The Toothless Terrors - During the 1920s the Royal Navy had been entangled in a new arms race, not in capital ships, whose total tonnage was limited by the Washington Treaty but in cruisers. Cruisers became the stars of naval power building programs. All were originally called light cruisers but then the term heavy cruisers was applied to warships that carried guns greater than 6.1-inch, most common the 8-inch "Treaty Cruiser". The only limit on these was individual ship displacement, limited to 10,000 tons and guns not to exceed 8-inches. As a consequence the naval powers built their ships up to the limits and the Royal Navy followed suit.
It was not long before the Royal Navy realized that this development did not suit their policy. With possessions scattered throughout the world, the Royal Navy needed a large number of cruisers, for trade protection, not cruisers of a large size, as the expensive County Class proved to be. Britain tried talking other powers into building smaller cruisers but no avail. Neither Japan, nor the United States had the size of overseas possessions as did Britain. Both of these powers, eyeing each other, wanted the most powerful warships that could nominally be built with treaty limits. So Britain continued to build the 8-inch cruiser, all the while grumbling that she was being forced to do so be the intransigence of the other powers.
By the 1930s in the midst of the Great Depression, Britain could no longer afford the large, expensive, Type A (as the Counties were called) cruiser. In a draconian budget cut, the last two of the County Class, to be named Surrey and Northumberland, were entirely eliminated in 1929. The 1930 London Conference stopped further building of 8-inch gun cruisers by the Royal Navy and none were ever built again. This follow up to the 1922 Washington Treaty, ended the heavy cruiser building race among the signatories by placing total limits on heavy cruisers but started a naval race in light cruisers, resulting in originally with fifteen 6-inch guns. Although the Royal Navy eventually followed suit with the design of the Town Class with twelve 6-inch guns, she did have a breathing space to build what she needed, cruisers of moderate to small dimensions, armed with the 6-inch gun.
The first light cruiser to be laid down in over a decade for the Royal Navy was HMS Leander of 6,907 to 7,286 tons light with eight 6-inch guns. This was the type of ship that the Admiralty had wanted for some time. A medium size cruiser that could be built in large numbers, especially since the London Treaty imposed a cap on total cruiser tonnage. The five Leanders and three Australian Modified Leanders were followed by an even smaller cruiser design. The five ships of the Arthusa Class with a displacement of 5,031 to 5,458 tons light and mounting six 6-inch guns.
With the Town Class the Royal Navy went back to larger cruisers in an effort to compete with the large American and Japanese cruisers but still wanted to build more small cruisers. In 1934 there was a discussion among the chief commanders of the Royal Navy on what characteristics that they thought would be most beneficial in a new small cruiser. The Commander of the Mediterranean fleet was very emphatic that a heavy anti-aircraft armament was mandated. His ideal was a ship of 3,500 tons mounting twelve 4.7-inch guns, and a speed of 26 knots, not for trade protection but for fleet AA defense. Other commanders placed more emphasis of surface action fire power, insisting that a new design must be able to protect trade routes, rather than always be part of the fleet, capable of only a specialized role. In the end there was a compromise.
The compromise blended the heavy anti-aircraft armament characteristic with the surface action fire power requirement with a 5,300 ton design incorporating dual purpose guns, capable of AA fleet defense with surface action fire power, the Dido Class. The armament selected for this new class was the 5.25-inch twin dual purpose mount. Each of the Dido Class cruisers was to receive five of these mounts, three forward and two aft. On April 15, 1937 five of the new class were ordered as part of the 1936 program. Two more were added in the 1937 program and another three under the 1938 program. With the world coming closer to war the 1939 program included three of the class, with another three being added in the 1939 Emergency Programme. However, a logistical problem arose that impacted the construction of many of the Dido Class and the two ships of the 1938 program in particular, a shortage of 5.25-inch gun mounts.
With the resumption of full building, including battleships, in the late 1930s, the Royal Navy started designing and building battleships for the first time in a decade. The new King George V Class was designed for each ship to have eight 5.25-inch twin mounts as secondary. This was the same gun design scheduled for the Didos. It proved impossible to build enough of these mounts to satisfying the gun mount requirements of the KGV Class and the Didos. In 1939 the battleships were given the priority. Some of the original Didos did not receive their full complement of five 5.25-inch mounts because of the gun’s shortage. Of the first four cruisers to complete, three of them only carried four 5.25-inch twin turrets, sacrificing C turret because of the lack of mounts.
