Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice - William H. McRaven (1996)

Chapter 4. Operation Chariot: The British Raid on Saint-Nazaire, 27–28 March 1942


In July 1940 Winston Churchill established the Combined Operations Command and appointed Admiral of the Fleet Lord Roger J. B. Keyes as its first commander. The organization was tasked with planning and conducting raids against the Germans. Lord Keyes was given command of the special service brigades and parachute troops along with the landing craft to transport them. It was his responsibility to organize and train this new amphibious strike force called the commandos.1

One year later after only limited success, Keyes was replaced by Lord Louis Mountbatten. In the months immediately following Mountbatten’s appointment, the commandos of Combined Operations conducted several major raids, most notably harassing attacks against the Germans at Lofoten Island and Vaagsö in Norway.

The planners at Combined Operations had looked at the French port facility of Saint-Nazaire several times. It contained the largest dry dock on the Atlantic as well as fourteen submarine pens. The initial studies discounted the port as a viable target because “the difficulties they thought were insurmountable. The shoal waters in the approaches were unnavigable, the ships would be unlikely to survive the long sea passage [250 miles from Falmouth, England] without detection, and the raiding force would have to be impossibly large, perhaps 300 men, to destroy the targets envisioned.”2

As the war continued, several events began to alter the decision to attack Saint-Nazaire. The raids conducted by the British from 1941 to early 1942 had met with only limited success and had failed to significantly impact the German war effort in the Atlantic. In May of 1941 the British sank the German battleship Bismarck, but by early 1942 Hitler had completed construction of her sister ship, the Tirpitz, and sailed her to safe harbor in Kaafjord, Norway.

The Germans planned to use the 45,500-ton Tirpitz in conjunction with the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the cruiser Prinz Eugen, and the pocket battleships Scheer and Lutzow to attack and destroy the British merchant fleet in the North Sea. The Tirpitz became the focus of the Royal Navy’s attention and the primary reason for the raid on Saint-Nazaire. In 1942 Winston Churchill wrote: “The whole strategy of the war turns at this period to this ship, which is holding four times the number of British capital ships paralysed, to say nothing of the two new American battleships retained in the Atlantic. I regard the matter as of the highest urgency and importance.”3

From the safety of the fjords, the Tirpitz could strike at will against both British and Russian merchant convoys as well as stifle an Allied landing in Norway. The admiralty made every effort to lure the Tirpitz from her lair in attempts to destroy the giant battleship. As these efforts failed, concern grew stronger that the Tirpitz might break out into the Atlantic through the Strait of Dover or around Scotland. Once in the Atlantic the Tirpitz, with the support of the German navy and the dominance of Hitler’s U-boats, could wreak havoc on the British fleet. The long-term success of this endeavor, however, rested in the capability of the Tirpitz to receive proper maintenance and repair. Already the battleship was suffering from defects in her “gun mountings and fire control systems, boilers and main turbines, and various electrical installation,” all requiring maintenance if she were to remain battleworthy.4 The British knew there was only one port in the Atlantic that could provide the necessary services, the French port of Saint-Nazaire.


Saint-Nazaire was a French port city of fifty thousand situated on the banks of the Loire River six miles inland from the Atlantic. At the north end of the port was the Penhouet Basin. The basin, which could hold ships of up to ten thousand tons, could be reached through either the Normandie dry dock or the Saint-Nazaire Basin.

The Normandie dry dock, or as the French called it the Forme Louis Joubert, was over eleven hundred feet in length and was originally built to house the liner Normandie. It was the primary target for the raid force. The two caissons (situated on the north and south ends) that sealed the dry dock were each 167 feet long, 54 feet high, and 35 feet thick. Destroying these caissons would flood the dry dock from the Loire River and render it unusable. The Saint-Nazaire Basin housed nine completed submarine pens with five under construction. In 1942 the completed pens had been made bombproof.

Although the Saint-Nazaire Basin could be accessed from the east side through the Old Entrance, most of the traffic came through the newly constructed deep-water entrance, a canal 350 yards long at the south end of the basin. This main entrance connected the Saint-Nazaire Basin with the outer harbor or Avant Port. The canal contained a series of four locks that kept the basin free from the tide.

Other important features of the facility included: four underground fuel storage containers at the north end adjacent to the Normandie dry dock; the Old Mole pier, which rose twenty-five feet above the water and was situated south of the Old Entrance; and the Old Town area, a small commercial and residential section adjoining the Old Mole pier. This vast array of maintenance and support facilities meant that “only Brest and Lorient rivaled the importance of Saint-Nazaire as a German naval base for enemy forces engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic.”5 Consequently both the German coastal and port defenses were formidable. Four 105mm howitzers guarded the entrance to Charpentiers Channel, the main estuary leading from the Atlantic to Saint-Nazaire. Once in the channel, vessels could be engaged by twenty-eight different 170mm or 70mm coastal batteries. In addition, the 280th Naval Artillery Battalion, which commanded the guns, also had a rail-mounted 240mm gun. The final approach was ringed with ten 20mm guns, four 37mm guns, and six large searchlights that ensured incoming ships were well illuminated to determine their identity.

Defenses inside the harbor were equally formidable. They included one 20mm gun with an accompanying 40mm gun at the south end of the Avant Port. As a vessel proceeded up the river, it could be engaged by two 37mm guns, one at the north end of the Avant Port and the other at the base of the Old Mole. The Old Mole also had a 20mm gun positioned midway down its length and a searchlight at the far east end.

The Normandie dry dock was surrounded by four 20mm guns and two 37mm guns. Additionally, the Germans had placed an antitorpedo net at the entrance to the dock. All of these port defenses were complemented by four harbor defense boats and over twenty mobile guns mounted on trucks and manned by three battalions of the Naval Flak Brigade.


In June of 1940 there were no personnel in the British army trained or equipped for raiding operations. All available troops were being used for the defense of the British Isles. When the idea of amphibious guerrilla warfare was proposed to Churchill, he quickly embraced the concept and ordered the formation of the commandos. The term commando was derived from the Afrikaans word meaning military unit. During the British war with the South Africans, Lord Kitchener, after dispersing the main Afrikaner army, found himself fighting individual units that used guerrilla tactics to inflict severe damage on the British army. The Boers called these units commandos.

The prospective British commandos were selected from the special service battalions. All trainees went through a twelve-week basic selection course. This training included cliff assaults, closequarter combat with rifles, knives, and garrotes, assault courses, survival training, river crossings, and live-fire exercises. Strong emphasis was placed both on perfecting amphibious raiding skills and on having the confidence and initiative to use those skills when confronted with a difficult situation. Combined Operations: The Official Story of the Commandos says:

To get in and out of a small boat in all kinds of weather, to swim—if necessary in full equipment with firearms held above the water, to be familiar with all the portable weapons of the soldier from the rifle and the tommy gun to the three-inch mortar and the anti-tank rifle, to be able to carry and use explosives, to hunt tanks, and their crew—here are some of the things a Commando soldier must learn … he must master his mind as well as his body and become not only a specially trained soldier but a trained individual soldier. In other words, self-reliance and self-confidence … It is not for them to await orders from their officer or N.C.O. They must do the sensible, obvious thing just because it is the sensible, obvious thing.6

The commando training conducted at Achnacarry, Scotland, rivaled present-day selection courses in combat skills training and exceeded today’s regimen in discipline and realism. During the war, over forty trainees were killed, most in live-fire exercises. After graduation the commandos received the coveted green beret and were assigned to commando units. At these units the training continued. Weekly marches exceeding fifty miles were routine. “One troop marched in fighting order 63 miles in 23 hours and 10 minutes covering the first 33 miles in eight hours dead.”7

Teamwork was constantly emphasized. During basic training, groups of eight men were required to carry an eight-inch log around on their shoulders and exercises like “Me and My Pal” were conducted to emphasize the need for pairs of men to overcome obstacles together. Because the primary focus of the commandos was amphibious guerrilla warfare, much of their time was spent learning to insert from the water and fight at night. These skills were to prove particularly useful to the men of No. 2 Commando who later comprised the majority of the men participating in the raid on Saint-Nazaire.

