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Sub-Lieutenant Hughes, R.N.V.R was Gunnery Control Officer on HMS Scylla from May 1942, before her completion, to October 1943 when she returned to the UK for bomb damage repairs and conversion to an Escort Carrier flagship.
The following extracts are from his book "Through the Waters". Copyright material, reproduced with permission gratefully received from the Estate of Robert Hughes. 'Through the Waters' was published originally in 1956 when the memories were still fresh, raw even. The book was reissued as a revised paperback 'Flagship to Murmansk' ten years later. Another volume appeared in 1990 entitled 'In Perilous Seas'. These are all out of print now. He kept in contact with many of his fellow officers, ratings, RMs, until his death in 1993.
The first tells his reactions on joining Scylla for the first time in the Clyde.
I saw the bows of a ship flaring proudly in a space between two buildings, while over a far roof a mast reached upwards. I turned towards the buildings, my pace quickened, and the whistle returned again with increased tempo and jauntiness. Standing on the jetty I viewed Scylla from a point forward of the bows for this ship was undoubtedly a light cruiser of the "Dido" class and the only ship in the fitting-out basin.
Scylla in the Clyde, mid 1942 - note 4.5in mountings Rate this photo
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The filthy water lapped against her sides, an empty paint drum touched her in awe, and a grey sky shut out the revealing light in jealousy, but the beauty of her lines could not be dimmed. Her slim bows arched out gracefully, the long forecastle sloped gently to the point where it broke to drop on to the main deck sweeping aft to the stern. Five hundred and twelve feet of slim steel hull.
From the breakwater on the forecastle the superstructure began to mount in steps--"A" gun, "B" gun, forebridge and forrard director tower. High behind this, the great steel tripod of the fore-mast climbed, taking with it a bewildering array of signal halyards and aerials, radar scanners and signal lights. Rising from the maindeck were the two streamlined funnels, delicately raked and curiously free from the encumbrances of stays and guys. On either side of the forrard funnel two large searchlights lay with bowed heads and lidded eyes. Between the funnels a long girdered boat-crane lay supine between two white-painted motorboats, and the remaining space was occupied by the menacing funnelled muzzles of two quadruple-barrelled pom-poms.
Close behind the after funnel two more searchlights lay with lowered eyes and from the main deck the tripod of the mainmast raised itself with its accompanying clutter of halyards, aerials and radar scanners. Jutting aft from the main truck of the mast was the ensign gaff, devoid as yet of the White Ensign until commissioning day.
Aft of the mainmast, the after director tower topped a deck-house which contained the wardroom and its galley, while around its base were clustered the outlines of four twenty-millimetre Oerlikon guns. An adjacent deckhouse, enclosing the Captain's quarters, was topped by the squat outline of "X" gun turret, and then "Y" gun stepped down to deck level again, and the small quarterdeck carried on to the tapering cruiser stem.
As a member of the gunnery department, the armament claimed my interest. Back in the corrugated-iron office in the shipyard, the Gunnery Officer, Lieutenant Wainwright, had pointed out to me in the Gunnery Orders Scylla's special characteristics. Instead of the ten 5.25 guns carried by "Dido" class cruisers, she was armed with eight 4.5-inch high-angle dual-purpose guns in four twin turrets. She had two gun turrets forrard instead of the usual three, None of the turrets were completely enclosed, being open at the end. Each turret was enclosed however by a high steel wall romantically called a zareba and reminiscent of African safaris protected by a thorn hedge. She was, in fact, one of the first anti-aircraft cruisers built as such, and her sister Charybdis was just coming into service after commissioning.
The next extract is a historically very interesting explanation of how anti-aircraft fire control was carried out at this time.
As May gave way to June we learned to handle the ship. Speed trials of all sorts were carried out successfully in the waters off the Isle of Arran. The guns were tested off Ailsa Craig, and clouds of gannets rose in a great white cloud as the reverberations rolled up to their cliff ledges. Scylla was handed over, and became a member of the Fleet. As such we had to learn to fight her. With this end in view the little harbour of Lamlash under the shadow of Holy Isle in Arran became our base.
Captain MacIntyre Rate this photo
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Every day we sailed on an exercise, staying at sea on occasions for night exercises, and I began my life in the director towers, sometimes in the lofty Red director high above the bridge, at other times in the more lowly Blue director aft.
Each director could control either all eight guns, or the four nearest to it. At Action Stations each director would be manned by a Control Officer and crew. Rowland's director was the Red, while mine was the Blue. During quieter periods, such as Cruising Stations, only the Red director would be manned, with Rowland and myself working watch and watch. As the degree of urgency decreased we could leave the directors for normal watchkeeping on the bridge.
