Tag Archives: Charles Brabyn

Charles Brabyn of Devoran and the sinking of HMS Courageous 1939

Charles Brabyn (photograph c/o Brabyn relatives collected by Tony Dyson in his 2007 research)

Charles Brabyn (photograph c/o Brabyn relatives collected by Tony Dyson in his 2007 research)

The first casualty of the Second World War in Devoran was a First World War veteran sailor, shipwright  Charles Brabyn who died on HMS Courageous on the 17th September 1939 75 years ago.

Brabyn sank on HMS Courageous, on 17 September 1939 with over 500 others, the first British warship to be lost during the Second World War. Many like Charles Brabyn of the crew were from the West Country, including many from the Royal Naval Barracks at Keyham, Devonport. Many like Brabyn are remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

Charles Brabyn's name on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (Image: Mark Norris, 2013)

Charles Brabyn’s name on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (Image: Mark Norris, 2013)

Torpedoed British Aircraft Carrier
The Admiralty yesterday issued the final list of survivors of the aircraft carrier Courageous, the 22,500 ton ship which was sunk by a German submarine on Sunday evening … Of the 1,200 officers and ratings on board, 18 officers and 560 ratings would appear to have lost their lives …

A curious feature of the disaster is that of the number of men from several Cornish places serving on the aircraft carrier, half are missing and half saved. Thus six from Penryn and Falmouth were lost, and six saved …”
West Briton 21 September 1939.

Courageous had been at sea protecting the Western Approaches since the first day of the war. Converted to an aircraft carrier from her First World War role, she carried Fairey Swordfish biplanes to hunt for German U-Boat submarines. She herself was sunk by U-Boat U29. You can read more about her at http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Courageous_(50)

On 17th September 1939, under the command of Captain W. T. Mackaig-Jones, Courageous was on an anti-submarine patrol off the coast of Ireland. Two of her four escorting destroyers had been sent to help a merchant ship under attack. During this time, Courageous was stalked for over two hours by the U-29, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Schuhart.

HMS Courageous, 1935. Source: Wikipedia / Royal Navy official photographer - This is photograph Q 65692 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4510-02)

HMS Courageous, 1935. Source: Wikipedia / Royal Navy official photographer – This is photograph Q 65692 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4510-02)

When Courageous turned into the wind to launch her aircraft, this manoeuvre put the ship right across the bow of the U-29, which then fired three torpedoes. Two of the torpedoes struck the ship on her port side. HMS Courageous capsized and sank in around 15 minutes with the loss of 518 of her crew, including her captain. She was the first British warship to be lost in the war, the civilian passenger liner Athenia having been sunk two weeks earlier.

Royal Navy / IWM source picture of Courageous sinking, 17 September 1939.

Royal Navy / IWM source picture of Courageous sinking, 17 September 1939.

The wreck website list more about the sinking. http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?384

Several September 1939 Movietone newsreels of HMS Courageous can be found on YouTube including the sinking and a later newsreel of the survivors. Despite the suggestions at the end of the newsreel, the U-boat escaped and the German Captain was decorated. By the random chance of war, the survivors shown on the newsreel were picked up, many of whom who look much like Brabyn in age, whilst Brabyn and hundreds of others died.

A list of the crew, survivors and casualties including Brabyn can be found at the Naval History website http://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas1939-09SEPT.htm and also on U-Boat Net website

The Fleet Air Arm website lists more about Brabyn’s ship, including Wills cigarette card pictures of the ship’s guns (much like those in Brabyn’s picture) and bakery.

You can read more about the sinking, West Briton coverage of the sinking and the Cornish casualties, along with Charles Brabyn’s life and career in WW1 on our Devoran WW2 war memorial post.https://devoranwarmemorial.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/devoran-second-world-war-casualties-a-to-r/

Brabyn’s name can be seen as a surviving serviceman from WW1 on the Village Roll of Honour.

A sailor stands forever watch over some of  the panels of names on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. Image:  Mark Norris, 2013

A sailor stands forever watch over some of the panels of names on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.
Image: Mark Norris, 2013

If you want to search for more of the names the CWGC website lists many Cornwall based names amongst the HMS Courageous casualties. If you search on http://www.cwgc.org under Plymouth Naval Memorial page,  search under Second World War, Unit H.M.S Courageous and then keywords Cornwall or Devon. An Excel file of the names can be downloaded.

Remembering brave men and the families they left behind in many West Country ports and towns and beyond …