Number 2 Commando was established in March 1941 from components of No. 3 Independent Company. Some of the soldiers already had limited combat experience in Norway, including the commanding officer, Lt. Col. A. C. Newman. The outfit was absorbed into the Special Service Battalion for a short time but then reconstituted when the size of raiding parties was reduced. Newman chose his men based on brains and common sense; there were schoolmasters, business executives, bank clerks, and salesmen. His emphasis lay clearly on intelligence and not on muscle. This should not be taken to mean that these men were physically unfit. On the contrary, Newman ensured his men were at peak physical efficiency. They conducted record-breaking marches, spent most of their time in the field, and continually improved on the infantry skills they had learned at Achnacarry. Newman also ensured they spent ample time at sea, much to the chagrin of Lord Mountbatten, who initially had difficulty accepting the idea of soldier-sailors.

From the time it was reconstituted until the beginning of the Saint-Nazaire raid, No. 2 Commando relocated several times. The personnel started in Devonshire where they conducted long marches in the country and then spent time with the 5th Destroyer Flotilla getting their sea legs. In the summer of 1941, No. 2 Commando returned to Ayr, Scotland, for cliff assault training and small-boat handling. Early in 1942 Newman took the unit to the Outer Hebrides to practice amphibious guerrilla warfare in a cold, wet environment. Throughout these training sessions Newman continued to stress the fundamentals of good soldiering: “affection for [one’s] unit, fighting spirit, discipline, bearing and integrity.”8

Number 2 Commando would eventually comprise the bulk of the assault force for the raid on Saint-Nazaire. There were also, however, personnel from Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, and 12 Commandos on the demolition teams. In all, 44 officers and 224 enlisted soldiers participated. Their amphibious counterparts in the raid were men from the Royal Navy. The navy would crew eighteen craft and supply 62 officers and 291 enlisted.* These eighteen craft were instrumental to the success of the operation. Their combat specifications are as follows:

• HMS Campbeltown, formerly the U.S. destroyer USS Buchanan, was modified to resemble a German Mowe-class destroyer. Her four funnels were reduced to two raked-back stacks. The Campbeltown was armor plated around the bridge and amidships to protect the commandos (1/4-inch plate designed to withstand 20mm rounds). Her draft was reduced from fourteen to twelve feet in order to negotiate the shallow waters around the entrance to Saint-Nazaire. The 4-inch guns, torpedo tubes, depth charges, and depth charge throwers were all removed. This left only a twelve-pounder light automatic high-angle gun forward, a single .50-caliber on each bridge wing, four 20mm Oerlikons positioned amidships, and two more 20mm guns mounted in echelon on the aft deck. Lastly, twenty-four Mark VII depth charges, weighing four and one-quarter tons altogether, were enclosed into steel tanks, placed over the forward fuel compartments, and encased in cement. The twenty-four depth charges were linked together with cordtex, a waterproof detonation cord, and primed with an eight-hour delay fuse. With all the modifications, the maximum speed available was approximately twenty knots. The embarked personnel included seventy-five Royal Navy and eighty commandos.

• Motor Gunboat 314 was 110 feet long with three 850-horse-power supercharged engines capable of twenty-six knots. Armament included a 3-pound Vickers forward (120 rounds per minute), a Rolls Royce 2-pound gun aft, and two twin 1/2-inch machine guns amidships. The crew consisted of twenty-six men plus Lieutenant Colonel Newman, the commander of No. 2 Commando, and Comdr. R. E. D. Ryder, commander of the naval surface forces.

• Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) 74 was sixty-eight feet long with three Isotta-Fraschini engines capable of forty-three knots fully loaded. This particular hull, however, had frequent engine problems and alternated between seven knots and forty knots. Armament included two 21-inch torpedo tubes and two 20mm Oerlikon cannon. The torpedo tubes were remounted forward and special time-delay torpedoes with 1800-pound warheads were incorporated. The crew consisted of ten men.

• Four torpedo motor launches (TML), including hull numbers 270, 160, 156, and 177. They were 112 feet long with two 650-horsepower gas engines capable of speeds up to eighteen knots. Two five-hundred-gallon fuel tanks were added to increase the range from six hundred to one thousand miles. Armament included two 18-inch torpedo tubes and two 20mm Oerlikon guns. Each TML was crewed by two or three officers and ten enlisted.

• Twelve motor launches (ML), including hull numbers 192, 262, 267, 268, 298, 306, 307, 341, 443, 446, 447, and 457. Each ML carried a crew of ten and fifteen commandos. They had the same characteristics as the TMLs without the 18-inch tubes.


The man with the most effect on the outcome of the raid was Lt. Col. A. C. Newman, commanding officer of No. 2 Commando. Newman was an officer who had spent the sixteen years before the war serving in the Territorial Army, 4th Battalion of the Essex Regiment. In civilian life he was a building contractor and at the age of thirty-eight was married with several children.

When the war broke out Newman was called to active duty and assigned as the commanding officer of No. 2 Commando, which was one of twelve commando units forming the Special Service Brigade. An avid boxer and rugby player, he earned the troops’ respect through hard work, discipline, and a desire to make them the best commandos in the brigade. Eric de la Torre, the secretary of the Saint-Nazaire Society and a former member of No. 3 Commando, remembered that Newman “had a warm outgoing personality, and everybody liked him.”9 He could, however, be very stubborn and direct when it came to getting the task accomplished. During Newman’s first meeting with Lord Mountbatten, Newman requested that his men be allowed to spend time at sea with the destroyer squadron to gain experience. Mountbatten dismissed the idea, encouraging Newman to leave the sailing to sailors. Newman refused to back down. He protested to Mountbatten that sailing would be a large part of any amphibious operation and that it was necessary to get his commandos familiar with life at sea. Mountbatten continued to resist the idea, “suggesting rather unkindly that perhaps Newman wanted to train his men to be seasick like gentlemen.” Newman fired back without hesitation, “The aim is to train them not to be seasick at all.”10 Newman’s persistence paid off, and Mountbatten agreed to support his request.

Although Newman had seen some limited action in Norway, it could not have prepared him for the bloody engagement at Saint-Nazaire. Nonetheless, throughout the chaotic struggle for survival that characterized the raid, Newman remained poised and optimistic and frequently interjected his dry sense of humor to calm the troops. At one point, when the chance of escape from Saint-Nazaire was virtually hopeless, Newman ordered the remaining seventy men to break up and attempt to make their way to Spain. They would have to evade the Germans in town and push through to the open countryside. Unshaken by their dilemma Newman looked up and pronounced, “It’s a lovely moonlight night for it.”11 Newman was captured hours after this incident and imprisoned for three years in a German POW camp. For his actions at Saint-Nazaire he received the Victoria Cross.

Commander R. E. D. Ryder was placed in command of the naval forces assigned to support the commandos in their raid on Saint-Nazaire. At thirty-four years old, Ryder was an exceptionally experienced sailor. He had served with the Royal Submarine Force during his early years in the navy, taking leave once to sail a ketch from China to England. After the outbreak of war he received command of a navy Q-ship. The Q-ships plied the waters of the Mediterranean disguised as merchant vessels. Their mission was to attract German U-boats. As the U-boat approached, the Q-ships would drop their exterior screens and open fire with a battery of guns. Although the program as a whole was successful, Commander Ryder’s Q-ship was sunk by two U-boats on its first outing. Ryder survived at sea for four days, clinging to a piece of wood before he was rescued.

Ryder was later given command of two more vessels, a frigate and the transport ship Prince Philippe. Unfortunately for Ryder, the Prince Philippe was rammed and sunk off Scotland. After losing his second ship, Ryder understandably fell out of favor with the admiralty. He was subsequently assigned as the Southern Command naval adviser for anti-invasion plans.

When the need arose for an officer to command the naval raid forces, Ryder was the obvious choice. His experience, coupled with his availability, was perfectly suited for the mission. Ryder was the consummate professional. De la Torre described him as “an old style Naval Captain who leads a sort of lonely life. Doesn’t really mix with people. Completely different character to Colonel Newman. Ryder was very reserved, a very shy man. He was never at ease with the ordinary chap. But he was the sort of officer you would follow anywhere. You could trust him. He was a chap who would never let you down.”12 For his actions at Saint-Nazaire, Ryder also received the Victoria Cross.

