead on the 31st of July, ’92?
SMITH: About that time, yes.
WILSON: And basically walked away!
SMITH: Yes, absolutely. We had a temporary shore office and then the crew began to disband considerably. I got my leave pass for 30 days – six weeks leave – to take my honeymoon, which had been denied to me the year before for operational reasons. I left in 1993, not taking my post-graduate opportunity. It was imminent that I would go to England and for about six months I worked for Commander Hansen, who was Deputy Chief of Staff Ship Systems Readiness, who had arrogated for himself the head of Environment for Maritime Forces Pacific. And he was doing environmental audits and had got into the artificial reefs cleaning up of ships – certification of ships to be sunk as artificial reefs – business, to some considerable credit to him, the Navy and to the civilian proponents of these things on the west coast. It was a difficult decision, substantially for reasons of my wife’s career, I elected to – because it was clear to me that I would never go to sea again as an Engineer Officer, or only with a great degree of fortuitousness, and probably into a support ship – and probably only with a degree of chance and with clear implications to limit my career if I did, given the line-up and staging of things, I turned down the offer of post-graduate training and went to law school.
In the end, much of that experience years later, as an Engineer and Engineer Officer, would actually come back to the public good. I’ve described the ANNAPOLIS; in 2014 and 2015, Environment Canada asked me to deal with her status and her environmental quality.
WILSON: And you knew the platform quite well.
SMITH: Intimately, I think! I don’t think I am particularly special or have any particular skill sets or memory. The quality of training was such that you could step back into a ship of similar type and instantly comprehend, although from the different perspective of what’s the state of the ship and what environmental problems could she present, things in a deep and comprehensive manner – in a profoundly sort of credible sort of way. That might be a good skill set in a rather minor matter today, but what it really speaks to is the quality of Engineer Officer training. Not so much the technical recognition or understanding, but the confidence to deal with something from an unusual perspective.
Here we are, we’re resuming and, I think, concluding this interview. There’s probably some specific topics that are of interest and I’m looking at a list of them here. Let me try and acquit myself of them, briefly. One of them was – one issue of discussion was whether there were any safety or environmental issues and the answer to both was “No” and “No”. However, the state of thinking, the state of – if you will – regulation but of self-governance has evolved since. We might, now look back and say that our systems to provide for safety, or to protect the environment – these would be systems of practices, procedures, hard technical equipment as it were – were primitive, in effect. The evolution of safety thinking, so to speak, has changed considerably, in the 25 years – in the two-odd decades since – how we approach matters and tasks, how we plan for them. And, of course, the two issues have some cross-pollination where we get one of them right – where we have levels of quality or standards or one, we tend to get the other. The remarkable thing was perhaps, there were two things remarkable when it came to safety and environmental protection – that you had, not a significant license to get away with things or do things wrong, but that the organization was internally self-regulated. It’s a remarkable thing – in my later career – I would go to work for a commercial shipping company on the west coast substantially government and other organization marine classification society regulated. All of these things in the Navy were, in effect, internally set, albeit under quite heavy proscriptive codes of practice – quite detailed. The Naval Engineering Manual, Part 1 – I can continue to quote chapter and verse from its various requirements, right?
WILSON: So we wrote our own rules.
SMITH: It was your own rules and your own rules overseen internally – in particular on the technical side through Naval Engineering Units – which were substantially supportive in a system and hardly an enforcement agency. The culture of this is remarkable, to think that you could take a cadre of relatively young people and certainly a young Engineer Officer, and have them hold to or hew to technical regulation and accountability out of that. Such is perhaps the discipline or the ethos in the matter. Specifically, we didn’t have safety issues. Inevitably, though, it should not be lost on us that generally working an Engineering plant in that era was outdated. The notion that you had a steam-propelled plant that was manually worked, was not lost on me and all that that entailed in terms of preventing significant problems. And maybe it’s my disposition to have regard for the historical record – the problem of the 1969 fire at sea in HMCS KOOTENAY, which had never been visited on me; we had two small fires in the QU’APPELLE, sorry, one boiler flash-off, which was interesting and one in the pantry of the Wardroom, when the dishwasher caught fire and sort of, didn’t exactly get out of hand, but it was interesting. Fires at sea, of course, always are the ultimate safety prevention safety exercise and are invariably dramatic events even if they are sort of minor in scope.
WILSON: But if you think about it, a Chief Engineer in the Navy – you as the Engineering Officer of QU’APPELLE – you have no Transport Canada tickets, nothing, and here you are running a very high-powered vessel. And now, of course, into the 280’s or CPF’s, you’ve got 25,000 Horsepower a shaft. And so you forget to lock the shaft when you are towing the ship from Montreal to Halifax and what happens? You mess up a gearbox because you didn’t… That was dealt with, there was a Board of Inquiry and we do manage these processes quite well.
