At the end of 1941 the pocket
battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau together with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen
had gathered at Brest where they could put to sea and wreak carnage
upon the Atlantic convoys. They were within range of Bomber
Command and were subjected to continual bombing raids which failed to
sink them but prevented them from putting to sea. The
Admiralty believed Hitler would decide to move these ships back to
Germany for refitting and then send them to Norway, which he considered
the pivotal area, and began to make plans to intercept them, which
became known as Operation Fuller.
The German High Command came to the same conclusion and decided that
the best route for the ships to take would be the most direct one,
through the English Channel, and proceeded to make plans for Operation Cerberus.
This page focuses on the part played by HMS Worcester in Operation Fuller,
the code name for the operation to intercept and sink the German
warships on their Channel Dash through the Straits of Dover, but if you
have not already done so you should start by reading the overview of the operation
describing the attack by five MTB based at Dover, the suicidal attack
by the Fleet Air Arm's Swordfish biplanes the "stringbags" with
a single torpedo, which were all shot down and the planning and
execution of the attack by the six V & W Class destroyers in the
16th and 21st Destroyer Flotillas.
Lt.Cdr. Ernest Colin Coats Report of action with enemy Battle Cruisers on the 12 February 1942 (ADM 358/4029) is also included in Captain (D) Report of Proceedings (ADM 199/620) as
Enclosure 3 . His report begins "it is regretted that records made
previous to sighting the enemy were lost and that none were possible
later owing to damage and casualties. The narrative is, therefore,
without Times, Bearings and Courses". The report of the part played by HMS Worcester in the action (ADM 358/4029) is in the National Archives at Kew but can be seen as a PDF on this website.
"The Surgeon's Tale" by Surg Lt David C. Jackson RNVR
The most detailed first hand account was written by Surg Lt David C. Jackson RNVR and was originally published in Blackwood's Magazine in the 1950s and republished in his book One Ship, One Company(GS Publishing, 1996) but for copyright reasons can not be reproduced
in full on this website. The following brief extracts may
encourage you to obtain a copy of the book (which is out of print and
expensive) or the article.
First sighting of the Enemy
the mist cleared a little, or a rain squall passed, and about five
miles away I could see two big ships steaming fast on a course
converging very slightly with our own. My
first thought was that the ships on the same course as ourselves must
be our own, but a moment later I realised that we had no ships that
looked like these, and turning to look across at the other destroyers I
saw the Mackay's battle ensign hoisted, and then he opened fire
with her forward guns. It
was time to get under cover, but in those few moments I had seen
something to remember always - enemy battleships in sight, and the
White Ensigns streaming, taut, defiant and glorious above the angry
smoke and flame of British guns at sea."
The Attack Our port division attacked the Gneisenau.
The visibility was bad and the range was then about four miles. Almost
at once the destroyers came under heavy fire from everything the enemy
had, but by a miracle there were no hits; in fact in the whole attack
the Worcester was the only ship to be hit. What
happened to the German destroyers I never knew, but for some
extraordinary reason they did not counter-attack and try to repel the
British destroyers. Instead they kept out of the way, and we had a
clear approach. The range must have closed very rapidly, and at about
3,000 yards the Campbell and the Vivacious turned away to port and fired their torpedoes. After her two leaders turned, the Worcester
held on towards the enemy. At just over 2,000 yards she too turned away
to port to fire her torpedoes, and as she turned to fire she was hit."
Worcester's Return To Harwich
before dawn I awoke to find a very weary looking Number One standing in
the doorway. “How are we doing?” I asked and his reply was the most
cheering words I ever heard “Fine, we’re just coming up to the Sunk
Light Vessel.” So we were almost home! I
cannot remember much about the rest of our approach nor just what time
it was when at last we were steaming up the harbour. The ship must have
been a sight to see, still listing heavily, full of holes, steam
issuing from odd places and the broken mast leaning back against the
funnel with the battle ensign still at the mast head. Slowly
she steamed right up the anchorage and she steamed alone and without
help for although two tugs were waiting they lay off until the time
came for berthing, as we came up among the ships we saw that they had
cleared lower decks, their ship’s companies were fallen in aft and as
we drew abreast of each they cheered and cheered."
