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In Memory of my Father

GEORGE CHARLES WILLIAM SMITH, Royal Navy 1938-43 and HMS Cornwall, Maori, Charybdis

Ordnance Artificer, missing in action 23rd October 1943

by Gordon Smith,

HMS Charybdis, see also

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

Her Loss and Commemoration, by the Charybdis Association

Account of Her Loss from Captured German Archives

(click images to enlarge)

return to World War 2, 1939-1945

Boy and Man

with Father, Yeoman of Signals
George Smith DSM


Wearing cap tally of the
Royal Naval Shore Signal Service

Strong swimmer and keen on fitness


received 1993

FULL NAME: George Charles William SMITH
11 January 1916 Devonport
NAME OF PARENTS: George William Smith
Emily Priscilla Elizabeth SMITH, nee MILLARD
RECRUITED BY: Lieutenant Commander Fabian J PEARCE RN
Royal Navy and Royal Marines Recruiting Office,
6 Orchard Place, Queens Terrace, Southampton
DATE AND PERIOD OF ENGAGEMENT: 23 March 1936 - for 12 years continuous service


Height: 5ft 8 1/2ins
Chest: 40ins
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Blue
Complexion: Fresh

Ships and Shore Establishments

HMS VICTORY Royal Navy Barracks, Portsmouth 23 Mar 36 - 5 Jun 36
HMS EXCELLENT Gunnery School, Whale Island, Portsmouth 6 Jun 36 - 26 Jul 37
HMS DRAKE Royal Navy Barracks, Devonport 27 Jul 37 - 31 Dec 37
HMS CORNWALL Heavy cruiser 1 Jan 38 - 6 May 38
HMS DRAKE Royal Navy Barracks, Devonport 7 May 38 - 4 Dec 38
HMS MAORI Destroyer 5 Dec 38 - 12 Jul 40
HMS DRAKE Royal Navy Barracks, Devonport 13 Jul 40 - 28 Nov 40
HMS EAGLET Base Depot Ship, Liverpool 29 Nov 40 - 14 Nov 41
HMS CHARYBDIS AA cruiser 15 Nov 41 - 23 Oct 43

HMS Cornwall (Navy Photos)
HMS Maori

HMS Charybdis (Navy Photos)


NEXT OF KIN:  Mrs Irene Yvonne SMITH - Wife
Royal Naval Shore Signal Station, Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

RATINGS HELD: Ordnance Artificer 23 Mar 36 - 10 Feb 37
  Acting Ordnance Artificer 4th class 11 Feb 37 - 05 May 38
  Ordnance Artificer 4th class 6 May 38 - 10 Feb 40
  Ordnance Artificer 3rd class (with rank of Chief Petty Officer) 11 Feb 40 - 23 Oct 43
CHARACTER: Very Good  
  Awarded Good Conduct Badge 23 March 1939

With Miss Irene Sharp, probably
RNSSS Quarters, Shoebury, Essex

Married Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea,
Essex in 1940

Ephemera, Service Recollections, and HMS Charybdis in Outline


Typical of the attractive telegrams
of the time - sent 26 December 1939,
while on HMS Maori

Breakwater of HMS Charybdis

Gibraltar - brother-in-law Reg Sharp,
serving with the Garrison, on right

In front of one of the twin 4.5 turrets,
"oppo" on left not known

Another telegram of the time - probably
sent from Gibraltar 6 June 1942.
Delivery envelope below


HMS CORNWALL, 1 January 1938 to 6 May 1938 (prewar movements, wartime career)


HMS MAORI, 5 December 1938 to 12 July 1940  - on Neutrality Patrol during Spanish Civil War, took part in stopping two Italian-built destroyers being delivered to Sweden, securing depth charge adrift in typical Pentland Firth heavy seas, took part in Norwegian Campaign, also known for practicing the Maori "Haka" (prewar movements, wartime career)


HMS DRAKE, 13 July 1940 to 28 November 1940 - included period training in Devonport as naval diver and dived in Plymouth Sound during an air raid


HMS EAGLET, 29 November 1940 to 14 November 1941 - standing by and commissioning HMS Charybdis, then completing at Cammell Laird Shipbuilders, Birkenhead, Cheshire, some involvement with radar installations, heavy air raids, in late October 1941, apparently saw capital ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse sail out of Liverpool at the start of their voyage to Singapore as Britain's deterrent to Japan coming into the war.


