Tony Thatcher

Tags:  histories written 
Author: Tony Thatcher
Published: Sep 11th 2017
Updated: a month ago

When I was being recruited into the Navy I was told there was a need for Electrical Engineers, but I was not given any details about the training or the employment. In 1964 after completing grade eleven I entered the Navy under the Regular Officers Training Plan (ROTP) and commenced Electrical Engineering studies in the electronics program at McGill University. During the winter months I attended weekly drill and naval familiarization training at the naval recruiting centre HMCS Donnacona, which included some tri-service training at the army militia and air force COTC facilities as integration of the forces was beginning at the time. I also undertook the standard naval summer training in Esquimalt and Halifax for ten weeks over four summers, one summer of which was a naval diving officers’ course to account for an extra year in the engineering degree program in some provinces. None of this training was taken with the ROTP cadets from the military colleges. Just prior to graduation from university I was notified that I had been assigned to the maritime engineering (MARE) classification, although there was no explanation what that meant. Upon graduation I took the four months Sea Ops course in Fleet School Halifax which prepared officers for bridge and operations room watchkeeping. Up this point I had been given no speciality training in naval engineering and was told that all naval engineers now have to obtain their bridge watchkeeping certificate prior to specializing.

So I was posted to HMCS Skeena as a junior officer and a divisional officer under the Weapons Officer. I did about a year of bridge and operations room watchkeeping and completing my Sea Reqs. At this point I was awarded a bridge watchkeeping certificate and became the assistant engineering officer and commenced marine engineering training including boiler room and engineering room watchkeeping. I was sent on the month long Engineering Officer’s Power Course in Fleet School Halifax. During the time my ship was in refit in Saint John shipyard I was seconded to the Principal Naval Overseers’ (PNO) staff in the yard for a period and helped expedite government furnished equipment for the refit work and worked on an Engineering Change project.

Once the ship returned to service I began to raise my discontent in being led down the standard marine engineering path and not one that involved electronics. In July 1972 I was posted to the first general Combat Systems Engineering (CSE) course at Fleet School Halifax. Our Course Officer was LCdr Gerrie Schmuck, a very bright and energetic officer who had a large hand in development of the course. At this time there were also “package courses” for CSEs going to IREs and DDH 280’s.

Officers who did not have Electrical Engineering degrees were required to take additional academic courses prior to attending the CSE course. There were seven students at the start, two were ROTP and had Electrical Engineering degrees, five were ROTP or OCTP and had other degrees. The course was set out as a series of modules taken in various places and completed in December 1973. The first module for me was Hydraulics Level 1 and 2. The next phase during August 1972 was part of the pre-academic program, which I did not attend. The next module was attendance at the Weapons Electrical Application Course (WEAC) at the Royal Naval Engineering College (RNEC) Manadon in Plymouth, UK. The course was a 4 month program starting in September 1972 that covered radar, sonar, radio, control systems, analogue and digital computing. We were instructed on both tube and transistor circuitry and given a familiarity of the electronics and capability of all weapons electrical equipment in use in the Royal Navy. RNEC claimed that the WEAC course was equivalent to 5 years employment in industry and gave one an understanding of how the theory learned at university was applied in naval equipment. I found it very instructive to work with Weapons Electrical officers from several other navies and learned about their issues, which turned out to be usually similar to ours.

In January 1973 the CSE course reconvened in Fleet School Halifax with six (?) additional students. These were UTPM officers with various naval backgrounds such as Electronic Technician, Weapons Surface and Underwater, Radar Technician, Communications. They provided a very welcome experienced view of CS engineering. The course modules covered each of these specific areas and in some cases one of the CSE students did the instruction instead of the Fleet School staff if it was felt they were better qualified. We painstakingly covered the circuits of all combat system equipment, including crypto, in the Saint Laurent, Restigouche, Mackenzie and Annapolis class vessels. However we did not cover any equipment from the DDH 280 or IRE classes. In the spring of 1973 three students were taken off the course and sent on an IRE package course and were subsequently posted to an IRE.

The CSE course included some nontechnical modules as well. We spent a week at the Management School in Ville Lasalle learning about PERT techniques. We were to take the two week Leadership Course at Cornwallis, but in the end it was taught in Halifax. One day, then Commander Denny Boyle came down from CF Headquarters to tell us about the new Planned Maintenance regime that was being initiated in the Navy.

We also learned about the new MARCORD that described how the new CSE’s were to be employed within the Navy. We were disappointed to learn that we would not be department heads and each of us had to carve out a working relationship with the Weapons and Operations Officers, which in some cases worked and in others didn’t.

I found the course long and at times slow and repetitive, with the many electronic circuits we dissected over the 1½ years. It did adequately prepare us for the job onboard ship, however, and we were all enthusiastic about re-joining the fleet where we felt there was a real need for CSE’s. As the content of the general CSE course was restricted to the equipment fitted in older destroyers the course did not prepare me very well for other aspects of my career as a CSE where I was employed in the Naval Engineering Unit in Esquimalt looking after equipment problems in the four IRE’s and afterwards being posted to the Tribal Class Update and Modernization Project (TRUMP) when I had no familiarity with DDH 280 equipment. That said, it was not a severe shortcoming and overall the CSE training served me well and afforded me an interesting career.

3 September 2017