St Nazaire marks one of WWII's most daring raids


The bomb inside HMS Campbelltown wrecked the dock Continue reading the main story
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A ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of a daring World War II raid has been held at St Nazaire in western France.

The last remaining British veterans of the mission to destroy the town's docks gathered in the town.

Operation Chariot saw the old destroyer HMS Campbeltown packed with explosives and rammed into the Normandie dock.

The explosives detonated and wrecked the dock, preventing it being used as a base for the German battleship Tirpitz to threaten Atlantic convoys.

Before the massive explosion, commandos who had sailed on the Campbeltown fought German troops in the town for several hours.

Former commando Corran Purdon: 'We had no time to feel scared'
Although the mission was a success, 169 British servicemen died in the raid and 215 were captured. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded.

A wreath-laying ceremony was held on Wednesday at the graves of some of the British servicemen who died in the raid, in a area of the town known as "English cemetery".

In bright sunshine, a French military band played as serving soldiers from both Britain and France gathered alongside a handful of surviving veterans.

One of the commandos attending the anniversary event, Corran Purdon, who was 20 at the time, said: "I thought it was going to be a pretty dicey do, to be honest. But I never thought we wouldn't do it."

A memorial sits in front of the Place du Commando by the town's waterfront.

The veterans were in sight of the docks where they took part in the crucial battle.


Op Chariot is a favourite wartime effort of mine. Prince Charles and Camilla dedicated a new Falmouth memorial to the raid, a few years ago.
Five VC's were awarded for this outing . Feel priviliged to have been to the new memorials and talked to some in the know. Just lucky I suppose, as a frequent visitor to Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall.

The St Nazaire Society (Operation Chariot)

Falmouth memorial to St Nazaire Raid (From Falmouth Packet)

Old Memorial BBC - Cornwall - Coast - Remembering the St Nazaire raid
Hard to imagine a raid like that getting past today's staff risks assessments....

One of the most poignant anecdotes of the raid is the officer who allowed a frightened German gun team to run away and save their lives..... only for them to return later, man the gun and sink (it is thought) most of the MTBs that were due to pick up the raiding party.
I can't help but think that there would be an epic film in this magnificent story - was one ever made?
I can't help but think that there would be an epic film in this magnificent story - was one ever made?
Yes, Gift Horse (US title Glory At Sea) is a 1952 British war film starring Trevor Howard and Richard Attenborough. The film follows the story of the fictional ship HMS Ballantrae and her crew from the time they come together in 1940 until they go on a one-way mission to destroy a German-held dry dock in France.

The first half of the film depicts an overview of the ex-American Town class destroyers, from their handing over to the Royal Navy, their working-up into fighting units despite their old age and limitations, and their dangerous work as convoy escorts during the Battle of the Atlantic. The latter part of the film is clearly based [1] on HMS Campbeltown and the St. Nazaire Raid.

Not a bad film really
I can't help but think that there would be an epic film in this magnificent story - was one ever made?
As Scarletto mentions, Gift Horse.

There is talk of a film coming out this year being made by the Harry Potter Director:


Book Reviewer
Jeremy Clarkson, did a documentary on the St Nazaire Raid, called " The Greatest Raid of All" . It is available from Amazon on a DVD called "Jeremy Clarkson - War Stories" . Very interesting and informative watching. The documentary makers made models of the docks and HMS Campbeltown and reenacted the raid using CG I and the models.


Well according to the BBC 6 O' clock news the surviving Commandos were arrested by the Germans. I suppose they were naughty and got Asbos
Channel 4 screened a documentary about 10 years ago, then some of the survivors went on-line via the Channel 4 website and answered questions. Was a basic kind of 'forum' with typed messages and replies. Was an honour to be part of it.
Yep, I remember that the Germans shot some of the captured and wounded on the spot.....dirty feckers.


Another of Mountbatten's operations, a Taskforce up the Loire estuary setting sail from Falmouth at 3 P.M, March 26, '42. HMS Campbeltown's onboard bomb/charge was made up of twenty-four Mark VII depth-charges, as used for attacking submarines, weighting 400 pound each, so that the total charge weighted four and a quarter tons. It was enclosed in a special steel tank on top of the fuel compartments and cemented in. The fuses used were the Army’s new long-delay ‘pencil’ fuses set to act after eight hours, at least three being inserted in the charge, and the whole connected together with cordtex.
In the early 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 amongst and the Germans that such an audacious raid could be undertaken. The task force flew German flags, which were replaced with the White Ensign when the fleet was still two miles from its target. The Germans opened fire only during the final 15 minutes of the run in, during which half the men aboard the MLs were either killed or wounded from the intense shelling. Whilst the Campbeltown rammed the German U Boat dry dock at about 1.30 A.M, its explosives didn't go off until lunchtime. The "pencil" fuses timer set off the explosives on HMS Campbeltown killing 40 German officers and civilian administrators touring the ship plus 320 others nearby.

The dry dock was flooded and put out of service for the rest of the war. Thus also neutralizing the threat the Tirpitz posed.

Operation Chariot: The Raid on St. Nazaire by Jon Cooksey. (Elite Forces Operations Series) Pen & Sword, 2005, 128pp. B/w & Coloured illustrations throughout. Paperback. ISBN 1844151166

The Greatest Raid Of All - C.E.Lucas Phillips, Pan Books ISBN 0-330-48070-7.

Saint-Nazaire. Operation Chariot - 1942 written by James G Dorrian and published in 2006 by Pen and Sword as part of their 'Battleground' series. It is designed for both 'armchair visitors' and for those who intend to visit the port. The guide is highly illustrated, with 224 pages, 20 maps and drawings and more than 150 photographs. Dimensions - 8 1/2 " by 5 1/4". Softback. ISBN 1844153347 - cover price £12.99 but can be found at £9.99.

Storming St Nazaire - The Dock Busting Raid by James G Dorrian. Published 1998 and more recently in paperback by Leo Cooper (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books). 304 pages £14.95. ISBN 08052 807


1 detail wrong it was a standard surface ship dry dock, the biggest in Europe nothing to do with subs all about capital ships. Apart from that not a bad synopsis!


1 detail wrong it was a standard surface ship dry dock, the biggest in Europe nothing to do with subs all about capital ships. Apart from that not a bad synopsis!
Thanks and yes, I agree, Chariot was more a strategic effort against larger German shipping though it did have a U Boat bunker (not relevant to this mission, I grant you). Some connections with Plymouth where Campbelltown started off, and I remember the Grand Hotel Plymouth housed some of the officers on the raid including the explosives expert. Something about the charges being set off by delayed action acid fuses which put the target out of action for the duration . We'd already had four or five goes at sinking the Tirpitz and lost a lot of aircraft. The U Boat bunker there was only to be attacked if the opportunity presented itself. Having trekked down to Falmouth just to see the new memorials, it was worth all the digging. The new memorial is miles better than the old cairn stone,as can be seen from photographs. Reference U Boats, worth mentioning that U-46 arrived in St Nazaire around1940 and St Nazaire was in use for U Boats until around 1943. Until July 1944 Saint-Nazaire had been pounded with thousands of tons of allied bombs, almost wiping out the town but not really much affecting the U-boat bunker.
as far as I can recall, The dock gates (caissons) rammed by Cambeltown were the entrance to a very large dry dock or "Graving dock" which was big enough to accomodate German Battleships such as Tirpitz.


Book Reviewer
Cockshell Heros is about the RM raid to Bordeaux. Different but equally balls raid.

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