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World War 2 at Sea

 

"O.H.M.S." or "ALL IN A DAY'S WORK" - H.M.S.  CHARYBDIS

by David (Rocky) Royle

 

reproduced by kind permission of the Charybdis/Limbourne Association

Taken on 22nd February, 1943 (click to enlarge)

 
 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION TO INTERNET VERSION

 

 

Out of respect for Rocky Royle's highly readable account, and in memory of his passing, I am grateful for the opportunity to include his work in Naval-History.Net. The only changes I have made are to add headings and a few notes to help the reader. I have also taken the liberty of using some of the photographs from the Charybdis Association booklet.

 

I am struck by two things in particular:

 

How much Charybdis accomplished in barely 18 months of front-line service, from March 1942 to October 1943, including Pedestal, Torch, escorting Winston Churchill, and Salerno.

 

The excerpts from Noel Coward's diary. They are not only eloquent, but are probably as great a series of compliments as any received by the Royal Navy .

 

 

Gordon Smith, Naval-History.Net

son of Ordnance Artificer/3 George Smith, served on HMS Charybdis, Nov 1940 to Oct 1943

     

CONTENTS

Chapter 1 - Early Days

Chapter 2 – Operation Pedestal

Chapter 3 - Convoys and Bay of Biscay Patrols

Chapter 4 - Operation Torch, French North African Landings

Chapter 5 - Atlantic, Home Waters,  Russia?

Chapter 5 - Famous Men - escorting Winston Churchill

                ... carrying a gracious passenger, Noel Coward

Chapter 6 - Med Again and the original "Charybdis"

Chapter 7 - Salerno Landings, another famous man. "Ike"

Chapter 8 - Charybdis sails for the Last Time

Chapter 9 - The Loss of Charybdis and Limbourne

                    Postscript

 

See also:

 

Her Loss and Commemoration, by the Charybdis Association

Account of Her Loss from Captured German Archives

Service History of HMS Charybdis

Service Record of Ordnance Artificer/3 George Smith, including
loss commemoration photograph and
newspaper cuttings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preface

 

 

I have been asked, by our friends in Guernsey, to extend my earlier book on H.M.S. Charybdis. Having commissioned her and was with her to the end, I hope I can fill in some gaps in her history. My efforts may not be flawless, but I write in memory of a grand ship's company and in recognition of the bond between Charybdis and the people of Guernsey. The following is a summary of the ship named CHARYBDIS.

 

 

 

Chapter 1 - Early Days

 

 

Cable party preparing to slip anchor .....

 

H.M.S. Charybdis primarily an anti-aircraft cruiser, on the style of the Dido class, commissioned at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead on 15th November, 1941. Her Captain was Captain McIntosh whom I was to meet again in later years. From the very first day of her commission the Executive Commander, one John Frances Whitfield, Royal Navy, made it clear that Charybdis was going to be a very disciplined, if not hard ship. I believe that in the first six months we had a record number of warrants read out. The ship's company knew the "articles" word by word. Punishment was stiff, but at least "keel hauling" had been abolished.

 

Two points of interest, Charybdis carried in addition to her Royal Marine Band, a Bagpipe Band. This Pipe Band was always in evidence at morning physical training with the Captain watching in approval. Secondly, our ship's football team which included a Bolton Wanderers ex. pro., became champions of the Home Fleet in March, 1942. No mean feat with ships like the Rodney (Flagship) and other capital ships in competition.

 

The day by day hum drum of her "working up" period, prior to her joining the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, would make most uninteresting reading except the mention that she became, by virtue of her latest type radar, exceedingly rapid rate of gunfire (16 round per minute) and high speed, a very efficient ship. An efficiency that was to be a saving grace to her in her hectic times to come.

 

 ...... somewhere off the west coast of Scotland 1941

 

So it was, in her grey Home Fleet colours, towards the end of March, 1942 she sailed on her first operation. This was as main cover to mine-laying operations at the Northern Approaches. The work was done swiftly and silently, and although the enemy had numerous surface forces available, the mine laying was successfully completed without incident. It is difficult at such an early stage of the Charybdis's career to explain the close comradeship of her ship's company but it was evident to me as on returning to base, Scapa Flow, when in the Fleet canteen some misguided crew member of Rodney remarked about the new light cruiser Charybdis as the "Tiger without Teeth." There was a spontaneous reaction from the Charybdis men, followed by a general melee.

 

Repeated exercises were carried out inside the "Flow", which is large enough to even allow the firing - and recovery - of torpedoes. These were still the days of Fleets and it was an impressive sight each evening to watch, and listen to the regulation “Sunset” followed by a complete black-out of the Fleet.

 

Then in mid April, not that one noticed the early Spring in the Orkney's, it was side parties to muster. After their hurriedly painted work on the ship's side we sailed, completing upper deck and superstructure in the colour of our destination, en route. The colour by which the enemy were to call Charybdis the "Blue Devil of the Med.”. (Note: the predominant colour of her camouflage scheme.) On the 18th April we joined the Western Mediterranean Fleet based at Gibraltar.

 

I recall our first experience at the Rock, we were mainly classified as a freelance cruiser. Lone patrols were carried out westward into the Atlantic, to cover a south-bound convoy. On the way back, make an attempt to slip through the Straits - in darkness - to test the Garrison Regiment on the Rock. On that occasion we were straddled by 9 inch shells for our troubles - full marks to the Army. Then as the situation deteriorated to the East and Malta, Charybdis was detailed to escort an aircraft carrier carrying fighter aircraft as far eastward as was safe for the carrier to fly them off, then return to Gibraltar.

 

The siege of Malta however continued. The island was already very short of ammunition and fuel. Charybdis continued with her calls of duty. A search of the Atlantic as far out as the Azores, for an enemy surface raider. A 10 day fruitless search, broken only by a short refuel at the Azores. Back to the Rock and surprise, surprise, the harbour was full - but our buoy in mid-stream was still vacant. It was the gathering of the Naval Forces for the June vital convoy to Malta.

 

There were six supply ships, fast merchant ships heavily laden with the vital supplies the Garrison of Malta needed. The escort was strong – Malaya, carriers Eagle and Argus, the cruisers Kenya, Liverpool, Charybdis and eight destroyers (close escort) the anti-aircraft cruiser Cairo, five large and four small destroyers. (The operation was given the code name Harpoon and was commanded by Vice Admiral A. T. B. Curteis - flying his flag in the Kenya.) The convoy slipped through the Straits, in darkness on 4th June, 1942. Within hours the first "snooper" enemy aircraft were on the radar screen. But Fleet Air Arm fighters kept a protective screen around the Force. Eventually the combined attacks began, whilst our fighters climbed to repel the high level bombers, the three-engined (twin torpedo) Italian aircraft came in low over the sea. All attacks were beaten off, not without casualties however, these were mainly suffered by escort ships on the outer screens. A destroyer torpedoed and sunk, a heavy cruiser damaged and had to return to Gibraltar under escort. A torpedo carrying aircraft got through the heavy barrage, and approached Charybdis low on the starboard side. It appeared to be making certain of obtaining a hit, when a single 20mm gunner got it in his sights. The tracer and high explosives shells went directly into the centre of the aircraft, which immediately became a mass of flames. Even so it dropped its torpedoes, and these came in a streak for the starboard bow as the aircraft crashed into the sea. I waited for the torpedo to hit, but I was amazed to see its track come out on the port side. It had passed directly underneath us.

Eventually the Force and convoy reached the approach to the Pantellaria Straits. Here the carriers and heavy units with their escorts had to turn back. With no room to manoeuvre, and the enemy on both sides of the Narrows, disaster would be certain. So the A.A. cruiser Cairo along with nine destroyers, four minesweepers and six minesweeping motor launches took over the task of getting the remnants of the convoy to Malta. This depleted Force was heavily attacked by two Italian cruisers and its escort of destroyers, Stuka dive bombers, German bombers and Italian torpedo bombers.

 

Despite all the might of the enemy two of the merchantmen were escorted into Malta. The supply ships were a relief to the starving Garrison, but only temporary. The enemy started round the clock bombing and strafing. It appeared that Malta must succumb. British submarines made the arduous voyage from Gibraltar to Malta carrying essential medical supplies and even cans of high octane fuel. The two ultra fast minelayers H.M.S. Welshman and Manxman, both made lone supply runs. Relying entirely on their high speed they delivered food and ammunition, etc., with the odd bag of mail filling in any vacant space on the upperdeck. They were spotted and attacked on every one of their journeys, but their high speed, excellent seamanship and using darkness of night to go through the Narrows, they both achieved the object of getting more supplies through.

 

Something had to be done and so operation ''Pedestal'' was planned and the "O.H.M.S. or All in a Days Work" details more of this ship called CHARYBDIS.

 

 

 

Chapter 2 – Operation Pedestal

(Note: there a numerous detailed accounts of this massive, and ultimately successful convoy operation. Readers are invited to start with a Summary by Arnold Hague)

 

'B' guns crew of Charybdis during a lull

 

The epic convoy, with its sea and air battles, to Malta in June 1942, was over. Temporary relief had been given in the form of the two supply ships being safely escorted into Grande Harbour for the loss of three destroyers and four supply ships of the convoy.

 

H.M.S. Charybdis, a light anti-aircraft cruiser based at Gibraltar, resumed her normal role of "any task - anywhere." The next few weeks saw her escorting in turn such ships as the aircraft carriers Argus, Furious and the U.S.S. Wasp in the ferrying of fighter aircraft to Malta. These carriers could only be escorted as far as the Sicillian Narrows, then the fighters took off for Malta. Enemy aircraft opposition was always very strong, with their bases only ten minutes flying time away. Indeed, many ferried aircraft were shot down on route.

 

Returning to Gibraltar after one such operation, the normal routine of fuelling, re-ammunitioning, stores, etc. was interrupted by an ever growing number of warships. Destroyer pens, cruiser buoys and battleship/aircraft carrier wall berths became fully occupied. Rumours spread around below decks. There was one thing that was certain, the gathering of the Fleet was not there for any social occasion.

