Greatest Commando Raid
Annals Of War's Greatest Raid
The previous page was: "Fighting Soldiers"
The Greatest Commando Raid; was on the west coast of France where the River Loire joins the sea; there stands the port of St. Nazaire. During World War II, it possessed the only dry dock on the Atlantic coast big enough to hold a German Battleship.
And it was of the utmost importance to Germany with the long drawn out battle going on in the Atlantic; the dock was approximately three hundred and fifty metres long by fifty meters wide.
It was to this haven that the Bismarck was undoubtedly making for when she was sunk on the 24th May 1941; but her sister ship was still afloat. And at that time the Turpitz was sailing in Norwegian waters and was due to enter the Atlantic.
The damage this great ship could do to shipping was incalculable. But it was inevitable that the Turpitz would undoubtedly sustain a degree of damage in battle. The Turpitz would then need the big dry dock to have her repairs carried out.
It Was A Formidable Enterprise
At the time of conception the idea was seen as madness. It was a formidable enterprise by any standards.
But it wasn't a new idea a raid of this type had been carried out before at Zeebrugge, in World War I; although classed as successful it had been a disaster from start to finish.
A voice was heard saying: Any person who thought about carrying out such an outlandish raid should get the D.S.O. Let alone the men who attempted to carry it out.
The dockyard consisted of an out harbour, two dockyard basins, a
large number of U-boat pens, with another fourteen other massive bunkers under construction and there was the "Forme Ecluse" the large dry dock itself.
The Forme Ecluse opens out onto the River Loire; it is set at an angle of approximately forty degrees opposite the river mouth known as the old entrance.
U-boats Used The Old Entrance
On the port side as you enter the river there is a five metre high mole depending on the tide; it runs along the river. On the starboard side is waste land.
The mole houses the power station for the pumping stations of the locks. And it had lots of warehouses it was also the heaviest defended place in Europe.
With four large anti-aircraft batteries and heavy machine gun
posts set strategically between them; and German Troops being housed in the huge warehouses; it made a formidable target.
The U-boats used the old entrance on the river Loire who used one of the basins where the U-boat bunkers were.
An Accurate Scale Model
Planning started in earnest; all relevant information was gathered and compiled in order. Ariel photographs were taken and scrutinised by the experts. An accurate scale model was made so that the planning details could within reason be correct.
Lieutenant Colonel A.C. Newman (the Essex Regiment) of No.2 Commando and Commander R.E.D. Ryder Royal Navy met for the first time, both took an immediate liking to each other. Together they worked enthusiastically until they were both happy with the plan.
The two main items were the Commandos and a destroyer, the later being the hardest to obtain. The Americans gave the Royal Navy a old destroyer "The Buchanan", which was renamed H.M.S. Campbeltown.
The Commandos were all hand picked by their officers. Lord
Mountbatten of Burma said: "This is not an ordinary raid; this is an operation of war."
Fast Boats Pages
Joe Wezley Pages
On 26th March 1942
The Commandos Sailed To War
On 26th March 1942, the force sailed in three columns. 346 Royal Naval and 265 Commandos were sailing to challenge 5,000 fully equipped German troops. Under the glare of search-lights and against 71 coastal defence guns ranging from 280mm to 20mm most were in concrete emplacements with numerous machine-gun posts; these were backed up by the ship's guns and men that were on the ships in the harbour.
The outer columns consisted of specially adapted motor launches with the Commandos on board. Each boat had trained for a specific target they all knew exactly what their task was and where to do it.
The centre column had two Hunter Class destroyers; H.M.S. Atherstone and H.M.S. Tynedale. Then came the Campbeltown and 4 high speed gun-boats. Motor gun-boat 314 came into contact with a German U-boat, fire was returned and depth charges were dropped.
The convoy steered in the direction of La Pallice at 22:00 hours a light from the Submarine (a normal practice on Commando raids) H.M.S. Sturgeon guided them in; the gun-boat 314 led the way with the Campbeltown immediately behind her.