HMS CHARYBDIS, 15 November 1941 to 23 October 1943


Cruiser of the Dido class was authorised under the 1938 programme. She was laid down at Cammell Laird's yard, Birkenhead, Cheshire on 9th November 1938, launched on 17th September 1940 and completed on 3rd December, 1941 with 8-4.5in guns instead of the planned 10-5.25in. Her commanding officer was Captain G A W Voelcker RN.


After trials she joined the Home Fleet and at the end of March 1942 took part in the minelaying Operation S.N.87. Next month she sailed for Gibraltar and was transferred to the North Atlantic Command. During May and June she was in Force W for Operations "L.B." and "Salient", aircraft reinforcements for Malta, and provided cover for Malta convoy Operation "Harpoon". In July she took part in operations "Pinpoint" and "Insect", more aircraft for Malta, and the following month covered the major Malta convoy Operation "Pedestal".

Further aircraft reinforcements for Malta followed in Operation "Baritone".


In September and October 1942 she was on patrol in the Atlantic and searching for German raiders and blockade runners. At the end of October she again took part in covering aircraft reinforcements to Malta in Operation "Train".


On 25th November 1942 she was allocated to the 12th Cruiser Squadron in Force H and sailed from Gibraltar for Algiers carrying the Allied Force H.Q. for Operation "Torch", the invasion of French North Africa.


On 12th December she sailed for U.K. to rejoin the Home Fleet.


For the first three months of 1943 she was in the Scapa flow area, covering minelaying operations and patrolling in the North Sea, but in April she transferred temporarily to the Plymouth Command and proceeded to cover convoys and patrol in the Bay of Biscay.


She was back again in Gibraltar in August 1943 and from there escorted Mediterranean convoys.


In September she was in Force V for the Salerno Landings, but returned to Plymouth the following month.

Further patrols in the Bay of Biscay followed but on 23rd October. 1943, while taking part in Operation, "Tunnel" she was surprised and torpedoed by German destroyers ?T-23? and ? T-27?.


The first torpedo hit the port side near the after boiler room, and the ship rapidly took a list of 20 degrees to port, which continued to increase slowly. Ten minutes later the second torpedo hit on the port side near the after engine room. This hit caused extensive structural damage and the upper deck was blown upwards. All electrical power failed. The list to port increased rapidly and within f minutes of the second hit the list had reached 50 degrees and it continued to increase as the ship settled by the stern. The ship suddenly trimmed by the stern, until almost vertical, and remained in this position 2/3rd submerged for about 1/2 hour, before sinking.


She sank in position 48-59?N: 3-39?W, with the loss of 30 officers 432 ratings.


HMS CHARYBDIS was awarded the following Battle Honours (links to Campaign Summaries):


On 23 October 1943, Ordnance Artificer George Smith was discharged from the Royal Navy as having lost his life on war service when HMS CHARYBDIS was sunk. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirm that his body was never recovered for burial. He is however commemorated on Panel 82, Column 3 of the Plymouth Naval Memorial.


See also:


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


Her Loss and Commemoration, by the Charybdis Association


Account of Her Loss from Captured German Archives


Service History of HMS Charybdis



Commemorative photograph of her loss
(enlargement is large file)

Chief Petty Officer cap badge - thanks to Tony Beasley
My father's Petty Officer arm badge
His Good Conduct badge

Stars - 1939-45, Atlantic, Africa with North Africa 1942-43 clasp, Italy
1939-45 War Medal (images courtesy Sarah Jane Framing & Medals)

Some of the material that follows is quite personal to my family and myself, but may be of help to others who have lost relatives and friends in time of war.

Sympathy, Hope, Official Commemoration

The official telegram announcing my father's loss does not exist, but this is an example of a telegram of the time, typical of the letters and  telegrams received


Missing meant hope. This is a 1944 letter received from the British Red Cross and St John's in response to my mother's request for information.

Even for some years after the war, I heard stories that my father, a strong swimmer had made the shore, been taken prisoner, then possibly released by the Russians but kept as a hostage - such is hope.