 

On the dark moonless night of 10th August, 1942 the Western Mediterranean Fleet slipped out of Gibraltar to join up with the Home Fleet which had come from the Scapa Flow. The meeting did not go unnoticed, and the Spanish fishing boats duly made their reports. At the following dawn, after a night spent decoding and answering light signals, the Charybdis found herself in very great company. It was the largest and most powerful Naval force ever gathered in the Mediterranean. Capital ships included the battleships Rodney and Nelson (16" guns), aircraft carriers Indomitable, Illustrious, Victorious, Argus and Eagle. Cruisers Sirius, Phoebe, Charybdis, Nigeria, Kenya, Manchester, Cairo and 28 destroyers. This powerful force with the destroyers way out on the beam, was ringed round a group of 14 merchant ships which were about to embark on operation “Pedestal." History was to be made by these merchant ships, ships like the tanker Ohio and the ships loaded with aviation petrol, ammunition and food, which went through hell itself.

 

Steady progress was made eastward, and the objective Malta. Each aircraft carrier had her trailing cruiser astern of her. It was the trailing cruisers task to give extra anti-aircraft fire in the event of dive bombing or low level air torpedo attacks. Charybdis was ordered to trail the carrier Eagle for the whole operation.

 

At 1408 hours on the 13th August the enemy struck, Charybdis resounded to 4 dull heavy explosions. Eagle had been hit by 4 torpedoes (Note: fired by U.73) along her port side. With the wheel hard astarboard Charybdis avoided the Eagle who was already rolling over to port and sinking rapidly. The Eagle had gone in 5 minutes, taking with her over 800 men. But amongst those saved was her new Captain, our old Captain McIntosh. (I was later to serve with him again on commissioning the carrier Implacable in 1944.)

 

The whole Fleet took evasive action, and with warning blasts of S - S from Charybdis, the Victorious dodged two torpedo attacks. Clear of the sunken Eagle's position the Charybdis put out her depth charge patterns, but it was destroyer Imperial who saw the U boat surface dead ahead of her. A single shot went straight through the conning tower, and the destroyer went on to ram. On impact the destroyer sank the U boat in a giant V. (Note: Imperial was lost in May 1941. This incident refers to the sinking of the Italian Cobalto by destroyer Ithuriel later in the afternoon.)

 

The battle was on - that night and the following day saw further submarine attacks on all sides. Enemy air activity was increasing but the fighter curtain put up by the Fleet Air Arm, broke up each successive attack. It was fast approaching a crucial point of the whole convoy operation. The arrival at the Pantelleria Straits between Sicily and the North African coast.

 

This narrow sea passage was entirely dominated by the enemy, and it would be suicide for any large capital ship to attempt to force its way through. Accordingly the Fleet turned back westward and a selected escort was chosen for this final gigantic hurdle. Rear Admiral Burrows a very experienced tactician in the Mediterranean Theatre of War, was to be in command of this small fast final escort. As fate would have it, his Flagship the heavy cruiser Nigeria had been damaged by an aerial torpedo so he transferred his flag to the destroyer Ashanti. At almost the very moment that the Fleet was to leave Force “H", so did the enemies main air attack commence. For the last two hours groups of enemy aircraft had been forming up on the radar screens. Carrier based fighters had been directed to engage and break them up. But the enemy bases at Sicily were only minutes flying time away, so fresh relays of bombers and torpedo planes kept circling, looking for an opportunity to strike. The ships gunners had to be constantly alert, now and again two or three of the enemy would break through, but in the main they were forced to drop their torpedoes out of range. The enemy tactics were wearing the men down, and indeed the British pilots were becoming exhausted.

 

Accordingly with darkness now almost upon us, the fighters started landing on. At 1975 I saw the last fighter land on Victorious, then in the faint night sky I saw a group of black dots 1500 ft. overhead. They started to peel off, one after the other, in vertical dives, I realised they were J.U. 87's (Stuk8S) and they were diving on the carrier Indomitable. Though Charybdis was too far away from the Indomitable for our close range fire to be effective, I opened fire with the single port Pom Pom, hoping the tracer would warn Indomitable and her closer escorts. Heavy A.A. fire started at once but these Stukas were the Luftwaffe's special anti-ship dive bombers. Indomitable received three direct hits, and several near misses.

 

Charydbis steamed over to her at high speed, and as we approached she appeared to be on fire from stem to stern. Smoke was billowing out of her hangar lifts and what I thought was the flight deck, dripping molten metal. (This was actually blazing aviation fuel.) The Indomitable was temporarily out of control, and Charybdis circled her ready to go alongside if need be. It appeared that the Fleet had been caught out by the Stukas attack, but what was really happening was that the enemy was throwing everything they had, and could at the Fleet. Some 145 enemy planes, high level bombers, dive bombers and torpedo planes made low level attacks. There were two more casualties immediately. The destroyer Foresight was torpedoed and sank, and the merchant ship S.S. Deucalion was severely damaged by bombs, lay stopped, and the destroyer Bramham was left to stand by her. Both the Rodney and Nelson had near misses, and the Victorious was hit by an anti personnel bomb on her flight deck. All ships were twisting and turning, whilst Charybdis blasted away at every radar contact approaching the Indomitable.

 

Admiral Syfret in charge of the main force was trying to organise some sort of fighter cover for the departing force “H” and the convoy, as well as giving extra cover to Indomitable, whose loss would be a tragic blow. But with the loss of Eagle, Victorious unable to fly off and Argus not suitable for blackout take offs, no air cover could be given. A signal from Bramham said S.S. Deucalion had been hit by a torpedo and blown up. It was not all one way, 9 enemy planes were shot down in this mass attack. To the east force “H" was approaching the Narrows, where Rear Admiral Burroughs had been told, lay several U boats in waiting.

 

Though it was now almost completely dark, a group of 24 enemy aircraft made a dive bombing attack on the convoy. The tanker Ohio was hit and set on fire. S.S. Empire Hope carrying canned aviation fuel was hit by three bombs and was soon blazing furiously. S.S. Clan Ferguson, struck by a stick of bombs blew up with a horrific roar. The S.S. Brisbane Star illuminated by the flames of sinking ships was desperately making maximum speed, and rapid alterations to course, but two bombs struck her and she also lay stopped, badly damaged. The convoy was in real trouble now, scattered by the vicious air attack, depleted by the withdrawal of Nigeria (and her screen of three destroyers) and with only the Kenya, Manchester and Cairo in close proximity, they were going to be easy prey for the U boats and E boat flotillas. Several destroyers were scattered, some standing by disabled ships, others attempting to get the surviving ships together again. Suddenly the crusier Cairo was hit by two or three torpedoes and quickly sank. This further depleted force “H" and Burroughs signalled Admiral Syfret that his force was drastically reduced. In consequence Syfret signalled Charybdis with her two destroyers, who had been covering the gap between both forces, to join the convoy. Burroughs indicated that Charybdis's support was most urgent, and that she should make every effort to rejoin the convoy in the shortest time possible. This signal was followed by a report that the cruiser Manchester had been torpedoed and sunk.

 

Captain Voelcker, of the Charybdis, knew that time was against him. He signalled his destroyer that in his effort to rejoin the convoy before it was eliminated, he intended to take the shortest route - through a known enemy minefield. His decision was further endorsed when he heard the cruiser Kenya report being torpedoed in the bows. Charybdis's luck held, and soon she was passing the destroyer Pathfinder who was searching for Manchester survivors.

 

Within minutes of Charybdis rejoining the convoy her radar showed surface craft approaching at a rate of 40 knots. She warned all ships and commenced her anti E boat tactics. These defensive tactics consisted of firing broadside after broadside at the approaching enemy, in a creeping barrage, plus rapid alteration of course. In this way she could comb the approaching torpedoes, in the small amount of area to manoeuvre and by pre-fusing her shells, drive off the E boats. Altogether 8 Italian and 2 German E boats delivered fifteen attacks and although several were damaged none were lost.

 

Now the Admiral had only the cruisers Charybdis and Kenya (which had a damaged bow) and a force of seven destroyers, to meet the Italian fleet, whose force of six cruisers and 11 destroyers had been reported steaming to intercept the convoy and was expected to engage at dawn. The four remaining urgently needed supply ships had to be got to Malta. Soon another action may be embarked on but let us pause here and remember the men on those supply ships. They had seen other comrades on floating bombs disappear in columns of flame and smoke. But still they kept to course following the escorts as if Fleet trained.

 

Aboard the flagship Admiral Burrough's face was grey and drawn with sleeplessness, he knew that the testing time of his life was probably at hand. Soon he might have to order 2,000 men to action with the Italian fleet and most of them would die. He would almost certainly die with them.

 

Worse still his mission would end in failure. After the warships had made their fruitless suicidal attack, and after they had been beaten into blazing wrecks the enemy would sail in and finish off the remaining merchantmen of the convoy. Malta would starve and fall to the enemy and he knew what that might mean - at the best victory longer delayed, at the worst defeat.

 

Dawn came and the convoy was grouped in a diamond formation. At the head of the diamond was Rear Admiral Burrough's on Ashanti, the four merchantmen in the centre, Charybdis on the port beam and Kenya on the starboard and the remaining destroyers made a screen on each quarter.

 

Burroughs signalled all units "engage the enemy on first sight, drive off at all costs, and God Speed." Everyone was looking on the horizon for tell-tale smoke or signs of the enemy masts. Aboard Charybdis the men were weary but they knew Malta was not far ahead. There were no air or submarine alarms now and somehow it seemed like a lull before the final storm.

 

The lull was used to empty the toilet buckets, feed off the corned beef sandwiches, and drink the lukewarm water. She had been extremely lucky - the Germans were later to call her the Blue Devil - her casualties were from shrapnel and near bomb misses, but in the main from fatigue.

 

Indeed, fatigue was the hazard aboard every ship in the convoy. If the Italian task force intercepted the convoy, their superior fire power and numbers would completely destroy it. Admiral Burroughs decided that the best defence would be to attack. As Charybdis was the only cruiser capable of high speed she was ordered to the van, have all torpedo tubes ready, and ready use shells fused at maximum range. She would steam directly at the enemy hoping to get some salvoes in before the enemy’s 8" guns pounded her.

 

The Kenya was to make her best speed - about 15 knots - approaching from the south east, opening fire when in sight, and irrespective of being out of range. The attempt here, to split up the enemy force, hoping two destroyers could get in a torpedo attack. The remaining destroyers were to make smoke to cover the convoy, and whilst the supply ships turned away south, turn from the smoke screen and join in the attack. The situation looked bleak.