The shortage came to a head with two of the ships of the 1938 Programme, the Charybdis and Scylla. There were no 5.25-inch mounts available for their armament. Because they were now urgently needed, it was decided to substitute armament with these two. Both received eight 4.5-inch guns Mk. III, mounted in twin mounts. This was the same type of armament utilized in the carrier Ark Royal and was of new design. Because of the light armament, the two cruisers became known as the "Toothless Terrors". Since this mount was smaller and lighter than the 5.25-inch mount and since they would only carry four of these mounts, it was decided to use the space and weight saved to equip these two as flagships to lead destroyer groups. These two were given a more bulky superstructure forward to accommodate the increased crew size needed for a flagship. Another advantage was that they had more room to fit the increasing proliferation of radar sets, which were coming into use in the Royal Navy. The third ship of the 1938 Programme, HMS Cleopatra, did not receive the radical armament change.
Of the two Charybdis completed first, on December 3, 1941. HMS Scylla was finished six months later on June 12, 1942. The Scylla had been laid down at Scotts Shipyard on April 19, 1939 and launched on July 24, 1940. The two sisters varied in their smaller armament fittings. In addition to the eight 4.5-inch guns and two eight-barreled 2 pdr pom-pom mounts, carried by each ship, Charybdis carried one 4-inch Mk. V, four Oerlikon 20mm and two single 2 pdr. Scylla had the four 4.5-inch twin mounts and two eight-barreled pom-pom mounts, plus eight Oerlikon 20mm guns. There were also some small differences in superstructure arrangements between these two. Both were completed with one WA.281, two RA.285 and two RA.282 radars. In 1942 Charybdis also received the WS 272 surface warning radar low on the foremast. Charybdis also had her armament changed in 1942 when she landed her single 4-inch and two single 2 pdr guns and added six Oerlikon 20mm guns.
Charybdiswas with the Home Fleet until April 1942, when she was dispatched to Gibraltar to join Force H. In June 1942 the intensity of combat had reached its height in the Mediterranean Sea. The crucial island of Malta was being starved. The Royal Navy organized a joint mission, Operation Harpoon from Gibraltar and Operation Vigorous from Alexandria, to bring supplies into the besieged island. Charybdis was part of Force H, escorting the five transports and one oiler leaving from Gibraltar. They departed on June 12 but the main escort force, including Charybdis, turned back west at the "narrows" between Sicily and North Africa. The convoy was then assaulted by Italian cruisers and German bombers. Only two merchant ships made it to Malta and the Alexandria convoy turned back.
In August another relief convoy for Malta was launched in Operation Pedestal. Charybdis was part of the support force under Operation Beserk. The mission of Charybdis was to provide anti-aircraft fire for the carrier, HMS Eagle. Charybdis was close alongside Eagle, when the U-73 put four torpedoes into the carrier. The cruiser went to attack the U-Boat but made no contact and the U-73 left the scene of the sinking carrier.
In November 1942 Charybdis joined Force O to support the American "Torch" landings in northwest Africa. For the first time she worked with her fellow "Toothless Terror", the HMS Scylla. The next significant action was to support the Salerno landings n September 1943 but returned to the Home Fleet immediately afterwards.
Charybdiswas lost on October 23, 1943. While operating in the English Channel, between Ushant and the Channel Islands on an offensive sweep, she was torpedoed by the German torpedo boats TA-23 and TA-27. She was first struck on the port side boiler room and developed a 20 degree list. Then, 10 minutes later, she was struck a second time on the port side after engine room. The list went to 50 degrees in 5 minutes and the upper deck was awash up to the forecastle break as she went down by the stern. She hung up almost in a vertical position for 30 minutes before making her final plunge.
