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Mutiny and the Royal Canadian Navy

Christopher M. Bell

Mutiny? Pure piffle, nonsense. They were perfectly orderly the whole time.
Captain E. R. Mainguy, RCN, August 1945 1

Mutinies, like the armed services in which they occur, reflect the societies that produce them. Throughout history, naval personnel have defied authority in pursuit of a wide variety of goals, ranging from the improvement of shipboard conditions to far-reaching political reform and, in rare cases, outright revolution. This chapter examines the Canadian Navy’s experience with mutiny. It begins by providing a conceptual framework for understanding naval mutinies as a phenomenon across time and borders. Mutinies in the navies of modern, democratic states like Canada have traditionally differed in important ways from those in authoritarian regimes or less-developed societies. In the former, mutinies have usually been short-lived, non-violent, and easily-resolved. They sometimes spread from ship to ship, but the mutineers' demands mostly remain moderate and limited. In the latter, incidents have been less frequent, but are more often characterized by violence, escalating demands, and revolutionary intent. 2 This chapter also places the Canadian navy’s experience into an Imperial context. Britain’s Royal Navy (RN) already had a centuries-old tradition of mutiny when the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was established in 1910. Canada’s new service adopted or absorbed many of the Royal Navy’s laws, customs and traditions, including those relating to matters of discipline and welfare. Thus, for many officers and ratings, attitudes towards mutiny were shaped by their training and service with the RN. Finally, this chapter examines the Canadian Navy’s own mutinies. These were relatively modest affairs, with disgruntled ratings generally locking themselves into a mess deck to draw attention to complaints about matters such as leave, workload, or treatment by officers. These protests, which authorities and participants alike were loath to label as mutinies, occurred periodically throughout the Second World War and continued into the post-war era, culminating in the outbreak of three mutinies over three weeks in early 1949.

The term mutiny has traditionally been used to describe a diverse group of activities, many of which seem far removed from the dramatic and violent events normally associated with mutiny in the popular mind. The law does little to clarify the problem, as legal definitions of mutiny tend to be both broad and ambiguous. The United States’ Uniform Code of Military Justice, for example, focuses on the intention of the mutineers as the defining feature of mutiny, reserving the charge for an individual who ‘with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty’. It also allows for an individual acting alone to be charged with this offence. 4

Britain’s Naval Discipline Acts, on the other hand, have always defined mutiny as fundamentally a group activity, describing it most recently as ‘a combination between two or more persons ... to overthrow or resist lawful authority in Her Majesty's forces ...; to disobey such authority ...; or to impede the performance of any duty or service in Her Majesty's forces.’ 5

Canadian usage has closely followed Britain’s. When the Royal Canadian Navy was established in 1910, Canada incorporated Britain’s 1866 Naval Defence Act directly into its Naval Service Act. Canadian ratings, like their British counterparts, were forbidden to combine with others ‘for the purpose of bringing about alterations in existing regulations or customs of the Naval Service’. 6 Thus, individuals could seek the redress of grievances, but groups could not. The first uniquely Canadian code of discipline, the 1944 Naval Service Act, and its successor, the National Defence Act, clearly showed their British heritage. 7 Mutiny is now defined by Canadian authorities as an act of ‘collective insubordination or a combination of two or more persons in the resistance of lawful authority in any of Her Majesty's Forces or in any forces cooperating therewith’. 8 Canada’s Code of Service Discipline does acknowledge, however, that all mutinies are not created equal. Those accompanied by violence are potentially punishable with life imprisonment, while those without are subject to lesser terms, except for individuals designated as ‘ringleaders’, who may also be imprisoned for life. 9

Distinguishing between violent and non-violent incidents may be helpful from a disciplinary perspective, but as a phenomenon, mutinies are best understood by focussing on the nature of the objectives that produce or sustain them. Most mutinies are conceived as what sociologist Cornelis Lammers calls ‘collective action to improve or maintain the position of the group [i.e. the sailors] with respect to its income or other work conditions'. 10 They are thus similar in appearance and intent to an industrial strike, with mutineers motivated solely or primarily by relatively mundane issues such as pay, leave, working conditions, discipline or food. In some instances, however, mutinies at sea have had more profound causes. In the last century, sailors have turned to mutiny as a means to overthrow governments or achieve far-reaching social or economic reform. Probably the only feature that all mutinies share is that they constitute a deliberate and concerted defiance of legal authority. A recent comparative study of modern naval mutinies by Christopher M. Bell and Bruce Elleman outlines four basic types of mutiny, which will be labelled here as minor mutinies, major (or political) mutinies, seizure of power mutinies, and secession mutinies. 11

Minor mutinies, the type to occur most frequently, consist of isolated incidents prompted, in most cases, by conditions unique to a particular ship. N.A.M. Rodger, in his study of the Georgian Royal Navy, notes that ‘collective actions by whole ship’s companies’ were actually quite common during that period. 12

When other methods [of obtaining redress] failed, mutiny provided a formal system of public protest to bring grievances to the notice of authority. It was a sort of safety‑valve, harmless, indeed useful, so long as it was not abused. It was part of a system of social relations which provided an effective working compromise between the demands of necessity and humanity, a means of reconciling the Navy’s need of obedience and efficiency with the individual’s grievances. It was a means of safeguarding the essential stability of shipboard society, not of destroying it. 13

Mutiny often plays the same role in modern navies. In these cases, sailors’ demands usually remain limited and moderate, in large measure to avoid the appearance that a mutiny is, in fact, taking place. Participants in these events may even be unaware that passive acts of defiance legally constitute mutiny. And while officers generally do know this, they are usually no less eager than their subordinates to avoid using the term. Because a ship’s officers have the power to satisfy basic grievances themselves, these incidents seldom turn violent and are generally resolved quickly and easily, often without the mutineers being punished.

The situation becomes more complicated when grievances cannot be easily satisfied by a ship’s officers or the navy’s local commanders. In some instances, the complaints that spark a mutiny relate to problems that affect an entire fleet or navy. They sometimes stem from things as simple as pay, but may also reflect more systemic issues, such as social, national, or racial tensions within the service. Major (or political) mutinies are still aimed, in most cases, at promoting sailors’ work-related interests, but they are fundamentally different from the minor mutinies discussed above in that they attempt to exert pressure on the government rather than on naval authorities. This does not, however, signify an outright rejection of the government’s authority or legitimacy. On the contrary, in these instances the act of mutiny represents a desire by the participants to engage in their nation’s political process by openly protesting decisions that adversely affect their interests. In democratic states, naval personnel will be conscious of the rights enjoyed by their civilian counterparts when confronted with similar challenges, and the resort to mutiny will be rationalized as an assertion of those same fundamental rights. In less-developed states, collective insubordination may represent one of the few means sailors have to exert influence on the civil authorities.

A mutiny in the Royal Navy’s Atlantic Fleet in September 1931 provides a good example of a ‘political’ mutiny in a democratic state. In this instance, ratings mutinied when they learned of drastic pay cuts about to be imposed by the government. 14 Relations between officers and men remained cordial, however. The sailors’ complaints were not directed against their immediate superiors or the commander of the fleet, who were clearly not responsible for the situation, and were equally incapable of resolving it. The mutineers’ decision to prevent ships from sailing was a calculated move to force concessions directly from the government, which alone had the power to moderate the pay cuts. A mutiny in the Brazilian navy in 1910, on the other hand, demonstrates how mutiny may be employed as a political tool in a less-developed state. On this occasion, Afro-Brazilian sailors protested against brutal discipline throughout the service by seizing control of warships in Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay. To force the government to eliminate racial injustices in the navy, mutineers turned the fleet’s guns on the nation’s capital city, effectively holding the civilian population and the federal government hostage. 15

Political mutinies therefore have a different dynamic from minor mutinies. Because they stem from widespread issues, they are much more likely to spread beyond a single ship or squadron. And because they tend to generate greater demands, they are correspondingly more difficult to resolve, and are more liable to involve violence.