 

Still there was no sign of the expected Italian fleet perhaps there was hope yet. Somehow the Italians had failed to rendezvous with their kill. Aboard the Italian flagship a certain amount of confusion was taking place. Mussolini had instructed his Fleet never to engage the enemy unless it had air cover, fighter protection. He had asked Kesselring for fighter power, hut Hitler was furious with the Italians for their failure to destroy completely the June Malta convoy. So Kesselring replied that the German fighters were engaged as cover for the German bombers. Indeed the Luftwaffe had found the convoy again. and every effort was made to beat off the attack. The Ohio had now to be towed along by 2 destroyers, one each side of her.

Meanwhile, two R.A.F. Wellingtons had located the Italian Force dropping flares and bombs over the fleet then, in plain language, to send a signal directing imaginary aircraft to the scene. Several signals were sent and these were picked up by the Italians and they decided, as they had been denied air cover, that they must abandon the attack on the convoy. With less than an hour's steaming from the convoy the Italian Force turned back to the north and headed for base.

 

From the very first report to the British that the Italian fleet had put to sea, our submarines had been alerted. It was, then, the submarine “Unbroken” who lay in the path of the returning Italian force. She made a successful attack and two heavy Italian cruisers were sunk (Note: one heavy and one light cruiser were damaged). Other attacks were made, and though no sinking were claimed, several Italian units had severe damage.

 

So for Force ''A” and the convoy remnants, Malta came in sight. The impossible had been done. As the merchant ships entered Grand Harbour to a tremendous reception, Force ''H” wheeled hard astarboard and with a final farewell signal, set course to cover Ohio. But now Ohio had reached a point where Malta based fighters could protect her, and she safely entered port. Her Captain, Captain Mason was awarded the George Medal. (Note – George Cross.)

 

Steaming westward Force ''H” could only make 14 knots, the maximum speed of the torpedoed Kenya. The return journey to Gibraltar was to be going back through the hell of the previous 2 days, with the vital factor of reaching the Narrows by nightfall. In addition, the whole Force consisted of men who had had no sleep for three days and two nights. The time was 0849 hours, Malta was out of sight now astern, and the sun beginning to rise in a clear sky. On board Charybdis the order was "Stand to," she had picked up aircraft on her radar. The report "Boggies on the screen" went out to the accompanying ships, the Luftwaffe had taken over from the Italians. Charybdis monitored the approaching enemy aircraft, passing on their formations and speeds, to the remainder of the Force.

 

At 0905 hours the first of the attackers came in. They were JU 88's, twin engined and carrying 1000 lb bombs. They came in shallow dives, out of the rising sun, three or four planes attacking each ship of the Force. As each attack was beaten off, a fresh wave came in. Standing on the open bridge of Charybdis, Captain Voelcker himself gave orders down the voice-pipe to the helmsman. He would wait until he actually saw the bombs leave the enemy aircraft, before ordering hard aport or hard astarboard. Twisting and turning Charybdis was straddled, blasted by near misses, and spattered with bomb splinters. All the time she kept up a terrific barrage of fire, but as the attackers were constantly diving out of the sun from astern, the forward guns could only engage when the ship was on the turn. Each ship of the Force was similarly bombed, but miraculously none received a direct hit.

 

Attack after attack came in, hour after hour. Now a new threat, ammunition was running low for the aft guns manned by Royal Marines, and their gun barrels were almost glowing. Still the enemy came in, diving more steeply now as the sun climbed higher in the clear sky. Volunteers made up a supply party, and carried shells from the forward magazines to the aft guns. For 8 hours the enemy dive bombed Force ''H'', with never more than a few minutes between each wave of aircraft. The ship's Padre moved around the ship ignoring the flash of guns, and blast of bombs. An encouraging word here, a bar of “Nutty" there, his appearance - minus even steel helmet - gave heart, especially to the younger of the ships company, and Charybdis had boys of 17 in her guns crews.

 

It seemed that something had to give. The situation aboard Charybdis was getting desperate. and no doubt the same aboard the Kenya and the destroyers. Either a bomb was going to find it's target, perhaps the guns become overheated, or the men collapse from exhaustion. There was a possibility that the main armament would run out of ammunition. Despite the fact that some 8 or 9 enemy aircraft had been shot down, the attacks were being pressed home. The time was now 1720 hours, nearly 9 hours of concentrated bombing. Ships twisting and turning, crossing each other's bows, but defiantly remaining an organised Force. There had been casualties but not one ship of Force "H" had been hit. The clear blue sky had held the bright sun all day, and the enemy’s attacks had become steeper with the rising sun. It was then that the unexpected thing happened. A large black cloud came slowly over the sun and stayed there. Now the close range gunners could quite clearly see the diving enemy. They had new heart and the barrage of tracer and H.E. increased, with aircraft falling in flames. Suddenly the attacks stopped and the radar screens were clear.

 

Re-grouping Force “H" with Ashanti at it's head, steamed into the Narrows as darkness fell. Every nerve was strained, radar and asdics sweeping constantly, for this was the ultimate of enemy traps - where only two days previously the cruisers Manchester and Cairo had sank, with part of the convoy. Tense and silently the ships slid through, perhaps their 14 knots maximum speed helping in their approach. The Kelibre Light still swept the sea, to the chagrin of the watchful men. We knew that the Narrows had been mined as the convoy was taken through, and that it would not have been swept clear since. Also many new types of weapons had been used, such as the aerial torpedo, which having failed to hit a target then became a mine. Charybdis streamed her Paravanes, and put her faith in God.

 

It was with very heavy lidded eyes that the lookouts and bridge crew on Charybdis, saw the faint light of dawn astern. Suddenly the orders "Stand to - Aircraft dead ahead - Prepare to repel aircraft." Just as quickly rang the "Cease fire" bells. The approaching aircraft flying low over the sea, waggled its wings, then flew directly down the centre of Force "H". Its pilot and navigator waving like maniacs. They were the first friendly aircraft we had seen in four days. The fact that they flew such an antique plane as a Swordfish, probably saved them from being shot down.

 

"FORCE H HAD REJOINED THE FLEET."

 

Next came the Bos'ns Pipe, "the Captain will speak in 5 minutes time." Captain Voelcker then came on the ships tannoy, saying we had rejoined the Fleet - this for the men below decks - and that before the ship "Stood down," he had asked the ship's Padre to say a few words. I saw men slowly slumping by their gun positions, weariness and re-action setting in but when the Padre spoke, they joined in - "Our Father Who Art in Heaven."

 

More Fleet aircraft joined the welcome reunion, then the whole Mediterranean Fleet surrounded Force "H", and under blue skies reached Gibraltar. On arrival at Algerzerias Bay, the Fleet slowly circled whilst Force “H" entered harbour, in naval traditions an honour indeed.

 

The following day was spent in re-fuelling, re-ammunitioning and preparing the dead for burial at sea. Within 48 hours Charybdis was at sea again, as escort to the carrier Furious, ferrying fighters to Malta. the journey to the Narrows and back, was uneventful. Perhaps the enemy were counting their losses. Or debating how 2 cruisers - one badly damaged - and 5 destroyers had managed to get 4 supply ships to Malta, past the combined Axis forces.

 

Back at Gibraltar again the Charybdis had the first of her gun barrel changes, the original barrels completely worn out. Some minor patching up was done whilst "VOLUNTEERS" were ordered to unload an ammunition ship out in the bay - as it was considered too dangerous by the dockyard workers to unload in harbour.

 

 

 

Chapter 3 - Convoys and Bay of Biscay Patrols

 

 

Night Action - 'Charybdis' bridge personnel silhouetted against 'B' guns flash

 

So then it was back to sea with Charybdis slipping her buoy, and being a "loner" steaming at 25 knots back into the Atlantic. There was a south bound convoy to cover and part of her duties were to monitor the area around the Brest Peninsular. The U boats sailed from Brest, and were often guided to convoys by long range Focke-Wulf aircraft. So when Charybdis picked up a snooper on radar, it knew that U boats were in the vicinity. In point of fact on this operation there did appear on the horizon an enemy four engined F/W long range aircraft. It shadowed Charybdis for about 4 hours and at no time dare it be risked losing sight of. If there was any cloud about then extra caution was needed, because under cover of a cloud the enemy could, and did, swoop in a surprise attack. After a period of circling around the enemy would be replaced by a refuelled aircraft, and so it went on. The convoy was handed over to South Atlantic forces, and Charybdis was back at Gibraltar.

 

This started a period of Bay of Biscay patrols. Monotonous in the extreme, these patrols were always carried out alone. The “Bay" is notorious for it's storms of course, but it was when the weather was foul that Charybdis was safest. Bad weather meant that "snooping” enemy aircraft was not about, and the 'U' boats could not get a periscope sighting. As long as 8 to 9 days at a time were spent on these patrols, sometimes with a little drama thrown in. On one such patrol the sea was like glass, with a clear blue sky. Dangerous conditions and Charybdis took to a zig zag course, and an increase in speed. Sure enough the radar picked up an approaching aircraft. When it came in sight over the horizon and in answer to the challenge, fired two "Very" flares, we closed up at action stations - because the flares were the wrong colour. The enemy circled for a while, then decided he had bluffed us. Still cautious though, remaining at just about our maximum range. Eventually he came that little bit closer, and we sent off four salvoes. As soon he saw the flashes he went into a dive, and our shells burst exactly where he would have been. He now knew that he had been identified, kept out of range and no doubt was sending out signals to 'U' boats in proximity.

 

We now had a second radar echo. This aircraft came in sight and was immediately recognised as a Sunderland Flying Boat. By Aldis Lamp we put the Sunderland in the picture. She flew away until she was almost off the radar screen, then turned back to catch the enemy unawares from astern. To our delight we saw the enemy aircraft go down in flames. Such little co-ordinated successes brightened the weary routine.

 

Our allocated patrol time completed, we would return to the Rock. The sight of which was now becoming a bit of a sickener. Whilst re-fuelling went on, fresh stores were loaded, ammunition topped up, and selected parties sent ashore to work inside the Rock. Gunners went to a special ''Dome'' training, there was always a certain bitterness about this, and the Officer's in charge knew it. After days and days of the real thing, to see it on a screen was as bad as being told they were not doing their job properly. So these ''Dome'' visits were made as brief as possible, and a brisk walk around the town substituted. One could have a complete change, not by choice, in becoming a member of the "selected party" for working inside the tunnels of the Rock. Here the Charybdis men worked knee deep in water, hauling 3in electric cables along for the R.E.'s. This was not a punishment for no offences had been committed rather, I think, it was an incentive to make men glad to get back to sea.