The motor launches were getting ready to peel off to their individual destinations. The Commandos numbered two hundred and sixty five all ranks.
Sailing Directly Into Enemy's Fire
They sailed in tidy formation until three quarters of a mile from their target. At 01:22 hours the searchlights from both banks lit them up.
The force had been adapted to German images and German flags were flying. Leading signalman Pike was dressed in a German Petty Officers uniform. He asked the German shore batteries to wait; then he asked for permission to proceed to the harbour without delay.
Because of the false message only a few shots were fired; they stopped. The Campbeltown managed to get past all of the main batteries.
At 01:27 hours the Germans realised what was going on and opened up with everything they had in earnest. The German flags were lowered and the White Ensign Raised.
The Air Immediately Filled With Tracer
When the Royal Air Force had finished bombing the area. The Campbeltown increased her speed and forged ahead at full speed. At 01:34 hours She struck the caisson of the lock gates with a mighty crash.
No. 2 Commando under Newman went ashore they had one and a half hours to complete their tasks. Armed with Tommy guns, Bren guns and rifles and grenades the commandos chosen weapons to attack with, assaulted the enemy gun positions before them.
The strongpoints surrounded the whole dockyard. They set about wiping out machine-gun posts while fighting other German troops and taking out snipers. All this was carried out while the demolition parties set about their business.
The chief task was to place charges in the winding mechanism of the main gates below the water level. Lieutenant S.W. Chant though wounded in both knees descended forty feet in the darkness to place the explosives.
Next was job was the pumping station including electric motors and gearing; others set about planting the explosives for blowing up the winding houses and the inner dock gates.
The Impact Of The Campbeltown
They were in the midst of heavy fire from an enemy that was now fully aroused and most determined to fend off the attack; illuminated by searchlights the Commandos pressed on casualties
on both sides continued falling everywhere.
Explosions started taking place the bridge connecting the mainland to the dock was destroyed, as were the bridge and dock gates to the old entrance used by the U-boats.
The moment of the Campbeltown's impact on the huge gates caused huge splinters of flying timber, sparks, smoke and flames making it very difficult to see clearly. The German ships in the basins directed their fire at the Commandos along with machine-guns on top of the submarine pens.
The commandos were continually under intense fire; all pursuing their objectives, each loud explosion bringing cheer to their hearts, they knew they were causing the damage they were sent to do. The winding houses and warehouses were all in flames; other explosions were continuing, the dockyard was gradually being destroyed.
"Every Commando Was Magnificent"
With intense satisfaction the demolition parties joined the others in the fighting. Machine-guns and cannons raining down on them as building after building went up in smoke including the main pumping station itself.
The machine guns on the submarine pens went silent they had been taken out and two flack towers were destroyed.
German machine-guns were accurately firing from other tall buildings, windows and lower roofs. The plunging fire did great execution of the Commandos.
Newman later reported: "every Commando behaved magnificently coolly returning fire with ever decreasing ammunition."
The order was not to surrender until the ammunition ran out and not to surrender if it were at all possible.
There Is To Be Found No Braver Action
With no ammunition left those who could broke up into small parties and try to make it back to Britain through France and Spain.
Five made it home-Corporal Wheeler, Lance Corporals Douglas, Howarth and Sims and Private Harding.
In action we must always bear in mind comrades backing us up from other regiments or ships who also perish; although they are not out on the front line, without their support we wouldn't be there either.
The cost in lives was Royal Navy 185 officers and other ranks killed in action. Commandos 212 officers and other ranks killed in action.
Some commandos were taken prisoner others did not get ashore because of mechanical breakdowns.
When the Campbeltown went up it put the dock out of order for the rest of the war.
In the annals of war there is to be found no braver action than the battle fought at the port of St Nazaire.
The next Link below will be: "Green Beret Reservists"
Greatest Commando Raid
Green Beret Reservists
"Pirates Trilogy" $20