Barnett ERA describes below how Commissioned Engineer Hugh Griffiths RN
and his team in the Engine Room saved the ship by getting up steam
enabling her to make a triumphant return to Harwich.
HMS Worcester Courtesy of Bill Wedge
Sub Lt J.F.N. "Bill" Wedge, RNVR
John F.N.Wedge was born on 13 July 1921
and has been known since birth as Bill. He joined Barclay's Bank in
August 1938 and a year later "finally managed to get on the RNVR
waiting list". He was mobilised in September 1939 and trained as a
Telegraphist. He served in the minesweeper HMT Norse, in the Thames estuary and elsewhere, from March 1940 to February 1941. After officer training he joined HMS Worcester as a Midshipman in May 1941.
This account of the part played by HMS Worcester in the Channel Dash was first published in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association. He was the last surviving officer in Worcester who took part in the Channel Dash when he died on Monday 6 January 2019 at the age of 98. Read Bill Wedge's obituaryto find out more about his wartime service in HMT Norse, HMS Worcester and the Captain Class Frigate, HMS Garlies.
"Following a boiler clean alongside at Parkeston Quay, we had been
coming to 15 minutes notice for steam each evening, though at my lowly
level I did not know why. It was therefore something of a welcome
change that the 16th destroyer flotilla sailed on the morning of the
12th February for gunnery practice at sea with a tug-towed
As Officer of quarters, Pom-Poms, mine was a passive role, but my
mental peace was severely shattered when Sub' Lieut; Bill Bowmer
R.N.V.R. Came down from the bridge to say "Roll on my *****
V.C."Proceed in execution of previous orders." We are to intercept the
pocket battle ships!!!
I went down the hatch in the iron deck to my cabin to get my bible, which fell open at an agreeable reassuring passage.
We crashed our way at full speed through a choppy sea under low cloud,
with little said, aircraft appeared through the clouds every now and
again, mainly British and some apparently of the opinion that we were
"Enemy In sight" battle ensign hoisted, and a tense silence at the
pom-poms which had earlier been in action against threatening aircraft.
Dark shapes in the misty distance and our 4.7's began firing and the
flotilla attacked. As I recollect Worcester
was centre ship of the five and thus became the main target for the
enemy. The others released their torpedoes, but Lt, Comdr., E.C.
'Dreamy' Coats R.N. pressed on for what seemed an eternity before
firing our torpedoes. The last RDF (Radio Direction Finder) reading was
just over 2,000 yards.
We were already being hit, but it was a relief at least to be turning
away. However we continued to be straddled and hit and quite shortly we
were lying stopped. The shelling ceased. In the silence which followed
no one appeared to move. From the Pom-Pom it seemed inconceivable that
anyone on the bridge could still be alive, given the battering that the
structure had taken. I walked aft to the twelve pounder, which had been
hit. Gunner 'T' L.G.C. Wellman R.N. was lying on the deck, conscious
and not too badly wounded. For a moment I thought he and I were the
only Officers left alive, but miraculously our Number one Lieut Anthony
Taudevi R.N.V.R appeared, and then began to take order, unhappily not
before some people had gone over the side.
As we wallowed, a Junkers 88 flew above, firing recognition flares,
then later an R.A.F. plane dropped torpedoes, aimed at us!
Quiet bodies lay in flats, and Surgeon Lieut D.C. Jackson R.N.V.R. And
the S.B.A. (Sick Bay Attendant) Shelley worked heroically on the
wounded in various parts of the ship.
The Chief Commissioned Engineer, Hugh Griffiths RN, and his team were
achieving miracles and an engine started turning; two destroyers
approached, Vivacious and Campbell
(not German ones sent to finish us off as I had feared) and rescued
some of the survivors from the sea. On satisfying himself (Captain Mark
Pizey in the Campbell, the
flotilla leader) that we were under way they returned to Harwich to
replenish their torpedoes etc. Later, we lost power again and
languished very anxiously in the dark before the engine room again
triumphed. Then slowly but surely we made our way home to Harwich.
