HMCS Chicoutimi preparing to conduct camber dive, April 2014
United Kingdom
BuilderVSEL, Barrow-in-Furness
Laid downFebruary 1983
Launched2 December 1986
Commissioned7 December 1990
Decommissioned29 April 1994
IdentificationPennant number S40
FateTransferred to Canada
Commissioned3 September 2015
IdentificationHull number SSK 879
MottoMaître du Domaine
Honours and
Atlantic, 1941–44
StatusShip in active service
General characteristics
Class and type Upholder/Victoria-class submarine
  • 2,260 long tons (2,296 t) surfaced
  • 2,500 long tons (2,540 t) submerged
Length230 ft 7 in (70.28 m)
Beam23 ft 7 in (7.19 m)
Draught24 ft 11 in (7.59 m)
  • 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) surfaced
  • 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h) submerged
Complement48 officers and crew, plus 7 trainees

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 United Kingdom 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 subsequent investigation "determined the fire was caused by human, technical and operational factors, [and] the board cleared the commanding officer and crew of any blame."[1] The submarine was repaired and entered Canadian service in 2015.

Design and description

As built the Upholder/Victoria class was designed as a replacement for the Oberon class for use as hunter-killer and training subs. The submarines, which have a single-skinned, teardrop-shaped hull, displace 2,220 long tons (2,260 t) surfaced and 2,455 long tons (2,494 t) submerged.[2][3] They are 230 feet 7 inches (70.3 m) long overall with a beam of 25 feet 0 inches (7.6 m) and a draught of 17 feet 8 inches (5.4 m).[2]

The submarines are powered by a one shaft diesel-electric system. They are equipped with two Paxman Valenta 1600 RPS SZ diesel engines each driving a 1.4-megawatt (1,900 hp) GEC electric alternator with two 120-cell chloride batteries.[2][4] The batteries have a 90-hour endurance at 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph).[4] The ship is propelled by a 4.028-megawatt (5,402 hp) GEC dual armature electric motor turning a seven-blade fixed pitch propeller.[4] They have a 200-long-ton (200 t) diesel capacity. This gives the subs a maximum speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) on the surface and 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) submerged. They have a range of 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km; 9,200 mi) at 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) and 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km; 12,000 mi) at snorting depth.[2][5] The class has a reported dive depth of over 650 feet (200 m).[3]

The Upholder/Victoria class are armed with six 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes. In British service, the submarines were equipped with 14 Tigerfish Mk 24 Mod 2 torpedoes and four UGM-84 Sub-Harpoon missiles.[2] They could also be adapted for use as a minelayer.[5] The submarines have Type 1007 radar and Type 2040, Type 2019, Type 2007 and Type 2046 sonar installed.[2] The hull is fitted with elastomeric acoustic tiles to reduce acoustic signature.[3] In British service the vessels had a complement of 7 officers and 40 ratings.[2]

Refits and Canadian alterations

During the refit for Canadian service, the Sub-Harpoon and mine capabilities were removed and the submarines were equipped with the Lockheed Martin Librascope Submarine fire-control system (SFCS) to meet the operational requirements of the Canadian Navy. Components from the fire control system of the Oberon-class submarines were installed.[6] This gave the submarines the ability to fire the Gould Mk 48 Mod 4 torpedo.[3] In 2014, the Government of Canada purchased 12 upgrade kits that will allow the submarines to fire the Mk 48 Mod 7AT torpedoes.[7]

These radar and sonar systems were later upgraded with the installation of the BAE Type 2007 array and the Type 2046 towed array.[2][3] The Canadian Towed Array Sonar (CANTASS) has been integrated into the towed sonar suite.[3] The Upholder-class submarines were equipped with the CK035 electro-optical search periscope and the CH085 optronic attack periscope, originally supplied by Pilkington Optronics.[3][4] After the Canadian refit, the submarines were equipped with Canadian communication equipment and electronic support measures (ESM). This included two SSE decoy launchers and the AR 900 ESM.[3]

Construction and career

The submarine was built for the Royal Navy as HMS Upholder (S40), the lead ship of the Upholder (2400) class of submarines, the second vessel to bear the name in the Royal Navy. The submarine was laid down by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd (VSEL) in February 1983 and launched on 2 December 1986.[8] During construction, work on the submarine was delayed due to a labour strike.[9] Upholder commissioned into the Royal Navy on 7 December 1990.[8] Her commissioning was delayed due to a problem with the operation of the torpedo tubes, which had to be welded closed to prevent sea water entering the submarine.

