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HMS Campbeltown Commemorates the Raid on St Nazaire 28 March 1942

The cake made by POCA Richard Simpson to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the Raid
L to R: Mr Hugh Arnold DSC, Mr Nick Beattie, Mr Eric de la Torre MBE, Lt Col Bob Montgomery & Capt Alistair Halliday

The 28 March 2001 marks the 59th Anniversary of Operation Chariot and the destruction of the Normandie Dock in St Nazaire and has been ommemorated by a dinner on board the ship alongside at Devonport.

This most daring raid, led by the first RN warship named HMS Campbeltown, was so successful and contained such heroism, that it resulted in the award of 5 Victoria Crosses and 80 other decorations for Gallantry. It is deservedly known also as 'The Greatest Raid of All'. The St Nazaire operation continues to be commemorated in the present Type 22 frigate, HMS Campbeltown, and the ship maintains strong links with the "St Nazaire Society". The surviving veterans are known as "Charioteers".

In 1942 the Normandie 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 of 7 weeks and constricted by highly limiting tidal movements, the only day a force could approach the dock through the shallow waters was 28th March 1942, because of the Spring high tide. The plan was to send in a ship to ram the dock gate and then explode; this vessel's mission would be supported by many small ships carrying Commandos who would destroy the dock's winding and pumping facilities then wreck the dockyard infrastructure. Daring and against all the odds, the plan was accepted by the Admiralty and HMS Campbeltown was nominated as the ship to carry out the task of destroying the dock.

The ship was completely stripped out internally to reduce her draught for the transit through the shallows approaching the target dock. The work was completed in amazing record time of 10 days, with the signal detailing the work package drafted in just one hour. The ship's bows were packed with 4.5 tons of high explosive, which were hidden in false bulkheads, encased in steel and set in concrete. These explosives were set to detonate on delayed fuzes, once the Commandos had completed the operation and been withdrawn to safety.

On 26 March, HMS Campbeltown and her Operation Chariot flotilla of 16 small Motor Launches, 1 Motor Torpedo Boat and a Motor Gun Boat sailed from Falmouth for St Nazaire. The passage went smoothly and at 0134 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. Campbeltown blew up on her delayed fuzes at 1135 on 28 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 firefight 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.

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 MLs and their accompanying Destroyers. The remaining 5 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:

Lt Cdr Sam Beattie CO HMS Campbeltown (Buried in Ruan Minor, Cornwall)

Lt Col Charles Newman Military Commander

Cdr Robert Ryder Naval Commander

Sgt Tom Durrant Lewis Gun operator in ML 306 (Posthumous award)

AB William Savage Gun Layer on the Pom-Pom Motor Gun Boat 314 (Posthumous award) (Buried in Falmouth)

A tribute to the USS Buchanan is incorporated in HMS Campbeltown's ship's crest. The blue circle is taken from the Buchanan and white star represents the flag of the USA. The ship's Bell from the original Campbeltown was given to the town of Campbelltown Pennsylvania at the end of the war as a token of gratitude to the USA for the lend lease programme. In 1988 the townspeople of Campbeltown voted to lend the bell to the current operational HMS Campbeltown for the duration of her service in the Royal Navy, after which it should then be returned to Campbelltown PA.

Guests of the St Nazaire Commemorative Dinner

Lt Col Bob Montgomery was awarded the Military Cross for his actions as a 21 year old Captain in the Royal Engineers working on Demolition Control. He sailed to the raid in HMS Campbeltown and was landed by jumping over the ship's bow onto the Caisson, whereupon his task was to conduct demolition work ashore. He was captured as a POW during the raid.

Mr Hugh Arnold was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a young SLT in the RN Volunteer Reserves embarked in ML 446, one of the flotilla of Motor Launches that accompanied the raid. His ML received heavy fire and he was badly wounded as the ship's CO fought to bring their ML alongside to land their embarked Commandos under point blank heavy fire.

Mr Eric de la Torre MBE is currently the Secretary of the St Nazaire Society and was a Lance Corporal in 3 Commando who landed in Motor Launch 262 during the raid. His ML manoeuvred in the crossfire and chaos to land Commandos ashore at the old Mole under heavy enemy fire.

Mr Nick Beattie is the son of Lt Cdr Sam Beattie VC, Commanding Officer of HMS Campbeltown at the time of the raid, Nick was 5 months old when the raid took place. His father was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the operation; he was captured and made a POW after the raid. Nick Beattie has very recently designed a St Nazaire Society web site on the Internet and he is keen to ensure that the story of 'The Greatest Raid of All' continues to be passed down through the generations of Charioteers and Campbeltown's Ship's Company.