St. Nazaire, Raid on, (Operation Chariot), Part Two (28 March 1942)

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The Assault Begins
The Old Entrance
Campbeltown's Commandos Move Out
Group 1 Lands
In the Dockyard
Wynn Gets His Chance
Breaking Out
Dawn Breaks
Back in St Nazaire
Conclusion
Bibliography and Further Reading

The Assault Begins

HMS Campbeltown had hit the caisson at about 20 knots, causing the forward compartments to crumple so that the four tons of explosive rested right up against the caisson. In fact, they could not have been better placed if they had been moved there by hand, which was a testament to the great seamanship of her crew. By the time the force had been identified as the enemy, the Campbeltown and the leading motor launches had been well along the Loire and past the majority of the heavy guns. Not so the remainder of the motor launches who suffered the combined attention of the German defences. Despite this they made their way as quickly as they could to their designated landing places to drop the Commandos off.

The Old Entrance

The first motor launch in the starboard line heading for the Old Entrance was Lt Cdr Stephens's ML 192, which was hit by a large shell even before Campbeltown had rammed the caisson. The engine room was damaged and she drifted out of control, striking the wall next to the East Jetty. Stephens realised that the craft was doomed, gave the order to abandon ship. The wounded were put into rafts as the high walls made disembarkation impossible but Captain Michael Burn (head of the assault force on the boat) managed to make his way ashore and move to their original objective, some flak towers, but these were found to be empty. The second craft (ML 262) belonged to Lt Burt and carried the demolition party commanded by Lt Woodcock who was to blow the bridge across the Old Entrance and the two adjacent locks. Both Lt Burt and Lt Beart (ML 267) were momentarily confused by the searchlights and having to take avoiding action after Stephens's boat veered across their path and overshot their objective by several hundred yards, forcing them to come round again. The fourth craft, ML 268 under Lt Tillie, saw the two craft before miss their targets but managed to steer the correct course to land. The boat however was hit by sustained and accurate fire from close range and was within seconds afire, very shortly blowing up. Lt Tilie and half his crew managed to get off but all but two of the eighteen Commandos were killed. Lt Fenton's boat, ML 156 was hit repeatedly before she got near her objective. A hit on the bridge wounded both Fenton and Captain Hooper of the Commandos. Fenton managed to stay in command of the vessel but had to take evasive action as it approached the Old Entrance. The craft overshot and came round again in a wide circle but by now Fenton's wounds were too severe and he handed over command to SubLt Machin. He too was wounded and the craft sustained more damage. With all three officers in a bad way, having one effective engine and its steering gear damaged the boat withdrew downstream.

The last boat in the line however, ML 177 under Lt Rodier, achieved some success by managing to land its party of Commandos under Sgt Major Haines on the southern side of the Old Entrance, who then made to join up with Captain Hooper and his men and eliminate the guns between the Old Entrance and the Old Mole not knowing that they had failed to land. The command boat MGB 314 now moved across the river and landed Lt Col Newman and his headquarters at the northern steps of the Old Entrance. Ryder used his loudhailer to order Lt Rodier to move to the stern of Campbeltown and take off the crew and wounded. At this point the two launches that had overshot had come back round and once again tried to make a landing. The first was Lt Burt's ML 262 who came into the Old Entrance and landed his party on the northern quay. Lt Woodcock and his demolitions team, along with Lt Morgan and his protection squad scrambled ashore. About this time, the southern winding shed erupted in a huge explosion as Lt Smalley and his men completed their work. Burt was just casting off when Lt Morgan and his team came racing back and so Burt came up alongside the quay once again and took them onboard. Lt Morgan claimed that the return flare ordering the recall had been sighted - probably a multi-coloured tracer. Just as Burt was leaving, Lt Smalley's party came back shouting to be taken off. Burt once again moved back to the quayside and took them off and headed for the open water. The craft was hit several times in short succession causing casualties (that included Lt Smalley being killed) and damage but the craft remained operable and so Burt headed downstream. Beart's ML 267 came round next and tried to land the Commandos without success. A few men got ashore but were recalled almost immediately as the craft took a number of hits from sustained and accurate fire. The ship was set alight and the occupants abandoned it as it drifted into he middle of the river. Many of those on board were killed while in the water, either due to machinegun fire, burning oil or drowning. Finally, MTB 74 under Lt Wynn entered the Old Entrance. He came up alongside Ryder in the MGB but his torpedoes would no longer be needed for hitting the Normandie Dock But Ryder still needed them in case Campbeltown failed to scuttle properly.

