Destroyer "Campbeltown", stuck in the gate of the dry dock. A few hours before the explosion
The presence of ships, especially military ones, especially in large numbers, always aroused a sense of jealousy in the British. The islanders believed that only they had the right to have a powerful military fleet, and other states can only indulge in marine fun. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, it would seem that no one seriously seriously challenged the privilege of Britain to be the first in the seas and oceans, although their eternal rivals, the French, were watching the British with caution, and far away in the east, the fierce and incomprehensible Russian bear slowly cut off the claws of its new battleships. Calmness and the habit of resting on our laurels were suddenly broken - in the center of Europe a new force gathered from many small and large mosaic fragments, requiring a place in the sun. In a short time, she created a fleet almost equal to the Grand Fleet, and a gloomy shadow fell on the unshakable British power. The swords trembled in their sheath and were soon drawn. It took tremendous efforts to get the trident of sea power out of the hands of the bold descendants of Alarich and Barbarossa, and put their ships to re-melting. The vanquished forgot nothing - war became inevitable. The Germans now did not have a powerful fleet, but the current Royal Neuvi consisted of no more than separate objects of the once large and expensive service. And there was a name that made the stiff faces of the British admirals frown. Of course, not from fear - since the time of the Great Armada, little could frighten proud lords. Such a constantly reminiscent of himself, annoying big name - “Tirpitz”.
Dry dock Louis Joubert Locke
General view of the dock. Aerial view of an English reconnaissance aircraft
The French were able to build ships, and they did it qualitatively. However, no one yet known Russian émigré Vladimir Yurkevich (who was engaged in designing the Izmail combat cruisers at home) managed to surprise them. The French Line company, preoccupied with the creation of a new record-liner project for the Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic, meticulously sorted out one version after another, until it was forced to recognize the idea of the recent auto giant Renault to be the most daring and successful. Built in 1935 in Saint-Nazaire on his Normandy project, it soon broke the record of its predecessor, the Italian liner Rex. Even before the start of work on the new ship, which amazed contemporaries with the grace and beauty of its contours and forms, the shipbuilding company Penoet took care of the construction of a new dry dock for the routine maintenance of a huge liner (displacement 80 thousand tons, length 313,7 m). The engineering construction at the Loire estuary, the length of 350 m, was completed by 1933 and named after the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Saint-Nazaire Louis Joubert, who died in 1930. In this dock, Normandy was undergoing preventive maintenance, right in 1937, it was replaced by three-bladed screws to four-bladed. Inspired by the technical characteristics of the Normandy, French Line planned to build another such ship, but 1 of September of 1939 changed these intentions.
After a brief resistance in June 1940, France signed the Compiegne Truce, and the Germans came to Saint-Nazaire. The war in Europe and the Atlantic gained momentum - the ports and harbors of the occupied country began to be used initially as temporary, and soon as permanent bases of the German fleet, especially submarines. There were not very many surface ships capable of disturbing the English opponents, but they were. The main concerns were caused by the newest Bismarck and Tirpitz battleships. And if the career of the first is not without significant troubles and efforts on the part of the Admiralty ended in the waters of the North Atlantic, the second by the very fact of its existence caused alarm and some headache.
At the beginning of 1942, the 50-thousandth battleship that completed the tests departed to Norwegian waters to hunt Allied convoys going to the USSR. But the British naval command continued to consider the chance that the Tirpitz would try to escape into the Atlantic is quite large. In the event of a successful return from the march, the battleship will be forced to go to one of the ports of occupied France, where he will no doubt need repair. On the Atlantic coast there was only one place capable of accommodating with all the comforts the massive body of the battleship - the 350-meter dock Louis Joubert at Saint-Nazaire. As mentioned above, the British were painful about the presence of powerful ships from the enemy and at the slightest opportunity tried to protect themselves. A "Tirpitz" was a serious opponent. The bed, where only recently the French Normandie rested, threatened to become the lair of the Minotaur devouring defenseless transports.