Upholder was decommissioned on 29 April 1994 as a financial measure,[8] following the end of the Cold-War and subsequent cancellation of the programme and amidst some controversy. The entire class was declared surplus to requirements in 1994.[2]

Royal Canadian Navy

The British government was looking to discontinue the operation of diesel-electric boats and offered to sell Upholder and her sister submarines to Canada in 1993. The offer was accepted in 1998.[10] 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.[8]

Problems were discovered with the piping welds on all four submarines, which delayed the reactivation of Upholder and her three sisters.[8] 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 was missing used to refit sister boat HMCS Corner Brook (ex-Ursula).[11]

Upholder was renamed HMCS Chicoutimi, in honour of the city of Chicoutimi, Quebec (now a borough of the city of Saguenay).[8]

October 2004 fire

Fire damage, October 2004
Fire damage, October 2004

Chicoutimi was the last of the newly renamed Victoria-class vessels to complete the refit and was handed over to Maritime Command 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 running on the surface, 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 (440 imp gal; 528 US gal) 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.[8] Nine crewmembers were affected by smoke inhalation and the submarine was left drifting without power in heavy seas.[12]

The RNLI lifeboat Sam and Ada Moody, stationed on Achill Island, County Mayo was put on standby to assist, but was later stood down. An Irish Navy ship, LÉ 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, LÉ Aoife and LÉ 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. 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 Chicoutimi that "[it's] not [a] good surface rider at all. It’s by no means unsafe; it’s just very uncomfortable."[13]

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 (Navy) Chris Saunders, 32, became severely ill. The three crewmen were taken to Sligo General Hospital, where Saunders was pronounced dead.[14] 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.[15]

By the evening of 7 October, the weather had abated, and Chicoutimi was taken in tow by the HM Coastguard 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 3 knots (5.6 km/h) to 8 or 9 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 United Kingdom for supplying an unsafe vessel, the situation was further exacerbated by controversial comments made by the UK's Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon. Hoon 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 Second World War veterans were outraged by his comments.[16] As well as promoting speculation regarding problems with the Victoria class, the incident also sparked debate in Ireland over the country's lack of a rescue tug at that time.[citation needed]

HMCS Chicoutimi at HMC Dockyard, Halifax, in early 2007
HMCS Chicoutimi at 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, where she was dry docked at HMC Dockyard for further work.[8] Those sailors who fought the fire aboard the submarine suffered higher levels of post-traumatic stress syndrome and asthma in the years following the incident.[17]

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).[18]

From 2006 to 2008 the Department of Public Works and Government Services worked with the Department of National Defence (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 five-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.[19][20]

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.

In January 2014 it was announced that Chicoutimi was repaired and was being prepared to be handed back over to the navy. However, the boat would be limited to shallow-water diving for the foreseeable future.[21] It was announced on 28 September 2014 that the submarine began sea trials that would take seven-to-eight weeks to complete.[22] On 7 December 2014 the Ottawa Citizen reported that HMCS Chicoutimi had completed her sea trials and was handed over to the Royal Canadian Navy on 3 December 2014.[23] The boat was officially commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy on 3 September 2015.[24]

Operational service

In October 2015, Chicoutimi, along with Calgary and Vancouver, participated in the United States Navy's Task Group Exercise, a naval exercise held off southern California.[25] In 2015, problems with welds were discovered aboard Chicoutimi and sister boat Victoria. Both submarines were docked to undergo repairs and Chicoutimi began training exercises in December 2016.[26]

In May 2017, Chicoutimi returned to port after problems arose with the main battery while conducting operations at sea.[27] On 15 June 2017, while Chicoutimi was docked at CFB Esquimalt, the Orca-class patrol vessel Cougar struck the submarine as it was exiting the dockyard. The initial inspection following the collision showed only superficial damage to the protective gear around the submarine.[28] To deal with the ongoing battery issues aboard Chicoutimi, the main battery was transferred from sister boat Victoria.[29] On 7 October 2017, CBC News reported that Chicoutimi had been sent on a first-ever operational patrol to Asia.[30] Chicoutimi made a port visit to Yokosuka, Japan while deployed to Asia, marking the first time in 50 years a Canadian submarine has visited the country.[31] The submarine was deployed off the coast of North Korea recording airport departures and arrivals and monitoring sea traffic.[32] The submarine returned to CFB Esquimalt on 21 March 2018.[33]