Louis Lord Mountbatten, although not involved in the raid, was the commander of Combined Operations Command and therefore had some direct impact on the planning decisions that were made. Mountbatten was one of the best-liked and most respected men in England. “His father was a Hessian prince and his mother a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, making him kin to half the crowned heads of Europe.”13 Yet for all his royalty, Mountbatten had the common touch. He started his naval career as a cadet and worked his way up through the officer ranks. During the war he commanded a destroyer squadron and eventually was assigned to head Combined Operations.

The commandos liked Mountbatten’s style. He personally would inspect the troops before each major operation, giving them a pep talk and ensuring they had all the resources they required.* When shortfalls in equipment or assets came to his attention, Mountbatten would use his influence with Churchill or his cousin, the king, to resolve them quickly. This was done often at the expense of other naval commanders, and although it displeased his peers greatly it endeared him to the commandos.

Mountbatten’s most significant impact on the raid was his determination to see it succeed at any cost. He felt that by denying Saint-Nazaire’s repair facilities to the Tirpitz, the commandos could alter the course of the naval war in the Atlantic. Mountbatten refused to acknowledge any possibility of defeat. He was intimately involved in the planning phase of the raid and frequently overruled tactical objections by both Ryder and Newman. In two incidents he called in experts to rebut both men and substantiate his position. In retrospect Mountbatten’s decisions were both correct.

It was apparent from the beginning that this operation was exceptionally risky and that the odds for success were slim. During the planning a senior naval officer had warned Mountbatten, “ ‘We may lose every man.’ With a slight grimace, Mountbatten had agreed, but he added, ‘If they do the job, we’ve got to accept that.’ ”14


It was exactly one month from the time Ryder and Newman received their first briefing on Saint-Nazaire to the commencement of the operation. During this time several changes occurred in the plan, but the basic scheme remained the same. On 26 March 1942, No. 2 Commando and certain elements from other commando groups would sail via a surreptitious route from Falmouth, England, to the entrance of Charpentiers Channel on the French coast, arriving at 2300 on 27 March.

Twenty vessels, including the HMS Campbeltown and the escorts Atherstone and Tynedale, would rendezvous with the submarine HMS Sturgeon. Using the submarine as a landmark, they would take their final bearing to Saint-Nazaire. The escorts would return to England, leaving the small boats and the Campbeltown to negotiate the heavily defended estuary into the port. At 2200 on the twenty-seventh, the Royal Air Force would conduct an air raid on Saint-Nazaire. The air raid was intended to divert attention and to draw the dual-purpose guns away from the approaching vessels.

Once in the inner harbor, the Campbeltown, loaded with four and one-quarter tons of explosives (with an eight-hour time fuse), would ram the southern caisson of the Normandie dry dock. On board were eighty commandos who would disembark across the caisson and destroy other vital targets with explosives. These targets included the winding house, pumping house, north caisson, and German gun positions.

The eighty commandos would be divided into demolition, protection, assault, and headquarters elements. Each demolition man had to carry ninety-five pounds of explosives, so it was necessary to assign certain troops the sole role of party protection.

At the same time the Campbeltown rammed the dry dock, some of the 180 commandos embarked on eleven motor launches would land at the Old Mole pier while the rest landed at the Old Entrance. From the Old Entrance the commandos were assigned to destroy the Penhouet Basin swing bridge, the Old Entrance lock gates, and key German gun positions. The commandos disembarking at the Old Mole were to destroy the main entrance lock gates, the power station, and German gun positions.

Upon completion of their missions, but no more than two hours later, all commandos would return to the Old Mole, reembark on the launches, and return to England. After all commandos were retrieved, MTB 74, under the command of Sublieutenant Mickey Wynn, would fire her time-delayed torpedoes at the Old Entrance and retract. Ryder later reported in the after-action report, “We all hoped to get well in undetected and then hoped to bluff the enemy for just sufficient time to achieve our object. We had to realize, however, that though we might get in unseen and by bluff, there was no question of employing these on the way out. For this purpose we hoped that smoke would help.”15 Upon hearing the plan, one officer at Combined Operations Headquarters remarked, “Anyone who even thinks of doing such a thing deserves the Distinguished Service Order.”16

The man in charge of the demolition teams was a reserve officer, Capt. William Pritchard. Pritchard had been instrumental in developing the plan for destroying Saint-Nazaire. While on leave in 1941, he visited his father who was the dockmaster at Cardiff, England. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Montgomery, the second officer in charge of the demolition teams, recalled what Pritchard said upon his return. “While he was there the Germans bombed the dock. He came back [off leave] and said, ‘You cannot put the dock out of operation by bombing it. The warehouses were burned, Cardiff was plastered, it looked absolutely awful, but within forty-eight hours the dock was operating as a dock again. The only way to demolish a dock is to place the charges in the vital spots.’ ”17

So Pritchard and Montgomery put together a plan for destroying docks. This was under the assumption that the Germans might invade, and the British would be forced to destroy their own facilities. The plan was forwarded to the Transportation Department of the War Office and subsequently shelved. When the Saint-Nazaire mission was being considered, someone in the War Office remembered Pritchard’s plan, and he and Montgomery were subsequently summoned to train and lead the demolition parties.

In civilian life Pritchard was a dockyard engineer, but his active-duty time was spent as a Royal Engineer with the Territorial Army. During the Dunkirk evacuation Pritchard, assigned to the British Expeditionary Force, won the Military Cross for thwarting a German advance by blowing up a bridge while under heavy enemy fire.

Pritchard gathered ninety men from No. 2 Commando and other units under the guise of a training course in explosives. He taught them all about demolitions and showed them how a dock functions and how it could be rendered useless. At the end of February, the demolition teams separated, and some went with Pritchard to the docks at Cardiff, while the others went with Montgomery to Southampton. These ports closely resembled the Saint-Nazaire facility, with the King George V Dock at Southampton being very similar to the Normandie dry dock. Pritchard and Montgomery conducted countless drills at Southampton and Cardiff. They ensured that each team, while loaded with a full complement of explosives, could move to their assigned targets day or night and destroy them in minimal time.

In another part of England, the assault and protection parties from No. 2 Commando were being assembled. Newman insisted each man be in the peak of physical condition. Consequently the troops conducted daily marches and physical training. “Every one of them knew that when the time came to put their training into operation sheer physical fitness could make all the difference between survival and failure.”18 Newman also continued to insist his troops put to sea to get accustomed to life on a motor launch. On one cruise to the Scilly Isles, all the men aboard got severely seasick. Newman even went so far as to send his troops to a local slaughterhouse and a hospital emergency room to prepare them for the sight of blood.

Up until then the specifics of the mission had been kept secret from the troops, but on 18 March, Newman laid out the plan in detail and the training continued at an accelerated pace.

As David Mason wrote in The Raid on St. Nazaire, “Every stage of the operation was separated out and analyzed, every movement plotted in fine detail. However daring the nature of the raid, however debonair and carefree the soldiers and sailors who went on it, the only hope of success lay, ultimately, in the detailed thoroughness with which it was planned.”19

A scale model of Saint-Nazaire was constructed from overhead photos, and the details of the facility were ingrained into each man’s head. Special recognition signals were assigned, and the commandos were issued rubber-soled shoes to reduce noise and make the German footfalls more recognizable. Assault and protection parties developed special load-bearing equipment to maximize the amount of ammunition they could carry. It appeared that the only detail the commandos could not plan for was the will of the enemy.

Two weeks before the mission, overhead photos revealed four new coastal defense guns in the middle of the dock. The decision was made to add an additional thirty commandos to the force.

With time getting short a full-dress rehearsal was planned at the Devonport dockyard under the guise of an exercise to test the dockyard defenses. The Devonport security forces were augmented by the local Home Guard and practically everything went wrong. Later LCpl. Eric de la Torre recalled, “After doing the dress rehearsal it didn’t seem like we would come out alive.”20

During the rehearsal, the motor launches had difficulty in coming alongside a jetty and landing commandos in the glare of the searchlight. Although the record shows this was of great concern, no measures were taken to alleviate the problem. The failure to address this problem was to have disastrous effects on the success of the mission and the men who attempted it.


