1920s: A Fledgling Navy Struggles to Survive

The 1920s

On the 24th of Mar 1920, the Canadian Naval Service accepted one light cruiser and 2 destroyers as replacements for NIOBE and RAINBOW which were now useless for training. The very next day, the 25th of Mar 1920, the Government decides that it is too early to decide on a permanent naval policy, so three ships would be accepted from the Admiralty to replace RAINBOW and NIOBE and the naval service would be reorganized.

The result was the reduction of naval and civilian personnel in the department from 1,303 to 521. However, even this extremely modest program did not escape criticism of individuals and groups who did not want to spend money on defence. It was pointed out that times were hard, the German menace had disappeared (only shortly, as events will later show), and that the anticipated renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty would remove all danger from the Pacific. Therefore, the Minister directed that the Service should be drastically curtailed until it was reorganized on a postwar basis.

By the 26th of May 1920 it had been decided which vessels were to be transferred to the RCN by Admiralty. They are HMS GLASGOW (the only survivor of the battle of Coronel, and who, at the battle of the Falkland Islands helped to sink SMS LIEPZIG (so long sought by HMCS RAINBOW) and who then, with the help of HMS KENT, dispatched SMS DRESDEN), and the destroyers PATRIOT and PATRICIAN. It was later noted that GLASGOW, launched in 1910 was a coal-burner, and the Canadians would prefer oil-burners. HMS AURORA was finally chosen. All these units had seen action in WWI.

By the 31st of May 1920 HMCS NIOBE was paid off, by 1 Jun HMCS RAINBOW would follow suit, and Captain Hose would move from the East Coast Patrols to become the deputy director of the Naval Service.

On the 1st of Nov 1920, HMCS PATRIOT and PATRICIAN are commissioned into the RCN.
The Captain of PATRICIAN was Lieutenant George C. Jones, a future Chief of Naval Staff, and the first graduate of the Royal Naval College of Canada to command a ship in the RCN. PATRIOT and PATRICIAN were the first destroyers in the RCN.

On the 1st of Jan 1921, Captain Hose succeeded Vice-admiral Kingsmill as Director of the Canadian Naval Service.

In July 1921, Canada, at first alone, opposed renewal of the Anglo-Japanese naval treaty. It was considered incompatible with the terms of the League of Nations, would inspire mistrust in the US and China (who were still far from their world power status), and could conceivably implicate Canada in a war between Japan and the US because of the requirement for Britain to support Japan. During the delay in renewal, for this and other reasons, the US called the Washington Conference to discuss disarmament.

The Washington conference started on the 12th of November 1921 and continued until Feb 1922. As a consequence, the Anglo-Japanese treaty was never renewed. This resulted in a very weak British naval presence in the Pacific. Canada’s leadership on behalf of an Anglo-American accord at the Washington naval disarmament talks of 1921 was, in the words of one analysis, the “single most important endeavour towards the end of her own national security” in the entire inter-war period. “in effect, London had to be persuaded that the price to be paid for the termination of the naval building race with the United States (and for improved Anglo-American relations) was the abandonment of her Japanese Alliance.