In rare cases, mutiny represents a form of outright rebellion against the state. The majority of these incidents can be classified as seizure of power mutinies When sailors’ demands are so far-reaching that they cannot be accommodated within the existing political framework, sailors may employ mutiny as a means to alter the political status quo. This is what happened in the Soviet Union in March 1921, when naval ratings, disillusioned with the course the revolution had taken, seized control of the Kronstadt naval base and demanded fundamental political reforms from the Bolshevik leadership. In instances such as this, where both parties’ survival is ultimately at stake, violence is virtually unavoidable. The Kronstadt mutiny was not resolved until the Soviet regime mounted a large-scale military operation against the mutineers. After recapturing the base, mutineers were punished with great brutality. There are instances, however, were insurgents have been successful. In 1918, for example, a mutiny in the German High Seas Fleet sparked the revolution that led to the establishment of the Weimar Republic.

Revolution is such a difficult and risky proposition, however, that sailors’ alienation from the state or naval authorities may manifest itself in an attempt to secure their autonomy. In a secession mutiny, sailors physically seize control of a warship in order to obtain mobility and firepower, both of which may be used to escape entirely from the state’s authority and avoid punishment. During the age of sail, mutineers who pursued this course would often turn to piracy or, as in the case of HMS Bounty, attempt to vanish into remote areas. In the last century, they have preferred to seek asylum from a sympathetic foreign government.

Mutinies, especially large ones, are inherently chaotic events and do not always fit neatly into a single category. In the first place, mutineers may differ amongst themselves over objectives. When a French fleet mutinied in the Black Sea in 1919, for example, some sailors hoped only to improve local conditions of service (minor mutiny), while others sought to pressure the government to demobilise them or end the intervention in the Russian civil war (political mutiny), and a handful wished to exploit the unrest to spark a communist revolution in France (seizure of power mutiny). 16 Secondly, mutineers may disagree with higher authorities about the nature of a mutiny. The latter often see political or revolutionary motives where none are intended, or recognise better than mutineers the potential of even minor incidents to undermine their authority and prestige. Finally, the objectives of a mutiny are not always static. The famous 1905 mutiny on the Russian battleship Potemkin, for example, began as an isolated protest against bad food (minor mutiny) but quickly developed into an attempt to spark a national revolution (seizure of power mutiny). When mutineers failed to achieve this goal, they sailed to Rumania in search of asylum (secession mutiny).

Bell and Elleman refer to this tendency for mutineers’ demands to become more extensive or radical after a mutiny begins as a process of vertical escalation. The process is not automatic. In many mutinies, and especially minor ones, sailors appreciate that their best chance of achieving a satisfactory outcome rests in keeping their demands limited and reasonable. The potential for escalation is always present, however. Even when sailors are eager to downplay the seriousness of a mutiny, they also recognise that there is often little additional risk in making demands that go beyond the complaints that triggered the mutiny in the first place, provided that these other complaints are not of a political or radical nature. Moreover, because mutiny is a such a drastic step to take, mutineers looking only to improve local conditions may inflate their list of grievances to reassure authorities that they had sufficient justification for their action. This certainly appears to have been the case, for example, during the mutinies discussed below in HMCS Rivière-du-Loup and HMCS Magnificent. In the latter case, investigators concluded that the men’s more mundane complaints were advanced ‘as a justification for the incident after it had happened and that many of the criticisms were cited as excuses for insubordination rather than a prior cause for its occurrence.’ 17

Sailors’ demands will also tend to escalate as a mutiny spreads from one ship to others, or from ships to shore establishments. As the size of the mutiny grows, so does the bargaining power of the participants. A mutinous fleet can expect to extract greater concessions from the government than a single ship, and mutineers will often modify their goals to reflect newfound opportunities. Finally, the radicalisation of sailors’ demands is closely linked to expectations regarding the ultimate resolution of the mutiny. Once mutineers become convinced that a peaceful resolution of their dispute is not possible, or that they will be severely punished for their actions, they will have little incentive left for moderation. This occurs rarely in democratic states, but authoritarian regimes and many less-developed states have both a low tolerance for dissent and a propensity towards violence. If mutineers feel they have been backed into a corner, seeking autonomy or attempting to overthrow the government may become the only means to obtain a satisfactory outcome.

The tendency for mutiny to spread has been described as a process of horizontal escalation. 18 As long as the complaints that provoke insubordination are restricted to a single vessel there is little likelihood that this will happen, as sailors on other ships will have nothing to gain by joining in. But if grievances are widely shared, the potential for mutiny to spread increases dramatically. There is normally much less risk involved in joining a mutiny than in starting one. Once one ship has taken the lead in defying authority, others may join it knowing that they are less likely to be singled out for punishment. There is, moreover, a certain safety in numbers. As a mutiny grows, the prospect of collective punishment tends to decrease. Sailors are well aware that it is not feasible to hang every sailor in a fleet. They also appreciate that joining a mutiny increases the pressure on naval authorities or the government, thereby improving their chances of success. Thus, once a mutiny begins to spread it will easily gain momentum. This may be accompanied by an increase in scope or severity of the mutineers’ demands, but vertical and horizontal escalation are not necessarily linked. In democratic states especially, the tendency is for demands to remain moderate and stay focussed on the proximate causes of the protest. The two types of escalation are most likely to occur together when mutiny spreads in a service already wracked by serious systemic problems, or when naval grievances begin to merge with social, economic or political disputes affecting civilian society.

Because mutinies have this potential to escalate in dangerous and unexpected ways, the initial decision to defy authority is seldom taken lightly. In general terms, disgruntled sailors resort to mutiny when there are no legal means available to resolve serious grievances. In the case of minor mutinies, the ultimate source of the sailors’ complaint is usually the ship’s officers. If they are unwilling – or appear to be unwilling – to address complaints put through the proper channels, sailors may decide that they must resort to extreme measures to resolve matters. Much the same is true of the other types of mutinies, except that in these instances legal channels may simply not exist, they may be deemed inadequate, or the responsible authorities may oppose concessions.

For mutiny to be a rational option, however, complaints must be serious enough to justify the risks. Punishment for mutiny can be severe. Many countries retain the death penalty as a maximum punishment for this offence. In democratic states, mutineers still face the possibility of lengthy prison terms. Furthermore, the law does not always distinguish between ringleaders and other participants, or between active participants and passive supporters. Even bystanders potentially face punishment. Canada’s National Defence Act, for example, allows life imprisonment for an individual who, ‘being present, does not use his utmost endeavours to suppress a mutiny’, or ‘being aware of an actual or intended mutiny, does not without delay inform his superior officer thereof’. 19 There are numerous instances in the past century of sailors being executed for mutiny, although this seldom occurs outside of authoritarian regimes. In practice, democracies rarely apply harsh penalties. Western armed services go to great lengths to provide channels, both official and unofficial, for enlisted personnel to represent concerns about their working conditions. There is thus a realisation by naval and civilian authorities that when a minor mutiny does occur, it often stems from the failure by the ship’s officers to address legitimate grievances. Moreover, because sailors will usually find means to express dissatisfaction with their working conditions long before a mutiny occurs, officers are expected to resolve problems in a timely manner. Thus, as long as mutiny does not turn violent and sailors’ complaints appear justified, it is usually the officers who are censured. Nevertheless, the existence of drastic penalties for mutiny serves as a powerful deterrent to would-be mutineers.

The complaints that trigger a mutiny vary considerably. Enlisted personnel everywhere are usually resigned to a certain amount of inconvenience, and are often willing to burden additional or even extreme hardships out of a sense of duty, especially if these are for a short duration or become necessary during wartime. However, their willingness to do so can be undermined by numerous factors. In the case of minor mutinies, where local conditions are the primary cause of discontent and seemingly trivial incidents may have a disproportionate impact, the critical consideration appears to be sailors’ perceptions of what is fair and reasonable treatment. These perceptions are neither static nor universal. Every navy possesses a unique set of values and traditions, and even individual ships will react differently to any given situation. Sailors accustomed to poor working conditions within the service and in civilian society are more likely to mutiny because of unusual hardships than over conditions, however bad, that are accepted as normal.