On 26 March 1942, “in accordance with the Operational Orders for ‘Chariot,’ the 10th A/S Striking Force sailed from Falmouth at 1400/26. M.L.s were sailed in advance so as to form up outside.”21 It was the first time the entire force had been assembled. The weather was good for the launch with a slight swell rolling over the port quarter.

“The cruising order was in three columns: the port and starboard columns consisted of the motor launches, and the midships column of the two Hunt-class destroyers, Campbeltown, and the motor torpedo boat in tow.”22

Fig. 4–1. Operation Chariot Outbound and Return Routes, 27–28 March 1942

The transit on the twenty-sixth was without incident. On the morning of the twenty-seventh, the weather was clear with visibility unrestricted. At 0720, the Tynedale spotted a German submarine at four thousand yards and opened fire, causing the submarine to crash-dive. Initially it was believed that the submarine had sunk. Nevertheless, Commander Ryder was concerned that the submarine had communicated its sighting to the mainland before it disappeared. It was not until after the war that it was discovered the submarine had survived and in fact relayed by radio that three destroyers and ten motor launches were sighted at 0720 moving in an easterly direction.

The Germans believed these British ships were conducting mine-laying operations and never associated them with a possible raid on Saint-Nazaire. Ryder made the decision to continue on with the mission. As the day continued, it became increasingly difficult for the flotilla to evade French trawlers. These trawlers were known to be manned by Vichy French or to have German soldiers aboard. At midday two trawlers were spotted closing on the flotilla from different positions. Both vessels were stopped and searched, and the crews were brought aboard the escorts. After a brief discussion the trawlers were sunk.

The remainder of the afternoon was uneventful and the flotilla continued at eight knots to effect its rendezvous with the HMS Sturgeon. At 1830 one of the motor launches reported engine trouble. Ryder decided to leave a torpedo motor launch behind to assist the disabled vessel and have the main flotilla continue on as scheduled. When it became apparent that the disabled vessel was unable to be repaired, the crew and commandos transferred to the torpedo motor launch and eventually rejoined the flotilla.

At 2000 the headquarters element of Ryder and Newman transferred from the Atherstone to the motor gunboat. At 2200, after sailing for thirty-three hours and over 450 miles, the flotilla reached the rendezvous point. Upon receiving the final bearing, the escorts were released and the flotilla proceeded up the outer right bank of the Loire.

At midnight the flotilla could see antiaircraft guns firing at the incoming bombers. Owing to security, the Royal Air Force was never told the reason for the bombing raid. Their orders were to bomb only if the dockyard targets were visible from the air. This was to reduce civilian casualties. Unfortunately, when the airplanes arrived, low clouds prevented them from identifying their targets. Consequently, the raid was very short and the bombers returned home. The commandos knew that the lack of bomber support was going to impact their ability to get in undetected. Sergeant Dick Bradley of No. 2 Commando had planned on a continuous bombing attack throughout the commando raid. Later he commented, “We thought things had gone wrong. We didn’t have the air raid we should have been getting. Anybody whose been in an air raid knows what muddle there is in the town. We reckoned that we would be there doing our demolitions and out before anyone realized what happened.”23 Instead of creating a diversion with a sustained air raid, this bombing effort only succeeded in waking the Germans and piquing their interest in other possible British attacks.

Captain Mecke, commanding officer of the Naval Flak Brigade guarding Saint-Nazaire, became increasingly suspicious of the limited air raid. At midnight he signaled all Wehrmacht command posts with the following message: “The conduct of the enemy aircraft is inexplicable and indicates suspicion of parachute landings.”24

Meanwhile the flotilla had entered the estuary and was proceeding as scheduled. Soon after entering the outside of the channel the Campbeltown ran aground. After a few minutes she pulled free only to ground again moments later. Once again she broke free and was able to continue on unabated. By 0030 the entire flotilla was into deeper water and entering the outer approaches of the port. At this time Lieutenant Tibbets, the officer in charge of the ordnance aboard the Campbeltown, activated the eight-hour time fuse. Interestingly enough only a few people aboard the Campbeltown knew of the demolitions’ existence.

Soon thereafter the German coastal radar picked up the inbound vessels. Captain Mecke was informed by his command post, and he subsequently ordered all units to beware landing. The time was 0120. Two minutes later the flotilla was challenged by flashing lights from a shore battery. The official British after-action report stated the following:

During this time we made our bogus identity to the shore signal station at No.3 battery and signalled in German that we were “proceeding up harbour in accordance with instruction.” On receipt of this signal some of the searchlights switched out but we were then called up from the South entrance and passed a similar message. While this was in progress however the force was fired on by light flak from one position so we made the signal for “a vessel considering herself to be fired on by friendly forces.” This stopped him for a bit. At this time we must have been recognized as definitely hostile as we were suddenly fired on heavily and the action became general. It is difficult to describe the full fury of the attack that was let loose on both sides, the air became one mass of red and green tracer travelling in all directions, most of it going over.25

Aboard the Campbeltown, Lt. Comdr. Sam Beattie ordered the bogus German ensign pulled down and the white British ensign hoisted up. From the shore came fire from all the coastal defense guns including 75mm, 150mm, 170mm, 6-inch howitzers, Oerlikons, and Bofors. Fortunately, the darkness and distance from shore precluded accurate fire except by the close-in 20mm and 37mm guns. All the British vessels returned fire and sailed virtually unscathed through the blanket of rounds. Initial casualties included the Campbeltown coxswain and quartermaster who were killed on the bridge.

At this point the flotilla had reached the east jetty. Anchored off to their starboard was the German ship Sperrbrecker, which commenced firing as the vessels approached. A gunner aboard the British motor gunboat raked the ship with counterfire and promptly silenced the German batteries.

With the motor gunboat leading the way, the Campbeltown headed straight for the Normandie dry dock at eighteen knots. At the last second the motor gunboat veered away, and the Campbeltown struck the southern caisson of the dry dock at exactly 0134, only four minutes later than initially planned. “The main objective of the raid had been achieved before a single Commando soldier had set foot ashore.”26 The force of the collision crushed the bow of the Campbeltown for thirty-six feet and drove her up onto the caisson a full twelve inches into the steel gate.

Fig. 4–2. Action of HMS Campbeltown and Motor Launches at Saint-Nazaire. From HMSO

The commandos aboard the destroyer came under immediate fire as they struggled to disembark and begin their missions. Lieutenant Stewart Chant (No. 5 Commando) said later that 75 percent of the commandos on deck had already been hit by fire before the Campbeltown ever reached the dry dock.

Climbing down iron ladders and rope, the first group of twelve commandos attempted to silence the guns in the immediate vicinity of the dry dock. Their first victims were the Germans manning a light gun in a sandbagged nest. After this was extinguished, the commandos assaulted a concrete bunker containing a 37mm gun. Although four commandos were wounded in the fight, the British had established a perimeter around the insertion point.

With a perimeter set, Chant and his demolition crew of four sergeants moved down a long flight of stairs into the pump house. Their task was to destroy the pumps that raised and lowered the water level in the dry dock. Chant and his men placed 150 pounds of explosives around the pumps and set a ninety-second time fuse. They immediately returned topside and waited for the explosion. As they mustered up outside the pump house, Bob Montgomery showed up to oversee the operation and ordered the men to move further away. “It was lucky he did,” Chant recalled. “For a few seconds later there was a deafening explosion and the large blocks of concrete protecting the building from air-raid damage flew up into the air and crashed down on the quayside where we had just been standing.”27

After the initial charge had detonated, Chant and his men returned to the pump house and finished the remainder of the task with sledgehammers and incendiaries.

Lieutenant Christopher Smalley and four NCOs were assigned the task of destroying the southern caisson winding house that operated the lock gates. This mission was accomplished and the winding house was destroyed almost simultaneously with the pump house.

Two additional demolition teams commanded by Lieutenant Purdon and Lieutenant Brett, both of No. 12 Commando, moved up the west side of the dry dock to the northern winding house. They were supported by ten surviving members of the assault party who had cleared the initial entry point. As they moved the five hundred yards from the southern caisson to the northern caisson, the assault team had to clear a German position and suppress heavy fire from a nearby stronghold. In the process, Brett was wounded and was replaced by Lt. Bob Burtenshaw and some of his men.

