Bell Island – when WW2 came to Canada - Goethe-Institut Canada

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German Traces in Newfoundland
Bell Island – when WWII came to Canada

Dive to a shipwreck in the Conception Bay
Dive to a shipwreck in the Conception Bay | © Rick Stanley

Bell, St. John’s, is the only location in North America that was directly attacked by German marine soldiers during World War II. Today, very little reminds us of this fact. These attacks were due to the mineral wealth: at the time, the largest ore deposits in the world were stored under the small island, which was an essential raw material for steel production.

Before the war, Germany was one of the major buyers of ore. During the war, Bell Island became a major supplier for the Allies. On the night of September 4th 1942, the German U-boat "U-153" under the leadership of Captain Lieutenant Rolf Rüggeberg penetrated into Conception Bay. Two Canadian freight ships were attacked and sunken with tornadoes. Twenty-nine of the 48-man crew were killed. In response, the Newfoundland authorities fortified the port facilities of Bell Island. The machine guns and headlights installed, however, did not help, because only two months later came another attack. Captain The damage to the Scotia Pier due to a torpedo attack The damage to the Scotia Pier due to a torpedo attack | © Lt Gerald M. Moses / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-188854 Lieutenant Friedrich Wissmann positioned his "U-158" directly on the cliffs of the island during nighttime. In the morning, three ore carriers off the island were also attacked. The first torpedo missed its target and destroyed the Scotia Pier. The "SS Rose Castle", as well as the "P.L.M. 27 "were sunk, and another 40 sailors lost their lives in this attack.
The impressive cliffs of Bell Island The impressive cliffs of Bell Island | © Ole Helmhausen
Memorial for the sailor on Bell Island Memorial for the sailor on Bell Island | © Ole Helmhausen Rick Stanley, who today offers dive-tours to the sunken wrecks, knows numerous stories about the German attacks. He recalls: "The explosions were so loud that everyone thought there was an invasion coming up. Many had put on Sunday clothes to go captive high-headed". Fortunately, this did not happen. Today, only the "Memorial to the sailor" commemorates the inferno of 1942, the only attack on North American soil. Rick wants more people to come to his island not only to dive to the sunken ships, but also to marvel at the rugged landscape and impressive cliffs.