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German torpedo boat T.23 (Denis Nichols/Charybdis Association, click to enlarge)

return to World War 2, 1939-1945


See also:

- "All in a Day's Work" - The Career of HMS Charydis by David 'Rocky' Royle

- Loss and Commemoration of HMS Charybdis and HMS Limbourne, by the Charybdis Association

- Service History of HMS Charybdis

- Service History of HMS Limbourne

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


HMS Charybdis (NavyPhotos)




(Sgd.)  E. G. N RUSHBROOKE, Director of Naval Intelligence

(Extracted from captured German Archives)




Click chart for enlargement


1. At 1500 on 22nd Cctober, 1943, a German convoy, consisting of the steamer "Munsterland" and escort, left Brest on the first stage of her passage to Cherbourg. The escort consisted of six minesweepers belonging to the 2nd M/S Flotilla and two new patrol vessels (V 718 and 719), equipped with radar, belonging to the 7th V-Flotilla.


2. The outer escort was to be furnished by boats of the 4th Torpedo-boat Flotilla (S.O. Lt. Cdr. Kohlauf), five units of which (T 23, T 26, T 27, T 22 and T 25) sailed from Brest in that order at 1800 on 22nd October, 1943. These were instructed to take up position north of the convoy route, within the range of vision of the convoy; they were to proceed on Route “Herz" while the convoy followed Route "Herz 6”, and they were to maintain a speed of 9 knots, always to the north-west of the convoy. The convoy was to be escorted as far as Lezardrieux during that night. Thereafter the torpedo-boats had orders to put in to St. Malo. Action, even with enemy M.T.B’s, was to be be avoided as far as possible.


3. The 4th T-Flotilla reached position at 2150. The Operation proceeded according to plan until 0027, when the radar station at Perros located an enemy target in grid position BF 2925. At this tine the torpedo-boats were on the "Herz" Route in grid position 2841 (upper edge, centre). Target proceeded south till 0035, then followed a westerly course parallel to "Herz" Route at a distance of 4 miles to the north, speed about 12 knots. At first, two, later several, vessels were distinguished. These plots were also picked up by a radar station at Paimpol at 0040. The alarm was given at 0043.


4. A report at 0052 located the enemy with course 270° and speed 12 - 15 knots. The torpedo-boat flotilla altered course to north, intending to take up position about 5 miles north of the route and from there proceed eastwards parallel to it, in the hope that the enemy would proceed on a westerly course parallel to the route about 3 miles north of it. In this way the torpedo-boats hoped to obtain a clear view of the enemy against the horizon in the south-east, and could then close them and fire their torpedoes. This manoeuvre was not successful, as heavy rainclouds came up from the south-west, while it was in progress, and the north-west horizon became brighter.


5. Reports of the location of the British vessels continued to come in and at 0138 a signal reported them due east of the torpedo-boats, German Naval 'Y’ operators intercepted a signal at 0141 stated that the British units had sighted the torpedo-boats bearing 270°, at a range of 6 miles, steering course 090°. This course was almost correct but only two German vessels were reported as having been seen. It was therefore no longer possible for the Germans to take the British by surprise.


6. At 0143 the 4th Torpedo-boat flotilla in grid position TB 2916 (north of Les Sept Iles) sighted a large enemy (British) unit, bearing 350° at a range of about 2000 m. The torpedo-boats were ordered to turn 120° to starboard, and increase speed to 17 knots. The situation was considered very critical -if the enemy had opened fire at that moment at such short range, they could not fail to hit one or more boats of the flotilla. There was no hope of saving any ships hit, nor was there any prospect of success from their own torpedoes. While the flotilla was turning away the enemy cruiser altered course 60° to Port. The leading torpedo-boat fired a salvo of six torpedoes. The enemy remained silent and it was thought that perhaps they intended operating their whole armament at one blow, Two destroyers were sighted astern of the cruiser. T 23 had scored two hits on the cruiser only two minutes after sighting (0145) and before the enemy had fired one shot. The destroyers then opened fire on the torpedo-boats and illuminated the flotilla with starshell. Meanwhile salvoes of six torpedoes fired by T 22, T 26 and T 27 scored one hit on the cruiser and two hits on destroyers (one on each). One hit was scored on a destroyer from a new destroyer group sighted for the first time, proceeding at high speed in an easterly direction from the north-west. After further manoeuvring, the torpedo-boat flotilla made for the “Herz” Route on a south-easterly course and then proceeded eastwards.


