Naval History Homepage and Site Search




by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 2004


HMS CHARYBDIS - 4.5in-gunned Dido-class AA Cruiser 
including Convoy Escort Movements 


HMS Charybdis (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

return to Contents List 


DIDO-Class cruiser ordered from Cammell Laird at Birkenhead on 28th August 1938 under the 1938 Build Programme. The ship was laid down on 9th November 1938 and launched on 17th September 1940 as the fifth RN warship to carry this name, dating from 1809. It had last been used by a cruiser sold in 1922. Her completion was delayed until 3rd December 1941 due to the higher priority given to delivery of Escort Destroyers after the heavy losses of this type of warship during 1940. A reduced armament of four twin 4.5in guns was fitted in this cruiser and her sister ship HMS SCYLLA instead of the designed five twin 5.25in mountings. After a successful WARSHIP WEEK National Savings campaign during March 1942 she was adopted by the civil community of Birkenhead, Cheshire now in the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, Merseyside.


See also:

1. "All in a Day's Work" - Her Career by David 'Rocky' Royle

2. Her Loss and Commemoration, by the Charybdis Association

3. Account of Her Loss from Captured German Archives

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

added by Gordon Smith, son of George Smith lost in her sinking

B a t t l e   H o n o u r s


H e r a l d i c   D a t a

Badge  On a Field White, issuant from a whirlpool in base a fig tree Proper,

suspended from the branches a bat inverted Gold.




D e t a i l s  o f   W a r   S e r v i ce

(for more ship information, go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search


1 9 4 1




Carried out Contractors Trials.


3rd - Build completion and commenced Acceptance Trials


15th - Commissioned for service.


16th - Civic Reception by local community for ship's company.


16th - Sailed for Clyde on completion of Acceptance.




3rd - Commenced work-up in Clyde area before Joining Home Fleet.


15th - Escorted ships of 1st Minelaying Squadron during minelay in Northern Barrage. (Operation SN81 - See the Naval Staff History (MINING) for details).



1 9 4 2




Completed work-up and deployed with Home Fleet in NW Approaches.




Home Fleet deployment in continuation.




Home Fleet deployment in continuation.


30th - Escorted ships of 1st Minelaying Squadron during minelay in Northern Barrage. (Operation SN87 - See above reference).




Nominated for transfer to Force H based at Gibraltar. (For details of operations in Mediterranean in 1941 and 1942 see Naval Staff History, THE BATTLE FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN by D MacIntyre, ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY by Corelli Barnett and MALTA CONVOYS by R Woodman.)


13th - Escorted US aircraft Carrier USS WASP with battlecruiser RENOWN and cruiser CAIRO during passage to Gibraltar.


19th - Joined Force W with RENOWN and CAIRO to escort USS WASP for Malta aircraft delivery, screened by destroyers INGLEFIELD, ITHURIEL, ECHO, PARTRIDGE and US Navy destroyers USS LANG and USS MADISON (Operation CALENDAR).


20th - On completion escorted USS WASP for part of passage from Gibraltar in Atlantic


23rd - Returned to Gibraltar




6th - Joined RENOWN, destroyers ECHO, ECLIPSE and INTREPID in Force W.


7th - Escorted USS WASP in Atlantic for passage into Mediterranean.


8th - Part of escort for USS WASP and aircraft carrier EAGLE for further aircraft delivery to Malta. (Note : destroyer screen included ECHO, INTREPID, USS LANG and USS STERRET Cover was provided by RENOWN (Operation BOWERY)).


10th - On completion escorted USS WASP into Atlantic before return to Gibraltar.


17th - Escorted aircraft carriers EAGLE and ARGUS for aircraft delivery to Malta screened by destroyers PARTRIDGE, ITHURIEL, ANTELOPE, WISHART., WESTCOTT, WRESTLER and VIDETTE (Operation LB).




2nd - Escorted EAGLE for aircraft delivery to Malta with destroyers WESTCOTT, WISHART, ITHURIEL, ANTELOPE and PARTRIDGE (Operation STYLE).