"Blood, toil, tears and sweat"
The idea of creating compact, well-armed units on the basis of the units of the Royal Marine Corps to perform various tasks that require not massive numbers, but good individual training, soared in the minds of the British military as early as the 20s, when they analyzed the experience of an unsuccessful and very bloody airborne assault force. operations in Gallipoli. Some of the more insightful officers, pointing to the results that Sir Lawrence of Arabia was able to achieve in his partisan war against the Ottoman Empire, raised the same question in the 30-s. But the then leadership, preoccupied with the economic crisis, the possible reduction of allocations for the development of the fleet, only waved away.
After 1 September 1939, Europe, and with it England, was in a completely different situation. Already at the stage of fighting for Norway, there was an urgent need for well-trained small combat detachments that carried out raids to the rear of the enemy, carried out sabotage and were able to conduct combat operations in remote areas. Then there was a swift German offensive on the Western Front, the Dunkirk disaster and, as a final chord, the signing of the Compiegne Armistice. England was left alone with Germany and its allies. In such a difficult situation - one against continental Europe - the country did not find itself after the signing of the Peace of Amiens with France in 1802.
The situation was, to put it mildly, difficult. 6 June 1940 The Cabinet of Ministers was informed that there were no more than 600 thousand rifles in the whole country (many of which remembered not only Cambrai trenches on Somme, but also Zulu battle chants) and only 12 thousand machine guns. It will take at least 6 months to recover the losses of the most needed weapons. Numerous dominions, possessing vast territories, but completely “pocket” armies, could not help the metropolis at this stage. Fortunately for England, 10 in May 1940 was at its helm stood an extraordinary person, although he had a fair amount of flaws, but at the same time having no less impressive dignity. It was Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill. At the beginning of the bright biography of the future Prime Minister there were dramatic pages. In 1899, he retired from the ranks of cavalry, became a war correspondent. In the journalistic field, he managed to get captured by the Boers (there was an Anglo-Boer War), however, young Churchill managed to escape and already then became a famous person. He knew firsthand about the actions of the "commando", the mobile Boer detachments, which caused the British a lot of trouble. A day after his assumption of office, the new Prime Minister turned to the idea of creating reconnaissance and sabotage units capable of operating behind enemy lines. Something more ambitious than such "blows with a dagger," England under siege could not do. Landing on the coast of Europe controlled by the enemy more than 1 – 2 companies had no practical sense.
Already 3 June Churchill formulated his thoughts in writing, acquainted them with the Chief of General Staff, General Ismey, and 6 June submitted his thoughts to the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Three days later, a circular was sent to the troops, according to which it was necessary to select 40 officers and 1000 privates to create a "special mobile unit." In the future, this number was planned to increase to 5 thousand. The new division received the official name "commando". 23 June after a rather nasty preparation, a raid was made on the French coast by a separate company number 11, a hastily hammered-in detachment of volunteers. This haste was caused by the persistent and hurried desire of Churchill himself. He expected not only a military but also a political result from the operations of the commandos. The French population should have known that England did not leave the mainland to fend for themselves. The first training center for the training of special forces was Invereylort Castle, with surrounding territories in 25 miles west of Fort William in Scotland.