Campbeltown's Commandos Move Out

As soon as Campbeltown had hit the caisson and come to a halt, Beattie started to organise the evacuation of the crew and to scuttle the ship so that it rested squarely on the bed of the Loire so that it would be a formidable obstacle even if the explosive charge failed to detonate. The destroyer was now a stationary target at the mercy of the enemy guns that continued to pound her from every direction. The Commandos left as soon as was possible to start their destructive tasks. This included Lt Roderick and his team who disembarked from the starboard side and attacked their first target, a sandbagged gun emplacement that was close by. The Commandos were on the emplacement very quickly and took its detachment by surprise, knocking it out in a short space of time. Their second target was a concrete bunker with a rapid-firing 37mm gun on the roof. This was knocked out with well-placed grenades and the crew killed as they tried to bolt. The third target had already been knocked out by fire from the ships on the river and so Roderick moved to his final target, the underground fuel tanks. These however stubbornly refused to catch fire and so Roderick consolidated his position to provide a flank guard and awaited the return signal.

Lt Roy's group disembarked from the port side of the destroyer and made their way to the Pump House to attack two German guns on the roof. The guns however were found to be abandoned, the crews having caught sight of Roy and his group moving towards them and decided that discretion was the better part of valour, making their escape down an external staircase. Charges were placed on the guns to destroy them and the group moved on to their next objective. This was the Old Entrance bridge - Roy as to seize and hold it to allow the various demolition teams to retire towards the Old Mole on their way to embarkation. The bridge was then to be blown by the charges laid by Lt Woodcock, but Woodcock and many of his team had already come to grief on ML 262.Roy and his group found it to be free of the enemy however and so set up positions covering its approaches and waited there, isolated from the action.

Next to leave the destroyer was Lt Chant and his demolition team of four sergeants, who were assigned the task of destroying the pumping house and its machinery (the great impeller pumps that emptied water from the dock) - probably the next most vital objective after the destruction of the outer caisson. Their destruction would mean that the Normandie Dock would be a tidal quay even in the event of the caisson remaining intact and their inaccessibility meant that it could take months for the repair work to be completed, denying the dock to the Kriegsmarine in general, and the Tirpitz in particular. Unfortunately, Chant, and one of his sergeants, Chamberlain, had both been wounded in the legs in the run up the Loire. Despite the two wounded men moving with difficulty, the team left the Campbeltown, found the door to the pump house, blew it open and entered. The layout of the machinery was just as expected - the countless dry runs and hours of training would now pay dividends as they set to work. Chamberlain was beginning to feel the effects of his wound so Chant left him to guard the entrance while the rest set about their mission. They managed to descend the stairways to the bottom of the room and start planting their explosives (specially shaped and in waterproof material) where Pritchard had considered they would do the most damage. Each man wired his explosives together and then joined them to a 'ring main' of cordtex. Duplicated detonators would fire the cordtex via short-lengths of slow-burning safety fuse, that would be lit by manual igniters. As their work was completed, the sergeants called out to Chant. Once all was ready, Chant sent two of his men to collect Chamberlain and move away from the pumping house to a safe distance. He kept one man, Dockerill, with him as he too was becoming weak and knew the climb up the stairs would be difficult. Once the others were clear he ignited the fuses and helped by his sergeant, climbed the stairs to the top and retired to safe area a short distance away. The pump house exploded in an enormous roar that was heard all around the dockyard. When Chant and his men returned to survey the results, the destruction was complete. Much of the floor had collapsed, and two of the electric motors had fallen down into the pumping chamber, while the other two had twisted off their bases. All that remained to be done was ignite the oil that was leaking into the remnants of the structure. Lt Roy then reported to Captain Montgomery, who was in charge of demolitions around the dry dock, that their tasks were complete. They were then free to make their way across the bridge being held by Lt Roy to the Old Mole and wait for pick up.