The distribution of the guns to the directors was the task of the Gunnery Officer or the Air Defence Officers from the Air Defence position at the rear of the bridge. A turn of a switch could give control of the guns to either of the two directors, or another turn could give each director its own four guns. Control Officers were in constant touch with the Air Defence position and there was a close co-operation with those working there. Should the situation demand it, a Control Officer could request that all guns be put in his control if his view of an attacking aircraft indicated imminent danger to the ship.
The Air Defence Officer could indicate a target to each director by means of the target-bearing indicators. These were two immensely powerful binoculars on a power-operated mounting on each side of the Air Defence position. Pressure on a switch adjacent to them would ring a bell in the director. A pointer would swing on a dial, and on centring this pointer the target would be revealed in our sights.
The director crew numbered five, and always worked together. My crew consisted of Leading Seaman Cornish as Director Layer; Able Seaman Mead, Director Trainer; Able Seaman Andrews, Rangetaker; and Ordinary Seaman Freeman, Communication Number. Cornish and Andrews were Active Service ratings; Mead and Freeman were Hostilities Only men, the former having worked on the railways and the latter in the legal profession.
Five men were fitted closely into a circular steel tower not more than seven feet in diameter and five feet deep. Horizontally, from each side of it projected the two arms of the rangefinder, like the stalked eyes of some huge insect, while from the back the fishbone antennae of the radar aerials angled upwards. From its interior three more eyes scanned the bowl of the heavens; the telescopic sights of the Layer and Trainer, and my own binocular-type sights. In a small cockpit, below the general level, sat Andrews at his rangefinder. Ranged across the diameter of the tower were Trainer, Control Officer, and Layer, in their seats, while Freeman and his telephones occupied the back, which was sheltered by a half-canopy carrying the radar aerials. Near Cornish's right hand was a wheel which elevated the sights. In front of his disengaged eye was a bank of eight lights, one for each gun, while close to his left hand was the knurled grip of a huge pistol-like handle. As the breach of each gun closed, one of the lights would blaze, indicating that gun's readiness to fire. When the whole bank of eight lights blazed in readiness a pressure on the trigger under the pistol-grip would fire every gun electrically, and by remote control from the director.
At Mead's right hand was a large horizontal handwheel which turned the tower through a complete circle, so that it could range to every point of the compass. My binoculars moved with the two telescopes, so that with accurate laying and training, the target would always be in the centre of the sights etched in the lens. Like a scanning second hand of a watch an arrow moved in the sights, actuated by a small handwheel. With the aid of this arrow an estimate of the course of an attacking aircraft could be made. Draped over this sight, when not in use, would be the telephone headset. Completing the crew in the back of the tower was Freeman, his telephone connecting him with all the guns. Such was a high-angle director tower.
A high-angle or anti-aircraft director supplied five items of information to the computers in the transmitting station, - direction, elevation, range, speed, and course of an attacking aircraft. Mead as Trainer gave direction, Cornish, fixing the target in the cross-wire of his telescope, gave elevation, and Andrews with his delicate optical range-finder supplied the range. As Control Officer my contribution was speed and course, and these would have to be estimated. Accuracy of fire therefore depended on accuracy of estimation. This meant continual observation of the fire through a powerful telescope, the rapid calculation of adjustments, observation of their effect and then further adjustments when necessary. These adjustments were passed to the transmitting station by phone, and a telephone headset was my constant headgear, protected from the concussion of guns by great pads of sponge rubber. At the end of this line lived Band Corporal Hollier of the Royal Marine Band, in charge of the bandsmen who operated the computing table far below. In overall charge of the transmitting station was the Commissioned Gunner, Mr. Poore. On a spur of this telephone line were the radar experts who supplemented Andrews' visual rangefinding with a radar range, and in poor visibility supplied the only range available. Freeman, similarly attired in a telephone headset, was in communication with all the guns. Finally another spur of my line led to the Gunnery Officer or Air Defence Officer on the bridge. With everyone speaking together it would be chaos, but it was to bring order out of apparent chaos that we sailed continually on gunnery exercises.