British commando with a Thompson submachine gun, spring 1942
In the fall of 1941, the chief adviser to the Joint Operations Center (the actual phrase was the actual headquarters of the commandos in Richmond Terrace) was appointed by Sir Louis Mountbatten. Having become famous during the Battle of Crete, being the commander of the destroyer Kelly, Mountbatten even became the prototype for the main character of the film “Where We Serve,” which won an Oscar in 1942. Briefly, having commanded the aircraft carrier Illustries, a capable officer who was awarded the Order For Distinguished Merit, was recalled to London, where he received a new appointment. The newly minted chief adviser brought many new plans with a clear naval component to the new duty station. They did not always seem doable. “The more insane the plan, the more he enjoyed it,” said his colleagues. Under him, the Special Operations Research Center was established, which brought together various scientists, designers, technically competent officers who were involved in the creation of various technical devices, devices and equipment. weapons. The fact is that Churchill demanded more and more sabotage, and the commandos' material and technical equipment left much to be desired. Before the advent of the ambitious and energetic Mountbetten (who will be the head of the Special Operations Center since spring 1942), the British special forces were a kind of “Cinderella” in the composition of the Armed Forces of Her Majesty. There was a lot of work, and the provision went on a residual basis. Mountbatten was appointed to the vice-admiral’s position, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Dudley Pound, was very dissatisfied, as this decision of Churchill actually transferred this officer through three ranks.
Now everything has changed. In addition to the already existing center in February 1942, a new one was opened - in the castle of Achnerker. The training program has been expanded and complicated. The selection was tough. Much time was devoted to mine-blasting and secretive disembarking. Mountbetten kept under close attention the activity of the Germans on the Atlantic coast of France, where their submarines were already based and long-term reinforced concrete shelters were being built. His particular curiosity, as a naval officer, was caused by a huge dry dock at Saint-Nazaire. The British did not have accurate information about the intentions of the enemy in the use of "Tirpitz", and the use of this convenient and the only suitable place for the repair of the battleship was quite likely. In winter, 1941 – 1942. two commando officers, Bill Pritchard and Bob Montgomery, offered Mountbatten a risky raid plan to the shores of France, the purpose of which was to disable the dock at Saint-Nazaire. The plan was layered on the idea of the adviser himself, who already had a whole team of specialists working on it. Around the same period, the British became aware of some technical devices used by the Italian combat swimmers 10 of the MAS flotilla. The greatest curiosity was caused by the information about the MTM exploding boat - with the help of such boats in the bay of the Court in Crete, the heavy cruiser York was successfully attacked and put out of action. At first there was an idea to apply something similar against Saint-Nazaire, but the creation of an English prototype and bringing it to a more or less combat-ready state took time. Then the idea of using an exploding boat was transformed into something bigger. Mountbatten suggested using a ship for this purpose. So the first features of the operation “Chariet” (“Chariot”) were manifested.
The old destroyer Campbeltown, formerly Buchanan, which was part of the US Navy, was chosen as a candidate for the casket with a surprise. The ship built during the First World War was received by Britain as part of an agreement from 2 in September 1940, simply called "Bases in exchange for destroyers". England undertook to transfer a number of its bases and islands to US control over 99 for years, and American cousins “generously” paid for this distressed England 50 with old destroyers. The condition of the ships withdrawn from conservation left much to be desired, and by the summer of 1941 only 30 of them were in more or less suitable condition. One of these destroyers was Campbelltown. The plan of operation provided for the breakthrough of a ship filled with explosives into a dry dock. The clockwork, which will activate its deadly cargo, should have been decelerated by 10 hours, to enable the assault groups on the boats to land on the shore and blow up the pumping station, generators and fuel lines. For the sake of a guarantee in the area of locks, torpedoes, also equipped with clockwork mechanisms, which would have been triggered simultaneously with the main charge on the destroyer, would have been flooded.
In order to give Campbeltown at least a distant resemblance to a German minesweeper, chimneys were cut from it. The wheelhouse, if possible, was protected from bullets and shrapnel by additional armor plates. 4 tons of explosives, poured with concrete, were loaded into the nose of the hull so that German sappers could not find it. The destroyer was lightened as much as possible in order to overcome river banks without difficulty and to climb the Loire without any obstacles - all torpedo and artillery weapons were removed from it. For self-defense and fire support of assault groups on the deck were installed eight 20-mm "Oerlikonov." The combined detachment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Newman was recruited to the operation, the core of which was the soldiers of the 2 squad of commandos. In addition to them, military personnel from other units (1, 3, 4, 5 and 9) took part - a total of 242 people.