It had been a long, cold and a very uncomfortable night on the
Pom-Poms, and throughout the ship. As we approached land a 16th
Destroyer Flotilla, Hunt Class destroyer, Hambledon
appeared and offered assistance, this was proudly turned down by the
Captain who indicated that we had managed so far on our own and would
like to finish the job.
Alongside at Parkeston and after the sad disembarkation of the dead and
wounded, we were all checked over by a medical team. I was completely
deaf for a time, someone even tried semaphore to talk to me! Incongruously, most of my hearing returned sufficiently to play word games that evening in the Railway Hotel with Bill Bowser and Sub Lt. Guy Agard-Butler R.N. along with Beatrice Lilly, her agent and her sister, after they had performed at an E.N.S.A. concert.
I left Worcester a few days after the action. We brought her up
the Thames to a ship repair dockyard and, apart from No 1 and the Chief
Engineer, we were sent on leave immediately.
Among those killed was telegraphist Denis Gibson in the W/T office
which was in part of the Bridge structure that had been so badly
damaged. Denis and I had trained together at the beginning of the war
after mobilisation of the R.N.V.R.
Of the officers of WorcesterLieut W.F.L. Winterbottom R.N. was later
to lose his life in a submarine. Guy Agard-Butler died whilst serving
in the Fleet Air Arm at Gibraltar and Bill Bowmer was lost in HMS Martin
off the North African Coast. 'Dreamy' Coats became a Commander and went
to a shore job. Anthony Taudevin eventually commanded a 'Captain' Class
frigate as a Lieut Cmdr R.N.V.R. 'Doc' David Jackson went on to HMS Dolphin and after the war returned to Australia to practice in Brisbane. It was there that he wrote the book One Ship, One Company (1996) which is a history of all the seven R.N. Ships named 'Worcester' and his own fascinating account of the 'Channel Dash'." Bill Wedge served in HMS Mistral
from March to July 1942 while she was based at the Isle of Arran as a
training and as an FAA target ship. He suffered a "war injury" when he
broke his leg playing Rugby and in November joined HMS Iron Duke, a depot ship at Scapa. In August 1943 he was sent to USA to join the newly built Captain Class frigate HMS Garlies, based on Belfast and operating in Western Approaches and the English Channel until June 1945. He joined HMS Wheatland
in Plymouth and went into reserve with her at Saltash. He "got engaged
to a Plymouth Boatscrew Wren to whom I am still married" and in April
1946 rejoined Barclays.
Bill Wedge autographing programmes at the innauguration of the Channel Dash Association, 10 June 2007
Vic Green, Wireman Courtesy of Vic Green Jnr
Harold "Barney" Barnett ERA (left) and Vic Green Wireman (centre)
are interviewed by Radio 4 on the 60th Anniversary of the Channel Dash in 2002
Vic Green, Wireman 1944 Courtesy of Vic Green Jnr
The Channel Dash
Harold "Barney" Barnett, Engine Room Artificer (ERA) on HMS Worcester
Barney Barnett had served under the previous Engineering Officer, Mr
Smillie, who had been killed during the Dunkirk evacuation, and
reported to the Chief ERA, Burt Woodford (see below). Commissioned
Engineer Hugh Griffiths RN was awarded the DSC for his work in bringing Worcester back to Harwich after Operation Fuller but he could not have done it without the help of the CERA, Burt Reynolds, and his team including "Barney" Barnet.
"Worcester had just completed
a boiler clean alongside at Harwich, and
on 12 February 1942 we happened to be exercising together with
our flotilla leader HMS Mackay,
Captain P.J. Wright, and two other V&Ws, Whitshed and Walpole. Captain 'D' of the 21st
flotilla was Captain Pizey and as senior Officer he was in command in
HMS Campbell, also of the
21st was Vivacious.