The geometry of anti-aircraft gunnery is Pythagorean, in that it is concerned with the solution of right-angled triangles. On sighting an aircraft Andrews' rangefinder measures the hypotenuse, Cornish measures the angle at the base, and with these two items the computing table will work out the perpendicular or height. But no shell can travel instantaneously along that hypotenuse and destroy an aircraft. The guns must be loaded, the shell must wing through the air. So taking these facts into consideration we fire ahead of the aircraft, striving to make shell and target meet, high up in the air. It is for this collision that the Control Officer strives. He must estimate the course of the target, and its speed so that a new right-angled triangle can be predicted ahead of the target. Its hypotenuse will be the setting which will go on the fuse at the end of the shell to shatter it at that range.
Down below in the transmitting station the cams and differentials move in the computing table, the valves glow, and the intent Royal Marine Bandsmen follow with their Pointers. The measurements of the new right-angled triangles flow electrically to the guns, and they move to point ahead of the target. The fuse-setting machines move, and the fuse cap revolves. A shell slides into the breech, and the eight Gun-Ready lamps glow in the director. The trigger tightens, and the guns flame, and recoil greasily. Eight shells whine upwards along the hypotenuse towards the expected collision. If this does not occur, then adjustments must be made in the estimates so that the computing table may work out another right-angled triangle.
So, on a grey day, we waited in the waters off the Ayrshire coast for the target-towing aircraft to arrive, with its small red drogue trailing far astern of it.
The Red director crew drew first blood when they shot down their drogue, and as the plane turned away to return for another drogue, it was our silent resolve to shoot that one down too. The information that we would send down to the computer would be absolutely accurate so that the aircraft's future position would be fixed to coincide with the arrival of our shell.
Some time later I watched the drogue bouncing through the air at the end of the towing wire, and sent down my estimate of course and speed.
"Open fire when ready!" ordered the Gunnery Officer's voice in my headset.
Cornish made a slight adjustment, Mead followed suit to keep the drogue in the crosswires, and we waited tensely for Andrews to make a "Cut" or range. There was dead silence in the director.
"Cut!" shouted Andrews, after what seemed minutes of waiting. Down in the T.S. the pointers moved, the dials lit up, and the guns moved to point forward of the target. Following almost instantly on Andrews' voice came Hollier's excited cry.
"Have plot, have height, sir. Ready to open fire."
With a dryness in my mouth I gave the command.
"Open fire!" Cornish's knuckles whitened momentarily as he pressed the master trigger at his side which fired every gun electrically. The tremendous crack of the eight guns slammed against the headset, and then the bursts appeared. Too far ahead, and a little to one side. Decrease speed and alter course a little. The next cluster was correct for speed. Alter the course a little. The next burst needed an adjustment for course, and in the effort of concentration the dreadful concussion ceased to have importance. "Lovely, sir!" said Cornish in his quiet voice. "Right on!" The guns lashed out again and again, and then suddenly the little drogue made an abrupt bobbing motion and headed erratically downwards.
"Cease fire!" I ordered, and took a deep breath. "We've done it, lads! We've shot the ruddy thing down. Well done!"
In the confined space backs were slapped, eyes sparkled, and we found our identity. We were a real director crew.
After working up was complete, in September 1942 Scylla headed north to the Arctic, to join the escort of PQ18 for Russia. The previous convoy PQ17 had been decimated after scattering to avoid the threat of the Tirpitz.
The convoy was close now, and then our Gunnery Radar spoke excitedly.
"Director" Aircraft! We've got a couple of pips!" Immediately the target-bearing indicator clanged and Mead trained frantically to centre the needle. "Open fire immediately you're ready," said the voice in the headset.
"Got him," said Cornish levelly, and there he was in the sights.
I adjusted the arrow, gave a speed, and saw that the plane was a Junkers 88.
"Cut !" shouted Andrews.
"Have plot, have height, ready to open fire, sir," said Hollier far below.
The fight Gun Ready lamps were glowing as Cornish pulled the master trigger, and Scylla lashed out in defiance, great tongues of flame leaping from the barrels. Eight bursts appeared in the sky ahead of the plane, and eight more, as the guns reloaded and fired. Eight more raced up, and the plane climbed for the cloud, the last eight bursting below her. Two white towers of water sprang up in the convoy, streaked with black, two bombs, no visible damage.
"Cease Fire!" The muzzles of the guns dropped obediently and trained forrard as the director came round.
"There are six of the blighters around in the clouds," said the A.D.O. in my headset; "so be on your toes."
The target-bearing indicator clanged, the director turned, and the guns opened fire as another plane dodged out of the clouds and dropped its bombs.
So it went on through the early afternoon, hide and seek through the clouds; the lancing flames of the guns and the white towers of the bomb splashes.