 

 

 

Chapter 4 - Operation Torch, French North African Landings

 

 

Having done three days working inside the Rock, whilst others painted ship, cleaned out the bilges, and all the work that goes into running a man o' war. It was noticed that the harbour was starting to fill up again. More destroyers and cruisers, oilers and submarines. Another Malta convoy? Mess deck “buzzes" were very strong in that belief. On the evening when it seemed that not another single ship could find a billet in the harbour, a conference of all ships Captains was held in the Wardroom on board Charybdis. This closed at 2300 hours. I was “Key Board Sentry" for the middle watch, a duty normally reserved for the R.M.'s (perhaps they had all been 'at the Conference,) to this day I do not know why I had that particular duty. I remark on this because I was able to see the number of high ranking officers, and sense the general tension.

 

When we sailed the following night, again selected because there was no moon, we were told our objective - the North African landings. Whilst the Americans were to take Casablanca, the British had to take the Mediterranean ports, with Charybdis covering the toughest of them all, Algiers. Charybdis circled her flock of troopships, getting them in line and order of approach. That done and an order for complete radio silence, with all ships blacked out, she positioned her allocation of destroyers on the beams. Much depended on the element of surprise. If undetected, Algiers and its valuable harbour could be taken, without too much fighting. If we were observed, then a destroyer with Commando's aboard was to be sent in at high speed - burst through the boom defence - and ram the main jetty, bows on. The sea was moderate, not unsuitable for Infantry Landing Craft, and Charybdis leading the Algiers expedition closed in on the harbour entrance. This entrance had heavy artillery batteries on each side, capable of giving a covering cross fire. As the Force silently, and now at about 8 knots crept towards the entrance, the lights of vehicles moving along the waterfront - and the town itself well lit up - reminded me that it was the first port I had seen with lights on for a long time.

 

Suddenly portside of the boom a light was flashing a challenge. The game was up, there was no point in Charybdis attempting a bluff reply from a blacked out ship. Accordingly rapid fire was opened up on the harbour batteries, whilst the destroyer increased speed to ram through the boom. As she smashed her way through, we saw the lights of Algiers going out fast. The batteries were soon silenced, and the destroyer having rammed the waterfront, had landed her Commando's. Fighting continued throughout the night, but at dawn Algiers had been taken. Charybdis now escorted the empty troopships westward passing them over to destroyers in the Straits, and putting into Gibraltar herself. Here she quickly re-fuelled, took on all the new Allied currency some millions of £'s worth - in notes to be the official money in North Africa, in place of the franc, German mark and Italian lire. Re-ammunitioning was completed in record time, and Charybdis returned to Algiers at high speed.

 

We went alongside the battered jetty at Algiers, and off loaded the new currency. There was still some resistance around, and sniping was taking place from roof tops. I recall a group of war weary 8th Army men winkling out these snipers, putting their heads into our mess deck portholes and asking if we had anything for them to eat. We had a stack of “Herrings in", which somehow had not found their usual destination - over the side - and these the 8th Army men seized with delight. We all agreed that they must have, indeed, been hungry.

 

On leaving Algiers we were ordered to proceed east, and give support to the attack on Bizerte. There we found monitor H.M.S. Roberts (15in guns) well in shore, and blasting her shells inland. About 1600 hours our radar detected a very high flying aircraft, a "reccie" plane, always an obvious sign of imminent danger. Sure enough, at dusk in they came. Spread out, low over the water, came some 20 to 25 enemy torpedo planes. Charybdis immediately increased speed and twisting and turning, went to meet the enemy formations. She opened fire as soon as effective range was reached. At least 6 torpedoes were dropped at her, whilst the other aircraft tried to get round to the Roberts. The Roberts seeing she was about to be attacked, sent an urgent signal to Charybdis, pointing this fact out. There was a temptation on the bridge of Charybdis to signal back "we are not having a tea party either," but as it so happened the Roberts was safe. Being designed and built as a Monitor she had a very shallow draft, to enable her to get close inshore to bombard. Normal set running torpedoes could not hit her and, in fact, none did.

 

Eventually, after some routine work along the North African coast, which included covering a large convoy of troops ships, in company with four other Dido class cruisers, forming the 10th Cruiser Squadron under Rear Admiral Vian. A word here on Rear Admiral Vian, of the the Cossack fame. He was flying his flag Euryalus, and with a touch of his “the Navy's here" he signalled the Squadron to "Line ahead." Steaming at full speed we swept straight down the centre of the troop ships, it must have been a re-assuring and impressive sight for the troops. Well, eventually the Charybdis did the inevitable, she returned to Gibraltar. If Gibraltar had been a grim place before, it was even worse now. With the surge of more Navy ships, and Americans included, the place was "dry" with the prices of everything trebled. However, this time the Charybdis men were not required to "volunteer" for work inside the Rock. Re-fuelling etc. completed, we were wondering what was next on the agenda when a boat came alongside - loaded with mail, from the U.K. This was loaded with glee, and unrealised energy. Next, as an infantry landing craft came alongside loaded with enemy P.O.W.'s Commander Whitfield, Royal Navy - our Commander announced over the tannoy that there "must be no fraternizing with the prisoners." That announcement created the biggest roar of the whole day, aboard. The enemy P.O.W.'s were blind-folded as they came aboard for security reasons, and consisted of Italian Naval personnel, and air crews of the Luftwaffe. They were escorted and that is the only word to describe it - up the companion way - to the ship's company ''Rec Space." Here our Royal Marines took up guard duties.

 

 

 

Chapter 5 - Atlantic, Home Waters, Russia?

 

 

So we slipped our buoy joyfully, and as darkness fell steamed alone out into the Atlantic. It did occur to me that, if on this trip we should be attacked in anyway, then our enemy’s comrades would share the pleasure. Our course was set to cover a north bound convoy of ships, in ballast, and so for the first day we steamed W/Nor/West. For the time of year the seas were relatively moderate. As usual Charybdis did her "daily orders," clean flats, heads, mess decks, the Royal marine barracks area, the galley, the sick bay - very few de-faulters - but a queue of "Request men" - all with their own ideas of hopeful extensions of leave. A warship of the Royal Navy has a regular standing party throughout it's commission, and it was these men who were requesting long overdue leave. De-faulters dealt with, the "Requestmen" were told each case would be dealt with on it's merit, on arrival at U.K. There were some unhappy faces, however, at the start of this steaming. The men of all ranks, who were still under stoppage of leave. Here again the Captain endeared himself to the ship's company by having the Bosun's Mate pipe over the tannoy “the Captain will speak in 5 minutes time." When Captain Voelcker did speak it was with his usual calm voice, to say that all men under stoppage of leave from Mers-el-Kebir, could consider it cancelled. I would like to think he heard the roar of applause.

 

Steaming through the early hours of the night, we found the wind rising rapidly. By the morning watch it was blowing a Force 9. As we were now heading north into the Bay of Biscay, all normal storm routine was put into being. Nobody was allowed on the upperdeck, any movement from for'ard to aft, or vice versa was via below decks, with the immediate closing of watertight doors en route. By the forenoon it was blowing Force 10 and although the ship's engines were doing revolutions equal to 15 knots, the ship was just keeping her head into the seas. She was doing some very uncomfortable "pitching," burying her bows deep, then rising high only to plunge again. The routine of the ship was carried on more or less as normal except for the galley where, of course, restrictions in the use of boiling water and other hot liquids had to be taken, in view of the motion of the ship. But the P.O.W.'s found life aboard a Royal Navy cruiser distinctly uncomfortable. The Germans were very ill, as were the Italians, but in typical Teutonic fashion, the Germans ordered the Italians to attend to them. We left them all to get on with it.

 

As the storm persisted our progress was slow, but at least there was no danger from 'U' boats or aircraft. Finally it blew itself out and whilst increased defensive precautions were taken, so the upperdeck, etc. became usable. The checking of the security of boats, cranes, ready use ammunition lockers - all that part of the ship pounded by the sea - and the recommencing of painting ship, which was only ever interrupted by bad weather, or the enemy. On this occasion of the "carry on painting" the enemy were to join in, but not as planned by either side. The P.O.W.'s were brought on to the upperdeck, under armed guard by our Royal Marines for exercise, as according to their rights. One arrogant Luftwaffe pilot, complete with Iron Cross, was explaining by hand language how he had dive bombed Charybdis in the past. The angle of approach, his speed, how his bombs had dropped alongside when a large pot of dark grey paint fell from above just about covering him, apart from his boots. It was explained to the senior German Officer in charge of the P.O.W.'s that accidents of this type did occur when ship's funnels were being painted - and one should not stand in close proximity when the ship was underway.

 

There were no interruptions on the remainder of the passage, and we were signalled to proceed to the Mersey Bar. Here night leave was granted to one watch, whilst our docking details were sorted out. It turned out that there were no docking facilities available for Charybdis and she was ordered to Vickers Armstrong, at Barrow in Furness. We arrived there on a Saturday, and went up the river to the dockyard. Apparently there was a big rugby match on locally and as the road bridge was swung open, hundreds of fans gave us a great welcome. It was grand to be back in England, even in December everwhere looked so green and fresh.

 

Once we had docked the first leave party were away, on a leave which was long, long overdue. Some of the ship's company had Christmas at home, I had my first for 4 years. The second leave party had the New Year. The town of Barrow was a very hospitable place, and great nights were had ashore. The comradeship aboard Charybdis was such that no man need be short of anything when going ashore, whether it be money, smokes or any gear for a special date. There was never any trouble, and the strange thing is that although it was mainly a ship/submarine building town, and many fine ships were built there, when I revisited the town some 15 years later, many people remembered the Charybdis with pride.

 

6th March,1943, all too soon our damages had been repaired, and came the day when again the road bridge was opened for us to go down river. The banks of the river were massed with people for at least a couple of miles. Many W.R.A.F.'s crying and waving their handkerchiefs. I recall the Commander having the "Pipe" made, "Clear lower decks, fall in for leaving harbour" adding "take your last look at Barrow in Furness." For the majority of the crew this was to be only too true. Whilst in Vickers dockyard we had been fitted out with upperdeck steampoints, to couple up steamhoses for de-icing, and below decks all piping had been lagged. Also we had been issued with balaclavas and other protective clothing. It was an automatic presumption then, that we were detailed for Russian convoys.