8th - Escorted EAGLE with CAIRO for aircraft delivery to Malta screened by destroyers PARTRIDGE, ITHURIEL, ANTELOPE, WISHART, WRESTLER and WESTCOTT (Operation SALIENT).


11th - Joined Force W with battleship MALAYA, EAGLE, ARGUS, cruisers KENYA and LIVERPOOL to cover passage to Sicilian Narrows of Malta convoy. (Operation HARPOON). (Note : destroyer screen comprised destroyers ONSLOW, ICARUS, ESCAPADE, WESTCOTT, WISHART, WRESTLER, VIDETTE and ANTELOPE


17th - Returned to Gibraltar with Force W and retained in Mediterranean.




Deployed at Gibraltar.


14th - Escorted EAGLE with CAIRO for Malta aircraft delivery screened by destroyers WESTCOTT, WRESTLER, ANTELOPE, VANSITTART and ITHURIEL. (Operation PIN POINT).


20th - Repeated aircraft delivery escort with same ships (Operation INSECT).




5th - Joined aircraft carriers VICTORIOUS, INDOMITABLE, EAGLE and ARGUS with cruisers PHOEBE and SIRIUS in Atlantic for exercise in fighter direction and 'Cross-Deck’ multi-aircraft carrier operations (Exercise BERSERK). (For details of development and use of radar by RN see RADAR AT SEA by D Hawse).


9th - Joined Force Z west of Gibraltar with battleships NELSON, RODNEY, VICTORIOUS, INDOMITABLE, EAGLE, cruisers SIRIUS and PHOEBE with 12 destroyers to cover passage of supply convoy (WS21S) to Sicilian Narrows. (Operation PEDESTAL - See above references and PEDESTAL by P Smith).


12th - Stood by INDOMITABLE to provide AA defence after action damage.


13th - Detached from Force Z after nightfall to replace cruiser MANCHESTER in Force X during passage through Sicilian Narrows. (Note : MANCHESTER had been torpedoed and had to be sunk).


14th - Rejoined Force Z and in action with aircraft.


15th - Arrived at Gibraltar.




Deployment at Gibraltar in continuation. Carried out patrol between Azores and Cape Finisterre to intercept enemy ships attempting passage from Far East to French ports.




Atlantic patrol duty in continuation including refuelling in Azores.


28th - Escorted aircraft carrier FURIOUS with cruiser AURORA for Malta aircraft delivery screened by destroyers WESTCOTT, WISHART, ACHATES, VANOC, VERITY, Polish destroyer ORP BLYSKAWICA, Escort destroyers COWDRAY and BRAMHAM. (Operation TRAIN).




Nominated for support of allied landings In North Africa (Operation TORCH).


6th - Joined convoy KMF1 with ARGUS, Escort Carrier AVENGER, cruisers SCYLLA and SHEFFIELD for final stage of passage to Gibraltar.. Part of Eastern Task Force covering assault landings at Algiers. (For details see Naval Staff History and above references).


10th - Escorted military convoy for landings at Bougie and Bone with SCYLLA. Under periodic air attack and provided naval gunfire support during assault.


12th - Engaged aircraft after unsuccessful torpedo attack.


13th - Escorted troopships during passage to Gibraltar with Escort aircraft carrier AVENGER.


25th - Embarked British and US military personnel for passage to Algiers.


27th - Deployed with cruisers AURORA, ARGONAUT, SCYLLA and SIRIUS to intercept French warships approaching North African coast.


30th - At Mers-el-Kebir




Deployed with units of Force H for exercises in Western Mediterranean.


11th - Nominated for refit in UK.


12th - Took passage to Barrow for refit. (Note: Three German POW were embarked for this trip).


15th - Taken in hand for refit.



1 9 4 3




Under refit.




Post refit trials.


20th - Passage to Liverpool for routine docking




7th - Joined Home Fleet at Scapa Flow for work-up. Present during visit by King George VI to Home Fleet.


21st - Provided cover for ships of 1st Minelaying Squadron during minelay in Northern Barrage (Operation SN90A).