"Come down and be shot at, you skulking bastards," said someone, and this is how we all felt. So far the close-range weapons had not been blooded, and the crews stood tense, waiting for their chance.
The voice in the headset spoke again.
"Director, there's a twenty-five plus echo in the east coming in fast!"
"What"" I faltered incredulously.
"Twenty-five plus!" said the voice clearly and slowly.
I spoke to Mead.
"Train right, about Green One-oh to Green Two-oh, and scan; There's a big gang coming in from about there!"
Mead trained slowly right, and down below the voice of Number One came clearly to us over the battle commentary.
"We have now joined the convoy, and are leading one of the columns. The escort are now in their places, and the Avenger is on the port column. Radar have reported a twenty-five plus echo headed towards us, and this will be a serious attack."
"Aircraft!" The word came up to us shrilly, and we saw them at the same time.
They rose up on the horizon, black and repulsive, and they extended far on either side of our view. The director was hushed. "Open fire when in range," said the voice in the headset.
"Hell!" breathed Cornish. "Just look at that, just look at them!" "One, two, three, four, five . . . six, nine . . ." counted Cornish. My tongue was paralysed, and my stomach felt sick. I spoke to Freeman. "Count them, Freeman." "Cut !" shouted Andrews.
"Have plot, have height, ready, to open fire," replied Hollier. "Range?" I enquired.
"Oh-two-Oh!" Twenty thousand yards, or ten miles--our maximum effective range, fourteen thousand or seven miles. So we waited.
"Keep on giving me the ranges!"
"On they came rising and falling for some reason, like porpoises at sea. Heinkels and Junkers 88s by the look of them. We had fixed our sights on the plane at the extreme right. "Oh-one-eight!"
"Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven," counted Freeman. Andrews cursed as he ranged on them, imploring them to come and be killed. Cornish and Mead kept the sights steady and were silent.
Still they kept in rigid line abreast across the horizon, still they looked like some strange things from another world. There was a flash of flame and escorts on the outer screen opened up. "Oh-one-five."
"Forty-one, forty-two.., sir, I make it forty-two," said Freeman.
Oh-one-four. Have plot, have height, six, ready to open fire!" intoned Hollier.
I paused, reluctant to give the first command, then it tumbled out.
the defence of PQ18 Rate this photo
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Scylla shook to the thunder of the guns, and shook again and again as the salvoes roared forth.
Far over the water the first eight burst in front of the right hand plane, but still she came on, with the shells bursting in front of her. Suddenly she rocked sideways, and black smoke poured from her. She gave a sudden queer heave to starboard, as her companion on the right came up in one of the queer porpoise leaps, and the two planes locked together in a tangle and hit the water a few feet below in a welter of spray.
"We've got 'em! We've got 'em! Two in one ! Two in one !" I exulted.
"Sir?" said Hollier interrogatively.
"Two of them," I shouted incoherently, and then remembered. "Shift target left."
The next two aircraft came into view and we centred on one. Suddenly the whole formation broke, and our aircraft altered course for the starboard side of the convoy. The guns still roared, and the bursts crept in front of the plane, but our luck was not to be repeated, and our plane seemed to bear a charmed life as she flew through the hellish barrage. The range was closing, and suddenly the leading vessels of the convoy appeared in the sights. "Cease fire!"
Firing over the convoy at such a low angle could be just as dangerous as an enemy.
The noise of firing still went on, and I realised that the close-range weapons all over the ship were in action. There was the hysterical cracking of the Oerlikons, and the quadruple banging of the pom-poms. As the director trained back forrard, the formation of aircraft had broken, and everywhere we looked Heinkels and Junkers 88s were headed purposefully down all the lanes between the convoy. We were powerless to operate at such close range. On either side of us, from ahead came two aircraft, headed down the lanes at our side. Streams of tracer from the merchant ships fell harmlessly ahead of them, and our bridge Oerlikons held their fire. Suddenly they opened up, and the streams of tracer hosed towards them. We watched one come past us soundlessly, its engine roar drowned by the sound of our fans, and the crack of the guns. In the pointed, transparent nose, the black leather-jacketed figure of the pilot hunched over the controls, while below the fuselage hung a long black torpedo held in some form of claw. The Oerlikons on the signal deck opened up at point blank range, and the starboard pom-pom joined in. Shells slammed into the fuselage, and the Oerlikons added their quota. Black smoke curled out from an engine, grew in volume; the plane lurched, and smacked flatly into the sea on the quarter in a twin sheet of spray.