Official Commemoration - The opening of the Plymouth Naval Memorial in 1954


Newspaper and Magazine Cuttings Over the Years, A Commemorative First Day Postal Cover

Guernsey Evening Press, 25 October 1954

newspaper not known, around 1975

Saturday Herald, 1983

Western Evening Herald, 24 October 1983

both from Saga Magazine, around 1986 (no enlargement for left hand image)

Left - Today, 5 October 1992, above - newspaper not known


Guernsey Post First Day Cover, 30 January 2003,
ęGuernsey Post Limited 2003 - thanks to Alan Marks

My Own Searches

I was always aware of the death of my father, stories told about him and the terrible impact on my mother all her life, but never went further. Post-war life had to be lived, education and jobs found, own family established. Anyway, I thought it would be far too painful for my mother. Then in my 40's, having taken a new direction in life - walking out of industry to eventually find a more satisfying life, I realised I wanted to know more about him, and even more, discovered I needed to mourn him in my own right. My mother had lost her husband, but I had lost a father. I knew the broad details of his naval career and the loss of HMS Charybdis, but wanted to know more - what was he doing in the English Channel off the coast of France in late 1943 at this stage in the mightiest of human conflicts.

Up to that time, I thought I knew a lot about World War 2 and the sea from my avid reading as a kid, but watching the film "Battle of Midway" realised just how little I did know. I started researching and ended up writing a book covering all the major British warships lost, and the military and political background at the time, and laying it out across four geographical areas, month-by-month. The result was "The War at Sea: Royal & Dominion Navy Actions in World War 2" published by Ian Allan in 1989, and from which the Naval-History.Net website developed.

From this, I learnt just how truly vast and complex was World War 2, how many British and other ships were lost, and how many men died on each side. My father and Charybdis were tiny, tiny parts of the jigsaw, very important to me, but now seen in perspective. Having found out more about the war, I wanted to discover more about him from others who might have shared his experiences and even known him. A request for information in the  "Over To You" section of the January 1994 edition of "Navy News" brought a number of gratifying replies, but I start with an earlier meeting:



John Parker, Cardiff, HMS Maori


Met him in c 1985 - served in Maori. He was on the range finder during the Bismarck and the Italian cruiser sinkings, and described how huge Bismarck looked. After Maori was sunk in Malta, he dived for the duty free cigarettes on board.



Ben Taylor, Somerset, HMS Excellent, Whale Island


Ex-Ordnance Artificer, also diver. In 1937, trained with my father at Whale Island. My father was an ex-apprentice, outside entry, and a good swimmer and diver. Remembers on one trip out from Whale Island, my father making a spectacular dive from the 10 meter board. Heard he had also become a naval diver, and described him as a very pleasant man, with a terrific sense of humour.


Mr Taylor went on to serve in China from 1938-June 1939, transfered to destroyer Wolverine until March 1941, and later HMS Hasty. Spent rest of the war as a salvage diver in the Med. Left RN in 1947.



Mr G Ransome, Manchester, HMS Maori,


Sent me her movements from 1938 to 1940.



Mr Alfred G Woonton OBE, Vice President, The Royal Naval Association, HMS Maori


Yeoman of Signals on Maori from 1938 until 1942. Sent me her career.



Mr Tommy Smith, Altrincham, Cheshire, HMS Maori


Mr Smith joined as a Boy in 1932. On Maori from 1938-42, then into Coastal Forces. Ordnance Artificer maintaining the guns.


Maori completed in 1938, sailed for Malta, and onto Marseilles, Cyprus etc. In Alexandria when war broke out. Convoys through Suez, and in October 1939 sailed for Portland, arriving the day Royal Oak sunk. At sea 99 days during Norwegian Campaign, bombed and damaged at Namsos on 2nd May 1940. Remembers my father as on the slim side, an Ordnance Artificer in the PO's mess.



Mr Howells, Magor, Gwent, HMS Maori


Served on Maori in Communications Branch from December 1938 until her sinking in 1942. Sailed on 3/1/39 from Portland for the Med; based at Malta for 8 months until 8/39. Working-up trials out of Malta. In August, sailed to Instanbul, then on to Alexandria, guardship there on 3/9/39. Later returned to Portland for patrols in Icelandic waters, East convoys, and Norway convoys. In May 1940, off Norway - mainly Namsos. First attacks by Ju87's and Ju88's. Sister ship Afridi and French Bison sunk, Maori later damaged.


Doesn't remember my father as in different branch and not in PO's mess.


After Maori sunk in 1942, Mr Howells spent 12 months at Malta Signal Station, then cruiser Orion at Sicily and Salerno, Russian convoys in Bulldog, then later to Colombo and India for invasion of Malaya. Left RN in 1946.



