Remember the Rainbow: An Alternate Royal Canadian Navy TL

HMCS Rainbow Ceremony, August 9th 2014.
August 9, 2014

Ceremony honours HMCS Rainbow, sunk 100 years ago today.

By James Riley for CBC News

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of HMCS Rainbow during The Battle of the Farallon Islands, Canada's first naval engagement during the First World War. The battle was remembered at a ceremony in Esquimalt, British Columbia on this Sunday morning.


Crew of HMCS Rainbow pose for a photo.

Left as the only warship to protect the Canadian West Coast from the German warships, Rainbow was not fit for service but as was common with the neglected Canadian military, servicemen made do. Commander Walter Hose, who had transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy with Rainbow just a few years earlier, set his ship to sea with only 135 men under his command.

Engaging SMS Leipzig in a fierce protracted engagement, Rainbow fought valiantly yet the far superior German warship eventually landed a death blow. A fire eventually reached her rear magazine and the ship violently exploded, taking 129 young men down with her.

Commander Hose and Leading Seaman Livesay were both awarded the Victoria Cross for their superb gallantry and performance during the battle, setting the tradition of excellence within the Navy that has been upheld ever since.


Commander Walter Hose (left) and Leading Seamen Livesay (right).

The tragedy is commonly viewed by Canadian historians as the turning point of the Canadian Navy, public support and fierce lobbying by Walter Hose had finally gave the “ugly duckling” of the Canadian Military it’s legs in an uncertain world. The rallying cry of “Remember the Rainbow!” is still one of the most memorable Canadian quotes of the early 20th century.

Along with the ceremony in Esquimalt, three Royal Canadian Navy warships had embarked on a trip to host a ceremony and lay wreaths for the fallen at the wreck site. HMCS St. Laurent alongside HMCS Ottawa and HMCS Fraser are to leave Esquimalt this afternoon after the service and will be joined by USS Russell, HMAS Darwin and HMS Portland off the Farallon Islands.

The goal of this timeline is to create a realistic yet improved Canadian Navy. I’ve lurked here for a good year or two and have read some very nice stories however I was mainly inspired by TheMann’s ‘Go North, Young Man’ which while I think is a great timeline, the depiction of the Royal Canadian Navy was a bit unrealistic for my taste, so I hope to be able to spin my own tale here!
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Nick P

I could well be interested in this - I'm currently reading The Last Gentleman of War, all about SMS Emden and her very successful (if shortlived) career as a raider. Normally I wouldn't think about Great War naval actions but the Jutland exhbitions and a visit to HMS Caroline set me off....
I could well be interested in this - I'm currently reading The Last Gentleman of War, all about SMS Emden and her very successful (if shortlived) career as a raider. Normally I wouldn't think about Great War naval actions but the Jutland exhbitions and a visit to HMS Caroline set me off....

I think Great War naval actions and the politics surrounding them can allow for some very interesting stories to be told. I initially had little clue about German raiders in the Pacific save Graf Spee's squadron until I picked up some interesting Canadian Naval history books last year. There's potential for some real changes and I hope to exploit that to it's fullest.

I hope you stick around for the ride!
A New Beginning
A New Beginning

From the very beginning, Canadians have had an aversion to the military and the associated spending. This can largely be traced back to two elements, the myth that the Canadian Militia had won the War of 1812 and the classical thought that the Royal Navy will provide protection to all of it’s far flung colonies. With the Militia seen as being able to jump back to combat at a moments notice and again defend the borders of Canada and the Royal Navy seen as the protector of the seas, Canadians grew complacent and to a point, somewhat hostile towards organized domestic militarism of any kind. While these ideals may have carried true throughout the remaining decades of the 19th century, the rapidly approaching 20th century turned into a rapidly changing world.

While the Royal Navy still carried the mantle of the worlds premier naval power, it was no longer the sole power in the world. The United States had been steadily building it’s naval forces since the end of the Civil War, Imperial Germany had been on a path of united industrialism and although an eventual ally towards Britain and the Commonwealth, Japan begun to build itself as a Pacific power.