Upon reaching the northern winding house, Purdon’s men smashed in the door and set the charges. Several commandos were wounded by advancing German troops and effective fire from nearby ships moored in the Penhouet Basin. Meanwhile Burtenshaw found he was unable to enter the northern caisson through the locked steel door and elected to lower twelve 18-pound charges over the north side of the caisson. This entire time he and his men were receiving 20mm fire from the Penhouet Basin ships. After tying off the explosives to a nearby guardrail, “Burtenshaw realizing they must at least silence the ships lying inside the dry-dock, south of the caisson, took several men with him along the wall, firing their pistols down into a tanker undergoing refit. More effective was the rush by two of the protection squad firing their tommies as they ran down the ship’s steep gangplank. When Germans appeared on the west dockside, Bob Burtenshaw—still humming ‘There’ll always be an England’—ran at them firing his pistol, despite his wounds. The Germans scattered, but the Lieutenant and a corporal were killed.”28

Although the assault and demolition crews sustained heavy casualties, all the targets in the dry dock area had been destroyed as planned.

In the meantime Newman and his command element had come ashore at the Old Entrance. They were attempting to locate the building they had designated as their command headquarters. As they arrived at the proper location (just adjacent to the swing bridge at the Old Entrance), Newman captured two German soldiers who informed him that his designated headquarters building was in fact the Wehrmacht’s headquarters building.

Newman intended to capture the Germans inside the building but came under intense fire from several ships in the Saint-Nazaire Basin. Newman was soon joined by Troop Sergeant Major Haines, who had come ashore from Lieutenant Rodier’s motor launch. Equipped with a 2-inch mortar, Haines was able to quiet the guns in the basin, but almost immediately thereafter another group of German sailors engaged the commandos with machine guns. Again Haines returned fire with a Bren gun and silenced the sailors. Newman returned to the task of securing the headquarters building and, after a few well-placed hand grenades, was in command of the facility.

At the other end of the Saint-Nazaire Harbor, the motor launches had timed their assaults to coincide with the ramming of the Campbeltown. Their formation sailing into the harbor had been two lines abreast just to the rear of the Campbeltown. The port line broke off and attempted to land commandos at the Old Mole while the starboard line continued on to the Old Entrance.

The port line motor launches were led by Lieutenant Irwin’s torpedo motor launch. It carried no commandos and was assigned only to escort the other motor launches and attack targets of opportunity. Irwin continued on past the Old Mole. His boat was eventually hit by a shell, and the steering mechanism was damaged. Soon after, he retreated back to the open sea.

Immediately following Irwin was Lieutenant Platt, whose embarked commandos had the mission of attacking the gun positions on the Old Mole and seizing the area between the Old Mole and the southern entrance to the Saint-Nazaire Basin. As Platt approached the Old Mole his motor launch ran aground and came under fire from the shore. His boat was set ablaze, and he gave the order to abandon the craft. The commandos attempted to swim the three hundred yards to shore, but the weight of their clothes and equipment caused many to drown. Twelve of the commandos and four of the motor launch’s crew were killed or drowned in the river. The lead motor launch in the starboard line, having seen Platt’s predicament, managed to rescue the remaining survivors.

Behind Platt’s motor launch came Lieutenant Collier with the two demolition teams embarked, including Captain Pritchard, the explosives expert who had trained the commandos. Collier weaved around Platt’s stalled motor launch and started off-loading his commandos at the Old Mole steps. One of the navy men, Len Ball, “was firing up his gun … enjoying himself and exhorting [the commandos] come on you Limeys.”29 The fire was so intense that only three men managed to disembark. Collier pulled away and after several minutes attempted to land once again. Collier was unaware at this point that Platt was beached and in fact believed he had successfully off-loaded his commandos. After accomplishing his mission, Collier returned to his loiter point in the middle of the river. The Germans continued to pepper the small boat. De la Torre, who had gotten ashore and then returned with a wounded commando, remembered that “shells were coming inside one end of the motor launch and coming out the other. There were bodies lying all around the mess deck … I cut loose a Carley float and jumped in after it … bullets were hitting all around us.”30

Next in sequence was Lieutenant Wallis who was carrying a small demolitions team with orders to destroy the central lock gate of the main entrance. Wallis came in at eighteen knots and missed the Old Mole landing, beaching the motor launch momentarily. The Germans on the pier began tossing grenades at the boat and engaged the craft with small-arms fire. The commandos aboard attempted to suppress the fire, but eventually Wallis was forced to withdraw.

The three remaining motor launches, under the command of Lieutenants Horlock, Henderson, and Falconar, were all driven off by heavy enemy fire as they approached the Old Mole. None of their commandos were landed. The end result was that of the six motor launches, only Collier’s succeeded in landing any troops.

At the Old Entrance, Lieutenant Boyd, commanding a torpedo motor launch, had broken off from the starboard column as planned to make room for the commandos to land. His orders were to provide covering fire for the troop-carrying motor launches and attack targets of opportunity. As Boyd ran between the Old Entrance and the Old Mole, he came under intense fire, which disabled his engines for ten minutes. As soon as they were repaired, Boyd proceeded to Platt’s burning motor launch and recovered the remaining survivors from that craft. Boyd began to head toward midstream but stopped to pick up three more commandos from the river. In the process, his motor launch was hit again and several men aboard were killed. Boyd eventually managed to extract and headed to the open ocean under a hail of shells from coastal defenses.

Following Boyd was Lieutenant Stephens with an embarked commando assault element. Stephens’s motor launch was hit and severely damaged before it reached the Old Entrance. Out of control, the motor launch crashed into the east jetty, and Stephens ordered the craft abandoned. Some of the men made it to rafts while others attempted to swim ashore. Only five of the commandos survived; four of them were captured immediately. The other commando, Captain Burn, made it ashore and with the help of a navy enlisted man reached his objective (two gun towers three-quarters of a mile away at the northern end of the submarine pens). During the excursion, Burn and the enlisted man killed two Germans and captured four others. Burn unfortunately found the gun towers empty, so he decided to set fire to the control room with incendiary grenades.

The next two motor launches, commanded by Lieutenants Burt and Beart, overshot the Old Entrance landing. By the time they swung around to try again, the Old Entrance was covered with Germans. Burt landed his troops on the north side of the Old Entrance, but several were killed instantly. Burt extracted into midstream, but effective fire from the shore killed more men on deck. Burt’s motor launch was eventually destroyed as he drifted downstream. The few remaining survivors made it into rafts and were eventually captured.

At the same time, Beart was again attempting to land at the Old Entrance. As the motor launch nosed in, heavy fire from the Saint-Nazaire Basin killed Beart and several commandos. The remaining commandos fought ashore momentarily and then struggled back to the motor launch. The motor launch, however, was soon set ablaze. The commandos and crew abandoned the boat and attempted to take rafts or swim ashore. Eventually all but three of the twelve commandos were shot or drowned.

During the ten minutes that it took for Burt and Beart to reapproach the Old Entrance, three other motor launches had attempted to land. The first of the three, commanded by Lieutenant Tillie, was hit and immediately burst into flames. Fifteen of the seventeen commandos aboard and most of the crew were killed.

The second motor launch, commanded by Lieutenant Fenton, was also hit and failed to land any troops. It maneuvered to midstream and continued to fight at a distance, eventually withdrawing to the open ocean. The third motor launch was commanded by Lieutenant Rodier. He managed to successfully negotiate the heavy fire and land his commandos. One of the commandos, Sgt. Dick Bradley, remembered, “We had a perfect landing. It couldn’t have been nicer. We got off, tied the thing up as cool as if nothing had happened.”31

Rodier then returned to the Campbeltown to assist in the removal of her remaining crew, including the commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Beattie. After embarking fifty men, Rodier began to move downstream. His motor launch was soon hit by fire from the 75mm coastal defense guns. Rodier was killed and the motor launch eventually destroyed. “Most of the men on board, including all the officers of the Campbeltown except Beattie and one other man, were killed or died in the water, and the few survivors were picked up at about 9.30am by a German patrol boat.”32

The last boat in the starboard column was a torpedo motor launch commanded by Sublieutenant Nock. Like the other torpedo motor launches, Nock was assigned to draw fire and provide support to the motor launches. Nock had the additional mission of helping to off-load the Campbeltown’s crew, but he never got the chance. Nock managed to subdue some of the fire from ashore but was eventually hit and his boat lost.