Other variables are also important in determining how a ship’s company will respond to poor conditions. The first is the quality of the ship’s captain and executive officer. Trusted and respected commanders will be able to inspire confidence in subordinates that their grievances will be given a fair hearing. This makes recourse to mutiny less likely in the first place, and helps to ensure that incidents will be resolved quickly if they do occur. With unpopular leaders, the reverse will normally be true. A second variable is the risk involved in openly defying authority. Sailors must carefully weigh their grievances against the likelihood of punishment and the severity of the penalties. As the perceived risk in mutiny declines, the incentive to take this course increases. Finally, personnel will be less inclined to make sacrifices or accept risks if they become alienated from the state or from naval authorities, even if they are unlikely to cite this as a justification for their disobedience. This type of alienation can, however, become a primary motivating factor for mutiny if it becomes great enough. The difficulty facing mutineers in this case is that once local grievances are no longer the ostensible cause of their disobedience, the nature of the mutiny is fundamentally altered. In most such instances, mutineers will opt for secession – an outcome that a single ship has a good chance of achieving. Anything more ambitious, such as forcing a change of government, quickly becomes problematic. Sailors who wish to achieve far-reaching political, economic or social reform have to overcome many obstacles, the most important being organisation. It is virtually impossible for a single ship acting alone to force major concessions from the civil authorities. However, ensuring broad support for mutiny requires considerable preparation. This can be physically difficult when ships are at sea, and it carries with it much greater risk, as the likelihood of detection increases as the size of the conspiracy grows. Consequently, large-scale or revolutionary mutinies seldom begin that way; they are more likely to start as a minor mutiny and escalate. 20

The Royal Canadian Navy’s approach to discipline was a natural offshoot of its close ties with the Royal Navy. Following the closure of the Royal Naval College of Canada in 1922, RCN officer cadets received an initial five years of training in Britain. After returning to Canada, officers continued to serve regularly in sea-going appointments with the Royal Navy and were eligible for courses and shore appointments in Britain. 21 Not surprisingly, Canadian naval officers absorbed British naval traditions and values, so much so that critics later charged that they were, as a group, more ‘British’ than ‘Canadian’. However, the methods they acquired from the British were not necessarily ill-suited to a Canadian environment. The twentieth-century Royal Navy strove to instill in its officers a paternalistic attitude towards the lower deck. As one typical memorandum on the subject from the 1930s asserted, naval discipline ‘must be based on mutual confidence and respect between officers and men.’

This will only be achieved if officers regard their men as human beings with ambitions, hopes and fears, who have private lives and private troubles. They must also bear in mind that when men come under their command an early opportunity to show some tangible sign of sympathetic leadership should be sought, and thus early in the commission gain the confidence of the ship’s company.

The Commanding Officer has the main responsibility and has it in his power to prevent circumstances arising which might make for discontent. For example, in his proposals for commissioning, storing and sailing and for working-up practices he should endeavour to frame them so that they will not lead to undue hardship. If he is ordered to carry out a programme which, in his judgement, will put an undue strain on his ship’s company, it is clearly his duty to represent the matter. 22

Officers were thus expected to watch carefully over the interests of the men directly under their command so as to gain their confidence and be able to satisfy grievances before they began to undermine discipline. 23 As long as ratings knew that their legitimate complaints would receive prompt and sympathetic attention from their immediate superiors, Canadian naval officers, like their British counterparts, would have been confident that discipline was on a firm basis.

There is no evidence to suggest that this assurance was misplaced. On the contrary, the Royal Navy’s paternalistic approach was largely successful, as discipline was not a serious problem in the service at any time in the first half of the twentieth century. 24 Mutinies did take place sporadically during this period, but these were almost all minor incidents motivated by local conditions and confined to single ships. Given the size of the Royal Navy during this period, the relative infrequency of mutiny suggests that relations between officers and men were generally sound, even if some individual officers failed to meet the navy’s expectations. On only two occasions in the interwar years did the service experience large-scale disturbances. The first occurred in British ships and a Royal Marine battalion supporting ‘white’ forces in the Russian civil war. In these instances, mass unrest stemmed primarily from complaints relating to food, leave and pay, although war-weariness and lack of enthusiasm for the intervention in Russia were important contributing factors. 25 The second major episode, the 1931 Invergordon mutiny, engulfed most of the British Atlantic fleet, including four capital ships, for nearly two full days.

The Russian incidents seem to have made little impression on either British naval officers or later historians, despite their potentially serious political implications. The Invergordon mutiny, on the other hand, had a deep and lasting impact. The mutiny itself was resolved relatively easily. The Admiralty grudgingly acknowledged the validity of the men’s grievances, and the government ultimately agreed to reduce its proposed pay cuts. The scale of the insubordination nonetheless came as a profound shock to naval officers. Because they were accustomed to thinking of mutiny in terms of minor incidents in which officers almost inevitably bore primary responsibility, they found it difficult to explain a fleet-wide mutiny as anything other than the manifestation of a general ‘loss of touch’ between officers and men. 26 Notably, the officer corps blamed itself, rather than the lower deck, for this perceived failure. The Admiralty attempted to address this problem through several initiatives. First, the complements of officers on ships were reduced to allow junior officers more opportunities to develop their powers of command. Second, measures were taken to ensure greater continuity of personnel in the Atlantic fleet, so that officers and men would have enough time together to develop close ties. Third, the navy’s welfare machinery was overhauled to ensure that ratings had to direct complaints to their divisional officers, rather than to the Admiralty, to reinforce the bonds between officers and men, and to convince ratings that their officers could not be circumvented. Finally, a Director of Personal Services was established at the Admiralty to ensure that lower deck views received careful attention at the highest levels. 27

Canadian naval officers serving in Royal Navy vessels during the 1930s or taking courses in Britain would have been caught up in the uncertainty that swept through the service in the aftermath of Invergordon. They would also have been exposed to the navy’s efforts to prepare officers to deal with future acts of mass insubordination. This was done primarily through confidential publications made available to officers in ships and shore establishments, and through lectures to junior officers on divisional courses and senior executive officers at the RN College Greenwich. 28 In this material, the Admiralty tacitly accepted that minor mutinies would continue to occur from time to time. What clearly haunted senior officers during the 1930s was not the possibility of mutiny, but of another large-scale incident like Invergordon. As one Admiralty official remarked in 1938, ‘A tiger having once tasted human blood is never supposed to be the same tiger again. So is the Fleet now alive to the fact as to what can be accomplished by a firm front [against authority].’ 29 To ensure that future incidents remained localised, officers were instructed to take immediate and firm action to maintain or restore discipline in the face of mass unrest, something senior officers in the Atlantic fleet had failed to do in 1931. A confidential memorandum issued in August 1932, for example, emphasised ‘the necessity of putting down any attempt at collective indiscipline promptly and with a strong hand’.

Should there be any evidence of general discontent which might develop into massed disobedience, or if such disobedience occurs, the action of all officers must be such as to indicate unmistakably that they intend to retain or regain control and to uphold discipline. Prompt action must be taken at the same time to make it clear to the men that their grievances will be investigated and, if found to be genuine, remedied with as little delay as possible, provided they continue to carry out their duties. 30

The maintenance of discipline was therefore seen as essentially a question of leadership. Officers were reassured that any ship’s company would contain only a small number of natural troublemakers and potential ringleaders, and that ‘the majority of men can be relied upon if they are given the proper lead by their officers’. 31

The Admiralty’s concerns about the foundations of naval discipline were largely unfounded. The Invergordon mutiny was little more than a spontaneous reaction to drastic and unfair pay cuts, not a sign of systemic problems within the fleet. Ratings were not alienated from their officers, but were forced to circumvent them because their real dispute was with higher authorities. The lower deck’s success on this occasion did not, however, leave it more disposed to defy naval authority. The Royal Navy experienced only one other notable mutiny before the outbreak of war, when ratings on the battleship HMS Warspite gathered on the ship’s forecastle for an unauthorised meeting to discuss an unexpected curtailment of leave. A board of enquiry later reported that ‘no particular precautions were taken to keep this meeting secret’, suggesting that ‘the men in fact wanted it to be discovered so that their grievance could be unmistakeably demonstrated’. 32 This was just the sort of ‘safety valve’ that the Royal Navy regarded as a normal part of service life. The incident would probably have attracted little attention if a handful of ratings had not exhorted the ship’s company to continue the demonstration after being addressed by the captain, resulting in marines being used to clear the quarterdeck. 33 This type of mutiny also occurred periodically in the Royal Navy during the Second World War without prompting serious concern at the Admiralty. All of this demonstrates that once the initial shock of the Invergordon mutiny had worn off, discipline in the Royal Navy quickly returned to ‘business as usual’, with minor mutinies being treated by both ratings and officers as a relatively harmless means of drawing attention to grievances that could not be resolved through normal channels.

