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  • Writer's pictureSi Biggs

Loss of cruiser HMS Charybdis - 38 Royal Marines killed

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: English Channel

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1943

Date/s: 23 October 1943

HMS Charybdis was in action with German torpedo boats escorting coastal convoy

off Brittany. Hit on port side by two torpedoes fired by T23 and sank within 30 minutes. 426 of the ship's company lost their lives and 107 were rescued, 38 Royal Marines killed.

British cruiser HMS Charybdis underway February 1943

Charybdis was on front-line service from March 1942 to October 1943, including Pedestal, Torch, escorting Winston Churchill, and Salerno she also carried Noel Coward's to Gibraltar memories of which he recollects in his diary. [further excerpts below in the Navy History Net link]

Operation Pedestal, 12 August 1942: HMS Indomitable (92) on fire after being bombed. A Dido-class cruiser, HMS Charybdis (88), is screening the carrier.

In late 1943, the British authorities were aware of the approach of the German blockade runner Münsterland, which was carrying an important cargo of latex and strategic metals. The Germans had a well-rehearsed procedure for escorting such vessels. The British reacted by executing "Operation Tunnel", a standard operation whereby available ships would attempt to intercept.

Of the planning of this operation Lieutenant-Commander Roger Hill voiced his reservations to senior staff, but his advice was not heeded.

Charybdis was assigned to the operation on 20 October, and on 22 October the British force put to sea. With Charybdis were the fleet destroyers HMS Grenville and Rocket, and four Hunt-class destroyers: Limbourne, Wensleydale, Talybont and Stevenstone.[4] Münsterland's escorts consisted of five Type 39 torpedo boats of the 4th Torpedo Boat Flotilla, commanded by Franz Kohlauf.

Charybdis picked up the convoy on her radar at a range of 7 nautical miles (13 km; 8.1 mi), but did not intercept radio transmissions, Limbourne heard radio transmissions but could not pick up the ships on radar as Charybdis was blocking her view. At 1:38am the German torpedo boat T23, under the command of Friedrich-Karl Paul, spotted Charybdis, which was hit on the port side by two torpedoes out of a salvo of six fired by T23 and T27.

Limbourne was also hit during this action and was later scuttled by HMS Rocket. The German force escaped unharmed.

Charybdis sank within half an hour, in position 48°59′N 3°39′W, with the loss of over 400 men including her captain George Voelcker. Four officers and 103 ratings survived.

Münsterland was eventually forced ashore and destroyed west of Cap Blanc-Nez on 21 January 1944 by fire from British coastal artillery after she ran aground.

A mass funeral in Guernsey with full military honours was held for 21 sailors and marines whose bodies washed ashore

Charybdis gained six battle honours during her service: Malta Convoys 1942, North Africa 1942, Salerno 1943, Atlantic 1943, English Channel 1943 and Biscay 1943.

Soon after the sinking, the bodies of 21 Royal Navy and Royal Marine men were washed up in Guernsey. The German occupation authorities buried them with full military honours. The funerals became an opportunity for some of the islanders to demonstrate their loyalty to Britain and their opposition to the Nazi occupiers: around 5,000 islanders attended the funeral, laying some 900 wreaths – enough of a demonstration against the Nazi occupation for subsequent military funerals to be closed to civilians by the German occupiers.

Every year a commemoration service is held, in October, which is attended by survivors of the action and their relatives, the Guernsey Association of Royal Navy and Royal Marines, Sea Cadets, St John's Ambulance Brigade, the Police, the Red Cross and representatives of the Royal Navy and the public.

Other members of the crew are buried in Jersey at St Helier (38), and in France at Dinard (96), St Brieuc (47), Ile de Brehat (1), St Germain sur Ay (1) and St Charles de Percey (2).

The wrecks of Charybdis and Limbourne have been located. Charybdis was found in 1993, lying in 83 metres of water. [1] 

Royal Marines Band on HMS Charybdis, only 1 of the band would survive [2]

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.


References/ further reading

[1] Wikipedia - HMS Charybdis (88)

[2] "ALL IN A DAY'S WORK" - H.M.S. CHARYBDIS by David (Rocky) Royle - Navy History Net

See the names of those lost here - Royal Marines Roll of Honour and Graves Database

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