 

Well, Charybdis had proved herself in the Mediterranean and whilst I do not think anyone aboard was thrilled about fighting in Arctic waters, there was an air of confidence. So there we were, back at Scapa Flow, back with the Home Fleet - it couldn't be only 12 months since we anchored there? It seemed years ago, and I believe that even the youngest members of the ship's company had aged 5 years in that time.

 

Scapa F1ow was still Scapa Flow, desolate at this time of year, swept by gales and bleak indeed. It was impossible for the ship's boats to take Libertymen ashore and many times the "Drifters" - small trawlers - could not come alongside. The only shore facilities in any case were the Fleet canteen, and it's entertainment stage. Here again the Navy showed it's versatility, some of the comic's and singers would have, with a little training, swept the variety show business. We began to compare the advantages and disadvantages between Scapa and Gibraltar. Scapa was dismal,, cold and boring but mail was fairly regular and IF one could get ashore, then there was entertainment.

 

At Gibraltar it was warmer, just as boring, little or no entertainment and mail very erratic. I think the inactivity of Scapa finally swung the vote and when, one early morning we again steamed out of the Flow to find our course set south, it was with relief to get the “Buzz" that we were heading for our happy hunting ground, the Mediterranean. With regards to the de-icing gear fitted, we were flattered to think that if the Home Fleet could not cope with the Russian Convoys, they could always send for the "Blue Devil" of the Mediterranean.

 

The sea welcomed us back into its arms with a raging storm, and we took a fierce battering. We had to put into Milford Haven to put ashore a casualty from the heavy seas. No doubt the sea was testing the ship to make sure she was in condition to retain her title. So the Rock came in sight, and there we were back at our old buoy. Many small operations followed our return, both up the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic. The westward sailings were similar to the one when we lost our senior diver, and had three men seriously injured. That was a tragic happening, because the enemy was not directly involved. On this particular patrol we were again experiencing very bad weather, with huge seas running. The starboard whaler's bowline had come adrift, and the order to take it inboard was passed by 'phone to the Captain of ''B'' guns. He in turn ordered Leading Seaman Mylott, and three Able Seamen on to the fore'stle. Charybdis was "shipping it green" at the time, and just as the men got for'awd, her bows plunged into another mountainous sea. When she reared up and the water fell away from her, it was seen that the L/S had been washed over the side, two of the A/B's were flung against the centre capstan, badly injured, with the other A/B miraculously still clinging to the guardrail. The last I saw of the very popular L/S was his hands held high, as he rapidly disappeared astern. There was nothing anyone could do, it was impossible to lower a boat away,and in any case no man could survive more than a few minutes in those seas.

 

That L/S had been an excellent and courageous ship's diver. Many times when Charybdis had been tied up at her buoy in Gibraltar harbour, and Italian midget submarines had found their way in to plant limpet mines on ships keels, he had gone over the side, searching the ship's hull from for'awd to aft. On anyone of those dives the mines could have exploded, yet he always came up his usual cheerful self. His loss was felt deeply by his shipmates and it should be recorded here, that in true Naval tradition, his kit was laid out on the quarterdeck to be sold by auction. An offer was made for example, one seamans collar, the price paid - then the said collar was put back with the rest of the kit, for further offers. Invariably the sale of certain non personal articles were sold several times, then accepted. The monies then collected, plus the man's personal possessions, were forwarded to the next of kin.

 

 

 

Chapter 5 - Famous Men - Escorting Winston Churchill

 

 

Having completed another Bay of Biscay patrol, at the same time covering a homeward bound convoy, we were signalled to go into Plymouth to re-fuel. We lay in Jenny Cliff Bay, our usual place near the breakwater, and remaining under sailing orders.

 

Charybdis was to escort R.M.S. Queen Mary, with the Prime Minister Churchill and the Cabinet, to New York. Picking up the ''Mary'' off the Northern Ireland coast we proceeded westward at high speed. The weather deteriorated rapidly, and within hours Charybdis was awash from stem to stern. Below decks on the forward mess deck the water was knee deep, as the heavy seas found the damaged "plates" from bomb near misses. As the 84000 ton Mary was still carving her way at 32 knots, an urgent signal was sent that Charybdis could not maintain that speed in the sea conditions. The Commodore R.N. flying his flag on the Mary, replied that as still in dangerous waters he would have the Mary take a zig zag course - the Charybdis must take the direct course - and maintain high speed. The cross Atlantic trip was not very comfortable but the men were cheery, for a run ashore in New York would be very welcome after Gibraltar and the western Mediterranean.

 

Six hours steaming and the Charybdis safely delivering the Mary to it's passengers historic meeting, when there was a radar contact ahead. First the "Challenge" then as the American destroyers hove into sight, a signal from the Mary - "Thank you, well done, return to base and good luck." Charybdis had a fine Captain in the ex-submariner Voelcker, and he sensed the feelings of his men. He ordered course set for Plymouth - and an urgent request to the C-in-C for boiler cleaning. The request was granted, and Charybdis at last passed the boom of her home port and lay in Jenny Cliff Bay - from where she was later to sail for the very last time. She and her weary crew, had a four day break at Plymouth. For the members of the ship's company who came from the North, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North East it meant just a few hours, but to every man the Captain had achieved the highest respect.

 

 

 

... Carrying a Gracious Passenger, Noel Coward

 

 

Another Bay of Biscay patrol, escorting a convoy and return to Plymouth where we re-fuelled and took on a passenger - Noel Coward - who we were to take to Gibraltar. I insert extracts from Noel Coward's Diary:

 

"It feels strange to be starting off again and leaving England behind. I hope I shall get through these various journeyings safely because I do so much want to see the end of the war. The familiar Naval magic has already taken charge of me, I wander about, clamber up on the Bridge whenever I feel like it, stamp up and down the Quarter Deck, have drinks in the Wardroom and make jokes and feel most serenely at home. This is unquestionably a happy ship. I felt it immediately when I came on board with the Captain this afternoon. He is a nice man, and has the usual perfect manners of the Navy. He has turned his cabin over to me as he will of course be using his sea cabin during the voyage. I am looked after by his Steward who is also typical, having been in the Service most of his life except for a few years before the war when he retired. Now he has been yanked back again and seems, on the whole, to be more pleased than not. He has what we would describe in the theatre as a "dead pan" but there is a glint of humour in his eye.

 

I am an honorary member of the Wardroom and am to take my meals there which will be gayer than sitting in lonely state in the Captain's cabin. The ship's officers seem to be a good lot, mostly quite young and a lot of R.N.V.R.s among them. Just before dinner the Commander gave me a few casual instructions: (a) To wear my "Mae West" all the time, (I pointed out that he wasn't wearing his and he laughed gaily,) (b) That in the event of any submarine alarms and excursions the best place to make for was the Bridge where there is more to be seen, and (c) That if there should be a sudden loud bang and a violent list either to port or starboard I must pop out on to the Quarter Deck immediately and make for the nearest Carley Float of which I am also an honorary member, there, he added, I had better wait until the order came to abandon ship.

 

After dinner I went on to the Quarter Deck for a little and watched the sea swishing by, it was quite calm and there was still twilight but the land.had disappeared. In all my travels there have always been certain moments which stick in my memory and this, I am sure, will be one of them. I have sailed away so many times from so many different lands nearly always with a slight feeling of regret mixed with exhilaration. This time there was a subtle difference. I had been in England for over two years, a long while for me ever to stay in one place, and except for a brief trip to Iceland with Joe Vian in August nineteen forty-one, and a few days in destroyers here and there I have been with the Navy very little since the war. I felt aware, strongly aware, of the change in atmosphere, the switch over from peace-time, show-the-flag, spit-and-splendour efficiency, to this much grimmer, alert feeling of preparedness permeating the whole ship.

 

The engines were throbbing, we were doing about twenty-two knots, and the wake churned away into the gathering darkness and I had a sudden impulse to shout very loudly with sheer pride and pleasure and excitement.

 

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When I woke this morning I looked out of the scuttle and there was the Convoy; grey ships, grey sky and grey sea, not a scrap of colour anywhere.

 

Made a tour of the lower deck with the Padre in course of which I signed a lot of pay-books and ''best girls" photographs, shook a lot of hands and had several tots of rum from everybody's mugs.

 

There was some excitement early this morning, apparently a Junkers 88 suddenly popped out of the clouds at us. We opened fire at once and it beetled off, I was sleeping at the time with "Quies' stuffed into my ears and heard none of it.

 

The Commander has a perpetual twinkle in his eye and speaks excellent, rather ironic English with a slight drawl. When I asked him about identifying aircraft he explained that the only one he had ever been able to identify was the small model Focke-Wulf attached to the mainmast and even this, he added, was only because of the knots that tied it on. This inadequacy of his he described as "lamentable!"

 

All the evening there was tension on the Bridge because an enemy aircraft had been reported to be somewhere in the area, but nothing happened. My steward takes a pessimistic view whenever possible. He looked gloomily out of the scuttle this afternoon and said: "I hope we shall get this lot through all right" as though there were very little chance of it.

 

On the Quarter Deck before dinner I had an intense conversation about sex, war, marriage and life-in-the-raw with "Torps" (aged twenty eight) and another young officer (aged twenty six) who is athirst for knowledge and is forcing himself to like classical music. He turned on the radio after dinner and listened to the London Symphony Orchestra playing Rossini after which a lady proceeded with great enthusiasm to sing the "Bell Song" from "Lakme." This shook him rather and he gave up. (I think it was "Lakme" but it might have been "Dinorah.")

 

Having, in course of conversation yesterday, told the Pilot and the Commander about a dreadfully hearty man in New Zealand who used to greet me regularly with - "How are we this merry morn?" and "Good morrow kind sir" I have obviously laid up trouble for myself. They pursue me with these phrases incessantly.

 

Finished the day with a cup of ship's cocoa in the Sick Bay and a long, at moments gruesome, medical discussion with the P.M.O., who couldn't be nicer. I stumbled off to bed down ladders and under bulging hammocks at about midnight.

 

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In the afternoon all greyness disappeared and the sun came out, the air became distinctly warmer and I lay on the Quarter Deck on the Commander's camp bed in a pair of shorts and watched the sea getting bluer and bluer. This idyllic peace was shattered by "action stations" being sounded and the announcement that a hostile group of aircraft were coming in to attack us. Everybody flew to their stations, I dashed into my cabin, hurled by clothes on, collected my binoculars, tin hat, morphine, “Mae West," ear plugs, etc. and was on the Bridge inside of two minutes keyed up for death and destruction only to discover that the group of hostile aircraft had diminished into one amiable "Catalina.". I returned to the Quarter Deck, stripped again and relaxed.

