The “Flower” Class corvette HMCS ALBERNI was laid down in the yards of Yarrows Ltd., Esquimalt, on 19 April 1940 and launched on 2 August of the same year. She was commissioned on 4 February 1941. The ship was named in honour of Alberni, a city on Vancouver Island, B.C., at the head of the Alberni Canal. This fjord bears the name of the Spanish Captain Don Pedro Alberni, who was in command of the soldiers sent by Spain to occupy Nootka in 1790.
After commissioning, the corvette sailed for Halifax via Kingston, Jamaica, arriving in the east coast port on 13 April. Between May and November, she made four convoy-escorting voyages from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Reykjavik, Iceland. In September, over a period of three days, while accompanying Convoy SC-42, the escorting ships had a fierce battle with a U-boat pack. Fifteen merchant ships were lost, while the sinking of U-501 by the corvettes, HMC Ships MOOSE JAW and CHAMBLY, gave the defenders some consolations. A great deal of heroism was shown by all, merchant ships as well as escorts, in resisting the attackers and in the hazardous work of picking up survivors. In both aspects of the battle, ALBERNI was conspicuous.
In early 1942, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, became the eastern base for convoy escorts. To reach its temporary shelter, the ships had still to cross hazardous waters. Losses were high that year and again, while they stood in danger themselves, they had to stop to rescue survivors. On 3 May, the torpedoed steamship British Workman launched three boats of survivors. ALBERNI picked up one, the others going to HMCS ASSINIBOINE. Again, when from 27 to 29 October, Convoy HX-212 lost six ships and had one damaged, ALBERNI took aboard ninety-one persons whom she landed at Liverpool.
When the corvette joined HX-212, it was for passage to the United Kingdom and onward to take part in Operation “Torch”, the invasion of North Africa. Between December and March, she made many voyages with convoys from British ports to Gibraltar, Algiers, Bone, Oran and other North Africa ports.
Returning to Halifax in March 1943, the corvette joined the Western Local Escort Force to operate for a period in local coastal waters. In May, she was transferred to the Quebec Force for service in the river and gulf of St. Lawrence. The year before had been a disastrous one for Allied shipping there and it was feared that there might be a repetition of it in 1943. The U-boats, however, did not reappear until the autumn of 1944, so ALBERNI enjoyed a quiet summer and fall. She returned to the Western Escort Force in November and began a refit.
Post-refit “working-up” exercises at Bermuda followed. Afterwards, the corvette was allocated to the Western Escort Force Group W-4, plying between Halifax, St. John’s and Boston. In 1944, she was one of the nineteen Canadian corvettes to be lent to the Royal Navy for Operation “Neptune”, the naval operation which carried the Allied armies to Normandy and kept them supplied. On 24 April of that year, in company with HMCS PORT ARTHUR, ALBERNI left St. John’s for Londonderry. In the months that followed, she supported convoys of Landing Ships Tank and Landing Craft Tank and the transport ships which were sailed from the Portsmouth-Southampton area. She escorted barges, tugs, blockships and piers required for the building up of the landed strength along the Normandy coast. On 26 July, she enjoyed a notable victory when, while looking for submarines off the British assault area, she destroyed a Junkers 88 aircraft. The enemy plane spotted her and bore directly for her, skimming over the water from the north-northeast. ALBERNI opened fire with the starboard Oerlikons and Pompoms. The Junkers climbed and banked slightly to pass over the ship’s foc’sle at a height of only 200 feet. The port Oerlikons then opened up, scoring direct hits at close range. The enemy burst into flames and seconds later exploded in the sea about 100 yards off ALBERNI’s port bow.
On 20 August, after a boiler cleaning, the ship left Southampton to relieve the corvette HMCS DRUMHELLER on patrol duty to the eastward of the swept channel where it divided in mid-channel for the British and American beach heads. At 0943Z on the 21st, she had covered about two-thirds of the distance to the patrol area. She was steaming at fourteen knots on a southerly course.
Four minutes later, about twenty-five miles southeast of St. Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight, ALBERNI was rocked by a shattering explosion. In less than ten seconds, she was awash from the funnel aft, listing to port and sinking fast by the stern. In another twenty seconds, she was gone. What had been confidently steaming on the surface moments before had completely vanished.Four minutes later, about twenty-five miles southeast of St. Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight, ALBERNI was rocked by a shattering explosion. In less than ten seconds, she was awash from the funnel aft, listing to port and sinking fast by the stern. In another twenty seconds, she was gone. What had been confidently steaming on the surface moments before had completely vanished.
At the moment of the explosion, all hands, with the exception of those on watch, had been in the messdecks. The inrush of water as the ship went down trapped them. Those who survived had no time to release carley floats. Many were without life belts and could stay afloat only by clinging to some bit of flotsam. For forty-five minutes, they struggled to keep afloat in fairly heavy sea. At the end of that time, just when many were ready to give up, the HM Motor Torpedo Boats Numbers 469 and 470 appeared. The welcome rescuers fished them out of the water and landed them at Portsmouth. None was severely hurt.
Four officers and 55 men went down with ALBERNI. Three officers, including the Commanding Officer, and 28 men survived. There has never been complete agreement as to whether the ship had been mined or torpedoed, but, post-war German publications state that she was sunk by U-480 (Oberleutnant Hans-Joachim Förster) with an acoustic torpedo. U-480 was sunk with all hands on 24 February 1945 by HMS Duckworth and HMS Rowley.