23rd October 1943

HMS Charybdis sinks with heavy loss of life

HMS Charibdys was built by Cammel Laird between November 1939 and December 1941. With a top speed of 32 knots (around 37mph), she was 156m long, 15m wide, and crewed by 480 men, many of whom lost their lives when she was sunk as part of the Second World War’s Battle of Sept-Iles.

Her tour of duty saw her active in waters close to home before moving further afield. She patrolled the Mediterranean, including areas around Gibraltar, Sicily and Malta, and later patrolled the Atlantic, North Sea and Bay of Biscay. Her final mission, Operation Tunnel, saw her accompanying six other British vessels as they attempted to cut off a convoy of twelve German ships carrying vital supplies.

HMS Charybdis sunk

It was on this posting, on the night of 22 to 23 October, that she was spotted by a German torpedo boat, which fired six torpedoes in her direction. Two of the torpedoes found their marks, holing her beneath the waterline with devastating consequences. Less than half an hour later, she had sunk, and more than 400 of her crew had drowned. Many of their bodies washed ashore on both Jersey and Guernsey, as well as the coast of France.

Thirty-eight of the recovered bodies were buried on Jersey with full military honours, and the German authorities allowed islanders to attend. So impressive was the turn-out, that the idea was not repeated. At a similar ceremony in Guernsey, more than 5000 locals had attended, carrying 900 wreaths.

The British Admiralty announced the loss of Charybdis within a week of her sinking. On 26 October, which would have been the birthday of George Voelcker, the Charybdis’ captain, the Daily Record reported that she had been “torpedoed… off the French coast between Ushant and the Channel Isles early on Saturday. A German report has stated that survivors from a cruiser sunk on Friday night have been landed in Brittany. No further details of the action are available beyond German reports which say that a German convoy was attacked.”

It took 50 years for the wreck of the Charybdis to be located. It has not been raised.


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