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

HMS Upholder (S40)

The precursor of Upholder (S40) was HMS 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.[34]

HMCS Chicoutimi (SSK 879)

Badge design of Chicoutimi
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.[35]

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.[35]

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".[36]

See also



  1. ^ "Chicoutimi Submarine Fire". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gardiner and Chumbley, p. 532
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Saunders, p. 88
  4. ^ a b c d Perkins, p. 196
  5. ^ a b Cocker, p. 123
  6. ^ Perkins, p. 166
  7. ^ Pugliese, David (26 September 2014). "Canadian government to spend $41 million for torpedo upgrade kits for submarines". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 28 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Wertheim, pp. 77–78
  9. ^ "Jinxed submarine sold after four years of service". Northwest Evening Mail. 27 September 2016. Archived from the original on 28 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  10. ^ Ferguson, p. 152
  11. ^ "Halifax Daily News: Fourth sub delayed by rust". Peace, Earth and Justice News. 8 September 2004. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  12. ^ "Nine hurt on stricken submarine". BBC News. 6 October 2004. Archived from the original on 28 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 May 2005. Retrieved 6 October 2004.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Canadian sailor dies in submarine accident". CBC News. 7 October 2004. Archived from the original on 3 April 2015.
  15. ^ "Dead and wounded airlifted from submarine". The Guardian. London. 7 October 2004. Archived from the original on 28 February 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  16. ^ "HMCS Chicoutimi Incident- Board of Inquiry". Archived from the original on 13 December 2009.
  17. ^ "Aftermath of Canadian submarine fire: PTSD, asthma and depression". Lethbridge News Now. The Canadian Press. 13 July 2019. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  18. ^ "Fire-damaged sub won't be operational until 2012". CBC News. 28 April 2006. Archived from the original on 19 April 2007.
  19. ^ "Victoria Class In-Service Support Contract (VCISSC)". Archived from the original on 3 June 2010.
  20. ^ "Fairness Monitor Final Report Victoria In-Service Support Contract Project". Archived from the original on 3 June 2010.
  21. ^ "Rebuilt HMCS Chicoutimi submarine to return to navy". CBC News. 6 January 2014. Archived from the original on 1 March 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  22. ^ Pugliese, David (5 October 2014). "HMCS Chicoutimi begins sea acceptance trials". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 1 March 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  23. ^ Pugliese, David (7 December 2014). "HMCS Chicoutimi completes sea trials". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  24. ^ Mallett, Peter (14 September 2015). "Stealthy, sleek Chicoutimi officially joins the fleet". The Lookout. Royal Canadian Navy. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  25. ^ "Pacific Fleet warship departs for joint exercise in California". Victoria Lookout. 13 October 2015. Archived from the original on 20 October 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  26. ^ Pugliese, David (22 February 2017). "HMCS Chicoutimi back at sea on west coast". Ottawa Citizen. The Canadian Press. Archived from the original on 23 February 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  27. ^ Pugliese, David (17 May 2017). "HMCS Chicoutimi back in port to deal with battery problem". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 21 June 2017. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  28. ^ Smart, Amy (15 June 2017). "Patrol training vessel runs into docked submarine at CFB Esquimalt". Times Colonist. Archived from the original on 15 June 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  29. ^ Pugliese, David (23 June 2017). "Navy transferring main battery from HMCS Victoria to HMCS Chicoutimi". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 25 June 2017. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  30. ^ Ruskin, Brett (6 October 2017). "Canada deploys Victoria-class HMCS Chicoutimi submarine to Asia". CBC News, British Columbia. Archived from the original on 6 October 2017. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  31. ^ Ruskin, Brett (19 October 2017). "Canada deploys submarine to Japan for the first time in a half century". CBC News. Archived from the original on 21 October 2017. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  32. ^ Common, David (6 February 2018). "Canadian sub on covert mission to bolster North Korea surveillance". CBC News. Archived from the original on 6 February 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  33. ^ Watts, Richard (21 March 2018). "Esquimalt-based submarine back in port after epic journey". Times Colonist. Archived from the original on 24 March 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  34. ^ "Barrow Built Upholder Class, 1990 – 1994". Archived from the original on 18 July 2009. Retrieved 11 October 2009.
  35. ^ a b "Volume 2, Part 1: Extant Commissioned Ships". Chief Military Personnel. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2009.
  36. ^ "HMCS Chicoutimi" (PDF). Chief Military Personnel. 15 September 2005. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 11 October 2009.