In the first sixty minutes of the battle, over half the assault force, including eight launches, had been hit or destroyed. The Loire River was burning from the oil and debris of damaged boats. Everywhere German defense guns pounded away at targets in the water and ashore. Smoke from the explosions at the pump and winding house lingered over the city, and searchlights darted from point to point chasing real and imaginary commandos.

Back on shore the commandos from Collier’s motor launch had succeeded in getting away from the Old Mole and were proceeding to their target. Those commandos consisted of Lieutenant Walton’s demolition team, Captain Pritchard’s roving demolition team, and Second Lieutenant Watson’s protection team. These elements were directed to destroy the bridge over the main entrance to the Saint-Nazaire Basin.

Walton’s party was hit almost immediately after departing the Old Mole. Walton was wounded, and the team separated in the action. Walton eventually died after attempting to lay his explosives at the dock gate. The explosives never detonated.

Watson’s team rendezvoused with the members of Newman’s headquarters element and the remains of Walton’s team. Watson made several attempts to reach the main entrance bridge but was turned away by heavy fire from an armored tanker moored in the basin. Eventually a runner from headquarters ordered them to return to Newman’s location.

Pritchard’s roving demolition team managed to reach the bridge but elected to leave that target for Walton and destroy two ships tied up at the quay instead. Slipping over the side of the quay, the commandos placed their charges below the waterline and sneaked away. Moments later the demolitions detonated and the ships sank. Pritchard and Corporal Maclagan departed the basin in search of other targets. Pritchard later died as a result of wounds received sometime in the action.

Having completed their missions, commandos from the Campbeltown were beginning to assemble at the headquarters building. Newman decided that most of the objectives had been achieved and it was time to withdraw. Unfortunately, the Very pistol needed to fire the withdraw signal had gone down with Sergeant Moss, the No. 2 Commando regimental sergeant major, while he was aboard one of the motor launches. Consequently, Newman sent Lance Corporal Harrington to retrieve Captain Roy’s blocking force and other elements that were positioned in the vicinity. Eventually Newman had seventy officers and men at his location. It was then that he learned that withdrawal was impossible owing to the fate of the motor launches. Chant later recalled, “Colonel Newman told us, ‘This is where we walk home. All the boats have been blown up or have gone back.’ ”33

Several escape options were discussed, but Newman’s final plan called for the men to split up and attempt to make their way through town and eventually to the Spanish frontier. “He ordered them not to surrender until all their ammunition had been used up, and not to surrender at all if they could help it.”34

The commandos left the headquarters building as a group and attempted to move from the Old Town area across the bridge over the main entrance and into the city of Saint-Nazaire. They encountered heavy resistance, and several men fell wounded or dead. Upon reaching the bridge, Troop Sergeant Major Haines laid down a base of fire, and the remaining commandos dashed across, firing as they moved. Upon reaching the town of Saint-Nazaire the group split up. Roy and twenty men went into a home and waited for a while. Soon they decided to depart and met Lieutenant Hopwood and ten of his men. Together the group was eventually captured when it sought refuge in a police station.

Newman’s group went from house to house, encountering Germans at every turn and eventually ending up in an air-raid shelter. Not long afterward, a German party arrived. Newman, out of ammunition and with several wounded men, surrendered. By the end of the evening, all the commandos who had departed the headquarters building were either dead or captured.

Back on the Loire River, seven launches managed to make it out of the harbor. Lieutenant Henderson, who had been forced to withdraw from the Old Mole, was the first to reach the open ocean. His boat was separated from the remaining six. At approximately 0545 Henderson’s motor launch came under attack from a German destroyer, the Jaguar. The British fired every available weapon, inflicting serious casualties on the Germans. Refusing to surrender, the British fought until only a few survivors remained. Eventually however the motor launch was overpowered by the heavily armed destroyer and forced to surrender. The after-action report read, “Surrendered after unequal fight and many casualties including C.O. killed.”35 The remaining men were brought aboard the German destroyer and given prompt medical attention. Those who survived were later transferred to a POW camp.

Three other motor launches (Irwin, Fenton, Falconar) and Ryder’s motor gunboat managed to escape from the river and rendezvoused with the Atherstone and Tynedale. The dead and wounded were transferred, and Irwin’s, Falconar’s, and Ryder’s boats were scuttled. At 0730, a German Heinkel 111 appeared and sank Fenton’s abandoned motor launch but elected not to attack the escorts.

Ten minutes later a Royal Air Force fighter arrived to provide air cover and was met by a German Junker 88. The air-to-air combat ended in a midair collision, killing both pilots. Later the Royal Air Force sent additional air support to cover the return trip, and the navy added two additional destroyers, the Cleveland and the Brocklesby, to the convoy.

The remaining three motor launches, commanded by Horlock, Wallis, and Boyd, also escaped the coastal defense guns but failed to rendezvous with the Atherstone and Tynedale. The three boats were attacked several times from the air but managed to return unharmed to Falmouth.

At approximately 1030 on Saturday, 28 March, the four and a quarter tons of explosives aboard the Campbeltown detonated, destroying the southern caisson and rendering the dry dock unusable. Aboard the Campbeltown at the time of the explosion were dozens of German officers and enlisted who were apparently looting the vessel of all its liquor and candy bars. Montgomery later recalled the incident: “There is a lovely little story of Sam Beattie [commanding officer of the Campbeltown] being interrogated and the German chap saying, ‘Surely you didn’t think that a silly little boat like that ramming the caisson would smash it up?’ and then the detonation went ‘whoom’ and all the windows blew out, and Sam said, ‘No we didn’t.’ ”36

Reports indicated that as many as two hundred people were killed when the charges ignited. “The remains of torsos, detached limbs, bits of flesh, and daubs of blood hideously adorned the dock for several days, sticking to walls, resting on rooftops, and staining the ground.”37

The Germans were thrown into a state of panic and began firing at imaginary commandos. By afternoon some order was being restored, when, at 1600, the first time-delayed torpedo fired from Wynn’s torpedo motor launch exploded at the Old Entrance. This was followed one hour later by a second explosion from the number two torpedo. Again panic ensued, and by the following morning another forty-two French civilians and Germans had been killed by friendly fire.

The casualties on the British side included 169 dead and 200 captured out of the 611 who participated. The primary goal of destroying the Normandie dry dock was achieved. The British often refer to Saint-Nazaire as the “greatest raid of all,” but in retrospect, how successful was this mission? What could have been done to improve the survivability of the men and the effectiveness of the raid?



In wartime the success of an operation is judged almost solely on the achievement of the objectives. The cost in lives, although regrettable, lies within the realm of the necessary. In the case of Saint-Nazaire, the destruction of the dry dock was the primary objective and from a strategic and operational perspective the objective was achieved. Eric de la Torre commented after seeing the plan, “I thought it was a very good plan, but I thought all of us would be killed. When you saw where all the [German] guns were, you thought, well, we’re not going to come out alive.”38 In the end 169 British soldiers and sailors were killed and 200 captured.

Were the objectives worth the risk? No! The Tirpitz clearly was a formidable threat and warranted every effort to sink her. Denying the battleship access to maintenance facilities in the Atlantic, however, would not and did not preclude her from operating in the North Sea against Allied convoys bound for Russia, and this was her primary mission. Hitler was obsessed with cutting the vital Anglo-Russian convoy link that supplied Russian forces at Murmansk. By January 1942 (three months before Saint-Nazaire), all available German ships, including the Tirpitz, were stationed in Norway for this express purpose. Not only did the Norwegian fjords provide excellent protection for the Tirpitz, but the port city of Foettenfjord near Trondheim was able to conduct a complete refit of the battleship beginning in October 1942.* This obviated the need for the Tirpitz to seek repairs elsewhere. Additionally, the Royal Air Force kept constant aerial surveillance on the Tirpitz and actually hoped the ship would sail south so it could be attacked by bombers—the fate to which it eventually succumbed.

