News, WW2

WW2 Sailor Swims for the First Time in 80 Years

  • British sailor veteran, Roger Roberts, swam in a local leisure centre pool after 80 years.
  • Roberts had saved himself from drowning when HMS Charybdis sank during World War Two. 
  • HMS Charybdis was a British Dido-class cruiser that sank near the Channel Islands in October 1943. 
  • Roberts shared his experience of surviving the horrific incident.

Roger Roberts: The Incredible Swimmer of Royal Fleet

World War Two Sailor Roger Roberts was born in Birmingham, England, on April 12, 1925. When he was 16, he applied to serve the Royal Fleet in 1942. Unfortunately, the Navy recruitment team sent him home due to his young age.

A year later, Roberts joined the Royal Navy as a stoker; the rest is history. 

Sailor Roger Roberts
WW2 Veteran Roger Roberts, 97, has begun swimming regularly at his local leisure centre.

Roberts had been a competitive swimmer since his childhood. He participated in various contests during his teenage years. Before he joined the military, he represented his city in national swimming galas.

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Roberts was married to his beloved wife, Adeline, for over 70 years. Unfortunately, Adeline passed away five years ago. 

Roberts however, is most known for his near-death experience when the ship he served on, HMS Charybdis sank. It was a harrowing event that took place in the English Channel in October 1943. Roberts was a sailor aged just 17 when HMS Charybdis found itself up against German torpedo boats. 

The Horrific Sinking of HMS Charybdis

HMS Charybdis and HMS Limbourne were involved in “Operation Tunnel” off the north coast of Brittany, which lies near the Channel Islands. At the time of the incident, Robert worked in the ship’s engine room. 

Intelligence agencies had reported that some German forces had sent a convoy around that area. Therefore, English ships like HMS Charybdis and HMS Limbourne planned to surprise the enemy. However, the convoy was heavily guarded.

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On 23rd October 1943, the German vessels spotted HMS Charybdis. T23 and T27 fired a salvo of torpedoes. As a result of two successful hits on the port side, HMS Charybdis sank at 48° 59’N, 3° 39’W. As many as 464 men, including the Commanding Officer, died. Only 107 survived. 

The CO ordered the crew to abandon the sinking ship when the torpedoes hit. Roberts explained this catastrophic situation in his own words. He said, “I was lucky and a good swimmer. We went into the water and spent about two hours trying to find wood planks. Finally, we managed to scramble onto the planks, and 60 men were holding onto it.”

Roberts added, “It was tough. I managed to come out in one piece from the incident, but a lot didn’t. You had to look after yourself and your friends. We all put our arms around each other. Eventually, fellow service members rescued us.”

HMS Charybdis was a Dido-class cruiser manufactured by Cammell Laird, a renowned British shipbuilding company. The name of the boat comes from a character in Greek mythology. It is the name of a sea monster usually mentioned alongside Scylla. Charybdis joined the British Fleet in December 1941 and served for almost one and a half years. 

HMS Charybdis
Roger was left swimming and fighting for his life after his ship HMS Charybdis, was torpedoed. (Image IWM)

Sailor Roger Roberts Finally Swims after 80 Years

Recently, workers at Foley Grange Care Home in Kidderminster in the UK got in touch with Roberts. As a result, the care home collaborated with a leisure club to invite the veteran for a swimming session.

Roberts was delighted to hear the news. Inside the pool, the veteran sailor showed no signs of trauma or fear. Roberts said, “My motto in life is ‘never give up and keep on going,’ and that made me want to get back in the water. Then, of course, I enjoyed the swimming lesson, but it was a lot of effort for someone my age. I was also delighted that this time I was in the water; the water was warm.”

Roberts added, “The water was much warmer than it was all those years ago in the English Channel. There was ice in the water then, and it was freezing.”

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Wyre Forest Leisure Centre is also in Kidderminster, and Roberts now goes to it every Tuesday for a weekly swim. Roberts believes he has finally learnt to overcome his fear of water and of drowning.

The veteran, now 97, has come a long way. Indeed, his story is nothing short of inspirational.