To divert the attention of the German garrison and bring confusion into what was happening, the Royal Air Force had to strike at targets in the Saint-Nazaire area. Later this led to the opposite result. Fighters selected for the raid were subjected to weekly training, after which training morning attacks on Plymouth and Devonport took place in order to mine the objects. The administration of these ports was not warned about the exercises, and in the event of the discovery of the fighters, a hostile reception was awaited. During the exercises, several commandos were arrested by vigilant guards. Further numerous exercises took place in which the mining of locks and pumping stations was worked out. The personnel have not yet spoken about the objectives of the operation, but it was clear that it was planned on the French coast. Only during familiarization with their future vehicles (except for Campbeltown, Fairmail, 16 artillery MGB-1 and 314 torpedo MTB-1 boats took part in the raid. This flotilla was commanded by Captain R. Ryder. The day before the departure, the special forces went to church, where they took communion. Their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Newman, delivered an expressive and inspiring speech.
Happy 26 March, March 1942, the flotilla pulled out of Falmouth. As a cover, the flotilla was accompanied by the destroyers Tyndale and Azerstone. The commander of the operation chose MGB-314 as his command post. Powerboats were equipped with additional fuel tanks on the deck. The course of the compound was laid out so as to avoid meeting with the enemy patrol ships and thereby preserve secrecy. In the morning of March 27, Tyndale discovered, and then fired on a German U-593 submarine, and then unsuccessfully dropped depth charges on it. The course has been changed to southwest. The submarine reported a meeting with the English flotilla, but the Germans did not guess that Saint-Nazaire would be the target of the attack, and from there four destroyers were sent to the U-593 area, which only weakened the base’s defense. On the 21 hour, the 27 March, the flotilla was in 65 miles from its target and began to move to the mouth of the Loire. Both destroyers remained to patrol the area. Next to the mouth as a navigational beacon was the submarine “Sturgeon” (“Sturgeon”).
After midnight, the convoy entered the river. Ahead was Campbeltown. On it was raised a German flag. At this time, the 35 Whitley and 27 Wellington bombers raided Saint-Nazaire. However, since the crews had an order to strike only at clearly visible objects, only four aircraft worked on targets. Another six were bombed by reserve targets. The unsuccessful raid itself alerted the Germans - the command of the 22-th brigade of naval anti-aircraft artillery sent out in part a warning that the landing of an airborne landing force was high.
Towards one o'clock at night, a floodlight lit up a flotilla moving up the river, and a warning shot rang out. In response to Campbeltown, they calmly signaled that they had been attacked in the Bay of Biscay, the detachment heading to Saint-Nazaire for repair, had wounded people on board and asked to send ambulances to the pier. This eloquent history several minutes were won during which the Germans digested what they had heard. Then the British ships opened fire, but it was not intensively conducted, apparently the enemy had some doubts about the ownership of ships so brazenly going along the river. When a little more than a mile remained to the target, captain Ryder ordered the German flag to be lowered and the English raised. Noticing on the mast of "Campbeltown" the cloth with the red cross of St. George, the Germans were already alarmed seriously. The fire opened not only coastal batteries, but also large-caliber machine guns. The destroyer reached 19 speed and sent the stem to the gate of the dry dock.
Boats moving behind Campbelltown also came under fire. Some of them caught fire and lost their turn (a forced measure with the placement of fuel tanks on the deck played a cruel joke). The commander of the destroyer, Commander S. X. Beatty, confidently and aggressively led his ship under increasing fire. The helmsman was killed, the sailor who replaced him was wounded. In 1 h. 32 min. The Campbeltown stem broke the drydock gate on 33 feet and firmly stuck in them. Boats came up to the shore and began landing commandos on the shore. Because of the damage caused by intense fire, only five out of six boats managed to do this. One of them (ML-177) went to the side of the destroyer and took off the crew (about 30 people). Several assault groups managed to land ashore — Lieutenant Colonel Newman was there among the first.