Just before Lt Chant and his men had destroyed the pumping house, the night air had also been filled with the noise and debris from the destruction pf the winding shed, only some fifty yards from Campbeltown. Lt Smalley and his men had followed Chant off the Campbeltown and made their way along the water-filled channel from the caisson to the winding shed. The shed was an easy target and Lt Smalley and his men quickly planted their charges, got clear and blew the shed sky-high. They received permission to withdraw but instead of going to the Old Mole as planned they instead took the opportunity to board Lt Burt's ML 262, which was hovering close to the northern steps of the Old Entrance. Unfortunately, Lt Smalley and some of his men were killed when the boat was hit by enemy fire.

After Chant and Smalley's teams, came groups of Commandos that were to attack targets further afield, towards the far end of the Normandie Dock. Lt Eches and his team were assigned the task of assaulting the northern caisson and its winding mechanism, the first by Lt Brett and eight NCOs, the latter was to be conducted by Lt Purdon and four corporals. To protect these two groups, Lt Denison and four well-armed men were assigned as guards, to this being added Lt Burtenshaw and his group as his task, that of blowing the southern caisson should Campbeltown fail to make it, was unnecessary due to Beattie's excellent seamanship.

Etches had been wounded in the legs on the run up the river and cold barely move. Two of Denisons men had been likewise wounded and so they were left awaiting evacuation while Purdon, Brett and Burtenshaw all quickly disembarked from Campbeltown and moved along the dock. Denison led the way but came up against fierce resistance from a manned trench just to one side of the dockyard. Denison skilfully drew the enemy fire while the two others destroyed the emplacement with hand grenades. He then passed the northern caisson and winding shed by to set up his team overlooking the northern swing bridge. Lt Purdon followed up and made for the winding shed while Brett and Burtenshaw made for the roadway over the lock gate. Lt Purdon and his team set their charges but waited for Brett and Burtenshaw to blow the caisson first. He sent Sergeant Chung to let them know he was ready but the NCO ran into a wall of small arms fire and was wounded. Meanwhile Brett and Burtenshaw faced a somewhat more hazardous task as they being fired on from several well-concealed enemy groups. To compound their difficulty, the design of the northern caisson differed from that at Southampton - the team was to place two types of explosive, the first being twelve eighteen pound underwater charges that were to be placed against the caisson walls on the PenhoŽt Basin side, while the others were wreath-like charges that were to be laid inside the caisson itself.

While the Commandos managed to lower the first set of charges into position, it proved a almost impossible task to open the access cover that was in the middle of the roadway as it had been covered by wooden planks and tarmac placed on top of that. Burtenshaw tried to blow it open but failed. By now, Brett and a number of Commandos had become casualties and a major firefight erupted between enemy troops that were encroaching on the Commandos position and the British boats that were supporting them. As casualties continued to mount (including Burtenshaw), Sergeant Carr made the decision that nothing could be done in the way of lowering charges into the caisson and so once everyone was clear, detonated the explosive that were hanging by the caisson wall. After a reassuring bang and column of water, Carr noted that he could here the satisfactory sound of water rushing into the hollow structure. They may not have destroyed it, but it had certainly been damaged badly enough to take a great deal of time and effort to repair. As they retired, Lt Purdon was given the go ahead to blow he winding shed up, which he did with a roar that cheered the hearts of the battered Commandos. The group then made its way back towards the Old Mole via Roy's bridge.

As the teams progressed on their various tasks, Lt Col Newman came ashore with his headquarters to set up in a building just south of Roy's bridge. Luckily it just happened to be an existing German Dockyard HQ and so Newman set up is headquarters and waited for Sergeant Moss and his group, who never arrived as large number of them were killed while on Beart's ML 267. He was cheered however by the arrival of Sergeant Haines and his group who had completed their task of clearing the gun emplacements between the Old Entrance and the Old Mole and had returned for fresh orders. He deployed them as the ad hoc protection party for the HQ.

Group 1 Lands

Group 1 Lands At the front of the port column of boats was ML 447 under Lt Platt who carried Capt. Birney and the fourteen Commandos who were assigned the task of assaulting the Old Mole and clearing away the enemy defences, including two pillboxes positioned along its length. Like ML 192, being the head of the column meant that the boat was hit by a large volume of enemy fire. Many of the crew and Commandos became casualties but Platt did manage to bring the boat in close enough to have a go at landing his team of Commandos. Unfortunately he overshot and when he manoeuvred to try again the boat was hit by a fusillade of small arms fire and a large calibre shell hit the engine room and set the craft alight. Platt ordered everyone who could to abandon ship and a number managed to make it onto the shore, while others were picked up by Boyd in ML 160.