This is in keeping with a tradition of mutiny in the Royal Navy that clearly stretched as far back as the Georgian period, when minor incidents were, as NAM Rodger has shown, also a common occurrence, and an acceptable one provided they conformed to certain ‘unwritten rules’. According to Rodger, these rules were generally understood in the following terms:

1) No mutiny shall take place at sea or in the face of the enemy;
2) No personal violence may be employed (although a degree of tumult and shouting is permissible);
3) Mutinies shall be held in pursuit only of objectives sanctioned by the traditions of the Service. 34

In a similar vein, David Divine’s study of the Invergordon mutiny refers to ‘a community memory, on the lower deck, of success in the righting of past wrongs and of the methods and rules to be observed in the event of future necessity’. 35 Divine is mistaken, however, in suggesting that fleet-wide disturbances such as Invergordon and its predecessor, the 1797 mutiny of the Channel fleet at Spithead, were part of this tradition. In fact, on these occasions mutineers broke another ‘unwritten rule’: that mutinies were to be confined to a single ship. That is why these incidents generated such widespread alarm within the service. It is also important to recognise that the tradition that was not, as Divine implies, restricted to the collective memory of the lower deck. Officers understood the tradition at least as well as their men. Indeed, for the ‘rules’ to work there had to be tacit understanding between officers and men that as long as protests stemmed from legitimate complaints mutineers would not be subjected to draconian punishment.

The British tradition of mutiny would have been passed to both the officers and ratings of the RCN through their frequent contacts with the RN. Canadian ratings also took courses in Britain and served on British ships during this period, 36 ensuring that they would share their officers’ familiarity with British naval customs and traditions. As in the case of the RN, it is impossible to determine how often minor incidents occurred in Canadian vessels, as most would have been resolved by a ship’s officers without higher authorities becoming aware that anything had happened. There are, in fact, few recorded instances of collective disobedience in the Canadian navy prior to the Second World War. The earliest of these occurred in February 1918. On this occasion, a group of four Newfoundland sailors serving attached to HMCS Niobe in Halifax refused to work until their rate of pay (40 cents a day) was raised to match the higher rate ($1.10-1.20) of Canadian naval personnel. This demand was ultimately met, which may have emboldened Canadian seamen and stokers to refuse several months later to put to sea in the minesweeper TR 30, where living conditions below deck were regarded as ‘intolerable’. In this instance, however, the mutineers were sentenced to eighteen month’s hard labour. 37

No other mutiny is recorded prior to 1936, when sailors in the destroyer HMCS Skeena briefly barricaded themselves into the mess deck during the destroyer’s annual spring cruise. 38 The ship had travelled as far south as Acapulco, where in previous years a ‘tropical routine’ had been adopted so that men would not have to work in the tropical heat past noon. Skeena’s executive officer, Lieutenant-Commander (later Rear-Admiral) H. Nelson Lay, had informed the company that the change would be taking place that day, but the captain decided to continue the normal routine indefinitely. Learning that the men had decided not to fall in that afternoon, Lay resolved the situation in precisely the manner laid down by the Admiralty. According to his memoirs, he expressed his sympathy with the disgruntled sailors and warned them of the seriousness of their actions. ‘By refusing to ‘fall in’ when piped’, he informed them,

you have, in fact, started a mutiny, and a mutiny is a very dangerous thing to start. If you look out the scuttle you will see there is a British cruiser in Acapulco harbour and if you persist in the present situation, I will have to report to the Captain that the ship’s company refuse to obey orders. He will then send a signal to the Captain of the cruiser which has 100 Royal Marines on board. They will come over here, you will all be arrested and taken over to the cruiser and put in custody there. You will then be tried by Court Martial. Now, King’s Regulations and Admiralty Instructions lay down that, “the penalty for mutiny is death or such other punishment as is hereinafter mentioned.” So you see what a serious position you have put yourself in. Now, I am going to give you one chance. I’m going aft to the Quarter Deck and will pipe ‘hands fall in’. If everyone falls in, I will not report this incident officially to the Captain. I will also try and persuade him to allow me to go into tropical routine as soon as possible. 39

This apparently settled the matter. The men returned to work that afternoon, the captain changed the routine the following day, and no penalties were ever imposed.

Incidents of this nature continued to take place in the Canadian Navy during the Second World War. Vice-Admiral Ralph Hennessy later recounted how as a young Sub-Lieutenant in HMCS Assiniboine he had been astonished by the other officers’ ‘relative acceptance’ of a mess deck lock-in that took place in the ship in the late spring or summer of 1940. This incident was probably typical in that it was treated by the ship’s officers ‘as an internal event’. 40 A similar protest in November 1942 in the armed yacht HMCS Reindeer did come to the attention of higher authorities, but clearly failed to generate much alarm. In this instance, the ship’s captain, an unpopular RCN Volunteer Reserve (VR) lieutenant, was removed from command and no disciplinary action was taken against the sailors. 41

In fact, only a handful of mutinies in Canada’s wartime navy are well documented. The first of these, and probably the RCN’s best-known wartime mutiny, occurred in July 1943 in the Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Iroquois. 42 Ratings had been unhappy for some time with their commanding officer, Commander W.B.L. Holms, RCN. As Michael Whitby has noted, the short-tempered Holms ‘showed little tolerance for mistakes, cursing loudly at and sometimes “manhandling” ratings who did not perform to his satisfaction.’ 43 The ship’s company also resented Holms’ practice of stopping the leave of a whole mess when one of its members went absent over leave. Mutiny only broke out, however, when Holms cancelled leave for the entire ship because an eagle insignia stolen from the uniform of a German prisoner by one of the crew was not returned. On the morning of 19 July, 190 crew members locked themselves in their mess decks and refused to fall in until their grievances had been brought to the attention of authorities ashore. The incident was ultimately resolved by the British officer responsible for the destroyers operating from Plymouth, Commander Reginald Morice, RN, who was summoned by Iroquois’s executive officer after Holms suffered an apparent heart attack. Morice addressed the mutineers and informed them of the seriousness of their actions. He then offered to provide them with assistance in submitting grievances through proper channels, and demanded that they immediately return to duty. All hands fell in later that day. The subsequent board of inquiry blamed Holms’ leadership style for the incident, a verdict endorsed by both British and Canadian naval authorities. 44

Another notable mutiny occurred in early 1944 in the newly-commissioned RN escort carrier HMS Nabob. 45 The ship’s company was made up of a combination of RCN, RN, and British merchant service personnel; the commanding officer was Commander H. Nelson Lay, RCN. While en route from the Panama canal to Norfolk, Virginia, Lay later recorded that a handful of junior ratings briefly locked themselves in their mess deck. His memoirs do not indicate the nationality of the protesters, but both Canadian and British sailors had their grievances. The ship’s RN ratings objected to being paid at a much lower rate than their Canadian crew mates, while RCN personnel were unhappy about the quality of the food, which was provided under RN rates. A possible U-boat sighting brought the protest to an end almost immediately, but morale continued to suffer. Lay’s report to Canadian and British authorities suggested that his main concern was the crew’s Canadian component. It was, he wrote, ‘an indisputable fact that the average R.C.N. rating is accustomed to much higher standard of living , both in his home and in H.M.C. Ships that [sic] is expected by an R.N. rating.’ He also noted, presumably for the benefit of British authorities, that most of his RCN personnel were ‘in the Reserve forces who have not had a great deal of disciplinary training or experience in large ships. These ratings are undoubtedly in the habit of speaking their minds and demanding their rights in a much more definite manner than R.N. personnel.’ 46 Upon arrival in Norfolk, Lay informed that the British Admiralty representative in Washington of the situation and stated that he ‘would not take the ship to sea until action had been taken on my recommendations.’ ‘If necessary,’ he later claimed, ‘I was prepared to be relieved in Command or to be Court Martialled!’ 47 Lay then flew to Ottawa to put his demands to Canadian authorities, who agreed to put the ship on RCN rations and take over responsibility for the pay of RN personnel. Both of these changes were approved by the Admiralty. 48

The next incident to attract the attention of higher authorities occurred on 18 August 1944 in the River-class frigate HMCS Chebogue. As the men was sitting down for lunch, they were ordered to change into rig-of-the-day so that the vessel could be shifted to its anchorage from the oiler where it was refuelling.