Understandably though, the previous Canadian governments had been more focused on building and stabilizing their relatively new nation. A military in general, let alone a navy (easily the most expensive branch) was not particularly relevant until the election of the 1896 Liberal government under Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. Part of his greatest legacy to the nation was his fierce nationalistic ideals in a time period where Canada was struggling to place itself on the world stage.


Prime Minister Laurier depicted in a 1909 Toronto Globe political cartoon leading a hypothetical Canadian Navy, Laurier proved to be one of the greatest allies of the future Royal Canadian Navy.

As Germany began it’s strives towards challenging British naval power rather slowly however, Britain reached towards the Commonwealth for assistance nonetheless. At the Colonial Conferences of 1897 and 1902, the British outlined the strategy of the Commonwealth funding the Royal Navy, not establishing their own naval services. This shot across the bow of colonial nationalism initially taking the wind out of Laurier’s sails, but he returned to Canada and went to work in laying the foundation of the naval service regardless of British opinion. While supporting the Royal Navy was a logically sound choice on paper given the state of Canadian naval shipbuilding and the associated notions about a military in general, it was political suicide to expect citizens of the Dominions to pay up front for a navy which they may never see in their lifetime. Alongside his Minister of Marine and Fisheries, Raymond Prefontaine, the two set out with the goal of starting a navy under the disguise of the federal governments largest department.

The Department of Marine and Fisheries held a great deal of power and responsibility over almost all aspects of the sea and inland waters. Everything from port facility upkeep, lighthouses, regulation of fisheries, hydrographic services, navigation aids, arctic sovereignty, regulation of civilian shipping and so on. Needless to say, the Department had a great deal of ground work already laid, numbering eight-armed fishery patrol cruisers, six icebreakers and eighteen miscellaneous other vessels by 1904. With the addition of CGS Canada from Vickers Barrow in England alongside CGS Vigilant and CGS Falcon from domestic yards, these small armed patrol ships made up the nucleus of a navy in the making. Careful effort was placed to run the trio of ships as close to naval vessels as possible, discipline was strictly enforced, and the crews wore naval styled uniforms aboard their own ships for the first time in Canadian history.


CGS Canada shortly after competition, 1904.

The service went to work, CGS Canada undertook a cruise to the West Indies in 1905, largely packed with volunteers and winter weary fishermen looking for an escape to a more tropical destination. Sailing alongside Royal Navy ships in the area for exercises, this can likely be described as Canada's first naval activities. The cruise was quite successful and opinions about part time or even permanent service was relatively well received by the men.


CGS Vigilant moored in Port Dover, 1905.

While 1905 initially proved to be a boon for the service, Raymond Prefontaine would be replaced as the Minister of Marine and Fisheries by Louis Phillipe Brodeur, a long-time friend of Prime Minister Laurier and an equally staunch advocate for a domestic naval service. While Canada carefully traversed the political minefield towards it’s goal of a navy, the naval arms race in Europe was about to boil over.

One word completely changed the status quo and sent aftershocks throughout world.

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Where exactly does this happen, and want keeps the submarines out of action?

Very interested in this, I assume from the first post that the POD is that Rainbows near run-in with Leipzig is an actual run-in TTL?

Yes, the point of deviation will be further explained in future posts however you are correct. In our timeline, Rainbow is holding position off San Francisco between August 8th and August 9th, narrowly missing Leipzig who arrives in San Fran on August 10th. This timeline shifts the timelines a bit so the two ships do meet on August 9th.

As for the point about CC-1 and CC-2, the range required to reach San Francisco from Esquimalt is 736 nautical miles and the pair of submarines only have an effective range of 740 nautical miles at 12 knots. The two ships are also effectively useless due to there currently being no torpedoes for them to use and lack of crew to properly sail the submarines, they are also generally rather subpar ships that are more suited to coastal defense than an attack role.
Photo Gallery #1: CGS Canada
Photo Gallery #1: CGS Canada

I'll be including these galleries occasionally for photos I've found throughout my research. As you can likely tell I quite enjoy incorporating photos into my posts however I do not wish for them to be too clustered and overwhelming.