Lt Collier in ML 457 had much better luck and managed to get right up to the stone structure and deposit his three teams of Commandos. The first was a control party led by Lt Pritchard, the second Lt Walton and his demolitions team and the third was a protection party under Lt Watson. As the boat neared the Old Mole the officers on board saw a group of Germans moving along the stone wall with their hands up. They assumed that these were the troops from the pillboxes and so came ashore to carry out their tasks. ML 307 came next under Lt Wallis. He attempted to dock his craft, despite a warning from Lt Platt but was too close to stop and misjudged the landing. When he tried to manoeuvre to come around again they struck an underwater obstacle and grounded. Enemy fire raked the boat and casualties amongst the Commandos quickly mounted to the point where Capt. Bradley decided that he could not accomplished the task assigned (to blow the centre lock gate in the south entrance) and after speaking with Wallis it was decided that the boat should withdraw and engage German guns and searchlights interfering with the raid. After ML 307 came ML 443 under Lt Horlock, ML 306 under Lt Henderson and ML 446 under Lt Falconar (which had been promoted from spare after the unfortunate Briault had had to return to the UK), all of which had difficulty in landing their teams due to the volume of enemy fire and the chaos on the river. All decided it was too risky and withdrew. Bringing up the rear was Lt Bob Nock's ML 298, a torpedo launch with no Commandos aboard. Its mission was to wait offshore and engage the enemy until it was time to withdraw the troops.

Thus of the six boats that had been scheduled to land Commandos, only one had succeeded. Collier had put down twenty of the seventy men but these had immediately gone inland to carry out their demolition tasks. Birney's team had been put out of action on the river and the Old Mole was still firmly in German hands and would be next to impossible to capture with the force now available. The location and means to affect the evacuation of the Commandos was gradually slipping out of reach from Newman and his men.

In the Dockyard

Just inland, the only groups to land on the Old Mole were intent on achieving their objectives but mistakenly believed that Birney and his men had captured the Old Mole and so set off in the face of withering German fire. Lt Walton's team were there to destroy the lifting bridge to isolate the Old Town from the rest of St Nazaire and Lt Lt Watson and his team were to provide them with close protection. Unfortunately the two got separated and ended up next to the Place de la Vielle Ville (Old Town Place) that was very exposed to German fire and quickly got pinned down. Capt. Pritchard took another route that avoided Old Town Place and arrived at the lifting bridge to find it deserted, apart from an enemy pillbox that was keeping up a steady stream of fire at anything that moved. Pritchard then took Maclagan to check the progress of the other teams but could find no trace of Bradley, Wilson or Swayne and even the Power Station was deserted. As they moved through the streets Pritchard had the bad luck to run right into a lone German as they rounded a corner and retired bleeding from a stomach wound, possible caused by a bayonet. Maclagan riddled the started German but was ordered to return to the others by Pritchard who was dying. Maclagan reluctantly left his officer but resolved to try and find some help. He passed the bridge again and found it deserted apart from the body of Lt Walton and so continued to Newman's HQ. Meanwhile, Lt Watson and his team had once again tried to get to the bridge but German resistance was still too strong and so decided to retire to Newman's HQ to report on the precarious situation by the Old Mole.

Wynn Gets His Chance

With everybody off the Campbeltown, Cdr Ryder was pleased to hear the detonation of the scuttling charges and see the Campbeltown settle on the riverbed. Cdr Beattie and the majority of his men were now safely off and looked for a ride back home. With Campbeltown well and truly stuck against the lock gates, Lt Wynn's MTB 74 was in a position to be able to attack the outer lock gates with his special torpedoes. With a roar the boat was turned around and Wynn made for the lock gates. The two torpedoes were fired and hit the gate with a resounding clang, sinking slowly to the bottom awaiting the time delay fuses to do their stuff. Wynn then proceeded to the rear of Campbeltown to take off wounded Commandos and Navy personnel. He then headed down river to the open sea. As he roared past the German guns (waiting expectantly for the British to head back to sea) he spotted two survivors on a rescue boat in mid-river. Despite standing order to the contrary, he slowed the boat to pick them up and was quickly hit by two shells from Dieckmann's battery and the craft caught alight. Wynn and everybody on board abandoned ship.