49 To show their resentment, the men fell in without having changed their clothing. The ship’s new captain, an acting-Lieutenant Commander, RCNR, promptly ordered all ratings ‘who were not prepared immediately to change into the rig-of-the-day to shift ship’ to step forward so that their names could be taken. Those sailors who did so were ordered to the mess-deck while the ship was moved without their assistance. 50 The defiant crew members were later addressed by Commodore G.W.G. Simpson, RN, the Commodore (Destroyers) for the Western Approaches command, who had been informed of the incident by the captain. Simpson conceded that the ‘orders piped were not perhaps well thought out’, but also reminded the men that they must submit their complaints through the proper channels.’ This effectively brought the incident to a close. No ratings were punished, even though Simpson later characterised the pretext for the mutiny as ‘totally frivolous’. 51 Simpson placed the blame for the incident on the captain for his ‘lack of foresight and inconsiderate orders’, but also suggested that the previous captain and executive officer should be investigated for their role in allowing discipline to deteriorate. 52

The most serious wartime mutiny, if judged by the punishments handed out, took place during the final year of the war in the corvette HMCS Rivière-du-Loup, also attached to the Western Approaches command. 53 The ship had been an unhappy one for some time, and the executive officer was especially unpopular with the crew, who had little respect for his professional abilities. When the ship’s captain, Lieutenant R.N. Smillie, RCNVR, went into hospital to have an infected hand treated, men became alarmed by rumours that the first lieutenant would be taking the ship to sea the following day. On the morning of 10 January 1945, forty seven sailors refused to turn in for duty and instead locked themselves in the forward mess. Smillie rushed back to the ship but was unable to gain access to the mutineers. Rear-Admiral R.H.L. Bevan, the Flag-Officer-in-Charge, Northern Ireland, decided to wait matters out rather than attempt to force entry into the mess deck. 54 The mutineers surrendered several hours later and were escorted ashore. They left behind a long list of complaints to justify their action. The most serious charge, that senior officers (and especially the first lieutenant) were incapable of properly handling the ship, was clearly what had triggered the mutiny. Other complaints, which undoubtedly contributed to the men’s general discontent, were presumably added to the list to bolster their case for mutiny. These included excessive drinking by officers, the use of foul language to address ratings, and other disrespectful behaviour. 55 The subsequent board of enquiry blamed the incident primarily on ‘injudicious and tactless handling of the ratings by the Executive Officer’, and the crew’s concerns about his competence. 56 Both the captain and the first lieutenant were relieved of their duties. Petty officers and leading seamen were reprimanded for failing ‘to notice trouble brewing’ and were drafted to other ships. Forty-four of the 47 mutineers were sentenced to terms of between 42 and 90 days in Belfast Gaol. 57

Thus, by the end of the Second World War the RCN’s own tradition of mutiny was well established. Canadian ratings periodically employed passive mess-deck lock-ins as a means to bring complaints to the attention of superiors. In the case of Nabob and Chebogue, mutiny was apparently intended only to force the ship’s captain to address the men’s complaints. In Iroquois and Rivière-du-Loup, the goal was to have unpopular officers removed, so the protest was meant to bring grievances to the attention of authorities ashore. In all these ships, mutiny proved to be very effective. Authorities agreed that the men had legitimate complaints, and prompt action was taken to address them. Just as importantly, ratings achieved their goals at an acceptable price. In every case where higher authorities became involved, blame was placed either primarily or solely on the ships’ officers. As a result, the only ratings formally punished were those from HMCS Rivière-du-Loup, who had disobeyed sailing orders in wartime, an offence too serious to overlook. Both Canadian and British authorities treated these incidents as what they were – isolated protests caused by conditions unique to the ship and the shortcomings of individual officers.

The early post-war years were a chaotic period for the Canadian navy, which had to cope with the rapid demobilisation of nearly 100,000 ‘hostilities only’ personnel while simultaneously attempting to expand the navy’s permanent peacetime manpower to more than triple its previous level. 58 Officials soon became aware of rising discontent within the fleet, as ratings employed a variety of means, including desertion, to demonstrate their unhappiness with peacetime service conditions. On 5 December 1946, a leading seaman in the destroyer HMCS Micmac attempted to organise a lock-in to obtain a ‘make and mend’ routine (effectively giving sailors a half-day off) for the afternoon. He was subsequently court-martialled and sentenced to twelve months’ detention (later reduced to three). Problems escalated the following year. On 16 July 1947, a planned lock-in was aborted in the Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Nootka only because the ship had to depart hastily to assist Micmac, which had been involved in a collision at sea. 59 Two months later, a more serious incident occurred in the cruiser HMCS Ontario. 60 On 22 August 1947, most of the ship’s junior hands locked themselves in one of the mess decks. 61 The immediate cause of the unrest was later determined to be ‘the wearing of uniform, particularly of “night clothing” and overalls, ... the capricious variation of the ship’s routine, and ... general dissatisfaction with the Executive Officer’. 62 The ship’s commanding officer, Captain Jimmy Hibbert, immediately addressed the men and persuaded them to return to duty. As usual, the mutineers obtained their objective and escaped punishment. Authorities concluded that blame for the incident lay with the ship’s executive officer, who was transferred from the ship with unseemly haste.

In Ottawa, the Naval staff realised that it had to address the causes underlying the lower deck’s discontent. A report on ‘Morale and Service Conditions’, produced in October 1947, offered a number of recommendations, including better pay and accommodation, the showing of films at sea, and the creation of a lower deck magazine. 63 Steps had already been taken several months before to establish ‘welfare committees’ in RCN ships and shore establishments. It was intended that these would provide ‘machinery for free discussion between officers and men of items of welfare and general amenities within the ship or establishment that lie within the powers of decision held by the Captain or his immediate Administrative Authority’. 64 Some progress was made towards implementing these changes, but by 1949 considerable work still had to be done. To make matters worse, the navy’s efforts to reform its rank and trade group structure resulted in ships’ companies awash in chief and petty officers, but suddenly deficient in the seamen needed to perform the ships’ more labour-intensive duties. This put greater demands on junior ratings, with an inevitable impact on morale. 65 As a result, 1949 proved to be a low point for discipline, with three mutinies taking place in rapid succession. 66

The first of these occurred on 26 February 1949 in the destroyer HMCS Athabaskan while the ship was preparing to refuel at Manzanillo, Mexico. Approximately 90 ratings, nearly half the ship’s company, locked themselves into the mess deck and demanded to meet with the captain, Commander M.A. Medland (formerly RCNVR). The men complained about the ship’s failure to adopt a tropical routine, the enforcement of stricter dress regulations than in other Canadian and American ships in the region, and ‘unreasonable demands and minor criticisms’ by certain officers, in particular the ship’s executive officer. The captain spent fifteen minutes in the mess deck listening to grievances, and the men returned to work shortly afterwards. Some of the participants were subsequently cautioned for the part in this incident, but none was ever punished.