Plus it's a little something something to flush out the backstory, please enjoy! If you like the idea of these galleries reappearing in the future or not, feel free to let me know.


Cadets and crew members of CGS Canada performing naval drills with their 1-pdr Mark I during the 1905 winter cruise.


Group of naval cadets serving on CGS Canada, the naval styled outfits are readily apparent. Center bottom is Percy W. Nelles who would later become the Royal Canadian Navy's Chief of the Naval Staff later in his career.


Rifle drills underway aboard CGS Canada during her 1905 cruise.
This looks interesting. I find the Great War fascinating for many reasons, and the ships especially interesting. I'll be watching this with interest!
Fear God and dread nought
Fear God and dread nought

As the dominant world naval power for centuries, the majority of personnel at the head of the Royal Navy were extremely careful about upsetting their material and qualitative advantages on the sea. Conservative, Moderate and Traditionalist Admirals had come and gone throughout the years but no man since Horatio Nelson had changed the Royal Navy more than Jackie Fisher. His radical reforms rooted their way into almost every single aspect of the Royal Navy. To say that Fisher had almost single handedly shaped the modern Royal Navy would not be exaggeration in the slightest. While not a fighting Admiral, Fisher was behind almost every single technological or doctrinal change of the Royal Navy. Torpedoes, turbines, torpedo boat destroyers, centralized fire control, vastly improved personnel coordination, oil fueling, battlecruisers and most importantly, the all big gun battleship.

HMS Dreadnought, while not a revolutionary concept, was truly one of the most important warships in human history. Advances in centralized fire control, steam turbine propulsion and an “all big gun” armament were combined into a package that was delivered into service in record time, Dreadnought herself was so revolutionary that she shifted the way naval power was judged throughout the world. The new standard of naval power was measured in the number of Dreadnoughts and the United Kingdom had just brought itself down to the level of Imperial Germany in one fell swoop.


Two of the most famous warships in naval history, HMS Dreadnought passes HMS Victory in Portsmouth, 1909.

The effects of HMS Dreadnought coming onto the scene were swift and impactful. The Americans, Japanese, French, German and even eventually the somewhat technologically backwater power of Imperial Russia all started or continued development of similar ships. Even nations in South American began the ordering of Dreadnoughts to continue their own arms race. Britain still held a monstrous advantage in rapid and high-quality shipbuilding however, it was unknown how long this advantage would last. When the Hague Peace Conference of 1907 failed to limit the worldwide naval buildup, Britain moved to respond. If Germany would not bend to political pressure, there was only one place this race would end, war.

The main response besides the ramping up of Dreadnought production was the systematic cutting of naval spending where ever possible. An extension of this was the withdrawing of Royal Navy assets to be concentrated against Germany in home waters. The Pacific Squadron which had been based out of the Royal Navy dockyard in Esquimalt for over 40 years was unceremonious disbanded in 1905 when the squadron's ships were moved to 'more relevant' postings, leaving behind the sloops HMS Shearwater and HMS Algerine. The Royal Navy dockyard in Halifax was similarly vacated in short order with Canada taking up ownership of both ports in 1910 and 1907 respectively. With even the British garrisons being removed, the Canadians were left without protection for the first time in almost 150 years.


Crew of HMS Leander pose for a photo at the graveling dock in Esquimalt, sometime during the 1890's.

Canada and her Marine and Fishery Department had now taken up the burden of maintaining two large military port installations alongside their extensive list of other tasks. Minister Brodeur took a hard stance in underlying this fact at the 1907 Imperial Defense Conference, Canada was no longer freeloading off the Empire and was instead footing the bills. The First Sealord of the Admiralty Lord Tweedmouth readily acknowledged this fact and again pushed the tired notion of ‘One sea, one Empire, one Navy’ to the very unamused Commonwealth politicians in attendance. When the Australian Prime Minister Alfred Deakin expressed interest in developing a domestic naval force, the Admiralty angrily shot him down. They later conceded that torpedo boats and submarines operated domestically would be agreeable however these were still to be placed under the command of the Admiralty, something the Australians and Canadians both found unacceptable.