SMITH: You make a good point. In many respects, I’m all about lessons learned in deploying those because I think there is enormous value simply avoiding the same accident again, but more for the pedagogical value. I always immensely enjoyed reading a great but very informal book that should have been institutionalized. It was hardly a book; it was a photocopy collection of anecdotes called “Disasters from the Past” and I still have it. It is part of my Marine Engineering library. It is a wonderful read. Instruct your Ordinary Seaman; here’s an example from it. Dealing with outboard engine gasoline, do not pour it into the ship’s main fuel tanks which contain dieso because, inevitably, somebody will plumb those tanks, think that gasoline has been loaded into the ship in error, which presents an explosion hazard and then you have an enormously costly and delaying mess on you. This book was replete with stories; the other thing that was essential reading – and I don’t know if they do it still – and the archival research would be great if you could assemble all of them, and then look to them for common themes. Even from ships of that era, there would be clear process, training, competency issues. You could write, substantially, an Engineering Technical Safety Manual out of it – were Periodic Engineering Letters from Engineer Officers, that were largely unadorned. They would be, sort of, 1,500 or 2,500 words, that said – I think they were quarterly – that said, “I had this happen and here I have some observations”. And if you were clever enough, you read everybody else’s stuff and you avoided your own problems. Oh, they did it this way, or they fixed it this way. And it was such a great medium back in the day of memorandum – of printed memorandum – to communicate.
WILSON: I wonder how much of this is in the Collection [CNTHA Collection]?
THATCHER: The Quarterly Reports – or the PEL’s. I don’t think – the Quarterly Reports would have been – if they are anywhere – are probably in Public Archives or wherever the Naval stuff goes, the National Library or something. Otherwise they would have disappeared.
WILSON: But just being able to share this – if you go back to 1982 which was publication of the Maritime Engineering Journal, and just read through some of them – up to the present – you could learn a lot there as well. And one of the things that I think we are going to be talking to with Simon and his friends about, in terms of mentoring is, have a look at some of those old publications. Sure, some of it is very historical – and no more steam – we’re now into gas turbines, but we can learn from this as Engineers.
SMITH: You make a good point. I think, in hindsight, as Engineers we tend to be very captive to our technology and, to deal with it in a seagoing setting, you need to be, you need to be concerned with the efficiency – or the availability, the readiness – of what that plant is. And yet, in many respects, the genius of Naval Engineer training – and frankly, I think for ratings and NCM’s, because you see such strong competency in senior ticketed personnel – was such that you could have any plant of any description. I think, in hindsight, it doesn’t matter whether I had a gas turbine, or a geared diesel engine, or diesel electric in the Engineering plant of the ship. Many of the concerns of the Engineer Officer, intrinsically, were about the functioning of the plant. You would want to know the quality of the fuel you had, which I think in my day was never in doubt. The Navy had shifted to MDO to diesel fuel – gas oil, as some would call it – you didn’t have Bunker C, you scarcely needed to look at a fuel sample from any source on embarking it, right? Only foreign ports would maybe present something of interest. All of these – a number of these things – had certainly been made easy by my time. The key or the secret to success, the point is, is that it’s around the management in particular of the people – the leadership of the people. You could run a coal-fired Navy with a high degree of efficiency provided you’ve got the right mix of people that are ably led. On safety and environment, do we have issues? No, but then in, just concluding the point, these were rudimentary days. I think my only concern was, not to have a fuel spill, fine, then to be cautious when discharging oily water at sea which, I’m being a bit euphemistic, the law and the rules were fairly clear – somewhat less so on the high seas, but I recall in 1992 – as I was coming ashore – that the Department of Defence would henceforth subscribe to Canadian Environmental regulation and I thought this was a revolution. I thought, this organization is taking on governmental standards – it’s more generally around the environment and that led to a revolution, in effect. It would play out over a number of years including in ship design and operation that, in effect, Royal Canadian Navy vessels would take on global standards – or the world standards, certainly on the environmental side. Because naval vessels are a bit different, it tended to be different, not safety of life at sea, on the safety side. I think the other thing is, I should say about safety, we would occasionally, of course, have asbestos issues – the presence of historic asbestos in the ship, which would be an issue. But clearly it was a hazardous working environment. I think there’s no doubt about that. I think doing unusual things at sea, refuelling-at-sea, doing unusual things at night, having to stop the ship occasionally to diagnose a problem, was always heart-stopping from a safety standpoint of personnel injury. Because the ships were well-designed, because the quality of the crews and their training was so high, you avoided these problems. But that’s maybe relying on too much; I think a more formal – I would have appreciated a more formal systemization of safety – of thinking through things and, to a certain extent, breaking down hierarchy in the pursuit of safety. One question was – and I’ve talked substantially about it – the challenges of keeping a propulsion system going in view of its obsolescence. There’s no question that the propulsion system was obsolete. You would nee a watch of eight – typically nine persons, really ten. Four in the Boiler Room, four in the Engine Room, an Electrician of the Watch. The tenth would be, in effect, the Damage Control Watch keeper – generally associated with the ship but, intrinsically, sort of part of the Engineering monitoring of the vessel at sea, which is perhaps something of a redundant position. That’s enormously consuming – a manual working of a steam plant, a manual generation of steam propulsion is inefficient, I think, from a number of standpoints, including the people involved and their technical competency or advancement. These were complex plants but people entering the Engineering trade – as it were – Marine Engineering Mechanics to begin with in their careers, right, before they became Artificers, are intelligent, bright people, who would have things figured out under a quite structured stream. To think that you had 20 and 25-year men at the Petty Officer First Class and above level who had done this for a living is remarkable. It’s the job, of course, of a sailor to go to sea and to make that ship work. We sign on and we pursue that career then, until the age of 55, but remarkably inefficient in terms of the cost and the development of people, in particular, I would say in the Boiler Room side. To work a Boiler Room in that way, having done a fair amount of it in training – as a Sub-Lieutenant – strikes me as not the best use of personnel and, of course, the larger consideration is, what’s your personnel complement to be in a warship, to proceed to sea. People should be expensive in terms of their training and employment; we should value people, including through their wages and everything that surrounds them in their careers. Well, they shouldn’t quite be expensive, so to speak, but we should value the time and talent of people. That means we should use them economically. That, in turn, means that we should design and operate ships with a limited number of Engineering crew – sufficient to work the plant and to deal with emergencies. And the Y100’s began to mark the end of that era of large wholesale crewing, not quite for the sake of crewing, of course. Naval ships don’t proceed to sea unless everyone has a job, or two or three or four, and that’s still relevant today but the challenge for fleets in the future – for ships in the future – is to design them in standard and emergency operating scenarios – with as few people as possible, for a whole bunch of good reasons.