We were just off Harwich. I was keeping the forenoon watch. Some time
towards the end of the watch the bridge ordered an increase of rev's
and by the time I had handed over the watch, we were very close to full
power. It was about then that the skipper told us what we were about to
It seemed that we were on our way to intercept three German capital
ships off the Scheldt estuary. This meant crossing an uncharted
minefield, a risk Captain Pizey was prepared to take with his six
ships. It was a dull murky day with poor visibility. About mid
afternoon we were closed up at action stations. Word went round that we
had two big ships on the Radar at about nine miles range. Twenty
minutes later the enemy was in sight at about four miles. Walpole
had turned back earlier with engine trouble (condenseritis). an endemic
disease in V&Ws, that left just the five of us to carry out the
attack. The two large ships turned out to be Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The poor visibility had
helped to cover our approach, but we now came under heavy fire, Campbell and Vivacious who were ahead of us had
fired their torpedoes at about 3,000 yards, when out of the murk came
the Prinz Eugen.
We came under fire from her, but we set course to intercept and fire
our torpedoes at 200 yards and as we made our approach and turn we were
hit several times and 'A' & 'B' guns were put out of action. The
bridge, radio room and sick bay were badly damaged, and we were on fire
from right forward to abaft the bridge.
My action station at that time was with the forward fire and repair
party. As we started to fight the fires, we were hit and straddled by
another salvo, it seemed to me at the time that this had the effect of
reducing the fire, whether it was the deluge of water from the
straddle, or concussion from the explosion, who knows? But the fire was
reduced and the fire party was bringing it under control. Only trouble
was, the hit as we made our turn, and after firing our torpedoes, had
added to our problems, and this took me away from the fire. A shell had
entered the forward boiler room at the base of the forward funnel Port
side, it had gone across the boiler room and exploded in the Starboard
boiler water feed tank, blowing a hole in our ships side. We of course
lost all of our feed water and the boiler room started to flood. The
Stoker PO And his stoker were able to shut down main and auxiliary
steam and the isolating valves between the forward and the after boiler
rooms before evacuating. We sealed the hatches and reported the damage
and our actions to the Engineer. He sent me to the bridge to report the
damage and the situation to the Skipper.
It was then that I saw the
damage that we had suffered forward and on the bridge and the
casualties that we had sustained, they were quite
considerable. The immediate task was to secure the bulkhead
between the forward and after boiler rooms. In the after boiler room
this was in hand and I joined in when I got back from the
bridge. Shrapnel had pierced the bulkhead and water was
leaking through. We managed to plug these holes and reduce the level of
water by using hand pumps. All the damage we had suffered meant that we
had lost steam and had stopped. But now we were able to commence
raising steam again, trouble was we had no distilled water for the
boiler feed, so were forced to use salt water. "To be done only in
extreme emergency" as the engineering manual puts it. We figured we had
By now it was completely dark. Campbell
standing by us for a long time, and fought off one attack from the
R.A.F but had been ordered back to base. When we had raised
enough steam, we set course slowly back to Harwich, over the minefield
again. The next twelve to fifteen hours are a vague jumble
of memories of things we had to do. Spells at the evaporator trying to
distilled water to dilute the salt to reduce the salt damaging our
machinery. A hopeless task really, that evaporator was a temperamental
beast at the best of times, but we had to try. Spells at the throttle
whilst the other E.R.A's were off doing some other essential tasks.
Blowing down boilers to get rid of the deposits left by the salt water,
and so to keep them priming, inspecting the damaged bulkhead and
re-plugging the holes as required. There was so much to do and not many
of us on our feet to do it.
We brought the ship into
Harwich at about 1800hrs on the 13th and put her alongside at Parkeston
Quay where the base staff immediately put salvage pumps aboard as we
proceeded to shut down. They worked on tidying away the
damage and getting her reasonably seaworthy for us to take to dock,
meanwhile we were able to rest and reflect on what had overtaken
us. Our casualties were high, we had lost 27 killed or died
of their wounds on our way in, 46 seriously injures and 24 slightly
wounded. We buried our dead in the little churchyard at
Shotley close to HMS Ganges.