28th - Transferred to Plymouth Command for duty in SW Approaches and took passage for Plymouth. Diverted for search operation in Faeroes area.




4th - Arrived at Plymouth.


7th - Carried out unsuccessful patrol for interception of blockade runners in Bay of Biscay


19th - Escorted Military convoy to Gibraltar.


25th - Return passage to Plymouth




5th - Escorted rms QUEEN MARY taking Prime Minister to USA with cruiser UGANDA.


8th - Detached when relieved by two US Navy destroyers.


12th - Deployed on interception patrol duty in Bay of Biscay and provided cover for UK – Gibraltar convoys prior to allied landings in Sicily (Operation HUSKY)




Bay of Biscay deployment in continuation.




22nd - Joined Joint military convoy WS32 (for Middle East and Bombay) and KMF20 (for Gibraltar and Algiers) in SW Approaches to provide cover during passage in the Bay of Biscay. (Note : This was required in case of attack by German destroyers from French bases.)


25th - Detached from convoy when it divided for separate passages to Freetown (WS22) and Gibraltar (KMF20).




Bay of Biscay and SW Approaches convoy defence in continuation.


11th - Transferred to Gibraltar for convoy defence duties in Atlantic and the Western Mediterranean Sailed from Plymouth for Bay of Biscay convoy defence during passage to Gibraltar (Note The actor Noel Coward was a passenger).


22nd - Joined military convoy WS33 (for Middle East and Bombay) and KMF22 (for Gibraltar and Algiers during passage to Gibraltar to provide cover during transit of Bay of Biscay.


23rd - Detached from WS33/KMF22 and resumed Bay Of Biscay patrol (Note: Joint convoy separated on arrival at Gibraltar)


31st - Arrived at Gibraltar to join Fleet




Transferred to Bizerta for support of military operations


10th - Joined Support Force East (TF88) with cruisers EURYALUS and SCYLLA. (Note : The two cruisers were deployed to provide defence for Escort Carriers UNICORN, HUNTER, BATTLER, ATTACKER and STRIKER against air attack during allied landings at Salerno  (Operation AVALANCHE – See above references.)


11th - Detached and took passage to Palermo. Embarked General Eisenhower for passage to Salerno for visit.


12th - Sailed from Beach Head to Bizerta.


13th - Diverted on passage to embark soldiers and military stores at Tripoli.


14th - Joined EURYALUS and SCYLLA at Tripoli for transfer operation. Sailed for Salerno.


15th - Disembarked soldiers and stores off Beachhead. (Note : Much publicity has been given since 1945 to the transfer of units of the 8th Army  for service in Italy - See TWO HONOURABLE YEARS by Craig Leith).


18th - Released from AVALANCHE and resumed patrol and convoy cover in Bay of Biscay.




Transferred to Plymouth Command and continued deployment.


11th - Joined escort for inward convoy from Gibraltar in SW Approaches.


12th - Detached and took passage to Plymouth


20th - Nominated for operation to intercept German mercantile MUNSTERLAND in Bay of Biscay  (Operation TUNNEL Series). (Note : This vessel was known to be on passage in the area.)


22nd - Sailed from Plymouth with destroyers GRENVILLE, ROCKET, LIMBOURNE, TALYBONT, STEVENSTONE and WENSLEYDALE.


23rd - 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. (A detailed analysis of this ill planned and poorly executed TUNNEL operation is available  in HOLD THE NARROW SEA by Peter Smith and a privately published novel TWO HONOURABLE YEARS by Craig Leith).


S p e c i a l   N o t e


TWO HONOURABLE YEARS, although a work of fiction, was written by an original member of the ships’ company who joined this ship at Birkenhead during build and left her shortly before her final voyage. This book combines a thorough and graphic account of the ship's short but active life with details of the personal experiences of six young ratings whose professional career began when they joined HMS CHARYBDIS in November 1941.


Nineteen British sailors ware buried with full military honours in Foulon Cemetery, Guernsey on Wednesday 17th November 1943. It was attended by several Senior Officers of the German occupation garrison who provided a Ceremonial Guard of 40 Marines. The Dean of Guernsey, leaders of civil authorities and clergymen of various denominations, supported by least 4,000 islanders were present to honour these men.


