" The base of the Tirpiz and the Bismark"

Malcolm Chant

Joined September 2008

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: The St Nazaire Raid 1942

The main Commando raid of 1942 was on the French port of St Nazaire. Codenamed OPERATION CHARIOT, this daring attack involved 611 men of the Royal Navy and Commando units with covering support from the Royal Air Force. The aim of Operation Chariot was to permanently disable the huge Nornamdie Dry Dock in the French port of St Nazaire and deny its use to the enemy as a haven for the German Battleship Tirpitz, which was at that time under construction in the Baltic.

The dry dock at St Nazaire had been built in 1932 to service the French luxury liner Normandie. The dock, which was the largest of its type in Europe, was situated at the mouth of the heavily guarded River Loire. Air attacks were not considered feasible because of the proximity of the Dock to the town and the danger to French civilians and it was therefore decided to mount a daring raid from the sea directly on the dock itself.

The centrepiece of the attack was the “Lend-lease” former United States destroyer USS Buchanan which was renamed HMS Campbletown when she arrived to join the Royal Navy in 1940. Campbeltown was adapted to give her the very convincing profile of a German destroyer and she was to be supported on the raid by Motor Launches (MLs), Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) and a Motor Gun Boat (MGB). The majority of the Commandos that were carried in this assortment of vessels were drawn from Number 2 Commando led by Lieutenant Colonel A Charles Newman. They wore their web equipment scrubbed white to help them identify friend from foe in the darkness and the maze of dock buildings. The demolition parties trained at Burntisland in Fife and carried out rehearsals at Rosyth on the Firth of Forth.

The interior of Campbeltown was stripped of all but essentials and her bows were packed with four tons of explosives. In the early morning of the 28th of March 1942, using stealth alone, the raiding party entered the mouth of the river and, avoiding the normal shipping channel, they steered directly for the dock gates. Shortly before Campbeltown rammed the gates the enemy realised what was happening and opened devastating fire on the little flotilla but, under her Captain Lieutenant Commander Stephen H Beattie, Campbeltown held her course and sailed straight into the dock gates with such force that her bow crumpled back thirty feet leaving the explosive sitting directly on top of the dock gate. Those Commandos who had survived the terrible gunfire from the defending batteries stormed ashore to set charges on pump houses, winding gear, machine houses and dock facilities. Amongst these men was Captain Donald W Roy, a Cameron Highlander of Number 2 Commando, who was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh and who fought that day in his Cameron kilt, as did Private T McCormack and a number of others.

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