Operation Chariot

Operation Chariot, the name given to the raid by British forces on St Naziare and specifically its huge dry dock, was one of the most daring, courageous eposides of World War II. Out of 611 Commandos who entered the Saint-Nazaire harbour, around only 200 succeeded in landing at the docks. All but 27 were either killed or captured, 22 escaped back to Britain in motor Torpedo Boats and five escaped to the Spanish border. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded to men involved, in what has become known as the greatest raid of all.

Germany was gaining the upper hand in the battle for control of the Atlantic and the new fleet of  large German warships spearheaded by The Tirpirz, was causing concern within British ranks. Only the Normandie Dock at St Nazaire was capable of housing the huge warship if it needed repairs and thus an attack on the St Nazair harbour would force such ships back to Germany thereby hampering their war effort. In addition, a new German submarine base had been built within the harbour.

The ships left Falmouth on the 26th March 1942. The operation would rely heavily on surprise, with the obsolete HMS Campeltown used and disguised for the purpose. She had been fitted with explosive charges that would detonate upon impact with the dry dock gate. Thanks to the disguise that included relaying German morse code to the enemy, enough time had been bought to allow the Campbeltown, who came under intense fire as she approached the harbour, to break through the German defences and strike the dry dock at over 20 knots.

Despite the heavy casualties suffered by the British raiders, the St. Nazaire raid was judged to be highly successful with the dock severely damaged and remaining unusable until 1947. A fitting memorial now exists on the Prince of Wales Pier in Falmouth and was unveiled by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall on 11 July 2008.