The next incident occurred in the destroyer HMCS Crescent while the ship was alongside in Nanking. On the morning of 15 March 1949, 83 men locked themselves in the mess deck. While the captain, Lieutenant Commander D.W. Groos, attempted to discover the cause of the incident, a written list of complaints was posted on the door outlining the men’s general dissatisfaction with the ship’s captain and executive officer. The former was felt to be neglecting his duty to the ship as a result of the social and diplomatic obligations imposed on him as the Senior Naval Officer at Nanking. There was also considerable resentment that no effective welfare committee had ever been established on the ship, that frequent changes were made in their routine, and that men were used as sentries for a wet canteen ashore in addition to their normal duties. 67 The captain later addressed the mutineers, informing them that he was eager to hear the men’s complaints provided they were advanced through the proper channels. He reassured them, moreover, that ‘since he wanted to find out all the facts and the reasons for the incident, he was not contemplating any disciplinary action thus far.’ 68 All hands subsequently reported for duty and the captain began interviewing individual ratings that afternoon.

The next incident occurred less than a week later in the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent. On the morning of 20 March 1949, thirty-two of the ship’s aircraft handlers refused to fall in for duty. Magnificent was not a happy ship when the incident occurred, and the aircraft handlers, who ‘tended to consider themselves separate and distinct from the rest of the ship’s company’, felt that they were subjected to heavier demands than their crew mates. This, according to investigators, made them ‘somewhat “sorry for themselves”’. 69 The mutineers were also unhappy over more mundane matters like inadequate leave and entertainment, living conditions in their mess, and a lack of consideration shown to them by the captain and executive officer. This incident was also quickly resolved. The captain, Commodore G.R. Miles, warned the men that collective action to present grievances would not be tolerated, but agreed to meet with men individually to discuss their complaints. The men promptly returned to duty and were never disciplined for their actions.

Individually, there was nothing remarkable about these incidents. However, the outbreak of three mutinies in such a short space of time was too serious to be ignored. The Minister of National Defence, Brooke Claxton, quickly set up a commission to investigate what had gone wrong in these ships, and to look into the general state of morale and discipline in the navy. 70 The committee’s report, popularly known as the Mainguy Report after the chairman, Vice-Admiral Rollo Mainguy, dismissed politicians’ fears that the incidents had been caused by communist subversion. Instead, the immediate source of lower deck discontent was identified as general dissatisfaction with conditions of service, including such issues as pay, food, and accommodation. These, in turn, were held to be byproducts of the navy’s post-war ‘growing pains’ and ‘rapid peacetime expansion’. 71

To explain the breakdown of discipline in the fleet in 1949, the committee identified a number of problems. First, the executive officers on the three affected ships were all inexperienced, and consequently did not handle men with sufficient skill. Second, frequent changes in personnel had made it difficult for officers and men to develop intimate relations. Third, the welfare committees had either not been set up or had functioned so badly that they had themselves become a cause of discontent. Fourth, ratings had learned from the 1947 mutiny in Ontario that mass disobedience could be used to obtain concessions at little risk. These factors would have been sufficient to explain the three incidents in 1949, but the committee also suggested that an ‘artificial distance’ had grown up between officers and men throughout the fleet. The root of the problem, it charged, was Canadian naval officers’ initial training and periodic service in the Royal Navy. This, according to the report, ‘superimposed upon them a type of life and a style of leadership not only foreign to themselves and their own social background but also to the social background of the men whom they command. There is no form of artificial superiority which Canadians resent more’, it concluded, ‘than the variety imported from another land’. 72 In a similar vein, the committee asserted that men were unhappy about the lack of Canadian identifying features on their uniforms and ships.

The upper ranks of the navy were understandably unhappy about suggestions that their training and performance had somehow been factors behind the mutiny. Privately, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Harold Grant, complained that the real problem was the influx of unsuitable Volunteer Reserve personnel into the new peacetime navy. Claxton, however, was pleased with the results, as they allowed him to press forward with the ‘Canadianisation’ of the navy, a goal that was, according to David Bercuson, ‘dear to his heart.’ 73 To address the absence of a ‘Canadian identity’, the decision was made to place ‘Canada’ shoulder flashes on RCN uniforms, and maple leaf emblems on ships’ funnels. More usefully, the navy overhauled its welfare committee system and the government began to provide the funds that were needed to address the various deficiencies detailed by the the Mainguy Commission, many of which had already been identified in the 1947 report on ‘Morale and Service Conditions’.

All this was undoubtedly beneficial for the RCN, but the Mainguy Report’s emphasis on the shortcomings of Canada’s RN-trained officers and lack of national naval identity has left a distorted picture of the state of discipline in the service in 1949. The pre-war officer corps was generally well-trained in matters relating to discipline. This was even tacitly admitted in the Mainguy Report, which praised officers for handling ‘their men with humanity and in the opinion of the highest officers of the Navy, with wisdom and perfect propriety.’ 74 Some officers undoubtedly failed on occasion to make the necessary allowances for the more egalitarian sensibilities and relaxed attitude of Canadian ratings, but most clearly did not have undue difficulty in this respect. Moreover, a significant proportion of the navy’s post-war officers were not hopelessly tarnished by close association with the Royal Navy. Richard Gimblett’s research has shown, for example, that of the 13 officers in HMCS Crescent in February 1949, only three (including the captain) had received comprehensive professional training with the RN. 75 The shortcomings of officers entering from the RCN(VR), on the other hand, were not systematically examined, and may have been greater than the commission was ready to accept. 76 Finally, as Gimblett has noted, despite ‘all of the fuss in the Report over ‘Canada badges’ (i.e. shoulder flashes), not one sailor providing testimony to the commission raised that as an issue critical to them, although when queried by the commissioners as to whether it was a good idea, they of course agreed.’ 77

The Mainguy commission also ignored the long-standing tradition of mutiny in the RCN. Its report implied that the only precedent for the 1949 mutinies was the earlier incident in Ontario. The removal of the executive officer on that occasion was, it declared, ‘widely publicized and generally known throughout the Navy.’ Moreover, some of the ratings involved had subsequently been drafted to Athabaskan and Crescent. The commissioners were also impressed by the fact that men in Magnificent knew of the earlier incidents in the other ships. All this is true, of course, but by drawing such a clear link between these four particular incidents, the report obscured how widespread the knowledge and experience of mutiny would have been in the RCN by 1949. The commission was nevertheless correct in noting that mutineers’ success on these occasions and the absence of any punishments had made an impression on ratings. To prevent further mass insubordination, the report declared: ‘We can only recommend what the high ranking officers of the Navy have already determined, that any recurrence of such incidents be promptly and severely punished.’ 78

This is a surprising statement in a document that exonerated ratings of blame in the four incidents it examined. It demonstrates, however, that naval authorities understood that the threat of punishment played a critical role in the maintenance of discipline. The outbreak of three mutinies in rapid succession could not easily be dismissed as a normal part of the navy’s tradition of mutiny. On the contrary, the 1949 incidents seemed to violate two ‘unwritten rules’: that protests be restricted to a single ship; and that they not be undertaken lightly. By the time mutiny occurred in Magnificent, it was becoming apparent that these incidents were somehow linked; that ratings had little fear of being punished for a mess-deck lock-in; and that the complaints required to spark such protests were becoming increasingly minor. Thus, even though each of the 1949 incidents had its own unique causes, the navy had reason to worry that if this trend continued, mutiny would become a routine occurrence rather than an exceptional means of drawing officers’ attention to serious shipboard problems.

