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July 27, 2012

The Crimson Route: Recovery and reminiscence

(Continued)

Zimmerman had flown in military officials from the big base at Presque Ile, Maine, to Longue Pointe to check on progress in building the strip. Military planners figured Longue Pointe had strategic importance for the Crimson Route as an intermediary or emergency stop for aircraft bound for Newfoundland and then onward to England and Europe.

The base — code-named Tweed Field — was built to accommodate a contingent of 155 soldiers and 32 officers. This influx of Americans into a remote corner of the north shore of the St. Lawrence obviously had an impact on the tiny fishing village with a population of about 300.

The strip is still in use today and is clearly visible on Internet maps. What’s more, some 10 witnesses to the crash and rescue effort are still living in the village. They were invited recently to meet the JPAC crew as it readied to begin what is expected to be a month’s worth of diving in tricky river conditions.

Those witnesses would probably also recall how the St. Lawrence River had become a front of World War II as of the spring of 1942. Indeed, the first attack of a Nazi U-boat in the river happened only a few miles from Longue Pointe.

The Nazis continued the submarine rampage in the St. Lawrence for the next two years, sinking 24 ships — four in one day in September, 1942 — and killing 300 people. The last victim of a Nazi sub attack was the Canadian navy ship Shawinigan, which was sunk off Newfoundland in November 1944, with 91 sailors lost.

When the Allies got the upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1943, the Crimson Route became pretty much unnecessary. But given the urgency with which bases like Longue Pointe were built, it’s clear Allied planners had considered them a crucial part of the war effort.

And that’s probably comforting to the families of the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the cold waters of the St. Lawrence.

Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at pmblack@videotron.ca.

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