One poor lad had married
whilst we were on the five day boiler clean leave. I quite distinctly
heard his young wife say as his coffin was lowered into the grave,
"He'll get cold down there". There she was, sweetheart, bride, and now
widow all in about ten days, and possibly mother too before the war was
over. The white poppy wearers say we old fellows glorify war on
Remembrance Sunday. They have no idea, have they?
ship was ready, we took her into dry dock in London docks. The damage
to her was so great that it meant that she would be there for some
considerable time, so she was paid off and those not 'standing by' were
returned to depot. We came into R.N.B. Pompey on the 18th February
1942. I think of Worcester
with a great deal of affection. She was my
first ship, and I definitely 'grew up' in her. When her
story was published in the newspapers they called her "The ship that
refused to die". A great deal of effort and dedication went into
keeping her alive. In some ways I am sorry that I did not go back to
her when she sailed again. But I may not have been quite so lucky next
During our set to off Dunkirk, I was in the
engine room with the Chief who told me to keep my eye on the water
level of the drain tank. It had no practical use, because the watch
keeper was doing it anyway. It was simply giving me
something to do and to keep my mind off what was going on up top. When
we were back in Dover, I was following him around as we were shutting
down (part of learning process) he took me aside and said "You are not
to worry about what has gone on today, when this is all over and you
are back home, you'll tend to think only of the good times" for me that
is largely true, but I often think of Mr Smillie and that young widow
at Shotley in her distress. "Thanks Sid". I would not have
dared to call him that way back in 1940 - 42."
The report of the Chief ERA, Bertrand Harry Woodford (M. 32547)
The CERA was next in rank
after the Engineering Officer and often had greater practical
experience. Burt Woodford was born in 1898 at Cowes on the Isle of
Wight where his father worked at the shipbuilders, R. Samuel
Whites, which built HMS Worcester. He joined the Navy in 1915 and his first ship was HMS Argus, an early aircraft carrier converted from an Italian liner. He took over as CERA from Sid Silkins while Worcester
was under repair after Dunkirk. The previous Engineering Officer,
Warrant Engineer Mr Smillie, was killed during the Dunkirk evacuation
and the Engine Room suffered heavy losses during the Channel Dash but
C.Eng. Hugh Griffiths RN and his team saved the ship by getting up steam despite the damage to the boilers.
He was MID for his work after Worcester was mined in December 1943 and promoted to Warrant Officr at the end of the war when this photograph in dress uniform with sword was taken in a photographic studio, not the way he would have dressed when on duty in the Engine Room.
The Conclusions and recommendations made by Burt Woodford in his report
Pencil drawing by B Harman of HMS Worcester limping into Harwich on 13 February 1942
Burt Reynolds was 92 years old when he died in 1990 and the PDF of his heavily stained report
on the damage done to the Engine Room during Operation Fuller and his
recommendations was sent to me thirty years later by his Grandson,
Geoff Woodford, who also served in the Navy and retired in 2009 to work
for Babcock in the dockyard at Plymouth and is now Chief Engineer at
the Dreadnought Offices of Babcock International at Barrow-in-Furness.
Two anxious hours to contemplate bleak death At thirty knots consuming cold grey seas. Action Stations, duffel coats, tin hats — Below a throbbing engine room reprise.
Junkers aircraft bombing from the clouds Brought urgency, then “Enemy in Sight!” The forward four point sevens bellowed out Their challenge to the battlecruisers’ might. Tall shell-spouts cased her as she turned to fire Torpedoes. As they leapt, cacophony Erupted, brute bombardment wrenched apart The bridge, chewed steel in vicious gluttony.
Five minutes’ devastation. Sudden peace, Uncanny, as she wallowed without power. Miraculously the lower hull survived But Gibson, Dow and Grant, and twenty more Lay dead. Doc Jackson’s needle eased the pain Of others. Pom-poms warned the RAF away. Bizarrely, Junkers’ recognition flares Confirmed the wild confusion that day.
So, vulnerable, rolling helplessly She lay for seeming hours. Then nervous ears Rejoiced at turning screws. By fits and starts She staggered home, a frozen fifteen hours.
The ships assemble for the laying of the wreath on the anniversary of the Channel Dash
A memorial service to commemorate the 75th. anniversary of the Channel Dash on Sunday February 12th. 2017 at the 825 Squadron Memorial, Ramsgate.
Rear Admiral Keith Blount (Fleet Air Arm) attended as did
representatives of 825 Squadron, 72 Squadron RAF and civic
dignitaries. There was a
flypast by Wildcat helicopters of 825 Squadron and Tucarnos of 72
Squadron. Bill Wedge was there and Vic Green represented the V & W Destroyer Association.