 

The Commander had the “Malta Convoy" film run through for me in the men's recreation room. A terrifying picture. This ship was the only one that got through without casualties. Out of a convoy of fifteen merchant ships only five got into harbour and one of these was bombed and sunk when she got there. The photography was excellent but the commentary rather tiresome, too much of "Our brave sailor lads," stuff. God knows it's difficult to describe courage and gallantry but it must not be done with unctuous cliches.

 

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A lovely morning, clear and sunny and the sea still calm. At about eleven o'clock I went on to the Bridge to say good morning to the Captain and I hadn't been there two minutes when a great deal of excitement started. First of all an enemy aircraft was observed circling around the convoy, then a submarine was reported on the starboard beam. Intense activity set in immediately. I was given a tin hat by the Commander as I had left mine in my cabin; we watched two escort vessels dropping depth charges, a dramatic sight with the spray shooting hundreds of feet into the air. We dropped behind the convoy and proceeded to attack the aircraft, the din was terrific and the heat of the gunfire from B mounting just below the Bridge scorched my neck. I felt singularly detached and almost expected to hear David's voice saying “Cut.” It all seemed much further from reality than "In Which We Serve." I fell automatically into my "Captain D" postures, and it was only with a great effort that I restrained myself from pushing the Captain out of the way and shouting orders down the voice pipes. We didn't hit the aircraft I regret to say but our shooting was straight and it disappeared into some clouds. I came below to fetch my coat as it was a bit nippy on the Bridge. To me, the most depressing part of action at sea is the closing up of the ship. It feels gloomy and lonely and scarifying. I returned to the Bridge but nothing further was happening, there was no news of the submarine and all the excitement was over so, after standing about a bit, I went down to the wardroom, had a drink and some lunch and then, inevitably, went to sleep.

 

After tea I went along with the young Lieutenant who wishes to like good music to the E.R.A.'s mess. They were a bit shy at first but warmed up after a little and conversation flowed and they plied me with questions about "In Which We Serve." They wanted to know how much time I had had to spend in the water and was it real oil fuel or not and countless other things. They were all delighted with the fact that the lower deck had been presented in the film not as comic relief but as an integral and vital part of the story. I asked them if they had any technical criticisms to make and they had none which of course, was gratifying.

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I am giving a show to the troops this afternoon so I spent the morning going over lyrics in my mind and writing a new topical Naval refrain for “Lets do it." I expect Cole will forgive me. After lunch I sunbathed. No enemy annoyances and a clear sky. One of the escort vessels dropped a few depth-charges but, I think, merely for the devil of it.

 

At five o'clock I gave my show in the recreation room. At my special request there were no officers present, in a confined space it is always much better to have the men by themselves. The piano was unbelievably vile but they were a wonderful audience, eager to enjoy everything. I went on for forty minutes.

 

Before dinner the entire Wardroom got into a literary argument in the middle of which the Captain's secretary, with eyes blazing, went into a tirade against Kipling. He shouted "Tripe! Tripe!" with great violence and I couldn't have been more astonished as he is a delicate-looking boy of twenty-two, very retiring and very very Scotch.

 

I gave another show at five o'clock for the troops that couldn't be there yesterday and, in the evening, after dinner, that vilest of all vile pianos was carted into the Wardroom and I sang and played practically everything I could remember. Personally I felt that I went on far too long but they seemed to want me to. When I had finally played my last chord and sung my last note, the Commander got up and said "I had prepared a very flowery and "ormolu" speech of thanks to Noel Coward but I won't embarrass either him or you by saying it because I suddenly remembered that in the Navy he is one of us and he will be the first to understand that we never thank our own people." I shall become a bore if I go on any more about the perfect manners of the Navy but I must put on record that that was the most graceful and courteous compliment I have ever had in my life.

 

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We are arriving at Gibraltar to-night. The convoy has split in two, one half is going on to Freetown and the Cape and the other half through the Mediterranean. With heartless insouciance we are abandoning both halves and going cracking off on our own. As we turned, in the early morning light, the ships of the convoy cheered us. It was a touching moment, sentimental in the best sense, just another of those countless small rituals that decorate the lives of the men and ships who serve the sea. I hung out of my scuttle feeling the increased vibration beneath my feet as we heightened speed, and watching all those grey ships dwindling into the hazy distance.

 

I had a long talk with the Captain on the Bridge. He is a highly intelligent man and doesn't miss a trick. He has been a sub-mariner most of his life and we discussed manY things ranging from the loss of the "Thetis" to post-war reconstruction in Europe. We also touched on politics, Munich and the China Seas. He had clear, alert views on the most diverse subjects and, before I knew it, nearly two hours had passed and it was time to go down to the Wardroom for a gin.

 

I spent the hour before dinner saying "good-byes." In the Warrant Officers' Mess we exchanged verses and toasts. I always hate leaving a ship much more than a town or a country

 

----------

 

As we sailed through the "gate" our ship's band began to play on the Quarter Deck;  the sound came wafting up over the ship to the Bridge and I realised that a final assault was being made upon my affection and my emotion. They were playing the "Bittersweet" waltz. After several valedictory drinks I dined with the Captain in the Wardroom and, at about nine forty-five, went ashore with him.

 

---------

 

This morning my ship came back into the harbour having been at sea for a few days.  I say "my ship" firmly, after that voyage out from England I went on board in the forenoon and it was like coming home.

 

---------

 

Went to have a drink with a Colonel in a house half-way up the Rock overlooking the town and the harbour. We sat on a terrace listening to the noises of the town drifting up from below and watching the sunset. It was a lovely evening and the colour and light were indescribable. I could see the ship I have spoken of so lovingly in this diary putting to sea. I thought gratefully and affectionately of all my friends on board and watched her sail, smoothly and with immense dignity, out over the darkening water. That was the last time I saw her or ever shall see her. She was H.M.S. Charybdis and she was sunk in action off the coast of France in the early hours of the morning on October 23rd. There were very few survivors."

 

 

 

Chapter 6 - Med Again and the Original "Charybdis"

 

 

An Uckers Team, 1942. Between operations there was time, little though it was, for various intership and intermess sports, soccer, rowing, and the Navy's own game of "Uckers", an extra, large, and equally mad game of Ludo

The rest of July and August was spent escorting the convoys which were later to be the spearhead for the landings in Sicily and, of course, Charybdis was kept very very busy flitting here and there, always at a rush, with little time in port only to re-fuel and take on food, water and ammunition.

 

Charybdis put into Mers-el-Kebir. This bay has a very large anchorage, situated near Oran, it was originally the French Mediterranean Fleet base. Having been well battered by the enemy then by the Allies, on alternative occasions, it was now just a bay with a sandy beach. So, again as a reward for our labours a three hour beach bathing party was given. It was considered unwise to have too many of the crew ashore under the circumstances, therefore numbers were drawn out of a hat. The ship remained under "sailing orders" and in fact we did sail later that afternoon but somewhat delayed. The port of Oran, some miles to the east had been placed out of bounds with all Libertymen warned to keep in sight of the ship and watch for the "recall signal." An hour after the "recall" had been flying the ship was still waiting for those "adrift" returning from Oran. With the last man aboard, the ship got underway and all Libertymen were ordered to fall in on the Quarterdeck. There was a mixture of all ranks, and it was a grim faced Master at Arms who stated that the Commander intended to deal with the situation, instead of “Defaulters" next morning. All ranks stood awaiting the arrival of the Commander. He duly appeared led by the "Master" (Jaunty.) The "Jaunty" barked out the order "all men who broke bounds and went to Oran - step one pace forward - now." There was no hesitation, shuffling of feet or looking to right or left, to see what the next man intended to do. As smart as a Brigade of Guards, every man of all ranks stepped forward one pace. It was so spontaneous, so unrehearsed, so honest and so “Charybdis" in it's action. No man who had broken bounds was going to let some one else carry the can (take the blame.). The Commander was non-plussed and giving the order "Stand Fast" retired round the rear of 'Y' guns. A brief discussion and the “Jaunty" reappeared. All the Libertymen had been in the Commanders Report, and to save time under the imminent liability of going to "Action Stations," the Commander had decided that the punishment given would apply to all ranks, thus; 3 months stoppage of leave, 7 days pay (scale) and 7 days stoppage of rum. The 3 month stoppage of leave was as a joke, the scale/pay a blow to men with allowances made out to their wives/families - but the stoppage of the "Grog" - Rum (Nelson's Blood) was easily overcome. In fact, the men "under punishment" were inundated with an extra "tot" from their respective shipmates.

 

Whilst the incident at Mers-el-Keber can in no way be excused as the ship was under sailing orders, the united action of the Libertymen was further proof to the remainder of the ship's company that they were all for one and one for all.

 

The reason for the hasty recall soon became apparent. The Italians hearing of the successes of the Allies in Sicily, and of the capture of thousands of their troops, were on the brink of capitulation. It was decided that there be a show of strength of Royal Navy ships and, if possible, make a landing at the "Toe" of Italy. At high speed Charybdis soon caught up with the main task Force, and took up a position on the starboard bow of the Flagship. It was appropriate then that Charybdis should be in that position, as the Force steamed into the Straits of Messina.

 

Charybdis, with her ship's crest - the tree in the centre of the whirlpool - so named in Greek Mythology as being on that side of the Straits of Messina, saw across the narrow channel the coast line of Sicily and the point of Scylla. H.M.S. Scylla was sistership to Charybdis, we only met twice on operations, she did survive the war. Her name also comes from the Greek Mythology of Messina. As fate would have it, although the skies were lit with bonfires on the coastlines by the Italians rejoicing in what they thought was the end of their war, signals were received indicating the Germans were anticipating an attack. Indications came through that the Germans were digging in, and using the Italians as hostages. With the position obviously very unstable, and the Allied Command having a change of mind, the Force turned back. Some of the ships put into Malta, whilst Charybdis anchored in Bizerte, North Africa. This port had been bombed and shelled by both friend and foe, alike. It was a shambles, fringed by grotesque looking palm trees, which looked as if they had been slashed by a giant scythe.