Was the plan developed to maximize superiority over the enemy and minimize the risk to the assault force? Even if we accept the rationale for the raid, the merit of the plan warrants questioning. Early in the establishment of the Combined Operations Command, the idea of conducting a raid on Saint-Nazaire was dismissed owing to the shallow waters of the Loire, the heavy coastal and port defenses, and the anticipated size of the assault force. (The initial size of the force was 300 men. Operation Chariot eventually required 611 soldiers and sailors.) Even after the initial plan was formulated there was disagreement about the tactics to destroy the dry dock. Interestingly enough, the most successful aspect of the mission, the Campbeltown operation, was not considered the best approach. Commander Ryder, in a memorandum entitled “Considerations of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using or Not Using an Expendable Destroyer,” stated, “I think the destroyer would certainly hazard the element of surprise and would be plastered by all the coastal batteries at ranges of one to two miles and generally speaking block ships [ships used to block the exit of a harbor] have always failed really to get into the correct position … As a means of destroying the lock gate, I prefer the idea of firing 8 torpedoes at it to the idea of trying to blow it up from the bows of a destroyer.”39

In retrospect, Ryder may have been correct. The Campbeltown mission, although successful, may in fact have jeopardized the element of surprise for the rest of the flotilla. The real question is, was it necessary to have eighteen assault craft and 257 commandos to do the mission?

After I spent several hours on the ground at Saint-Nazaire, it was clear to me that the decision to attack several targets instead of just the dry dock was fatally flawed. Once that decision was made, however, the tactical plan to implement that decision was fundamentally sound. Had the commandos gotten ashore as planned at the Old Mole and the Old Entrance the outcome could have been different. The air raid was scheduled to continue throughout the commando assault. This would have created chaos within the city, allowing the British to slip in undisturbed, as they almost did anyway. Once ashore the commandos were relying on massing combat power quickly and using the assault teams to subdue the Germans until the objectives were destroyed. There would have been casualties; however, the plan clearly made every effort to minimize losses.

Was the mission executed according to the plan, and if not, what unforeseen circumstances dictated the outcome? Once the mission was launched, it adhered very closely to the original plan until the enemy situation forced the support craft to withdraw and the commandos ashore to scatter. The Germans from the new town area quickly reinforced those Flak Brigade personnel in the dry dock area. The British lost fire superiority when they were forced to slow down the assault. Additionally, because the British were divided into assault, protection, and demolition teams, some of the commandos ashore were only lightly armed and didn’t stand a chance against the better-armed German troops. One other aspect of the German defenses that received only scant consideration in the planning was the armed sailors aboard the vessels in port. When the firefight began many of these sailors took up guns, killed several of the commandos, and disrupted the commandos’ ability to move to their assigned objectives. These actions by the Germans disrupted the entire flow of the assault and subsequently undermined the success of the operation.

What modifications could have improved the outcome? Either of two approaches might have improved the outcome. The Campbeltown could have rammed the dry dock, off-loaded her commandos, and picked them up within twenty minutes by high-speed boat. This would have accomplished the primary mission and reduced the loss of life. Or, as Ryder suggested, the commandos could have used a motor torpedo boat to attack the dry dock. Unfortunately, this second option would only have damaged the dry dock temporarily. In order to render the dry dock completely inoperable, the commandos had to get ashore and enter the pump house and winding house. Still, the ashore missions could have been accomplished with a minimum of personnel.

The mission of the Combined Operations Command was to “be offensive.” In that respect Saint-Nazaire was an attempt to take the fight to the enemy. Irrespective of the reasons, an assault force was assembled, and a plan was formulated to destroy the dockyard area. Let’s now examine where relative superiority was achieved and how the principles of special operations were used to improve the probability of mission completion.

Relative Superiority

Special operations forces, because of their limited sustainability and requirement for either quick egress or rapid reinforcement from conventional forces, must achieve relative superiority quickly. By increasing the number of primary objectives, the British essentially were attempting multiple engagements in a single area of operation and therefore were required to achieve relative superiority several times in order for the overall operation to succeed. Relative superiority, instead of occurring at a point in time, had to occur at several points in time and therefore the speed of execution was decreased and the opportunity for failure was dramatically increased.

The British did gain relative superiority when the Campbeltown struck the dry dock and, owing to the concealed nature of the four and one-quarter tons of demolition, were able to sustain that relative superiority until the ordnance exploded the next morning.

Figure 4–3 shows that the point of vulnerability occurred when the Campbeltown and the rest of the flotilla entered the mouth of the Loire River. It was here, along the coastline, that the Germans had positioned their batteries to engage enemy ships. Although the crossing of the Atlantic was not without risk, the flotilla had the destroyers Atherstone and Tynedale for protection. It was not until the flotilla left the safety of the destroyer escorts that the success of the mission hinged on avoiding the German defenses. From midnight on 27 March until thirty minutes after, the Campbeltown was in an area of vulnerability. The ship had to cross the shallow waters to avoid the coastal batteries. If she had run aground the mission would have failed. Fortunately, the hull modifications reduced her draft and the shoal waters caused only momentary delays. At 0030 hours the entire flotilla entered deep water. It was at this point that the Campbeltown achieved relative superiority. With the Campbeltown’s improved speed, modified hull, armor plating, and hold full of demolition, the British had gained a decisive advantage over the Germans protecting the dry dock. The frictions of war now affected the Germans more than the British. The Flak Brigade would have to react quickly to prevent the Campbeltown from completing her mission. Fortunately for the British, and as planned, the close-in harbor defenses were inadequate to stop the armor-plated “war wagon.” At 0134 the Campbeltown struck the dry dock. That morning at 1030 the mission was completed when the Campbeltown exploded, destroying the Normandie dry dock. The total area of vulnerability for the Campbeltown portion of the raid did not exceed 5 percent of the mission. It is interesting to compare this aspect of the raid with the failed attempt to land the commandos at the Old Mole and Old Entrance.

Fig. 4–3. Relative Superiority Graph for the Raid on Saint-Nazaire (HMS Campbeltown)

Figure 4-4 graphically illustrates the motor launches’ attempts to land the commandos. From the point of vulnerability there is a sharp rise in the probability of mission completion. The motor launches were able to use surprise and speed to negotiate the shoal waters and enter the harbor undetected. Unfortunately, once they were engaged by the Germans, the thin-hulled motor launches were ill equipped to withstand the 20mm rounds. Their inability to quickly land the commandos caused the area of vulnerability to expand and eventually made it impossible to gain relative superiority. After two hours, most of the motor launches either were destroyed or had retreated to open water.

Had the British achieved relative superiority at each necessary point throughout the engagement, they probably could have sustained that superiority long enough to place their demolitions and destroy the targets. The plan, however, did not adequately address the withdrawal. Regardless of the outcome ashore, relative superiority could not have been maintained during the extraction, and casualties upon the return would have been high.

Fig. 4–4. Relative Superiority Graph for the Raid on Saint-Nazaire (Motor Launches)

The Principles of Special Operations

Simplicity. On paper Operation Chariot sounded relatively simple. The concept of operation stated,

The troops will be divided roughly equally between the destroyer and the M.L.s, approximately 15 men going in each M.L. The whole force will proceed in company so as to approach St.-Nazaire after dark on a moonlight night … On arrival the destroyer will ram the outer gate of the big lock, and the troops on board will disembark over her bows, then proceeding to carry out their demolition tasks. The remainder of the force will disembark from their M.L.s at selected points in the dockyard area … The whole force will withdraw in the M.L.s after a maximum period of 2 hours.40

The staff planners at Combined Operations had succeeded in clearly defining the mission objectives; they had gathered extensive intelligence on the port facility and the German defenses, and armed with this knowledge they had devised a bold and innovative means of countering most of the obstacles.

Nevertheless, the plan was not simple. Operation Chariot involved 611 men, sixteen motor launches, the destroyer Campbeltown, two escort destroyers (the Tynedale and the Atherstone), and the submarine Sturgeon. The plan called for the destruction of eleven major targets, using 257 commandos, from eight different units, most of whom had never met prior to the final weeks of training. Once ashore at Saint-Nazaire, the commandos were divided into three elements for each target, and the destruction of a target relied heavily on all three elements doing their assigned tasks, (i.e., assault, protection, and demolition). At any one point in the operation there could have been fifty separate elements (sixteen motor launches, thirty-three commando elements, and a headquarters element), all required to act independently during the engagement and then reassemble at the designated time for extraction. This “simple plan” was exposed as difficult at the dress rehearsal (in which most of the commandos did not participate). However, the mistakes identified were not corrected and the plan went basically unchanged.

