Thursday, January 28, 2016

Short Story re St. Nazaire, "Code name CHARIOT, 1942"

My blog about 'Canadians in Combined Operations, WW2' continues with a short story about an Allied attack on St. Nazaire. Objective: To knock out a dry dock that was large enough to service and repair Germany's largest battleship, Tirpitz.

Mission accomplished, but not without cost.

St. Nazaire - Code name CHARIOT, March 28, 1942

By John O'Rourke, LT, RCNVR

Combined Operations Memorial Plaque, HMS Quebec, Inveraray Scotland

The list of battle honours

St. Nazaire - CHARIOT

March 27 - 28, 1942: St. Nazaire was hailed as "The Greatest Raid of All" by G. E. Lucas Phillips... The death toll amounted to 169... five Victoria Crosses (were awarded), two of them posthumous... the aims were achieved completely by the loss to the Germans of the only Atlantic dock that could accommodate their largest and most powerful battleship, the Tirpitz, and a number of submarine facilities. At least four Canadians participated...

The British fleet consisted of three destroyers... the third was HMS Campbeltown... her funnels were cut down to give her the appearance of a German subchaser. She would ram the gates of the super dock built for the super passenger liner Normandie. Operational Headquarters was to be MGB 314 and to this were added one MTB and 17 MLs... This flotilla sailed from Falmouth, Cornwall, with the Hunts towing the MLs for the 500 mile journey. They were not detected as they rounded the Brest promontory and entered the Bay of Biscay and then the estuary of the Loire River...

Caption (in part): MGB 314, which lead the attack into St. Nazaire harbour.
The foc'sle Pom Pom is where AB Savage (was killed and ) won his VC. Only three
of the 18 craft made it back to England. Photo - St. Nazaire to Singapore, Pg. 36

MGB 314 lead the little armada. It was followed by the Campbelton. The MLs formed up in two lines ahead flanking them... The MLs (wooden) were laden with Commandos and extra gasoline tanks. An RAF raid provided some sky-borne distraction and the naval force was not recognized by the shore batteries of the Germans. Then a challenge rang out. A fake reply was answered back by a German speaking RN signaller. It was five minutes after that that the ruse was seen through and a hellish din lit up the night to which all the vessels of the invading force responded by hauling down a german flag and hoisting the White Ensign and firing at every light point in the night... 

The Captain of the Campbelton pressed on at full speed and rammed the gates of the great dry dock at twenty knots... The Campbelton had been filled forward with four and a quarter tons of depth charge explosives. The fuses were lit which would explode the charge the following afternoon...

Photo and caption as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol 1 Pg. 35

David J. Lewis, the Editor of St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol 1, adds the following note (in part) at the end of O'Rourke's story: To continue the story in St. Nazaire, it became obvious that Campbelton evoked a great interest amongst the Germans of high and low rank. Hundreds visited and many were on board when she blew up the following afternoon...

Please read the full account and final thoughts by Canadians John O'Rourke and David Lewis at St. Nazaire to Singapore, Vol. 1, pages 37 - 38.

Unattributed photos by GH

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