Since 1948 an annual remembrance of the loss of this ship is held in Guernsey. This event marks the lasting relationship between the civil community and those from far afield who have personal reasons for ensuring that the tragic loss of life on 23rd October 1943 is not forgotten. With the passing of each year the number of survivors and those who lived through the dark days of war at sea or under German occupation diminishes. However, the events surrounding the loss of this ship will be perpetuated as long as the graves of these British sailors continue to be cared for by the people of Guernsey.






by Don Kindell


These convoy lists have not been cross-checked with the text above






Date convoy sailed

Joined convoy as escort

Convoy No.

Left convoy

Date convoy arrived













OS 050KM





SL 131MK





KMF 020





OS 052KM





MKF 020





MKS 021G





MKF 024








(Note on Convoys)




A paraphrase from "The War at Sea" by Roskill, Volume III, Part 1, page 99

On the evening of the 22nd (October 1943), Charybdis, two fleet and four Hunt destroyers sailed from Plymouth to intercept the merchantman Munsterland, a former blockade runner, expected to move from Brest to Cherbourg. They were ships of several different types and widely varying performance, had done no tactical training together and the Hunts were slower than the fleet destroyers and lacked torpedoes. They were normally convoy escorts. The Squadron was therefore not a properly organised and well-trained striking force. (Note: For two years Charybdis had fought as an effective daytime anti-aircraft cruiser)


Munsterland left Brest on the afternoon of the 22nd with eight small escorts and five German torpedo-boats had joined as an outer screen that evening to the north of the convoy.


Shortly after nightfall, Charybdis was seven miles off the north coast of Brittany and swept west at 13 knots. We now know that German shore radar had picked them up at 12.30am and given alarm.


The Hunts had intercepted German voice radio and passed this to Charybdis which could not receive them, and did no appear to appreciate their significance.


At 1.30 am, Charybdis picked up a radar contact at 14,000 yards. She increased speed but did not warn the destroyers about the contact. Fifteen minutes later at 4,000 yards, Charybdis fired starshell, but the German torpedo-boats had already spotted her. They turned quickly and fired torpedoes – the cruiser was hit several times and sank with heavy loss of life. Destroyer Limbourne was also sunk. The enemy’s rapid success caused some confusion among the British ships, which took no retaliatory action. The Germans watched the rescue operations, but luckily did not interfere further. Had they done so, they might have caused further losses. Munsterland and her escort proceeded unimpeded.


Admiral Sir Ralph Leatham, C-in-C Plymouth admitted the Germans had completely turned the tables on our force and caught it by surprise. This had been due to a lack of opportunity to exercise the ships in night fighting by radar control.





by Gordon Smith


Her remains were discovered in the 1990's and in 2001 a British team took photographs of her which can be found on Leigh Bishop's Deep Image site. This was obviously a highly professional and responsible team which worked closely with the Charybdis/Limbourne Association. However, as HMS Charybdis is my own father's grave, and aware of how some wrecks have been treated, I was concerned in case other divers were not quite so caring. I wrote to Leigh, and his reply reassured me. I also received an email from Neil Wood of the Association:

"Leigh Bishop has told me about your message to him regarding the wreck of HMS Charybdis. As a matter of interest, and as you have probably realised from his site and photos, Leigh was one of a group of British Divers who in conjunction with our Association and some other friends, dived on the wrecks of both "Charybdis" and "Limbourne".

There is no question about all of the Divers concerned treating the sites as War Graves. However, although they lie in French waters and the French Govt. also treat them as War Graves, other divers can still dive on them. As you say, the depth is a deterrent, but now-a-days, even that it not quite such a problem.

Our Association has tried to obtain official permission to recover the ships bell from HMS Limbourne, which Leigh found located on the sea bed during the dive. Unfortunately that has not been given. We wanted to recover it as a memorial to all those lost on "Limbourne", none of whose bodies were ever recovered."


back to Contents List
or Naval-History.Net

revised 5/3/13