 

 

 

Chapter 7 - Salerno Landings, another  Famous Man, "Ike"

 

 

A plan had now been put to the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and received his approval. It was to make a mass landing at Salerno, on the southwest coast of Italy. Here was a good stretch of beach surrounded by a hilly terrain. An ideal place for a landing providing the opposition was not too strong. Had the Allies taken the trouble to "reccie" the area, and all roads approaching the bay, they would have seen the enemy preparing for such a landing. It was not only an obvious landing place, but one suspects the German Intelligence had worked at it. Consequently when the first waves of British troops hit the beach, they were inundated by enemy shellfire. Amongst all the surrounding hills were the powerful 88mm Tiger tanks. They were positioned to cover the whole of the beach. It was a massacre. Time and time again the British troops dashed from their landing crafts only to be killed or pinned down at the water's edge. For three days attempts to gain a foothold failed. There were countless casualties, and the all powerful Tiger tanks could not be silenced. Our own destroyers going in close to give cover fire were engaged by the enemy tanks, and several hit by 88mm shells.

 

Churchill was very disturbed at this setback and after the third day, we heard him on long wave radio speaking to the nation on the gravity of the situation. At this point, Charybdis started to embark troops for further landings at Salerno. This was an obnoxious occasion, for whilst the ship's company of Charybdis knew every sailing was for more "action", the embarking troops thought they were on their way home. Many had fought right through the Desert Campaign, they were not in organised battalions but from all different regiments. These 8th and 1st Army men came aboard straight from the desert. Some with slight wounds although I saw several with head wounds, and indeed a number with bandages over one eye. All looked extremely fatigued, but it appeared that if they could hold a rifle then they could fight on.

 

We on Charybdis were not pleased by what we saw. If you are wounded in action aboard ship in the Royal Navy, then as long as your ship keeps fighting, you are involved. But here we were embarking men who were battle weary, wounded and transporting them to - in all probability their deaths - or worse. They should as at first they presumed, have been shipped back to the U.K. We estimated that we took on board some 500 assorted troops on our first journey to Salerno. The situation there was extremely hazardous, a foothold on the beach had still not been achieved when Charybdis steamed in close to the beach head. Because of the menace of the enemy shelling and occasional bombing, the troops were ordered over the side, down scrambling nets and into landing craft secured alongside. The landing craft were then cast off and headed for the beach. The whole operation was done with Charybdis constantly underway, whilst on her portside various battleships and heavy cruisers were sending their shells overhead, into the enemy held hills.

 

Within a very short time of landing on the beach, the troops were killed or lay wounded. We did not know this at that time, of course, and being under orders to return to Tripoli at high speed, we knew another crisis was at hand.

Whilst re-fuelling, we again started to embark Army personnel, 500/600 troops were taken aboard. The Charybdis gave then what extras we could, fresh bread, a tot of rum, a fill up of water (from our condensers,) medical treatment where needed - and took responsibility for their last letters. Reports being received from the Salerno area showed no improvement, and the ''Buzz'' going round the ship was that a Rear Admiral, or Admiral from Alexander was to take passage aboard Charybdis, to size up the situation. Just before we sailed the "personality" came aboard, it was none other than the "Supreme" himself, General Eisenhower. With several American warships operating in the area, there was one of their heavy cruisers at Salerno, this was indeed an honour. The first thing he did on boarding with his staff, was to go on the tannoy system and introduce himself to - and using his words – “Men of the Royal Navy." That was a winning start and when he said WE are going to crack this nut at Salerno, no one had any doubts that it would be done.

 

We returned at high speed - no accompanying destroyers, a point noted with such an important enemy target aboard - and found some progress had been made with a beach hold. What had apparently transpired, was that an idea from a junior officer of the R.N. had been tried out and succeeded. It was for a flotilla of destroyers to steam in line ahead and, when the wind was blowing easterly off the sea, make a thick black smoke screen. This the destroyers did and following behind the smoke screen, went the infantry landing crafts. The enemy pounded the beaches with their 88mm shells but they were firing blind now, and the landing British troops made circular landings away from the shellfire. Once ashore the troops fanned out, getting behind the enemy Tiger tanks. They were desperate men made vicious by what they had seen - and they fought without mercy. Again we disembarked our assortment o£ troops, still keeping underway, into landing craft alongside. We gave the troops what we had left, assisted them to disembark as speedily as possible and slowly circled the area. Meanwhile the "Supreme" could see for himself that at last the operation was succeeding, however not without further drama.

 

Whenever the enemy thought it was safe to do so, they had sent out very high flying bombers to carry out harassing high level bombing. These isolated attacks were more of a nuisance then a menace, because they could not obtain any real accuracy. One such high flying four-engine bomber appeared over the Allied naval force, and five or six salvoes were fired to drive it off. Suddenly a black object was seen to fall from the aircraft, and as it came down it turned from side to side. It was the first of the guided bombs, radio controlled from the parent aircraft above. It's target was an American heavy cruiser, which had gone in closer to Salerno Bay for an extra barrage support. The guided bomb continued to glide down, turning as the ship turned, and eventually struck the cruiser amidships. It was a heavy bomb, obvious from the flash and explosion, and the cruiser was temporary out of control. Immediate assistance was at hand, but whilst this event was being dealt with another high flying enemy aircraft had appeared, and it's bomb released and directed to that valiant old battleship - the Warspite. It appeared to strike abaft the funnel, and she was stopped at once. Damage was severe, and she had to be assisted back to Malta. So we were experiencing another aspect of the war. But the landings went on, the beachhead now solid, and Charybdis returned with General Eisenhower to Bizerte.

We spent three days at Bizerta resting, before returning to Gibraltar, and on 1st October leaving there for the U.K. Just before we arrived at Plymouth the Captain announced that the punishment of 3 months stoppage of leave previously awarded to some of the crew was cancelled, and there was a great cheer from the ship's company.

 

 

 

Chapter 8 - Charybdis Sails for the Last Time

 

.

The R.M. Band (only one member survived)

 

During my years in the Navy and being Devonport based, any "runs" ashore at Plymouth I would spend down at the Barbican. Though sometimes months would pass, I knew most of the regulars in the Ship Inn. As I was leaving there on the night of the 21st October, 1943 I called out "see you Saturday". Someone called back "no you won't, you'll be at sea." It appeared that the cruiser H.M.S. Black Prince based at Plymouth had engine trouble, and as the C-in-C had some operation in mind, then Charybdis was to be the substitute. It occurred to me at the time, how strange it was that nobody I knew aboard ship was aware we were sailing next day. Under "Sailing Orders" yes, but not when and why. The following day, Friday, 22nd we had completed re-fuelling, and re-storing. Some replacements were made amongst the ship's company, it appeared that it was the only way that weary and worn out personnel could have a break. By relieving a few officers and men, at a time.

 

So it was that just after 1900 hours on the 22nd October, Charybdis sailed for the last time on an ill conceived and widely known operation code named - "Tunnel." The battle summary of this operation is published in the Charybdis Association folder. The tactics as used by both sides are fully explained, as are the reports from the destroyers in company with Charybdis. It is not for me to say what errors were made, or by whom, but it should be recorded that Charybdis had successfully countered superior numbers of 'E' boats in the past. On operation Pedestal her destroyers had worked well in very difficult circumstances, and in areas where there had been little room to manoeuvre. My action stations on Pedestal and all previous operations, had been on one or other of the two Pom-Poms, directly in front of the Bridge. Having there a grandstand view as it were, of all the action going on. At the same time getting the blast whenever "A" of "B" guns opened fire. As a consequence my hearing was damaged and by order of the sickbay my duties were chanced to the T.S. (Note – Transmitting Station), way down below decks. I was No.1 on the table, and in direct telephone contact with the Bridge and all main armament.

 

I confess then, to be puzz1ed in watching the ranges closing after we made the first radar contact with the enemy. I heard someone whom I presume was the Gunnery Officer say "we will close in to a range whereby the secondary armament could become effective." The T.S. crew consisted mainly of Royal Marine bandsmen, the Bandmaster being senior to myself and in charge. We were all conversant with our duties, and had been together long enough to have full confidence. In fact there had been an air of complete confidence from the time we had gone to action stations, particularly after the Captain had spoken over the Tannoy to say this was to be a speedy job - and we could look forward to a “Make and Mend" next day. Sat at the T.S. table, I watched the ranges still closing. At this moment of time our T.S. was watching, as standby, all the information being fed to the Aft T.S. and ourselves. It was the Aft T.S. which was to supply the opening fire range, the fuse settings, relative speeds, etc., etc. Although my T.S. could take over immediately, if say a shell should destroy the Aft T.S. We were ready to monitor any attempted enemy AIR attack, being close to the French coast there was a distinct possibility of that. At the large metal table where I sat, there was a white sheet of stiff paper about the size of a newspaper. If an enemy aircraft was picked up on our aircraft radar, I would start the paper rolling. A device would show me the aircraft’s course, which I would have to follow most accurately. Around the table were dials giving me speeds, heights, ranges - all the information the modern radar could supply to me. In turn I had to pass this "information" on to the main armament. In the case of a concentrated air attack it could become very hectic.

 

The range dial from the surface radar was now showing l800 yards and closing. 1700 yards, and a voice over my earphones said "B guns stand by to fire Starshell." A dial showed me we were altering course. l600 yards, l500 yards and Bandmaster Piesse tapped my shoulder, and by his gestures indicated we were going to throw spuds, or hand grenades at the enemy. He had his usual grin on his face. 1400 yards, the open-fire gong went and "B" gun fired Starshell. Even way down in the T.S. the distinctive thump could be felt, and I remember thinking there will be some "thumping" in a minute.

 

 

 

Chapter 9 - The Loss of Charybdis and Limbourne

 

 

Hunt class destroyer as Limbourne

 

Suddenly there was a terrific explosion. I left my seat, hit the deckhead and fell back across the table. I did not need to be told we had been torpedoed. All the lights had failed, my earphones were silent and had slipped round my neck. Water was rushing in somewhere and I heard the Bandmaster calling for the emergency lighting This too had failed. The ship was now listing over to port, so that in the inky blackness one could not tell if one was standing on the deck or on dividing bulkhead. I had hung my lifebelt up, on entering the T.S.. - contrary to ships "Standing Orders", and stumbling about nearly had my head yanked off. My earphones were still plugged in, and the strap round my head brought me up with a jerk. Piesse gave the order to leave the T.S., but it seemed an eternity before the watertight door was located and forced open. Fortunately it had not jammed, but there was an immediate in rush of water. We moved by instinct, groping for the steel ladder to the next deck. There was no sound of gunfire above, and I don't believe I could feel the throb of engines.