The 1931 Invergordon mutiny had shocked the Royal Navy because it appeared to violate an implicit understanding between officers and the lower deck about when mass insubordination was permissible. The RCN’s three mutinies in 1949, although smaller in scale, had much the same impact, and for essentially the same reason. The resulting crises induced both navies to take a renewed interest in the welfare of the lower deck and initiate a variety of reforms to remedy systemic problems that appeared to be undermining service discipline. In Canada, despite a great deal of attention being focussed on issues that had little bearing on the navy’s mutiny epidemic, such as the absence of visible symbols of the navy’s Canadian identity, service leaders appreciated that stability could only be achieved by impressing on ratings that mess-deck lock-ins were legally acts of mutiny, and that the penalties for this were potentially severe. The Mainguy commission concurred. When junior ratings in HMCS Swansea staged a mess-deck lock-in in June 1949, armed troops were brought in and some participants were sentenced to hard labour and dishonourably discharged from the service. 79 This sent a clear message to the fleet that mutiny had not become a risk-free undertaking in the Canadian navy. That no subsequent mutinies have been recorded suggests that officers and ratings effectively reestablished the ‘unwritten rules’ about when mutiny could be condoned.

Canada’s naval mutinies have been modest affairs, and in this they clearly reflect the nation’s values and traditions. Mess-deck lock-ins would have been almost unthinkable in a country like tsarist Russia, for example, where the spectre of revolution lurked behind every act of disobedience, and even seemingly minor incidents carried the potential for bloodshed. The frequency of mutiny during the RCN’s formative years is hardly surprising, however, given its close ties with the Royal Navy. Despite concerns in some quarters that the British approach to discipline was fundamentally unsuited to Canadian sailors, the RN’s traditions actually served Canada well. As long as all of the parties involved observed the same ground rules, mutiny allowed sailors to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with service conditions when no other means were available or effective. Navies that have not shown this flexibility have generally experienced fewer mutinies, but often at a heavy cost. The absence of a ‘safety valve’ in authoritarian societies has ensured that when mutinies did occur there, they easily turned violent and escalated out of control.

Probably the greatest barrier to understanding mutiny in the Canadian context has been the popular perception that the term only really applies when sailors physically seize control of their ship or assault their officers. The use of euphemisms like ‘incidents’ and ‘sit-down strikes’ 80 to describe these events has only obscured the fact that they were mutinies in a very real sense. In every instance, a group of sailors deliberately and collectively defied legally-constituted authority. Where mutiny is concerned, however, naval authorities in Canada and other western states have placed themselves in an awkward position. The days when sailors might seize a ship and sail off to become pirates is long past, yet the term mutiny legally continues to apply to minor incidents that are generally agreed not to warrant serious punishment. Authorities are reluctant even to label them mutinies. And yet western states have not redefined the term to exclude acts such as ‘sit-down strikes’, even though these are not considered mutinous and will almost never be punished as such. The reason for this, as events in 1949 demonstrate, is that the threat of harsh and potentially disproportionate penalties for collective action continues to serve a useful purpose by ensuring that ratings resort to mutiny only when they have serious and legitimate grievances. Thus, in a navy like Canada’s, where mutiny has traditionally been deemed acceptable within certain parameters, authorities have little choice but to maintain a practical distinction between minor protests and ‘real’ mutinies, even if they are not ready to recognise this difference in law.


I am grateful to Richard H. Gimblett, Bill Rawling, Bob Caldwell, and Michael Whitby for their assistance.

1 Gordon McCallum, ‘No Mutiny on Uganda, Her Commander states’, Globe and Mail, 11 August 1945.

2 For a broad overview of naval mutinies during the last century, see Christopher M. Bell and Bruce A. Elleman (eds), Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective (London: Frank Cass, 2003). The editors’ concluding chapter analyses the nature and dynamics of naval mutinies during this period. Two good popular works on the subject are Leonard F. Guttridge, Mutiny: A History of Naval Insurrection (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1992) and Richard Woodman, A Brief History of Mutiny (New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2005). On the phenomenon of mutiny generally, useful studies include: Elihu Rose, ‘The Anatomy of Mutiny’, Armed Forces and Society, vol. 8, no. 4 (summer 1982), pp. 561-74; Cornelis J. Lammers, ‘Strikes and Mutinies: A Comparative Study of Organizational Conflicts between Rulers and Ruled’, Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 4 (December 1969), pp. 558-72; and Jane Hathaway (ed.), Rebellion, Repression, Reinvention: Mutiny in Comparative Per­spective (Westport, CN: Praeger, 2001).

3 A large literature has emerged in recent years on mutiny in the Royal Canadian Navy. The most important works are: Richard H. Gimblett, ‘‘Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Seamen’: The Lower Deck Complement of a Postwar Canadian Navy Destroyer - The Case of HMCS Crescent, March 1949’, The Northern Mariner, vol. 9, no. 3 (July 1999), pp. 1-22; Bill Rawling, ‘Only “A Foolish Escapade by Young Ratings?”: Case Studies of Mutiny in the Wartime Royal Canadian Navy’, The Northern Mariner, vol. 10, no. 2 (April 2000), pp. 59-70; Richard H. Gimblett, ‘What the Mainguy Report Never Told Us: The Tradition of Mutiny in the Royal Canadian Navy before 1949’, Canadian Military Journal, vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 2000), pp. 85-94; Michael J. Whitby, ‘Matelots, Martinets, and Mutineers: The Mutiny in HMCS Iroquois, 19 July 1943’, Journal of Military History, vol. 65, no. 1 (January 2001), pp. 77-103; Richard H. Gimblett, ‘The Post-war ‘Incidents' in the Royal Canadian Navy, 1949’, in Bell and Elleman, Naval Mutinies, pp. 246-63.

4 Uniform Code of Military Justice, article 94, <>; Manual for Courts-martial, United States (2000), p. IV-26, < documents/mcm2000.pdf>.

5 UK Naval Discipline Act 1957 (as amended up to 1 December 2000), chapter 53, part I, section 8.

6 King’s Regulations for the Canadian Navy, reproduced in Report on certain ‘Incidents’ which occurred on board HMC Ships Athabaskan, Crescent and Magnificent and on other matters concerning the Royal Canadian Navy (hereafter cited as Mainguy Report), (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1949), p. 27.

7 Brigadier-general Jerry S. T. Pitzul and Commander John C. Maguire, ‘A perspective on Canada's Code of Service Discipline’, Air Force Law Review, vol. 52 (Winter 2002), pp. 4-5.

8 National Defence Act, RS, 1985, c. N-5, s. 2, <‑5/85073.html>.

9 National Defence Act, RS, 1985, c. N-5, Part III, Code of Service Discipline, s. 79-80, <‑5/85316.html>. The maximum term for mutinies without violence is 14 years.

10 Lammers, ‘Strikes and Mutinies’, p. 559.

11 Christopher M. Bell and Bruce A. Elleman, ‘Naval Mutinies in the Twentieth Century and Beyond’, in Bell and Elleman, Naval Mutinies, pp. 264-76.

12 N.A.M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (London: Fontana Press, 1988), pp. 237‑44.

13 Ibid., pp. 243‑4.

14 Christopher M. Bell, ‘The Invergordon Mutiny, 1931’ in Bell and Elleman, Naval Mutinies, pp. 170-92, and idem., ‘The Royal Navy and the Lessons of the Invergordon Mutiny’, War in History, vol. 12, no. 1 (January 2005), pp. 75-92.

15 Zachary Morgan, ‘The Revolt of the Lash, 1910’, in Bell and Elleman, Naval Mutinies, pp. 32-53.

16 Philippe Masson, Le Marine Française et la Mer Noire (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1982); idem., ‘The French naval mutinies, 1919’, in Bell and Elleman, Naval Mutinies, pp. 106-22.

17 Mainguy Report, p. 11.

18 Bell and Elleman, ‘Naval Mutinies’, pp. 269-71.

19 National Defence Act, RS, 1985, c. N-5, s. 81, <‑5/85316.html>.

20 Bell and Elleman, ‘Naval Mutinies’, pp. 268-9.

21 William Glover, ‘The RCN: Royal Colonial or Royal Canadian Navy’, in A Nation’s Navy: In Quest of Canadian Naval Identity, ed. Michael L. Hadley, Rob Huebert, and Fred W. Crickard (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996), pp. 76-80.

22 Admiralty to Commanders-in-Chief, ‘Procedures to avoid indiscipline’, 23 September 1937, ADM [Admiralty Records] 1/10277, National Archives of the United Kingdom.