7. As a result of the third torpedo-hit on the cruiser, at 0150 a large fire of exploding ammunition was observed midships. According to various reports, she was seen to break in two. The Senior Officer of the 4th T-Flotilla saw her listing, with her stern below water. Two destroyers were on fire. The enemy was communicating by lamp, one destroyer continually making the letter “T” which was thought to be an emergency signal indicating a torpedo hit. On the surface of the water could be seen calcium flares and burning fuel oil. The enemy was evidently carrying out rescue operations.


8. The enemy had only fired about six salvoes and one fired a salvo of torpedoes which had missed its target. All the T-boats, except T 25, had fired salvoes of six torpedoes.


9. The intention of the torpedo-boats to turn about and attack the enemy groups, which were assembling, in order to inflict further damage, was given up, after a signal was received at 0241 reporting that the enemy was withdrawing to England. The enemy must therefore have completed rescue operations. The torpedo-boat flotilla decided not to follow the enemy on account of very heavy rain, although there was still some doubt as to the position of a second enemy group. It was later discovered that there had been some confusion over radar reports and that no enemy group would have attacked the torpedo-boats from the rear. In fact, they could have calmly opened fire on the destroyers carrying out rescue operations, even if there had been 4 - 6 enemy vessels, but this action might not have achieved any actual success.


10. The torpedo-boats joined the convoy coming from the Channel Isles area at 0324, and escorted it to Lezardrieux, where it put in. The alarm ended at 0430 and the torpedo-boats anchored in Dinard Roads at 0730.


11. On reviewing the night’s activities, the Germans claimed three torpedo hits on the cruiser and decided she could be regarded as having been sunk. After the first hit she made one 3 - 4 minute long continuous note in W/T and was not heard again. The first two hits on the cruiser were credited to T 23, the third to T 27. The senior officer saw one destroyer on fire in addition to the cruiser; other officers reported two destroyers on fire. Hits on two destroyers were credited to T 22 and T 24. In all, 24 torpedoes were fired. The whole action lasted about seven minutes. The rescue operations were observed for about twenty minutes. On the approach of dawn ‘Y’ office identified British aircraft operating over the scene of the action.

12. In substantiation of the claim of the 4th Torpedo-boat Flotilla to have sunk the cruiser, the following report was made by Seenotbereichkommando I (Brest) (Sea Rescue Regional Command):


“Sighted in grid position BF 2924: 6 rubber dinghies, size 3 m., colour grey, and one ship's motor launch fairly badly shot up, colour grey; drifting crates, blocks of wood, beams and small pieces of wreckage, a trail of oil about 15 m. long. No bodies seen. Boats unoccupied."


13. German fighters carrying out a reconnaissance in grid position 4081/84/14 West reported having sighted three rubber dinghies and a fairly large rowing-boat drifting without any crew.


14. The Senior Officer of the 2nd M/S Flotilla, units of which escorted the “Munsterland”, reported having observed starshell and heard explosions, but took no part in the action and did not mention survivors.


15. The efficiency of the radar organisation in Brittany and of the torpedo branch was commended. It had been well proved how effective was the operation of a strong torpedo-boat flotilla as the outer seaward escort of convoys.


16. On 26.10.43 the Admiralty announced the sinking of the cruiser “Charybdis” and the destroyer “Limbourne” on the night of the 22/23rd October, 1943.


Track charts are available showing the courses followed by the torpedo-boats (In War Diary of the 4th Torpedo-boat Flotilla, 16-23.10.43, KA 36766).


17. The above report has been compiled from the following sources:-


            War Diary of 4th Torpedo-boat Flotilla, 16-23.10.43 (KA 36766)


            War Diary of F.O.I.C., Western Defences. (B.S.W. – 16th – 31st October, 1943)

War Diary of 3rd Defence Division (Sich. Div.), October 1943 (KA 34051)

            War Diary of German Naval War Staff, October, 1943.

HMS Limbourne (NavyPhotos)

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