Tracer began to fly upward from all over the ship as a plane skimmed the masts. Oerlikon gunners lay backward, strapped to their guns, the muzzles pointing skyward and slewing as the gunners scrabbled the deck for purchase to move sideways. The plane kept on steadily though shells kept hitting her, and headed for the Mary Luckenbach on our starboard side. She headed on pursued by a few shells, and other targets presented themselves. Suddenly there was a dull roar from starboard, and Freeman shouted and pointed.
The Mary Luckenbach had gone. In her place a stupendous column of smoke was rocketing to heaven, and as we looked an immense glow lit the column, and great cerise, orange-and-yellow fragments arched outwards towards us.
Mary Luckenbach explodes Rate this photo
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"Oh, Good God Almighty," prayed someone.
I shuddered in fear.
"Oh, God," I prayed, "Oh, God, why have you sent us here? What have we done, what have we done?"
"Duck !" came my voice from somewhere deep down, and five heads bent as in prayer, and perhaps we did pray.
Hollier's voice came through the headset in a pleading tone so different from his ordinary crisp tone.
"Sir" Please tell us what's going on? You know what it's like here, sir? We've just heard the bang below here."
"There's a ship just blown sky-high," I answered.
Still we waited and the seconds flitted past, but there was no crash of metal on top of us. We raised our heads.
Fluttering down into the director came large pieces of ash. Mead caught a piece on his hand and smeared it into his palm.
"Just like burnt paper," he said quietly and wonderingly.
The great smoke column was still thousands of feet high and mushrooming out where it met the clouds. At its base flames still flickered and the following ship was altering course to avoid them.
The Mary Luckenbach had gone, and forty men had died. This was their memorial and the smear on Mead's palm.
The close-range weapon fire was slackening, and died out as three Hurricanes from the Avenger flew over to join combat.
The enemy was reforming, and those that had not dropped their torpedoes came in to the convoy again. Once again the barrage went up, planes hit the water, the Hurricanes pursued others, and some survived to press home the attack. Scylla still held her position at the head of a column, the guns firing, the close-range weapons taking over at short ranges. Suddenly she bounded forward, and the fans rose to a whine. The long-range guns were silent, and we slowly scanned the starboard side for aircraft at long range.
Freeman caught my coat.
"Look, sir--torpedo! Coming towards us!"
There it was, the unmistakable track of a torpedo heading towards us at forty knots.
.... God!" I breathed into the headset.
The fans whined higher as the ship shot forward. Faster, faster, I urged. The tracks were drawing aft slightly. Oh, faster, faster. I was braced for the shock of the impact.
"Sir?" said Hollier, "Why have we increased speed? Dials show nearly twenty-seven knots from eight knots a few seconds ago."
I was silent. How could you tell them down there that a torpedo was aimed at the ship, and only a few hundred feet away?
"Faster, faster," I prayed, and astern the wake piled up and up, and Scylla leaped forward. The torpedo tracks disappeared aft of our line of vision and there was a tremendous explosion. "Too late," I thought. "Too late!" "Train aft, Mead," I shouted. The director spun round.
Astern in the wake a huge column of water was rising. "Missed us!" shouted Andrews.
I breathed out slowly, and Hollier's voice came on.
"Sir, what's the explosion?"
"A torpedo meant for us has just gone up in the solid water of the wake!"
Number One's voice came over in the battle commentary. "The increase of speed has just been made to avoid a torpedo aimed at us. The explosion you have heard was the torpedo going off in our wake."
It is now August 1943, and Scylla is escorting convoys between the UK and Gibralter.
A plane was coming in on a straight bombing-run, glinting in the sunlight of the late evening, dead in the sights.
"Lovely plot, sir," gloated Hollier below. "Perks and the Radar right on top of one another. Ready to open fire, sir!"
With a crash that jarred the sponge rubber of the earphones the guns opened fire, and continued their head-splitting cracking with fantastic speed.
"'B' gun knocking out sixteen rounds a minute, so I hear, sir," said the Communication Number.
I raised my hand in acknowledgement, still bent over the sights. This: was a very high rate of fire with a heavy shell going into the breech every four seconds. A beautiful cluster of bursts erupted in the sky and the plane shook violently.
"Take that, you swine!" I yelled viciously.
"And that too, for good measure!" I gritted as the next cluster appeared and the plane turned away from the intense concentration.
I felt a hand suddenly grip my shoulder and the Communication Number screamed urgently:
"Look, sir, up there, from the sun, a plane coming in!"