Mr Finch, Gloucester, HMS Maori


In June 1940, relieved my father as Hostilities Only Ordnance Artificer on HMS Maori just after Norwegian Campaign. George had recently made CPO, and as a regular, his experience was wanted elsewhere. Spent a month taking over. Main duty was mechanical maintenance of main armament 4.7's. Needed cleaning, repairing, and de-rusting all the time because of sea damage and corrosion.


Believed Maori had just arrived at Scapa Flow from Liverpool. Went out on a couple of trips, including to help rescue a damaged sub. Mr Finch went on to serve in Maori until she was sunk in Malta.


Described my father as tough and strong, full of energy, and forthright, got his point over. Recounted story of 400lb depth charge breaking lose, and my father taking charge of the lashing down.



Mr Barker, Derbyshire - HMS Charybdis


Born 1922, served in Charybdis from Nov 1941-Oct 1943, just before she was sunk. He had suffered eye damage from flashback in the Med, and was in Stonehouse Hospital at the time of the sinking, temporarily blinded.


Charybdis had an original complement of 6 (later expanded) ordnance staff - one each for A, B, X and Y turrets, secondary armament, and a warrant officer on the bridge. My father was responsible for A turret, including the ammo hoists and Mr Barker for Y turret. A and B were manned by RN, X and Y by RM's. Charybdis had one of the best radars, with 15 minutes warning of aircraft attack, hence the bat in her crest. All the 4.5's were controlled by main director.


CPO's were Ordnance Artificers 3 (OA3), PO's were OA4, and Leading Seamen were OA5. Originally CPO's and PO's were in own messes, but because of resentment at young Hostility Only OA4's, they all later messed in a separate Artisans mess. Knew my father as an older, knowledgeable man. OA's action station was with their turret, ready to sort out any problems, and carry out repairs eg hydraulic power, ammo hoists etc.


Chances are my father was on deck during her last action, and got over the side. Sadly, few men survived the night - eg one carley float started with 60 men holding on, and ended the night with six because of the heavy swell and cold English Channel in October. Dad may have been washed ashore - many were - but not identified


Mr Barker was invalided out in 1945, and registered blind in 1954. He never recovered from his own Charybdis experiences.



Mrs Julie Meyler, Winchester - HMS Charybdis


Fiancee was Ordnance Artificer Peter Fisher, who was killed aged 20


I was also in touch with the Charydis Association at this time, and they kindly sent me two booklets, both of which are now online:

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


Her Loss and Commemoration, by the Charybdis Association

   together with a document from the Naval Intelligence Division, but I do not know who sent me this:

Account of Her Loss from Captured German Archives

Thought-provoking Details in Closing

I include the following without comment, but in doing so, I am reminded of Hamlet's words - "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy"


From my father's sister Edna and her husband Fred in 1994


They visited Guernsey some years ago for one of the Charybdis reunions - took photos which she sent to (sister) Thelma. Fred spoke to some men who knew dad. They claim his turret was over one of the torpedo hits, and that he was killed instantly. (According to my data, only the second hit in the after engine room could have destroyed X turret. According to Mr Barker above, dad was responsible for A turret - however he could have been temporarily in X turret. Probably, I'll never know).


Edna went on to say that dad was a cold water, long distance swimmer. Land was in sight (from one of the Carley floats), the October water would not have been too cold for him, and he would have made it ashore.


On the night of the Charybdis sinking, Grandad and Grandma Smith were living at 94 Tintern Avenue, Westcliff, Essex. Around midnight, Grandad woke up and saw my father in white overalls, standing at the bedroom door. On leave, he would have been in uniform. Grandad (a very down to earth sailor) got Grandma up, and they searched the house for him. Not finding him, Grandad said that George was dead.


The next day, Edna, living at the Crescent, Shoeburyness, read that an (unnamed) British cruiser had been torpedoed in the Channel. Although she didn't know where my father was serving, she announced to Fred that George was dead and cried.



My own experience

I lost touch with my father's family in the 1950's, then in late 1981 started to track them down. My first, sad discovery, was to find that my Grandfather was dead and his ashes scattered at the Southend, Essex Crematorium. Sitting down under a nearby tree, I realised it was the anniversary of my father's death on 23rd October 1943.



Much missed by Gordon and both families



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