What else can we cover?
THATCHER: We’ve done the…
SMITH: I think the other thing in terms of obsolescence of the physical plant is that these ships were built to last. I say that with some degree of bias, having been involved with the ANNAPOLIS after the event. I wouldn’t want to make too much trouble out of that – or too much of that, I should say. These ships clearly had a number of years of remaining life in them, with them in pure physical terms. For example, hull thickness, or available hull strength or the absence of corrosion. They were enormously well designed because they spent as significant number of days at sea – or miles at sea – over their lifespans in various conditions; they were heavily-used, even as they were heavily-maintained. The notion of a baseline refit, one year out of four, would assure you of that – at some cost, but it wouldn’t answer the puzzle or the problem entirely. I just say this, having had a very very comprehensive look at – on numerous occasions – HMCS ANNAPOLIS, a ship I trained in and was therefore familiar with. In effect, some eighteen years after her paying off – six or eight years in the hands of a civilian proponent organization to put the ship down as an artificial reef – that I was continually struck by the absence of degradation or the absence of deterioration throughout the ANNAPOLIS. In what machinery did remain and in hull structures or phisit things, the ANNAPOLIS was your best testimony. A derelict ship, stripped out, long out of Naval hands, clearly to be converted and rendered down to bare bones as an artificial reef for the quality of construction and maintenance and yet, ships are only as good as sort of their weakest part which typically the machinery or operating machinery.
WILSON: Well, I can tell you that, in the early ‘80’s, the ships going through the Multi-Ship refits in Montreal were having sections of the framing replaced – and plating as well – hull plating as well. MARGAREE was one example, I recall, was in pretty bad shape – but then she was one of the earlier ones, you know. She had been around quite a long time, but you had to be sure these baselines were complete refits – that you did have the Hull Inspector come in and you looked and you made damn sure that all of the things were being added to the list of work to be done.
SMITH: Yes, I recall, because I firmly believe the practice – the art of Marine Engineering is fascinating. I think there’s few more complex things, both from a technical standpoint and to organize in human terms – in terms of the people who operate them – having a high regard for the various Dockyard, that is Naval Engineering Unit inspectors, because they were inevitably men – and I emphasize men, with decades of experience to learn from. You would want to hang from their every word, in effect. It’s a striking thing that the Navy was technically self-regulating in this sense. I suspect that paid significant dividends in terms of an organizational competency. To understand Marine Engineering – ships’ structures, hull structures and Naval Architecture alike, that then transcended into other things. We know that to be true. We know that the Canadian Patrol Frigates – as internally designed and delivered vessels, profoundly complex because they started as Canadian ships from first principles, as it were. Sure they borrowed from the best of warship design, globally and in NATO navies, was a sort of internal competency that may come at a cost but that evidently delivers. If I said that these ships had a number of years remaining life – based on what I would see two decades later in the ANNAPOLIS – that had to be born of something. And that was a high degree of technical competency.
WILSON: …and ongoing maintenance.
SMITH: Yeah, you should be reluctant; the authorities of the day should be reluctant to compromise that. I don’t know where you shore it up, or what becomes critical in an organization for, in effect, an intellectual process understanding of how the universe works. I don’t know what core of that you preserve organizationally. In some respects, you don’t need to worry about it if your basics of the quality of leadership and technical education, training of seagoing experience – if all that’s in place – then a number of other things will axiomatically, they’ll take care of themselves. And that’s likely true today, right?
THATCHER: I think – I’d like to bring this to a close, if I may and I would like to thank you, Jeff, for such an informative and interesting discussion there, because a number of the topics we haven’t covered before and this is a particularly important aspect, as it turns out, in getting lessons learned and a view of what happened in the past with respect to how we might influence the future. Thank you very much.
SMITH: Thank you for having me, it’s been a privilege.