"Train round, for God's sake!" I implored, and the tower spun round and the sights ran up rapidly.
"Too late, sir," said Cornish tensely. "Over fifty degrees."
"Barrage, barrage!" I shrieked, and the guns went into fixed-barrage firing.
"She's dropped !" shouted Cornish. "I can see 'em, and they're a dead set for us!"
The silver shape came steadily towards us, the barrage exploding around her while we waited for the whistle of the bombs.
"Bad sign," said Cornish. "Can't hear the whistle!"
There were three swishes of air, and then the ship shook as if slapped by a gigantic hand. High into the air around us the water rose, and we bent our heads to receive the blow.
"Oh God!" I moaned inwardly. "The lousy luck! Just on a summer's evening, and they've got us!"
Cascades of water fell into the director and the ship seemed to be unnaturally still for a minute. We could hear the water sluicing from the decks, and then gradually to our ears came the undiminished noise of the fans, and a glance aft showed the wake as strong and as white as ever.
"Missed us!" I exulted. "Missed us!"
We laughed like idiots, and then slowly began to realise what must have happened. Coming in from the port side the bombs had overshot us, dropping into the sea on our starboard side, ploughing through the sea away from us, to burst in the water. Had the three thousand-pound bombs hit us directly, or fallen slightly short on the port side, it would have been a different story and the ship would have been a shambles.
The near miss had a sobering effect on us, and we applied ourselves to the task with an added grimness. The bombing was better on this attack, and Baron Fairlie was damaged, but able to carry on, down by the head. Far astern the inevitable straggler was getting all the surplus bombs from the disgruntled Focke Wulfs. As the light began to fade from the sky the enemy decided to make a concentrated attack on the straggler, and bomb splashes appeared all round her. On the last bombing-run we never expected her to appear again through the mighty towers of water astern, but gradually as they subsided her bluff bows appeared bravely, and she hurried on, her funnel streaming smoke. Stragglers were a danger to themselves and the convoy at any time, but we had to admire this dauntless old lady who came up smiling after taking the brunt of the enemy's spite. To me, there was added pride in that she was an elderly Cardiff tramp steamer.
With all bombs expended the enemy departed and we secured from Action Stations after six hours in the director. We climbed wearily through the hatch, slid down the ladder, and then squatted against the steel trunking at the foot, resting before making the final descent of the bridge ladders.
I became aware of the polished sea-boots, and uniform trousers in front of me as I gazed exhausted at nothing, I stood up to see the Captain regarding us.
"Well done," he said.
"Thank you, sir".
With lightness in our hearts and renewed strength in our arms, we slid down the bridge ladders.
While those bombs missed, the shock caused damage that required her to dock in the UK for repair. Hughes left the ship and eventually joined the escort carrier Slinger. Scylla was back in service in April 1944 and was the flagship of Rear Admiral Vian for the D-Day landings. On 23rd June Scylla hit an acoustic mine and was damaged beyond repair. She lay at Chatham for a while, and was then towed to the Gareloch to be broken up.
As the years went by, she lay forlorn at the jetty in Chatham, the winds from the Medway stirring her restlessly. Then they took her to that sad loch--the Gareloch--just across from Greenock where she had first taken the water. The ships that lie in that loch are weary ships, old ships, and their days are numbered. So the tugs came for her, one day in May, 1950, eight years after she had commissioned, and they towed her ignominiously down to Barrow, down through the waters on which she had sailed so proudly.
Captain MacIntyre stood on Scylla's deck, paying his last respects to the Proud Lady. He was only barely in time, for in parts she had been broken up almost to water level. The lofty masts, the bridge, the graceful raked funnels, all had gone, and he stood on the quarter-deck, fittingly the only part still intact. A workman approached him, and spoke, perhaps divining his identity, "You know, sir, I've broken up many a ship, but never a one like this. She's alive, sir. She moves all the time. Even without a breath of wind she's moving!"
The Captain nodded understandingly.
After a last sad glance at the remains of a proud ship, he left the yard. He felt the parcel under his arm, and was glad he had something that had been part of the ship. The shipbreakers had had some difficulty in prising it loose, but they were the only ones who could have managed it, and it must have defeated other souvenir hunters.
Back at his home he looked for a place of honour in the hall, and having found one he unpacked the parcel, and took out a round metal disc. It was the nameplate that had been let into the top of the after capstan. He held it up to the wall experimentally.
It was just a simple thing--a metal disc with a name on it - but a name that stood for so many other names---of men, of faraway places, and of stirring times---H.M.S. Scylla.