HMS Campbeltown started the Devonport repairs in January.
During this time, HMS Campbeltown was chosen for a specific
operation and was withdrawn from normal service for modifications.
HMS Campbeltown was to be used in Operation Chariot, a planned
assault operation on the docks at St Nazaire. In 1942 the
Kriegsmarine battleship Tirpitz
was anchored at Trondheim in Kingdom of Norway, and was believed
to be a grievous threat to Atlantic convoys. Should the battleship
move into the Atlantic Ocean, the Louis Joubert dry dock at
St Nazaire which had in the beginning been built for the liner
SS Normandie was a critical target, it was the only Kriegsmarine
held dry dock on the European coast of the Atlantic that was
big enough to service the battleship Tirpitz
Whenever this dry dock could be put out of action, any offensive
sortie by battleship Tirpitz
into the Atlantic would be a good deal more dangerous for
the Kriegsmarine to carry out, making it less likely that
they would risk deploying battleship Tirpitz
Operation Chariot was a plan to ram an explosive laden warship
into the dock gates. Going with her would be a number of small
boats carrying British Commandos, who would demolish the dock's
pumping and winding machinery and other infrastructure. The
British Commandos would then be evacuated by the small boats
before the explosives in HMS Campbeltown blew up. A exceptional
difficulty was that the dock was located a few miles up the
estuary of the Loire River. HMS Campbeltown was considered
to be expendable and was chosen to be the ram ship. HMS Campbeltown
spent February receiving modifications. This included removing
HMS Campbeltown third and fourth funnels, and having the remaining
two funnels raked to simulate the structure and appearance
of a German Raubvogel class torpedo boat. A 12-pounder gun
was installed forward and eight 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft
cannons were mounted on the upper deck. Some extra armour
was provided to protect the bridge structure, and unnecessary
stores and equipment were removed to lighten the destroyer.
A explosive charge consisting of 24 Mark VII depth charges
containing a total of 4.5 short tons of amatol high explosive
was fitted into steel tanks installed just behind the steel
pillar that supported her most forward gun mount. The charges
were to be set off by multiple eight hour time pencils joined
together by cordtex, set before steaming out and cemented
in to prevent any interference with the detonation. HMS Campbeltown
steamed from Devonport to Falmouth, Cornwall on 25
to join the other ships that would participate
in the operation. The crew which would be evacuated with the
commandos was reduced to 75 men, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander
Stephen Sam" Beattie.
A flotilla of 21 vessels HMS Campbeltown, 16 Fairmile B motor
launches, one motor torpedo boat, and a Fairmile C motor gun
boat acting as the commandos headquarters left Falmouth at
two o'clock on 26
, escorted for most of the crossing to France
by two Hunt class escort destroyers. Aside from a brief clash
with German submarine U-593
whose captain misreported the task force's course and composition,
the ships reached France untroubled. One motor launch suffered
mechanical troubles and had to return to England.
The preliminary air attack carried out through heavy cloud
by 35 Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys and 25 Vickers Wellingtons
was very much smaller than earlier planned and was ineffectual,
simply alerting the defenders of something unusual happening.
Nonetheless, by flashing genuine Kriegsmarine recognition
signals, the force, with HMS Campbeltown flying the flag of
the Kriegsmarine, approached to within less than 1 mile of
the harbour before being fired upon. HMS Campbeltown as the
biggest target drew most of the fire. On the final approach,
the crew of HMS Campbeltown lowered the emblem of the Kriegsmarine
and hoisted the fighting ensign of the Royal Navy.
1:34 a.m. on 28
, four minutes later than planned, HMS Campbeltown
rammed the dock gate. The British Commandos and ship's crew
came ashore under heavy German fire, and set about destroying
the dock machinery. 162 of the raiders were killed 64 commandos
and 105 sailors out of the 611 men in the attacking force.
From the survivors, 215 were apprehended and 222 were evacuated
by the surviving small craft. An further five circumvented
capture and travelled overland through France to Spain and
then to Gibraltar, a British territory.
The explosive charges in HMS Campbeltown blew up at noon,
an hour and a half later than the British had anticipated.
Though the ship had been searched by the Germans, the explosives
hadn't been discovered. The explosion killed around 250 German
soldiers and French civilians, and destroyed both the front
half of the destroyer and the 160 short tons caisson of the
dry dock, with the rush of water into the dry dock washing
the remains of the ship into it. The St. Nazaire dry dock
was made unserviceable for the rest of the war, and wasn't
repaired until 1947.
Whilst the delayed-action torpedoes fired by the motor torpedo
boat into the outer lock gate to the submarine basin blew
up, as planned, on the night of 30 March 1942. This later
explosion led to terror, with German forces firing on French
civilians and on one another. Sixteen French civilians were
killed and around thirty wounded. Later, 1,500 civilians were
arrested and interned in a camp at Savenay, and most of their
houses were destroyed, even though they had nothing to do
with the raid. Lieutenant Commander Beattie who was taken prisoner received
the Victoria Cross for his valour, and in 1947 received the
French Légion d'honneur. Lieutenant Commander Beattie Victoria Cross
was one of five that were presented to participants in the
raid, along with 80 other military medals.
The Second Great War.
Edited by Sir John Hamilton
The War Illustrated.
Edited by Sir John Hamilton
2194 Days Of War.
For a complete list of sources