23 See Bell, ‘Invergordon Mutiny’, pp. 172-5.

24 There are relatively few works that address the question of discipline in the Royal Navy during this period. See Anthony Carew, The Lower Deck of the Royal Navy 1900-1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981); Jason Sears, ‘Discipline in the Royal Navy, 1913-46’, War and Society , vol. 9, no. 2 (October 1991), pp. 39-60; Christopher McKee, Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy, 1900-1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).

25 Stephen Roskill, Naval Policy between the Wars (London: Collins, 1976) vol. I, pp. 142, 152-3; Lawrence James, Mutiny in the British and Commonwealth Forces, 1797-1956 (London: Buchan & Enright, 1987), pp. 158-60.

26 Bell, ‘Lessons of Invergordon’, p. 83.

27 Board of Admiralty minute 2992, 28 July 1932, ADM 167/85.

28 Minutes by the Director of Training and Staff Duties, 3 November 1937 and 10 May 1938, ADM 178/133; Admiralty to Commanders-in-Chief Portsmouth and Plymouth et al, 16 December 1937, ADM 178/133.

29 Undated lecture by the Fourth Sea Lord (c. early 1936), ‘Invergordon - 1931’, ADM 1/10923.

30 ‘Notes on Dealing with Insubordination’, enclosure to Admiralty Letter NL 1201/32, 12 August 1932, ADM 178/133. This document was reissued in 1937 following the mutiny on HMS Warspite, and again in 1944 as the Admiralty began preparations for operations in the Pacific.

31 Ibid.

32 Board of Enquiry report, ‘Collective Indiscipline in HMS Warspite on the 30th June 1937’, 23 September 1937, ADM 1/10277.

33 These details are notably absent from Stephen Roskill’s early account of the Warspite mutiny; H.M.S. Warspite: The Story of a Famous Battleship (London: Collins, 1957), pp. 167-9. Roskill suggests that the attention surrounding the mutiny was the result of one of the ‘trouble-makers’ communicating details to the press.

34 Rodger, Wooden World, p. 238.

35 David Divine, Mutiny at Invergordon (London: MacDonald, 1970), p. 13.

36 Richard H. Gimblett, ‘Command in the Canadian Navy: An Historical Survey’, The Northern Mariner, vol. XIV, no 4 (October 2004), p. 47.

37 Michael L. Hadley and Roger Sarty, Tin-Pots and Pirate Ships: Canadian Naval Forces and German Sea Raiders 1880-1918 (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991), p. 223; Bernard Ransom, ‘A Nursery of Fighting Seamen? The Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, 1901-1920’ in Hadley, et al., A Nation’s Navy, p. 253. Ransom notes similar protests by Newfoundlanders attached to HMS Caesar and HMS Albion.

38 This paragraph is based on the account given in Rear-Admiral H. Nelson Lay, Memoirs of a Mariner (Stittsville, Ont: Canada’s Wings, 1982), pp. 85-6.

39 Ibid., p. 85.

40 Gimblett, ‘What the Mainguy Report Never Told Us’, p. 87.

41 R.H. Caldwell, ‘Morale and Discipline in the Canadian Naval Service in the Second World War’ (unpublished Directorate of History and Heritage Naval History Narrative, second draft, 29 December 1998).

42 An early and inaccurate report of this incident appeared in Joseph Schull, Far Distant Ships: An Official Account of Canadian Naval Operations in the Second World War (Toronto: Stoddart, 1987), pp. 191-3; for a detailed and scholarly study, see Whitby, ‘Matelots, Martinets, and Mutineers’, on which this account is primarily based.

43 Whitby, ‘Matelots, Martinets, and Mutineers’, p. 86.

44 Ibid., pp. 94-7; Report of Board of Inquiry, 28 July 1943, ADM 178/305.

45 Lay, Memoirs of a Mariner, pp. 157-9.

46 Lay to Naval Board, Ottawa and British Admiralty Maintenance Representative, Washington, 8 March 1944, ADM 1/16045.

47 Lay, Memoirs of a Mariner, p. 159.

48 Lay to Flag Officer Carrier Training, Scotland, 10 April 1944, ADM 1/16045. This report supports Lay’s claims that he tried to bring his concerns to the attention of authorities several months earlier. It also suggests that the ship’s problems were exacerbated by an ‘ineffective’ executive officer and petty officers, RCNVR officers with no experience on bigger ships, and ‘a number of French-Canadian ratings (about 100) who due to racial education or environment are apparently not suitable for service in this type of ship.’ The latter group was, he claimed, responsible for ‘a majority’ of the ship’s disciplinary offences, including desertions.

49 Rawling, ‘Only “A Foolish Escapade by Young Ratings?”’, pp. 61-3.

50 Ibid., p. 61.

51 Gimblett, ‘What the Mainguy Report Never Told Us’, p. 87.

52 Rawling, ‘Only “A Foolish Escapade by Young Ratings?”’, pp. 62-3.

53 Accounts of this mutiny have been published in Bill McAndrew, Bill Rawling and Michael Whitby, Liberation: the Canadians in Europe (Montreal: Art Global, 1995), pp. 111-12, and Rawling, ‘Only “A Foolish Escapade by Young Ratings?”’, pp. 63-8.

54 Flag Officer in Charge, Northern Ireland to Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches, ‘H.M.C.S. “Riviere du Loup” – Board of Inquiry’, 17 January 1945, ADM 178/360.

55 Complaints of Ship's Company’, ADM 178/360; see also Rawling, ‘Only “A Foolish Escapade by Young Ratings?”’, p. 63.

56 Board of Inquiry’, 12 January 1945, ADM 178/360.

57 In accordance with practices in the Royal Navy at this time, only two-thirds of these sentences were actually served.

58 Marc Milner, Canada’s Navy: The First Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), chapters 9-10.

59 These incidents are recorded in Gimblett, ‘What the Mainguy Report Never Told Us’, pp. 89-90.

60 On the Ontario mutiny, see: Mainguy Report, pp. 30-1; Gimblett, ‘What the Mainguy Report Never Told Us’, p. 90; and Tony German, The Sea is at Our Gates (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990), pp. 207-8.

61 The Mainguy Report suggests that 50 ratings were involved, but Gimblett’s research indicates that the number may have been as high as 300: ‘What the Mainguy Report Never Told Us’, p. 86.

62 Mainguy Report, p. 31; Gimblett, ‘What the Mainguy Report Never Told Us’, p. 90

63 Gimblett, ‘Post-war Incidents’, pp. 253-4.

64 National Service Headquarters, Ottawa to Cangen 54, 25 July 1947, printed in Mainguy Report, p. 26.

65 Gimblett, ‘Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Seamen’.

66 On the three 1949 mutinies, see in particular Gimblett, ‘Post-war Incidents’; Milner, Nation’s Navy, pp. 189-92; and Mainguy Report.

67 Mainguy Report, pp. 16-17.

68 Ibid.

69 Ibid., pp. 9-12.

70 Gimblett, ‘Post-war Incidents’; Milner, Nation’s Navy, pp. 192-5; David J. Bercuson, True Patriot: The Life of Brooke Claxton (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), pp. 183-6; L.C. Audette, ‘The Lower Deck and the Mainguy Report of 1949’, RCN in Retrospect, 1910-1968, ed. James A. Boutilier (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1982), pp. 235-49.

71 Mainguy Report, pp. 33-4.

72 Ibid., p. 51.

73 Bercuson, True Patriot, p. 186.

74 Mainguy Report, p. 31.

75 Gimblett, ‘Post-war Incidents’, p. 252.

76 Milner, Nation’s Navy, p. 194; Gimblett, ‘Post-war Incidents’, p. 258.

77 Gimblett, ‘Post-war Incidents’, p. 258.

78 Mainguy Report, p. 31.

79 Gimblett, ‘Post-war Incidents’, p. 260.

80 For example, Gilbert Norman Tucker, The Naval Service of Canada: Its Official History, vol. 2, Activities on Shore During the Second World War (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1952), p. 328.


We gratefully acknowledge, and thank, Christopher Bell for his permission to publish this article.


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