Politicians present at the Imperial Defense Conference of 1907, Wilfred Laurier is seen on the bottom row's left side alongside a young Winston Churchill in the far left second row.

With the Australians leaving the Conference to resume their efforts regardless of Admiralty opinion, Laurier and his allies returned home with reinvigorated purpose. While the Liberal government was considering how to kick start the navy they wanted so dearly, the opposing Conservatives delivered an unlikely boon directly into Laurier’s arms. Leading member of Robert Borden’s Conservative government opposition and former Minister of the Marine and Fishers Department, George Foster, sent out a call to action. ‘Canada should provide naval defense for its own shores’ was his cry. It would take two months of hard-fought lobbying to bring the Quebec based politicians of his part aboard but in that time period, a major development came to pass.

On the 16th of March 1909, First Lord of the Admiralty McKenna spoke in the British Parliament and described the alarming rate of the German battleship construction program. A great silence fell over the bewildered Parliament when it was explained that without an increase in procurement of capital ships, the Imperial German Navy would overtake the Royal Navy by three whole Dreadnoughts in 1912. With this fact let to sink in, the Royal Navy extended the need for assistance to the nations of the Commonwealth. New Zealand quickly affirmed its desire to fund a capital ship itself and even before federal agreement months later, areas within Australia pledged funding for another Dreadnought. While Canada officially promised naval assistance alongside South Africa, there was no actual agreement made. That being said, the stage was primed the players finally made their moves.


A sketch of a proposed Australian Dreadnought in The Leader, April 3rd 1909.

Two days later, George Foster stood in the Canadian House of Commons and reaffirmed his resolution for Canada to defend it's own shores. This had been the perfect opportunity for Prime Minister Laurier's long thought dream and with oratory skills befitting a man of his caliber, he seized the moment. Flipping the situation, Laurier forged out a series of amendments from the Oppositions original notion which turned into a basis for Canada's Navy. In broad strokes, the bill read as such:

"The House will cordially approve of any necessary expenditure designed to promote the speedy organization of a Canadian naval service in cooperation and in close relation to the Imperial Navy, along the lines suggested by the Admiralty at the last Imperial Conference, and in full sympathy with the view that the naval supremacy of Britain is essential to the security of commerce, the safety of the Empire and the peace of the world."
While Laurier was not completely happy with the rather brash wording of the bill, he was willing to appeal to the hard line Imperialists to at least get the Navy itself formed. Changes could happen in the future, the formation itself took priority. This first statement of naval policy in Canadian history unsurprisingly passed through the House unanimously. Both the Liberals and Conservatives knew the battle that was about to happen over the actual layout of this navy. This fact had been seen in the turn of the century where various 'Naval Leagues' across the nation regularly debated how Canada should assist Britain and the Empire when it came to naval efforts. Money for the Royal Navy or Money for a Canadian Navy at home?

There was more important issues to see to first. Brodeur departed for the emergency Imperial Defense Conference in July of 1909, wind in his sails from the initial victory back at home but little did he know that the fledgling Canadian Navy would already be fighting for it's life before the ink even dried, both at home and abroad.
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Death of Frederick Monk, November 18th 1909.
September 9th, 1909

Frederick Debartzch Monk leaned back in his chair, stretching his tired arms towards the ceiling of his study.

With Laurier flipping George Fosters resolution into the basis for his Navy, it had sent the Quebec based politicians into a furious series of debates. As a collective, Quebec did not want to support British Imperialism and did not want to have Canada pulled into any European wars. They did agree however that Canada should be able to protect itself and its vital commerce routes independent of the Royal Navy, this much was clear after the removal of the Royal Navy from all Canadian stations.

The bill itself was likely months if not years away but regardless, Monk had big plans to counter lobby his fellow Conservatives. Laurier on the opposing side and his parties Leader, Robert Borden, were both likely to put fourth a Canadian Navy that was subservient to the Royal Navy and this would be unacceptable. While some of his fellow Quebec politicians would fall behind him, there was an immeasurable task ahead of eroding Borden’s hold on the party.