In his book, Hold The Narrow Sea, Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939-1945, Peter C. Smith devotes an entire chapter to this incident. Chapter 15 is entitled "The Disaster of ‘Operation Tunnel". The start of the chapter states, "We must turn to examine one of the most unhappy disasters to befall the Royal Navy in the Narrow Sea during World War II. The Official Historian described it later as a ‘setback’; one of the destroyer skippers who was there later put in his memoirs his opinion that it was ‘…the classic balzup of the war…’ It would appear that the latter description is the most apt!" (Hold The Narrow Sea, Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939-1945, Peter C. Smith, at page 184) The British force of Charybdis and six destroyers went on an offensive sweep to intercept German coastal traffic but used the same tactics that had been used time and time again. The German forces had noticed this and incorporated the British tactics in their plans. Charybdis had spent her time operating in the Mediterranean, operating as an AA ship. She had not been on a night offensive sweep before and had the wrong armament for it. "She therefore had no experience, and certainly very little practice, of surface actions. Her armament was designed to combat enemy bombers and was smaller than that carried by most destroyers. It was certainly not the normal cruiser type of main armament, which was expected to engage the German destroyers at long range as planned in ‘Tunnel’. To send ‘a cruiser’ was not sufficient; it had to be the right type of cruiser." (Hold The Narrow Sea, Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939-1945, Peter C. Smith, at page 188)British warships failed to exchange critical information. The Royal Navy intended to surprise the Kriegsmarine in Operation Tunnel but the result was the opposite and Charybdis and destroyer, Limbourne, which had to be scuttled after taking a torpedo from TA-22 in the same 18 torpedo salvo that took care of Charybdis.
"Conduct of personnel on Carley rafts, floatnets and in the water was good, and singing was organized,’ an officer survivor’s report stated. ‘Difficulty was experienced with overcrowding of Carley rafts. The rescuing destroyers did very well indeed, and men from their crews frequently entered the water to assist in rescuing men who had become weak. I think a good many men were drowned owing to the length of time, of necessity, spent in the cold water.’ Survivors of the Charybdis were 4 officers and 103 ratings. The bodies of 1 officer and 63 ratings were recovered, and 369 ratings and 29 officers were posted as missing, presumed killed. The bodies of some ratings were washed ashore on Guernsey and buried with full naval honours. More than 700 wreaths were sent by inhabitants, and 3,000 people of the small island assembled at the cemetery…Let it be set on record that the German broadcast further stated: ‘These British sailors, killed in knightly combat, were buried by the German armed forces in a manner worthy of soldiers. Simple ceremonies took place at cemeteries in Guernsey and Jersey. German officers and British Cannel Islanders were present. After the church service, a German naval officer spoke at the graves, paying homage with a wreath. Sailors of the German Navy fired a salvo in honour of these dead Englishmen." (The King’s Cruisers, by Gordon Holman, at page 239-240)
After commissioning in June 1942 Scylla was assigned duty in the Arctic, supporting Russia bound convoys. In October she was recalled and sent south to support Operation Torch, the American invasion of North Africa in November 1942, as part of Force O, along with sister Charybdis. In December she was cruising the Bay of Biscay looking for German blockade-runners. In this capacity, she intercepted the German blockade-runner Rhakotis on January 1, 1943. The next month she went back to Arctic duty until recalled for anti-submarine operations in the Bay of Biscay in June 1943. In September 1943 Scylla again joined Charybdis in supporting the landings at Salerno. From October 1943 until April 1944, she was a flagship for escort carrier operations in the Atlantic.
In 1944 Scylla added six 20mm twin mounts. For D-Day Scylla held the honor of being the flagship for Eastern Task Group, which provided fire support for the three British beaches of Gold, Sword and Juno. On June 23, 1944 Scylla hit a mine off of Normandy. The explosion was under the starboard side of the after engine room. Extensive buckling occurred and the shock caused extensive damage to machinery and turbines. After 5 hours she got underway but both torpedo mounts, directors for pom-pom mounts, after control position, both gyro compasses and most of the radar were not operational. When she received heavy damage off of Normandy after the invasion, she was sent back for repairs and it was proposed to rearm her with 5.25-inch twin mounts or alternatively 5-inch/38 American design DP guns. However, this was not done.
