The Channel Dash
12 February 1942

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.

HMS Worcester by Montagu Dawson
HMS Worcester launches her assault on the pocket battle ships; a painting by Montague Dawson.
Montague Dawson (1890-1973) served as a Lieutenant in the RNVR during the First World War and achieved artistic success with his paintings of large clipper ships
By courtesy of Felix Rosenstiel’s Widow & Son, London
Estate of Montague Dawson

The report of Lt Cdr John E. Coates RN, the CO of HMS Worcester

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.

Navy List, February 1942, with officers in HMS Worcester in February 1942
Navy List for February 1942
Sub Lt J.F.N. Wedge briefly describes his fellow officers
 on the Home Page and their future  after leaving Worcester

"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

"Then 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

"Just 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."

Harold 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
HMS Worcester
Courtesy of Bill Wedge

Sub Lt J.F.N. "Bill" Wedge, RNVR

Bill WedgeJohn 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 obituary to 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 target.  

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 German.

"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.

Bill Wedge, 10 June 2007 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 Worcester Lieut 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
Vic Green, Wireman
Courtesy of Vic Green Jnr

60th Anniversary of Channel DashHarold "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 Snt 1944
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.

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 do.

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 one.

By now it was completely dark. Campbell had been 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 make 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? 

When the 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 time round.

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."

Read Harold Barnett's vivid description of Worcester's part in the evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk 

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.

Burt Woodfords Report, Conclusions
The Conclusions and recommendations made by Burt Woodford in his report
Worcester returning to Harwich after Operation Fuller
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.

HMS Worcester: W Class Destroyer – Shell Damage
These plans are contained in Shell and Bomb damage to HMS Worcester and other ships (ADM 267/106)

Shell damage to HMS Worcester, starboard side
Shell damage to Port side HMS Worcester

More than half the ship's company were killed or injured - 27 were killed or died later of their wounds  and 46 were injured
Their names are contained in the list compiled by Surg Lt David C. Jackson RNVR
HMS Worcester was under repair for fourteen weeks and during that time the city of Worcester on the River Severn raised 769,000 during a "Warships Week" National Savings programme to adopt HMS Worcester

Contemporary press reports on the action

Press cuttings

To view and read the Press Cuttings on left full size
double click on the image

A poem by Sub Lt John Bill Wedge RNVR


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.

For more of Bill Wedge's wartime poems
see his blog

Wreath laying, HMS Worcester & Chasnnel Dash AnniversaryChannel Dash Anniversary
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.

One of the better accounts of the part played by the V & Ws can be seen on the website of HMS Wildfire, the shore base at Sheerness
news of future events see the website of The Channel Dash Association.

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Worcester you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link:

If you have stories or photographs of HMS Worcester you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Vic Green

Return to the Home Page for HMS Worcester

Return to the Home Page of the V & W Destroyer Association

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