"Operation Chariot" - St Nazaire Raid
The St Nazaire Raid or Operation Chariot was a successful British amphibious attack on the heavily defended Normandie dry dock at St Nazaire in German-occupied France during the Second World War. The operation was undertaken by the Royal Navy and British Commandos under the auspices of Combined Operations Headquarters on 28 March 1942. St Nazaire was targeted because the loss of its dry dock would force any large German warship in need of repairs, such as the Tirpitz, to return to home waters via either the English Channel or the GIUK gap, both of which were heavily defended by British units including the Royal Navy's Home Fleet, rather than having a haven available on the Atlantic coast.
The obsolete destroyer HMS Campbeltown, accompanied by 18 smaller craft, crossed the English Channel to the Atlantic coast of France and was rammed into the Normandie dock gates. The ship had been packed with delayed-action explosives, well hidden within a steel and concrete case, that detonated later that day, putting the dock out of service for the remainder of the war and up to five years after.
[Photo; Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the docks at St Nazaire taken before the operation. The dry dock is slightly above the centre of photo. © IWM (C 2351)].
A force of commandos landed to destroy machinery and other structures. Heavy German gunfire sank, set ablaze or immobilised virtually all the small craft intended to transport the commandos back to England; the commandos had to fight their way out through the town to try to escape overland. Almost all were forced to surrender when their ammunition was expended and they were surrounded.
By Bundesarchiv, Bild 101II-MW-3722-03 / Kramer / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5478466
After the raid 228 men of the force of 611 returned to Britain; 169 were killed and 215 became prisoners of war. German casualties were over 360 dead, some killed after the raid when Campbeltown exploded. To recognise their bravery, 89 decorations were awarded to members of the raiding party, including five Victoria Crosses. After the war, St Nazaire was one of 38 battle honours awarded to the Commandos; the operation has since become known as The Greatest Raid of All within military circles.