All this was to be achieved under cover of an air raid. The planners, themselves, had reservations about the withdrawal phase which was difficult to predict since much depended on the element of surprise and the effectiveness of the opposing forces. However, the risks were less than the potential rewards. Outside the planning circle, the Naval C in C Plymouth, thought the vessel would bounce off the gate, a view he maintained against the advice of the engineer who built it. He also thought that anyone within half a mile of the explosion would be killed.
Mountbatten conceded the point about the destructive power of the explosion and delayed action fuses were to be fitted to allow time for the troops and crew to evacuate the area. However, on the question of the use of a boat to ram the lock gate, he held firm.
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It was also decided to spread the raiding force between the main ship and the supporting motor launches, simply to avoid the total loss of the force in the event of disaster befalling the main ship. Her interior was stripped out, the bridge was armour-plated and additional protection provided for the Commandos she would carry.
The accompanying motor launches MLs , were to carry Commandos. The boats were fitted with two Oerlikon 20mm guns and additional fuel tanks to increase their range. As the needs of the raid were reassessed, the ML fleet was increased to 10 and then to Dunstan Curtis. She would lead the attack with motor torpedo boat MTB 74 in reserve.
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This was equipped with unproven flying torpedoes to breach the dry dock gates if the Campbeltown failed to reach its target. The fleet sailed from Falmouth at 3 pm on the 26th of March. South west of Ushant, they came across a U-Boat and damaged it. They departed the area on a false course which the submarine duly reported to their command and control HQ. Five German torpedo boats left St Nazaire to engage the vessels but in entirely the wrong direction. They were still at sea during the raid. The diversionary bombing air raid had started but it lacked accuracy due to low cloud causing an alert in the town and its approaches, rather than the intended effect of keeping the German forces in their bunkers.
The bombers had been briefed to target only specific military installations to avoid civilian casualties. Those who failed to identify their targets, did not drop their bombs. Each boat flew the German flag to confuse the enemy and delay identification. Submarine, HMS Sturgeon, provided the exact position for entry to the estuary from which the raiding force was to make its run up the estuary. The Campbeltown crept through at 5 knots, touching bottom twice.
At hours, search lights illuminated the entire fleet but, for a short time, the Germans were reluctant to open fire possibly because of confusion caused by spoof signals and a general disbelief that such an audacious raid could be undertaken. The German flags were then replaced with White Ensigns when the fleet was still two miles from its target. The Germans responded with intense shelling and gun fire during the final 15 minutes of the run in, during which half the men aboard the MLs were either killed or wounded. The Campbeltown cleared the estuary and increased speed to break through the torpedo barrier and into the dock gate.
The MLs were all but stopped, only two succeeded in landing their full complement of Commandos. Other MLs approached the landing zones, but were forced to re-embark their Commandos in the face of very heavy fire from 20mm cannons. Sixteen MLs were assigned to the force to carry commandos and demolition parties into St Nazaire.
Their frail wooden hulls offered scant protection and only three of the craft survived the operation. On shore fighting was ferocious and close quartered. At hours, Campbeltown was successfully driven at speed into the dock gates just 4 minutes behind schedule. M ost of her crew were taken aboard MGB while MTB 74 deployed her delayed action torpedoes in the foundations of the old entrance dock gate.
Captain Ryder, CO of the Naval forces, went ashore and satisfied himself that Campbeltown was both scuttled and embedded in the loch gate. At hours, Ryder decided to withdraw. By this time, more than half of his craft had been destroyed and the remainder were riddled MTB 74, departed the area of action to rendezvous with British destroyers in the open sea off the Loire.
She carried 26 men on board and was accompanied by 7 other craft. She stopped to pick up two more survivors, but was hit by accurate shelling from shore batteries. Only 3 of the 34 aboard survived. The remaining craft met the 5 German torpedo boats returning from their fruitless mission. In further enemy fire, more craft were destroyed or scuttled and their crews transferred to the remaining craft. Of the 18 coastal craft, which set out from Falmouth, only four returned.
They show major landmarks largely unchanged since South loch gate showing the final stage of HMS Campbeltown's one way journey. View of south loch gate from the north gate The approaches to the old entrance to the Basin of St Nazaire. It is quite narrow and not very long. The south side of the old entrance where Commando units disembarked. The old entrance loch gates which were torpedoed in the action.
Beyond the old entrance loch gates is the swing bridge over which the Commandos from the Campbeltown retreated. The steps on the south side of the approaches to the old entrance used by the Commandos as a drop off point. The heavily defended submarine pens are in the background.
The submarine pens from where the Commandos came under heavy enemy fire. The 'Bridge of memories' over which the Commandos attempted to escape. View looking back towards the old town and the area north of the Mole. The delayed action fuses detonated the high explosives in the Campbeltown's hold at noon on the 28th. Forty German officers were aboard at the time and other ranks were nearby on the quay. All were killed in the blast.
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The dock gates were destroyed and were not repaired until after the war. On the evening of the 29th the delayed torpedoes were activated causing further damage and German casualties. Of the Commandos who took part, 59 were posted as killed or missing and captured. Many others were wounded. The Tirptitz was never able to leave Norwegian waters for want of a safe haven on the Atlantic coast. The value of the shipping saved in terms of men, armaments and food, can only be guessed at but it was a very significant contribution to the Allied cause.