The resistance of the Germans increased, they were not surprised by surprise. Reinforcements from the garrison units were urgently sent to the port. The fighters from the 5 squad commando team managed to mine the pumping station, which soon exploded. Only a few of the previously scheduled objects managed to destroy. Among them is a lifting station and four anti-aircraft guns that were taken in combat. The operation began to deviate from the plan: firstly, some boats did not manage to land their groups, some of them were sunk and the rest of the crew reached the shore by swimming; secondly, those who carried out the landing of the boat because of intensive shelling from the shore could not be near it and began to leave. Approximately 100 commandos remained on the shore, along with Lieutenant Colonel Newman and the control group. He, by the way, generally could not leave his headquarters MGB-314, but preferred to be with his people. The ring around the English was shrinking; there was no longer room for evacuation. Newman gave the order to do everything possible to return to England, not to give up until the ammunition ran out, and if possible not to give up at all.
The commandos made the decision to make their way into the city, so that later, after penetrating deep into the territory of France, they would return home through neutral countries. The people of Newman managed to break through from the port to the old part of the city, but here they were blocked by parts of the garrison. Having spent all the ammunition, the British had to surrender. Only five commandos managed to slip through the barriers and then through France, Spain and Gibraltar to return to England. Waste boats on the river also had a hard time. Two badly damaged had to quit. One boat fell behind and almost collided with the returning German Jaguar destroyer in the dark. Despite the hopelessness of the situation, the British fired from an on-board Lewis machine gun. The Germans successfully fired the ship, too, with machine guns, immobilizing it and causing a fire. The destroyer commander from the bridge shouted into a megaphone in English: “Maybe it will still be enough?” - but every time a Lewis pounded angrily in response. Finally, the British realized that they would not be able to leave, and shouted from the boat: “Yes, that's enough!” The destroyer approached the board of the boat and took off all the commandos, who were immediately given medical assistance.
The fight in the port, meanwhile, subsided - the centers of resistance were extinguished one by one. The wounded British were accommodated in the requisitioned casino building. The attention of the Germans was focused on “Campbeltown”, around which many high-ranking officers, Gestapo officers, engineers, assessing the size of the damage gathered. At noon, the fuses intensified - a powerful explosion shook the entire port, causing severe damage to the dock and adjacent buildings. Even two tankers standing in the Normandy Gateway were damaged. About 400 the Germans were killed, many were injured. Soldiers and shore batteries opened up sporadic shooting, which only led to new victims. A little later, completing what was begun, two torpedoes exploded, ahead of time dropped from the MTV-74 torpedo boat. Aerial photographs taken by a reconnaissance aircraft a few days later showed that the large main caisson, the so-called Norman gateway, was completely destroyed. Operation Chariet has achieved success. About repair "Tirpitsa", as, indeed, any other ship, in this engineering structure now there could be no question. True, it later turned out that the alarms of the British admirals were in vain - the Germans took care of their only full-fledged battleship and did not prepare it for operations in the Atlantic. Completely dry dock was repaired only ten years later.
The raid on St. Nazaire cost the British dearly. Only four boats arrived at the meeting point with the waiting destroyers. From the 242 commandos that took part in the operation, 59 were killed, 112 were captured, many of them were seriously injured. Of the Campbeltown crews and 85 boats, people were killed and 106 were captured. In London, they highly appreciated the results of the raid - Mountbatten considered it to be absolutely successful. 83 people were presented to the awards, five of them were awarded the "Victoria Cross". The British prisoners were held in a separate group in a concentration camp, not allowing contact with their fellow tribesmen. The attitude towards them, in their own words, was normal. After the war, participants in the raid on St. Nazaire organized their own association.
Monument to the British commando in Lokhaber in Scotland: “United we conquer”
Inspired by the first major success of the Special Operations Forces, Louis Mountbatten set about developing an even bigger and more daring project that went down in history as a raid on Dieppe.