Boats ML 160, 270 and 298 had been in the middle of the river engaging enemy targets. A German shell eventually hit ML 270 and the steering gear was damaged. With no Commandos to put ashore, Lt Irwin took the decision to affect what repairs they could and to head back up the river. Lt Boyd and ML 160 went to the aid of Platt's burning ML 447, taking off the survivors. He too, decided to withdraw and on the way down the river stopped to pick p three survivors. Once again three shells from Dieckmann's battery straddled the craft causing some damage and a number of casualties but luck was with him and he was soon underway, albeit slowly. Further out the crew managed to repair the engine to give the boat full speed in the bid for home.

ML 298 under Lt Nock had suffered its share of hits too and so Nock decided it was time to leave. He quickly inspected the Old Mole and Old Entrance looking for Commandos to embark but found none and so started the journey home. The craft was accidentally set on fire by some burning fuel, which became worse as he went downstream. The fire acted as a beacon to enemy guns and so the craft started receiving hits from weapons of all sizes, particularly several large calibre hits that caused devastation. With the boat ruined the survivors took to the water. Burt's ML 262 after having taken off Lt Smalley's team came across Collier's ML 457 just off the Old Mole, Collier having just landed the only Commandos to get onto the Old Mole but was now on fire and in trouble. Burt moved in to help but the two craft together provided an excellent target and were devastated by enemy fire. Lt Rodier and ML 177 carrying some fifty Commandos and crew from the Campbeltown almost made it to the pen sea (having past Lt Fenton in ML 156) but was hit by a 75mm shell from the Le Pointeau and sunk. Lt Rodier was killed, as was Lt Tibbits but Lt Cdr Beattie survived to go into the water and was rescued by the Germans. The four remaining commanders, Wallis (ML 307), Horlock (ML 443), Henderson (ML 306) and Falconar (ML446) deduced that getting to the Old Mole to land their Commandos was now impossible with the scene illuminated by burning fuel and craft and so headed back up the river to safety. Cdr Ryder, still on MGB 314, had seen Campbeltown scuttled and Wynn torpedo the lock gates but when he went to see how things were going around the Old Mole was filled with dismay by the scene of devastation that greeted him. There was clearly no possibility of the evacuation going as planned and so decided to reluctantly head out to sea. It was here that Able Seaman William Savage won a posthumous VC for bravely manning the forward pom-pom on MGB 314 and engaging an enemy pillbox despite the overpowering amount of enemy firepower.

Breaking Out

The situation at Lt Col Newman's HQ was growing ever worse, especially after the full situation of what was happening in the river became clear. Newman and Copland held a small conference when it became clear that there would be no evacuation by boat. The two options were simple, surrender or flight. Newman asked Copland whether they should surrender. "Certainly not, Colonel" he replied, "we shall fight our way out." This offensive spirit was echoed throughout the group and so Newman split the assembled Commandos into groups of about twenty and moved them to an area near the edge of the dock to receive their orders. Each group would try to leave St Nazaire by it own means, hopefully breaking out of the town and heading south to get to Spain and then Gibraltar.

The most direct route was across the Old Town Place and then over Bridge D but there was still sporadic German fire and so when the groups moved out they doubled back towards Roy's Bridge and then moved past the sheds at the side of the submarine basin. This brought them under the occasional observation from a number of German positions and the occasional burst of fire would head towards them every so often. The Commandos suffered a number of casualties here and these had to be left behind, as there was no real way of taking them along. By the time they had reached the southern end of the basin, the lifting bridge and the exit from the dockyard lay just sixty yards away. It was however covered by a large umber of enemy troops and a concrete pillbox with a machinegun. Summoning all their courage the Commandos hurled themselves at the bridge and under the cover of Sergeant Haines who manned a Bren gun, rushed across firing their weapons on the run. Casualties mounted quickly but the onrushing Commandos had taken the Germans by surprise and the defenders on the bridge quickly took flight. Very shortly afterwards the Commandos were across and put the defenders there to flight too as they were assaulted from close range by the Commandos. They made it through the cordon and escaped into the town itself. It was here that the groups started to loose contact with each other and it was up to each man to make his own way. Gradually as the night progressed more and more were either captured or occasionally shot in their bid for freedom. Here the regulars of the German 679th Infantry regiment, part of the 333rd Infantry Division had taken control of the town and had started making a systematic sweep, enclosing St Nazaire in an iron grip. Lt Col Newman and fifteen men had taken shelter in a cellar to wait for their chance to make a break for it but were soon discovered. By daylight, the raid was over.