She received some patch up repairs but was never fully repaired. When a full survey of the damage sustained by Scylla was conducted, it was discovered that the damage was far more extensive than originally realized. She was beyond economic repair as a warship but some thought was given to converting her to a Royal yacht. This too was shelved and from 1948 to 1950 she was used in target trials. Scylla went to the scrapyard in 1950. When Scylla was completed in June 1942, she was painted in an Admiralty Intermediate disruptive camouflage. She wore this paint scheme throughout her active career, until withdrawn from active service in 1944, due to her damage at Normandy. (History from British Cruisers of World War Two by Alan Raven and John Roberts;Cruisers of World War Two, An International Encyclopedia by M.J. Whitley ; Dido Class Cruisers, Ensign 2 by Alan Raven and H. Trevor Lenton; Hold The Narrow Sea, Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939-1945, Peter C. Smith; The King’s Cruisers, by Gordon Holman; Pedestal: the Malta Convoy of August 1942, by Peter C. Smith)
The WSW HMS Scylla
The first things that you notice about the WSW Scylla are the circular gun positions. Each of the 4.5-inch gun mounts have circular solid splinter shielding protecting the open back gun mounts. The casting on these positions are extremely thin and are almost translucent. The area around the B gun position is especially attractive. The interior is lined with ten vertical supports and the forward part of the deck has the characteristically British anti-spray shield with very fine support braces. This detail is accentuated by the extremely short forecastle and piled-up forward superstructure, which was the result of the additional accommodations provided for flag staff.
The deck is very clean in that there is very little clutter as is frequently found in many designs. You’ll find the standard bollards and cleats and some ship specific detail. The class was designed to have a secondary anti-submarine mission so there is a slanted depth charge rack, releasing over the port side of the quarterdeck, which is shorter than the standard Dido. There are a number of support posts for different armament and equipment platforms. There are two sets of breakwaters on the deck, which are somewhat different from the norm. Most breakwaters are single piece Vs with walkways allowing passage to the forecastle. They are normally found at the forecastle and break the water impetus that can cascade over the bow in heavy weather. With the Scylla they are not complete Vs but instead are a series of triangles jutting from the superstructure. The extreme length of the superstructure and gun position shielding passes beyond the normal position where this structure is normally placed. Therefore there is only a truncated version, jutting from the superstructure. There is another set of the truncated structures just forward of the break between the forecastle deck and the quarterdeck level. All of the breakwaters are crisp and thin.
Most of the detail is found on the forecastle. There are nice winches, two forward and one at the stern. The anchor chain is truly three dimensional and not the flat resin chain sometimes found in kits. The hull sides are also fairly smooth. The Dido Class had a very distinctive armor belt over the machinery spaces, which is present with a vertical strake forward. Also present is the significant knuckle, which starts level with the forward superstructure and runs to the cutwater. This knuckle is very prominent and lends interest to the model. The anchors are extraordinarily well done. It is with these mundane items that WSW has stretched the envelope in resin casting. They are not just flush with the sides of the hull. They jut outward and have a large degree of under-cutting.
Scylla Smaller Parts
The parts on the wafer are additional decks. The after superstructure deck has the X gun position. This position has all of the nice splinter shielding supports that are also found in the B position on the hull casting. This deck is very busy with different ventilators, Oerlikon positions with ammunition ready boxes, winches, deck coaming, passage walkways and splinter shielding. The amidships 01 deck is also there with ventilators, boat chocks and more Oerlikon and equipment positions. The top bridge deck has deeply inset side and bridge face windows. These should really take glazing well.
The resin runners contain all of the smallest parts. WSW provides ten single mount Oerlikon 20mm guns. Each gun is in two parts, the gun and the gunshield/base. Another runner has the torpedo tubes, searchlights, signal lights, gun directors, galley exhaust pipe and ventilator funnels. The torpedo tubes are very well done and the galley exhaust pipe adds an interesting architectural touch. It runs from the aft superstructure into the starboard base of the aft funnel. Another runner has the davits, ship’s boats and carley floats. All of these parts are up to the standard WSW quality but don’t break new ground.
Must Have & Nice to Have
Since the WSW Scylla does not come with photo-etch, it might be advisable to procure some from a third party. White Ensign Models has a brass photo-etch fret for their HMS Dido and this is a good place to start. Very reasonably priced at $3.94. It has some class specific items but does not include a boat crane or railings. Railings are easy to acquire, if you don’t already have a supply in stock but the boat crane is a specialized item. Check the photographs of other RN frets to find the one closest to matching the pattern.
The WSW HMS Scylla is now available from Pacific Front