The air raid had hindered, rather than helped the amphibious raid on St Nazaire. A new solution was needed, and so the British put the Window countermeasure into use. The results were spectacular, and Germans were forced to develop new defensive strategies and technology. In February , 35 men from No. The mission was one of sabotage, and the objective was to destroy a railway viaduct in the Apennine Mountains, north of Naples. The Tragino Aqueduct was the water supply for three Italian ports, and the operation was led by Major T Pritchard, who trained his X troop for Colossus from nearby Malta.
Along with the main raid, a diversionary attack was carried out in Foggia to draw the Italians away. Back in Tragino, the commandos had dropped in and the explosives were armed and ready to go. The huge explosion successfully eliminated the aqueduct, but the raid soon got difficult as the extraction of the men became tricky.
The original plan was to evacuate the commandos via submarine, 60 miles away, but this idea had to be abandoned when the extraction site was discovered by the Italians. There were no plans for an alternate method of withdrawal, so the men were forced to split into four groups and escape across the countryside on foot. Slowed down by the need to stay hidden in farms and small villages, they were soon all captured. The Italian spy and interpreter Fortunate Picchi, who was working for the British, was tortured and executed, while the others were sent to POW camps.
The mission was a success, but the aqueduct was soon repaired, nullifying the damage of the explosion and the mission. However, the operation proved that commandos could andwould cause havoc behind enemy lines for the remainder of the war. The Lofoten Islands were home to several German glycerine factories that supported the manufacturing of weapons for the Third Reich. To put an end to this armament production, men from No. After a three-day journey where seasickness ravaged the men, the British arrived on 4 March. Lowered down onto thick ice, the commandos stormed into the German compounds, completely surprising the Wehrmacht soldiers stationed there.
Advancing through the chilly environment, the commandos swiftly rounded up the defenders and set charges on factories, military buildings and ships. It has been reported that the local Norwegians were so happy at the sight of Allied soldiers that they offered ersatz coffee to them all. The mission was such a success that the British saw the event as an ideal opportunity to poke fun at the Nazis.
Where are your troops? They provided an opportunity to gather intelligence through captured prisoners and restore British morale. The forays helped capture a set of rotor wheels for an Enigma machine and its codebooks. This meant that the British could read German naval codes at Bletchley Park, providing the crucial intelligence that helped British convoys avoid German U-boats. These raids also helped stretch German military resources from other theatres. After Operation Archery, the Germans sent 30, troops to Norway to upgrade coastal and inland defences.
The closest Hitler ever came to a conquest of Britain was the Channel Islands. The Casquets off Alderney were home to a German naval signalling station and also some secret codebooks.
St Nazaire 1942
An attack on the complex had been attempted many times prior to September , and this time a team from No. The lighthouse was protected by razor-sharp rocks that were a magnet for shipwrecks, but the commandos managed to scramble on land after disembarking a torpedo boat yards from the shore.
With the noise from the waves covering their movements, the 12 men scaled the cliffs up to the walls of the compound. The seven German defenders were armed with Steyr rifles and grenades, so stealth was key. With a mixture of tactical espionage and German slackness the defenders were either asleep or not willing to resist , the lighthouse was captured without a shot being fired. However, the raid was not over. Upon leaving the rock, one of the commandos, Adam Orr, jumped aboard the escape boat, knife in hand, and in the choppy water stumbled into one of his fellow marines, Peter Kemp, stabbing him in the thigh.
Worse still, another one of the group, Geoff Appleyard, broke the tarsal bone in his ankle when he slipped down from a rock. The mission complete and the injured safely aboard, the prisoners were interrogated upon the return to the mainland and provided the British with valuable information on German positions, movements and manpower.
Antwerp was a major target for the Allies. Home to one of the biggest ports in Europe, its occupation was key to increasing the pressure on the shrinking Third Reich. However, the holding of the port was useless without access to the mouth of the River Scheldt. Walcheren was an island that was heavily fortified by the Germans with bunkers and coastal guns, and it prevented mines being cleared to allow ships in to the river estuary. The island would be attacked under Operation Infatuate with a pincer movement from two directions. From the south, the commandos of 4 Special Service Brigade would attempt an amphibious landing while being supported by Canadian troops from the north.
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The tower at Westkapelle was the first to fall, followed by a radar station. The next objective was the batteries, which were eventually taken after many commando casualties. With only one battery left to take, the German commander negotiated the surrender of his remaining 4, troops in the area. The mission was complete, but before the day was over, disaster struck as one of the amphibious landing vehicles ran into a mine.
By Christmas , the Wehrmacht had occupied Norway for more than 18 months. In this time, the Germans had extracted copious amounts of ore to fuel their armed forces. The raiding force was a hybrid of three commando units No. There were no Axis warships to combat, but the Wehrmacht st Division along with substantial fortifications and air support would be a tough nut to crack.
The first move was taken by the Royal Navy, which opened fire on the coastal defences, followed by the RAF, which provoked the Luftwaffe into action while also creating a smoke screen for the commandos to advance under.
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The commandos escaped having killed Germans and taken 98 prisoner.