Dawn Breaks

With daylight the results of the raid were there for all to see - the Commandos had wrought devastation on the port. The German troops were very nervous, seeing an armed Commando at every turn and having to deal with the local French populace, some of whom, thinking it was the start of the liberation, took it upon themselves to attack any vulnerable Germans in the docks. The bodies of the dead were washed down the river and ended up on the banks of the Loire while a few survivors, clinging to lifeboats, were picked up by German craft. The remaining motor launches had made good their escape and headed towards their rendezvous with the destroyers Tynedale and Atherstone. Ryder in MGB 314 had met Irwin's ML 270 and they had continued together. They reached the rendezvous point at 04.30 but decided not to linger and started to head for home when they saw Fenton (ML 156) and Falconar (ML 446) as well as the two destroyers. They had been diverted by the presence of some German motor torpedo boats and had fought a sharp action with them. The wounded were now in a bad way and need urgent medical attention, so everybody transferred to the destroyers and the motor launches abandoned.

Boyd (ML 160), Wallis (ML 307) and Horlock (ML 443) had all escaped and made their way back to the UK independently. Henderson (ML 306) escaped but was unfortunate enough to run into the German destroyer jaguar and several motor torpedo boats as he headed for home. A short but violent fight occurred and the German's superior numbers and firepower quickly told. It was here that Sergeant Thomas Durrant, manning the twin Lewis guns, stayed at his post valiantly engaging the Germans. Twice Kapitšnleutnant Paul called for their surrender, twice he was answered by a long burst of fire from Durrant. The German ship moved away and raked the motor launch with its short-range weapons. Durrant died from a huge number of wounds. Lt Swayne then took the decision that enough was enough and offered their surrender. Of the twenty-eight on board, 20 were either dead or wounded. Once the British had been brought on board, Kapitšnleutnant Paul commended Swayne and the crew for their gallant fight and fighting spirit, singling out Sergeant Durrant for his bravery. A week later, Swayne met Newman in a prison camp near Rennes, bringing the naval action to his attention and suggesting that the Colonel recommend Durrant for a high award. Thus it came to pass that the army sergeant was awarded a Victoria Cross for his valour in a naval engagement at the behest of a German naval officer. A unique event in British military history.

While most who had not escaped went into captivity, a few did manage to make it to freedom. Corporals Douglas, Howarth, Wheeler and Sims, along with Private Harding all managed to escape the net that had been cast over St Nazaire and make their way to Spain and onto the UK. Each was assisted by numerous French civilians and their families, often with risk to themselves. Douglas and Harding moved from family to family until they were put on a train to Marseilles where they were transferred to the care of an escape organisation. Howarth was eventually helped by a schoolteacher who took him as far as Bordeaux, but was picked up by the Vichy Police. After spending eight months in jail he managed to escape over the border with Spain. Wheeler and Sims walked most of the way while passing from family to family. At the bridge at Leugny over the River Creuse, two pretty young women diverted the German guard's attention whilst the two Commandos swam across the river into Vichy France. All five rejoined their units and saw additional action later in the war.