Portrait photo of Frederick Monk early in 1909.
Returning attention to the eloquently worded letter sitting on his table top, he stifled a dry, hard cough with a nearby handkerchief as the pain in his chest subsided somewhat. As a proud Québécois in the House of Commons, duty to the nation was the first priority, illness or not.

One week later, Frederick Monk was forced to resign from the House of Commons due to his decreasing health.

On November 18th 1909, Frederick Monk passed away in his home due to Pneumonia related complications, he was 53 years old at the time.
Nice! I hope that Frederick Monk wrote a letter from beyond the grave. If it can be presented as a patriot's great work, done as he way dying, it will get some sympathy votes, and prove that he wasn't just after a bit of power.
Nice! I hope that Frederick Monk wrote a letter from beyond the grave. If it can be presented as a patriot's great work, done as he way dying, it will get some sympathy votes, and prove that he wasn't just after a bit of power.

Hard to say what will happen to what work Monk had done before his death. He was historically rather vital in the smear campaign against the Royal Canadian Navy in Quebec which played into Laurier being defeated and replaced with Robert Borden in the next election as Prime Minister. His death will likely serve to undermine the Quebec resistance to the Navy in general if it is placed under the control of Britain (as Canada and Australia historically was) however it could also be used as you pointed out, as a final breath to breath life into the French resistance to the policy.
War on two fronts
War on two fronts

With the political war clouds rumbling merrily along both on the Home front and in England with the upcoming Conference, Prime Minister Laurier and the men below him nervously considered their situation. Even with his considerable power as Prime Minister, Laurier had a shaky grasp of power outside of the nation itself, largely when it came to dealings with Britain. In either a stroke of good luck or apt political maneuvering on the part of the members of Laurier’s Liberal party, one of the most important allies to the soon to be formed Royal Canadian Navy was the Governor General of Canada, Albert Grey, 4th Earl Grey. Due to the structure of the Canadian governmental system, the Governor General of Canada is placed above the Prime Minister of the nation in the order of precedence. As the official federal vice regal representative of the Monarch of the time and by birth, coming into both a noble and politically embroiled family, Grey was an extremely powerful ally to have.


Earl Grey as the Governor General of Canada, 1905.

Grey had met Minister Brodeur during the Quebec Tercentenary of 1908 and the two had become associates. Through his large network of contacts in various government departments, Grey had become interested in naval affairs by the time of the Imperial Conference of 1909, he was fully supportive of the Canadian initiative. With help from Grey and deft maneuvering, Brodeur managed to make contact with the proprietor of ‘Pacific Marine Review’, the chief constructor of the United States Navy and the US Office of Naval Intelligence in order to procure information on both the types and costs of the warships operated by the USN, RN and various South American navies in preparation for the Imperial Conference.

Alongside Minister Brodeur for the Conference was Sir Charles Kingsmill, a recently retired and Canadian born Royal Navy officer who served with a mostly successful record from 1870 to 1908. Laurier, Grey and Brodeur were not navy men and with the upcoming turbulence, they very rapidly needed the opinions of a seasoned seamen. Kingsmill was appointed the Director of the Marine Service in the Department of Marine and Fisheries under Minister Brodeur. Kingsmill would later serve as both a key player in the success of the Royal Canadian Navy and also one of its many obstacles, being one of two people to be commonly referred to as the "father of the Canadian Navy".


Rear Admiral Kingsmill as the director of the Naval Service of Canada, sometime between 1910 and 1917.

