Allan Tustian was one of Canada’s first sonar operators
One of the Canada’s first Asdic operators (better known as sonar) for the underwater detection of submarines in the Second World War is celebrating his 100th birthday.
The Manitoulin North Shore Naval Veterans Association is putting on the party for Allan Tustian on Saturday in Mindemoya. The naval association, which Tustian help found, is celebrating its 35th anniversary on Saturday, as well.
“We’re very gratified they’re having it,” said Allan’s son Mark, who spoke on behalf of his father to The Sudbury Star. “It means a lot to be recognizing the work he did over the years with the navy and getting that chapter started. It means a lot to us. He put a lot of time in it and he did a lot of it after he retired. He started it 35 years ago, in his 60s.”
Tustian was away from his family on Manitoulin Island for more than four years during the war. He was on active service from Aug. 5, 1941, until his honourable discharge on Oct. 1, 1945.
He refers to his time in military service as “my time at sea.”
“He was originally going into the army core and then that changed later in the fall, as he was moved over to the medical core, but he really didn’t want to do that,” Mark said. “He kept putting his arm up for the navy.”
In the winter of 1942, Tustian joined the navy.
In his book, published a few years ago, Tustian speaks about how after training in gunnery and torpedoes aboard ship, “we were given choices of what we would like to specialize in – RDF or Asdic. The RDF was radio directional finding or radar used to locate vessels on the surface. Asdic was sonar used to locate submarines below the surface.”
Sonar became critical technology for detecting German U-boats, or submarines, which targeted merchant ships carrying critical supplies from Canada and the U.S. to Britain.
While German U-boat crews had their way in the early part of the war, as the Royal Canadian Navy grew and became better trained, the tide turned, especially with introduction of sonar.
“I had become friends with Jack Knight from Windsor and we decided to take RDF,” Tustian recalled. “We had no idea what that was. We found out it was something new and we thought we would try it.
“After my weeks training at sea on the Kamloops, I was sent to shore and began taking the RDF course. We were sent down the coast to the RDF Station in the radar hut, which was near the Cove right on the coast where we took our course. Later this was known as radar. We spent about two weeks there learning to operate the radar sets. This was in the spring of 1942 and radar was very primitive.
“We passed our tests and on May 19,1942 were able to put a RDF II badge on our uniforms indicating that we were radar ratings. Jack and I decided that we should get tattoos as we thought all sailors should have one. We went to downtown Halifax and got a nice tattoo on our arms. We were sore for a couple of days, but then they healed up and we were very proud of our tattoos.”
Tustian on active service for four years, two months and 19 days, having served on the HMCS St. Francis, HMCS Timmins and HMCS Waskesiu. He had travelled thousands of miles on the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans. He also sailed the English Channel and the Mediterranean Sea.
Tustian served on three Royal Canadian Navy warships — a destroyer, a corvette and a frigate — on escort for 43 convoys in the Battle of the Atlantic. He also saw service in D-Day events.
For his distinguished war service, Tustian was awarded the 1939-1945 Star, the Atlantic Star with the France and Germany Clasp, the Canadian Volunteer Medal, and the War Medal.
In 1985, he was awarded the Russian Arctic Star for his Murmansk convoy service. In the spring of 2013, he was awarded the Arctic Star by the government of Great Britain for his service above the Arctic Circle.
Tustian returned to Manitoulin Island, Lake Mindemoya and Treasure Island Lodge. It was on Treasure Island that he met his future wife, Alma Smeltzer. Tustian and Alma were married on Feb. 17, 1950.
Tustian is the father of six children, four boys and two girls, grandfather to 15 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
“It’s a big crew when we all get together,” Mark said.