Back in St Nazaire

Meanwhile, Campbeltown was stuck fast on the outer caisson with her bottom now resting on the bottom. Naval troops and experts quickly examined her and decided that she was an obsolete ship that was expandable to the Royal Navy. They were slightly amused that they would try and ram the dock gates with a destroyer that, even with the concrete sections added to the front of the ship, would be too light to seriously damage the caisson by ramming. It never seemed to occur to them that there might be explosives aboard, or if it did, they did not seem to conduct a thorough enough search for them. With the naval staff satisfied the ship became a draw for a wide variety of German personnel and even locals. 09.00, the latest time she should have exploded came and went. By mid-morning literally hundreds of people were looking at Campeltown either from the shore or onboard her. Finally at 10.35 when the crowds had died down, the pencil fuses so carefully laid by Lt Tibbits, who was now dead, went off, detonating the four tons of explosives. The explosion was enormous, sending a shudder through the surrounding area. The ship was split in two, the front end being blown apart and the stern being lifted clear of the water. The caisson beneath her virtually disappeared and the remains of the ship were carried into the dry dock by the onrushing seawater. Around the town, windows were smashed, tiles came off roofs, and sheds were blown down. A number of German personnel who were onboard the Campbeltown when the explosives went off were blown to bits, those bits that were left being scattered far and wide. To the listening British survivors, the huge explosion brought them great elation - Operation Chariot had achieved its goal. Two days later the delayed-action torpedoes fired by Wynn went off, blowing up the outer lock gate to the submarine basin. All this heightened the sense of panic and paranoia in the Germans who were extremely twitchy for a long time afterwards.

Conclusion

The cost of the raid was high. Of the 611 men who started the operation, 169 were killed, most dying in the river battle and of those, 105 were naval personnel and sixty-four were Commandos. The raid brought a large number of decorations for bravery. As well as the VCs awarded to Savage and Durrant, Ryder, Beattie and Newman got them as well. Four Distinguished Service Orders, seventeen Distinguished Service Crosses, eleven Military Crosses, four Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, five Distinguished Conduct Medals, twenty-four Distinguished Service Medals and fifteen Military Medals were awarded, along with fifty-one men Mentioned in Dispatches. The raid itself was a success however - the Tirpitz never ventured out into the Atlantic and was sunk by the RAF in its Norwegian fjord, a contributory factor undoubtedly being that the Normandie Dock and the port installations were rendered useless to the Germans for the rest of the war. Indeed, it was not until 1947 that they were finally repaired.

What lessons can be drawn out from Operation Chariot? In summery, these are:

Perhaps though, the final word ought to be left with the (then) Commodore Lord Louis Mountbatten:

"I know of no other case in naval or military annals of such effective damage being inflicted so swiftly with such economy of force . . . . This brilliant attack was carried out at night, under a vicious enemy fire, by a mere handful of men, who achieved, with certainty and precision, what the heaviest bombing raid or naval bombardment might well have failed to do." (Lucas Phillips, p. xvii)

Bibliography and Further Reading

A Reluctant Hero: The Life and Times of Robert Ryder VC, Richard Hopton. A biography of the naval commander at the St Nazairre raid, who after a pre-war career dominated by sailing ships (he sailed home from China in a yacht built for the task and was the naval commander on the British Graham Land Expedition), he had a fairly distinguished wartime career, which included the raid on St. Nazairre, Dieppe and the D-Day Landings. [read full review] cover cover cover
Chant-Sempill, Stuart Nazaire Commando John Murray, London, 1985 cover cover cover

cover Dorrian, James Storming St Nazaire , Leo Cooper, London, 1998 cover cover cover

Dunning, James It Had To Be Tough , Pentland Press, Durham, 2000 cover cover cover

cover Ford, Ken St Nazaire 1942: The Great Commando Raid , Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2001, Campaign Series No. 92. cover cover cover

cover Lucas Phillips, C E The Greatest Raid of All , Heinemann, London, 1958 cover cover cover

Mason, David Raid on St Nazaire , Macdonald & Co, London, 1970 cover cover

cover 'The Raid on Saint-Nazaire' After the Battle , No. 59, pp. 1 - 23. cover cover cover
The St. Nazaire Society

Other reading

Ryder, Cdr R E D. The Attack on St Nazaire, John Murray, London, 1947.
'The Attack on St Nazaire, 28th March 1942', Battle Summery No. 12, Admiralty, London, 1948.
Trump, N W (Lt Cdr). What, if any, lessons can be learned from the Allied raid on St Nazaire in March 1942?, Defence Research Paper, JSCSC, 2003.
The author also recommends the Avalon Hill boardgame 'Raid on St Nazaire' (1987) as well as 'The General' magazine, Volume 24, Issue 4 (April 1988) for wargamers who want to try their hand at Operation Chariot, as well as for additional historical information.
How to cite this article: Antill, P. (6 April 2001), St. Nazaire, Raid on, (Operation Chariot), Part Two (28 March 1942), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_stnaizare2.html
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