The Imperial Defense Conference of 1909 opened on July 20th at the British Foreign Office in Whitehall with British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith presiding. Almost immediately, the Conference went into sensitive territory. As with previous meetings, Asquith started by listing the individual cash contributions made by the colonies, which Canada was largely lacking. Canada’s very recent intention of “establishing a local naval force in lieu of a contribution” was delivered as a backhanded a slap across the face of the Canadian delegates and to some degree, the Australian delegates. The failure of the 1907 Conference to make a solid consensus was brought up alongside the growing threat of the naval arms race with Germany, describing the Dreadnought building program Britain was planning to undertake. New Zealand and Australia’s offer to fund/man capital ships for the Royal Navy was duly noted before an in-depth Admiralty report was submitted for viewing. A comparison between defense expenditure and seaborne trade for each of the nations in attendance was presented and to the indigence of the Canadian delegates, Canada’s overland trade with the United States was excluded from these calculations. Therefore, Canada was further labeled as misers by the Admiralty, regardless of the complete Canadian takeover of both former Royal Navy stations present in Canada. While Asquith did acknowledge this fact, the damage was done by the inaccurate figures still made a large impression.

Brodeur was rightfully furious at the unfair treatment that him, his countrymen and his fellow Commonwealth delegates had been exposed to in every Conference in the last decade and doggedly provided a defense during one of his speeches at the Conference. Not one to walk circles around the issue, Brodeur brought his points directly to Asquith and First Lord of the Admiralty McKenna;

“As a consequence of the Conference held in 1902, we started immediately the nucleus of a navy with the numerous fishery protection cruisers ordered under my department. The following take over and upkeep of multiple vital Imperial ports and dockyard installations have fallen at the feet of our Government, which we have graciously continued to operate. Our nation and Government have recently shown great interest in the formation of its own naval force to take over the mantle of responsibility for the North American patrols. This implied notion that we are a nation of misers undermines the fellowship we all share as an Empire.”


Portrait of the Honorable Louis-Philippe Brodeur, 1901.

As with the 1907 Imperial Conference, nothing concrete was carried fourth from the 1909 Conference besides the relatively unanimous views on Imperial policy held by the Dominions themselves. Before adjourning the conference, Lord Crewe, secretary of state concerning the Dominions, introduced a draft of a resolution for discussion;

“This Conference, whilst recognizing that the provision made for defense in His Majesty’s self-governing Dominions beyond the seas is primarily designed for local purposes, and is the subject to the conditions imposed by the Legislature of each Dominion, desires to declare it’s full acceptance of the principle that the whole of the military and naval forces in the British Dominions should be organized as to render each force capable of performing the most efficient service in any emergency which might threaten the integrity of the Empire.”

The 1909 Imperial Conference proved to be the boiling point for both Australia and Canada. The discussions and opinions voiced at the Conference were extremely sensitive for all parties involved and as a consequence, Lord Crewe took admirably elaborate measures in respect to the documentation of what was actually said within the confines of the Conference. Edited versions of the transcripts and discussions were suitable for eventual publication but the unedited versions of such would remain sealed largely until Brodeur gifted his personal documentation to Canadian historians years after his retirement.

While the Conference itself was generally seen as another antagonistic political handshaking affair by the Canadian delegation, some things had come out of it, albeit behind closed doors. In talks with both Prime Minister Laurier and Minister Brodeur, First Lord McKenna had finally relented to the Canadian position and was prepared to abandon the pursuit of naval contributions when it concerned Canada. He was prepared to agree to a Canadian formed navy, but he was not prepared to let this fact be known either inside or outside the Admiralty itself (whose records already had shown how Canada had opposed the previous Admiralty proposals for cash contributions). In his eyes, Canada could have her Navy, but the Canadian Government alone would have to publicly bear the responsibility for opposing both the British government and the Admiralty. McKeena also consented to lending Canada two cruisers for training purposes until her own navy was substantially suited for independent operations.


One of the suggested of cruiser types to be transferred to Canada was the old Apollo class, which the famous or infamous HMCS Rainbow was apart of.

On his return to Canada, Brodeur received a letter from Laurier that almost prophetically predicted the impending political brawl that awaited them both at home.

“I have just received your letter and the memorandum of the program adopted at the conference. The results while favorable, will cause us some harassment. That is to say, the Tories will seize it to accuse us of having blocked the Admiralty. I must add, however, that this attack in no way alarms me.”
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