World War two
Raid on the
Port of St Nazaire

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In 1942 the Normandy Dock in St Nazaire was the only Atlantic seaboard facility capable of taking in the mighty German Battleship Tirpitz for essential repairs. The mission devised was codenamed Operation Chariot and its aim was to destroy the dock in the very heavily defended French port.

Planned in the amazingly short time, due to the spring tide, the only day a force could approach the dock through the shallow waters was 28th March 1942. The plan was for a ship to ram the dry dock gate and then explode; this vessels mission would be supported by many small ships carrying Commandos who would destroy the docks winding and pumping facilities thus wrecking the whole dockyard infrastructure.

HMS Campbeltown was nominated as the ship to carry out the task of destroying the dock.

Plan of the raid

Click map for the plan of the raid

This set of imagery was taken by 1 PRU on the 25th March 1942
St Nazaire 3 days before the raid U-boats pens
The dry dock at St.Nazaire From the main image I have highlighted two areas.

Area A shows the two sets of U-boat pens, the yellow area on the right clearly displays the pens, as it has yet to have its roof completed.

Area B shows the dock which was the main target of the raid, the dry dock is clearly in use by two supply ships. The gate to the south being the target for the raid.


Campeltown rammed onto the dry dock gates

On 26 March, HMS Campbeltown and the flotilla of 16 small Motor Launches, 1 Motor Torpedo Boat and a Motor Gun Boat sailed from Falmouth for the dock. The passage went smoothly and at 0134 hours on 28th March 1942, Campbeltown rammed into the dock gate, 4 minutes later than planned. The Commandos disembarked under heavy fire and set about their demolitions.

HMS Campbeltown blew up on her delayed fuses at 1135 on 29 March, destroying the 160 ton caisson and rendering the dock out of action until 1948.

This explosion killed 360 Germans who were onboard Campbeltown as they were convinced that the raid had failed. Even later, 2 torpedoes that had been fired at, and where lodged in, the inner dock also exploded. This caused great confusion amongst the now jittery German defenders and a fierce fire fight ensued amongst German forces, which suffered even greater casualties as result. The raid was so successful that the Tirpitz never ventured into the Atlantic again.

In the image above you can clearly see German personnel on the Campbeltown before she exploded.

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This set of imagery was again taken by 1 PRU on the 7th April 1942

St. Nazaire after the raid Enlargement of U-boat pens
The flooded dry dock Area A shows a good enlargement of the U-boats pens.

Area B clearly displaying the fact that the dry dock is totally flood.

Area C showing the lock gate badly buckled and dislodged from its mountings and lying along the side of the lock.

Its was a period of 23 months until the lock was drained and then the wreak of the Campbeltown was revealed (image below).

Enlargement of the dry dock gates HMS Campbeltown revealed

Of the 611 personnel who took part in Operation Chariot, 169 gave their lives, 215 were captured and became POWs, with 227 returning home. Of those who were killed 64 were Commandos and 105 were naval personnel. Of the 227 who returned home, 222 did so by sea in the Motor Launches and their accompanying Destroyers. The remaining 5 Charioteers (The surviving veterans are known as Charioteers) avoided capture and travelled overland on foot and by bicycle through France and Spain to Gibraltar.

Operation Chariot attracted 5 VCs, 80 other gallantry decorations and 51 Mentions in Despatches.

The VCs were awarded to:

Cdr Robert Ryder - Naval Commander
Lt Cdr Sam Beattie - Officer Commanding HMS Campbeltown (Buried in Ruan Minor, Cornwall)
Lt Col Charles Newman - Military Commander
Sgt Tom Durrant - Lewis Gun operator in ML 306 (Posthumous award)
AB William Savage - Gun Loader on the Pom-Pom Motor Gun Boat 314 (Posthumous award) (Buried in Falmouth)

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