 

I do think, however, that at this point all the T.S. crew had managed to vacate the T.S. My hands found the ladder and someone was halfway up, shouting the “hatch" was fastened/battened down. Piesse shouted back to knock the clips off. The clips had probably been kicked tight, whilst. the man below was trying to knock them off with his hands. The ship's list did not help, but between us we opened the hatch. I still do not know who it was who climbed out with me, but at that moment another explosion, much bigger or nearer or maybe two close behind each other, threw us together against the bulkhead. It did not do either of us any good, and I would think caused a lot of casualties. The next few minutes were very hazy but by the list now of the ship, it meant getting on to the upperdeck quickly was imperative.

 

The next ladder seemed to be lying flat instead of vertical, no wonder because when I got on the upperdeck the port side was almost awash. The old ship seemed to be sinking fast, from the stern. One didn't need to jump, I just kicked off my shoes and stepped into the "drink."

 

Having abandoned ship under similar circumstances before, I realised immediately that I had done two wrong things. First I should have gone overboard on the other side, not only was I in more oil than water but the ship was keeling over towards me. Secondly, I had not stopped to find anything to keep me afloat, having no lifebelt. I seemed to be entirely on my own, and I struck out as fast as I could in the oil. To judge time in those circumstances is impossible, but it seemed a long time when I bumped into a length of timber. From its size, shape and the bevelled grooves, I guessed it was part of the handrail from the companionway. Grateful for it's support, I trod water. Suddenly a Starshell burst directly overhead. To my amazement I was quite close to the ship, she was illuminated showing about 25 feet of her bows sticking straight up, the rest of her submerged. Sat astride the bows were three men, I just could not think what they were doing up there, to me the ship was on the point of sinking completely. I turned to swim away again from the ship, losing my ''handrail'' in the progress.

 

Later, how long I'll never know, I saw momentarily on top of a now rising sea, a small cluster of little red lights. At the next lift of the sea, and as the moon temporarily broke through I saw clearly bearing down on me - at high speed - an enemy Elbe Class destroyer. Part of my Naval training over the last 4 years had been aircraft and enemy Axis naval recognition. This destroyer whose wash almost swept me into it's screws, was definitely a Elbing Class, heavy armoured and fast. (Later in Stonehouse Hospital, Royal Naval Intelligence men insisted there were no Elbe destroyers in the action.) Postwar German records show there were five Elbing destroyers in the "Tunnel" battle.

 

(Note: The identity of the German attackers can still seem clouded with mystery. Some sources, even now, credit the loss of Charybdis and Limbourne to E- or S-boats – German motor torpedo boats, which did not take part in the attack. Most however, confirm that it was five torpedo boats of the 4th Torpedo-boat Flotilla (S.O. Lt. Cdr. Kohlauf, T.23, T.26, T.27, T.22 and T.25) which were responsible, and not the much larger Z-type Zerstorers or fleet destroyers. The term Elbing-class does not appear to be widely used but presumably applies to this class of torpedo boats, which were built by Schichau at Elbing. Nevertheless, they were still formidable enemies, especially when contrasted with the British Hunts:

T.22-class or 1939 Type fleet torpedo boats, in effect destroyer escorts - 1,754t deep load, 4-4.1in/4-37mm/7 to 12-20mm/6-21in TT (2x3), 32.5kts, 206 crew

 

Hunt-class escort destroyers (Type 3), including Limbourne and Wensleydale – c1,545t deep load, 4-4in/4-2pdr 40mm pom poms, 2-21in TT, 27kts, 168 crew.

And even Charybdis only mounted 4.5in main armament.)

 

It was obvious, by the speed of the enemy destroyer, that they were not going to pick up any survivors. A short time later there was a heavy explosion under water, the shock waves of which struck the body like being hit with a large plank. I had no idea then what it was, but from the operation "Tunnel" reports it would have been our own forces torpedoing the crippled H.M.S. Limbourne. The combination of the cold sea, oil everywhere, and having the breath knocked out of one, brought the realisation that things were now out of my hands. I think the thought of my Mother getting another dreaded Admiralty telegram spurred me on, and again I saw the little red lights.

 

Eventually I reached them. It was a Carley float, and hands reached to grab me to them. Inside the Float were two badly wounded men and hanging on the lifelines on the outside were 16 others, two or three I recognised as young Boy Seamen. There was only sufficient room for each person to put one arm through a line, and then with hands clasped hang on. After a while the body became numb, and the cold more intense. One by one, men and boys were letting go, drifting away. Nobody had the strength to hold them back. Some became unconscious and by the ridiculous design of the Naval lifebelt, the head fell forward and the person drowned. The oil fuel was now having it's effect, and my retching no longer cleared the breathing. The clinging grip of it seemed to be everywhere, nose, mouth, eyes and hands. The seas were rising too and the Carley Float was rearing up on the crest of each wave, tumbling down into the trough, to be met by the next white capped sea. It must have cast off some man every time it did this half somersault, because there was more space around the float. By now I was not aware of any feeling in the lower part of my body.

 

I consider it my responsibility to record here that conditions were the same, with the few other Carley floats that had survivors around them. Indeed one "float" similarly over-manned in it's early stage was approached by the Captain, and the men urged him to join them. But turning and swimming away, he called "keep going, help will be here soon." He lies now with over a hundred officers and men at Dinard, near St. Malo, Brittany. Over eighty men were buried at St. Bruic, Brittany thirty eight at Howard Park, Jersey, nineteen at Le Foulon, Guernsey, and the ship's Padre with two unidentified, on the island of Isle de Bas. More than five hundred officers and men died that night.

 

At what time the seas abated I do not know. A heavy swell persisted and there appeared to be the first signs of dawn. The "float" had now just four of us hanging on it's sidelines, with two motionless bodies lying inside. It brightened still further, and I looked at the man next to me. He was totally unrecognisable, only the white of the eyes showing. I tried to speak but could not, neither it seemed could he. As the "float" rose on the crest of a large swell I saw to my left a faint sign of land, with my eyes gummed up with oil it could not have been all that far away. Another big land swell, and over to my right I could see a destroyer and not all that far away. Each lift of the "float" gave me another sight of her. She was stopped now, broadside on. A Hunt Class, one of ours. But had she seen us? she must be in range of enemy shore batteries, and with the coming light in danger of air attack.. Being stopped she was a target for any ‘U’ boat. I tried to tell the others she wouldn't wait - lets swim for it - but I could only speak with one hand. That was it, I must try and reach her before she got underway again. I let go the lifeline and struck out. Two, three strokes and everything went black.

 

The names of the two Petty Officer's who dived into those October seas with lifelines attached, and saved the other three men (unfortunately the two inside the "float" had died) are P.O. Johnson and P.O. Guy, of H.M.S. Wensleydale. The time, 0625 hours, exactly 25 minutes after the FINAL order from C-in-C Plymouth to clear the area. Two previous orders to do so had not, fortunately been carried out.

 

H.M.S. CHARYBDIS sank a.m. 23rd October, 1943 - 337 Deg. North of the Triagoz Light, 10 miles.

 

The monument erected by the French, to her officers, men and boys is position - Monument, Saint Quay, Portreux (route de Paimpol) directly due south of where she now lies.

FOR H.M.S CHARYBDIS, the "DAY'S WORK WAS OVER"

 

 

 

Postscript

 

 

In writing the story of H.M.S. CHARYBDIS I941 - I943, there have been many untold memories of comradeship, gallantry, humour, and even romance. The few survivors will recall the varying incidents in their memories.

 

I am indebted to fellow survivors for their help and encouragement: to Leonard Bates, to John Eskdale for supplying me with the extracts from Sir Noel Coward's diary. John and I were the last two survivors to be picked up, at 06.25 hours, 23rd October, 1943. We met again 31 years later by a million to one chance, when visiting the new H.M.S. CHARYBDIS on Navy Days, at Portsmouth. That was to be the start of the forming of the now "CHARYBDIS ASSOCIATION".

 

On the on the expiration of the 30 year Post War Secrets Act, I have confirmation on the CHARYBDIS'S service in the Royal Navy. My account of Salerno, where we now know the Germans had five Divisions, including Panzers, prepared and waiting. Verification of the signal from the U.S. heavy cruiser, "What ship, clear my fire". Ike ordered the reply, "H.M.S. CHARYBDIS, Royal Navy, General Eisenhower in command. Keep your fire on enemy. "

 

German Naval War Directives record that on the night of 22nd/23rd Oct. 1943, Elbe Class destroyers lay in wait, guided by shore Radar directions. Their flotilla fired 30 torpedoes at the British cruiser, and her destroyers. After the general melee they steamed due west at 32 knots, the British surviving force in chase, at 25 knots. The chase was fruitless, and over 300 CHARYBDIS men died in the icy waters. Over 500 men and boys, were lost with CHARYBDIS, and 47 on the destroyer LIMBOURNE.

 

We now know that Officers, and men, are buried at Dinard, St Brieuc and St. Charles de Percey, Brittany, and Howard Davis Park, Jersey, and Le Foulon Guernsey. Some wounded survivors died on the rescuing destroyers, and are buried at Weston Mill Cemetery, Devonport. Others died at R.N. Hospital, Plymouth.

 

The C.O. of the enemy force was Lieut. F.K. Paul, of destroyer T23 (armament 2 x triple 21" torpedo tubes, 4 x 4.1" gun turrets, 6 x 1.5" A.A., speed, 36 knots. T23 led the attack. In December 1943 the British again swept the Brittany coast. Three enemy destroyers were sunk. No British ship sunk, but WENSLEYDALE, my rescuing destroyer was hit by a shell, and her Captain killed.

 

(Note: in this operation in the Bay of Biscay on 28 December 1943, light cruisers ENTERPRISE and GLASGOW were in action with eleven German destroyers and torpedo boats, sinking destroyer Z.27 and two of the torpedo boats involved in the loss of CHARYBDIS – T.25 and T.26. Sadly I cannot find confirmation that WENSLEYSDALE took part in this action. The only British casualties appear to have been two men killed in GLASGOW)

 

Finally, in 1983, I was to meet the man who dived off H.M.S. WENSLEYDALE and swam to save my life as I became unconscious. He was, then, P.O. Stanley Guy, and was decorated for his act. The other WENSLEYDALE man was P.O. Johnson, also decorated, but was later killed.

 
 

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