What aspects of the principle of simplicity were ignored and what effect did they have on the operation? Primarily, the planners failed to limit the objectives. “In the plan as finally agreed upon, it was decided to make the destruction of the lock gates and mechanism of the forme écluse [Normandie dry dock] by H.M.S. Campbeltown the principal objective, while the destruction, first of the smaller South Lock gates and their installation, secondly of other key points such as pumping machinery for the Bassin, and thirdly of any accessible U-boats and shipping, were to be subsidiary objects in that order of priority.”41

In actuality by the time the plan was completed there were eleven primary targets assigned to the commandos. These included: the two winding houses at the northern and southern caissons, the northern caisson pumping house, the fuel storage tanks to the east of the dry dock, the swing bridges at the Penhouet Basin and the Old Entrance, the lock gates at the Old Entrance, and the two bridges and two lock gates at the main entrance. These objectives did not include the assault parties’ targets, which consisted of: “forty-three guns of 20 mm, 37 mm, and 40 mm calibre … skillfully (positioned) on the jetties at each side of the Avant port, on the Old Mole, on the southern caisson of the Normandie dock, and at the northern end of the submarine basin. Many of them were stationed on the top of concrete block houses, making it difficult to attack and even more difficult to shoot at from water level.”42

By increasing the number of objectives from one to eleven, the assault force was required to add fifty more soldiers and over two hundred naval support personnel. More importantly, it required ten additional small craft for transportation, added training for the demolitions, assault, and protection elements, and most importantly required a modification of the tactics. This increased scope in the mission compounded the command and control problem to an unmanageable level. Had the planners reduced the objectives to the dry dock alone, the commandos would never have needed to set foot ashore. Those aboard the Campbeltown could have rammed the destroyer into the southern caisson and extracted by a single high-speed motor launch. Even if the requirement to destroy the pumping house and winding house remained, the training, logistics, and implementation would have been much simpler. As we will see, expanding the objective increases the potential for problems in other areas and was the overriding factor in the disaster at Saint-Nazaire.

The intelligence on Saint-Nazaire was superb. The planners had aerial photography, blueprints of the dock area, and detailed agent reports showing the exact location of all the coastal and harbor defenses.* Armed with this information, the planners developed a scheme to avoid the coastal batteries by modifying the Campbeltown and sailing her across the shoal waters. Once inside the inner ring of defenses, the armor-plated old destroyer could withstand the 20mm harbor guns. The Campbeltown mission is an excellent example of how intelligence can be used to develop a plan that avoids or neutralizes the enemy’s defensive advantage. As previously shown, the Campbeltown gained relative superiority very early in the operation, primarily because good intelligence allowed the British to plan around the Germans’ natural defensive superiority, but also because the British used innovation to overcome obstacles.

Considering the massive size of the Normandie dry dock and the seemingly impenetrable nature of the caissons, the plan for destroying the target was excellent. The Combined Operations staff’s ingenious use of the Campbeltownis an excellent example of using innovative technology to gain relative superiority.

Under normal circumstances an old destroyer with a crew of fifty men would have been unable to negotiate the outer banks of the Loire River and destroy a heavily defended target. By significantly modifying the Campbeltown, the British were able to reduce the draft from fourteen to eleven feet, increase speed from eighteen to twenty knots, and improve the destroyer’s survivability by adding quarter-inch armor. This allowed the Campbeltown to steam across the shallow outer banks and survive the pounding of German harbor defense guns.

The most important modification was the addition of four and one-quarter tons of high explosives in the Campbeltown’s bow. The demolition experts accurately calculated how far the bow would compress upon impact with the southern caisson. With this in mind they arranged the twenty-four depth charges to achieve maximum destructive potential. The results were impressive. The explosion completely unhinged the caisson, sending the Campbeltown and millions of gallons of water into the dry dock. The dock remained out of commission for the rest of the war.

The other technological innovation that had profound effects on the outcome of the mission was the modification to Sublieutenant Wynn’s motor torpedo boat. The torpedo tubes, which were normally situated in the rear, were remounted on the forecastle and loaded with special torpedoes equipped with eighteen hundred pounds of explosives and a delayed-action time fuse. During the final stages of the action, Wynn fired his torpedoes at the Old Entrance gate and departed. Hours later the torpedoes exploded as planned.

In addition to these innovations, the commandos gained some limited advantage through the use of the Bren submachine gun, which held a thirty-two-round magazine and had a rate of fire of five hundred rounds per minute. With a weight of 6.62 pounds and a length of only thirty inches, the Bren allowed the commandos to move quickly and carry more ammunition to sustain their activity ashore. The Bren of course was no match against protected machine guns, but it gave the commandos a decided advantage over the individual German soldier.

In retrospect, the plan for Saint-Nazaire made excellent use of good intelligence and innovative technology; however, it was far from simple, and as the number of objectives and the level of participation increased, so did the level of difficulty.

Security. David Mason in The Raid on St. Nazaire said that “because of a passion for security, they [the bomber pilots] had been told nothing of the nature of the raid going in below them, and were flying under orders which severely restricted their bombing activity … As one of them later pleaded: ‘Why didn’t you tell us what was going on in St.-Nazaire that night? We would have taken our bombers down to zero altitude to help with the landing.’ ”43

The failure of the bombers to provide continuous cover for the landing party resulted in the Germans’ directing their attention toward the river and eventually detecting and destroying the flotilla. Although this aspect of overbearing security was the most glaring, it was not isolated. During the planning and preparation, only a handful of men knew the details of Operation Chariot, and most of these men did not participate in the actual mission.

The demolition teams trained for months at various docks around England but never knew the ultimate goal of their training. Later, Eric de la Torre, who was in the demolition party, said that each man had too much equipment. “We could have done a lot more with less. It was a pity too, we’d have been much faster.”44 Had the demolition parties known ahead of time that they were going to run five hundred yards through a hail of German bullets wearing over ninety-five pounds of equipment, the plan might have been changed, for the better.

The dress rehearsal that was conducted at Devonport only included a portion of the force for fear that a full-scale rehearsal might reveal the intent of the mission. Consequently, the majority of the commandos never had an opportunity to off-load from the motor launches onto the mole pier under simulated combat conditions. And, the demolition teams, who were not included in the rehearsal, never exercised their missions in conjunction with the protection and assault parties. In fact, the various units that were involved in the raid had little or no contact with each other until just days prior to launch.

Even during the actual operation, Robert Montgomery recalled that security continued to remain tight. He said, “Not many of the crew of the Campbeltown even knew it [the four and one-quarter tons of demolition] was down in the hold. And I don’t think any of our chaps knew. Now you might say that that was for security reasons. But it wouldn’t have been necessary to have security at that time.”45

The passion for security that surrounded the raid on Saint-Nazaire proved to be detrimental to success. It prevented effective planning by isolating personnel who could help identify tactical problems and contribute ideas to improve the mission. Overbearing security limited effective preparation by reducing the scale of the dress rehearsal, which thereby failed to adequately test the plan prior to launch. Keeping the various commando and naval units separated also prevented any cross-pollination of ideas and methods, which could have improved the execution. Finally, a failure to “trust [the bomber pilots] with at least an outline briefing on the raid” caused the air raid deception plan to fail, and the element of surprise was lost.46 Security is important, but not at the expense of good planning, preparation, and execution.

Repetition. As I stated before, large forces are unable to use the principles of special operations to achieve relative superiority because they cannot fully assimilate the principles during planning, preparation, or execution. The raid on Saint-Nazaire is an excellent example of this dilemma and of how the problem of large forces impinges on success.

The plan for Operation Chariot, by virtue of the size of its raiding force and complexity of the mission, was not simple. And the security surrounding the preparations for the raid was overbearing and limited individual dialogue that could have improved the tactics. Both of these factors compounded the problem when it came time for a rehearsal. First, with 611 men and a host of support platforms, most of which were not located at the same base, it was difficult to organize and then conduct a rehearsal. Furthermore, once a limited rehearsal was arranged, there was concern about the inadvertent disclosure of the operation, so many of the key elements did not participate.

How did this lack of a full-dress rehearsal affect the outcome of the mission? The mission suffered from two major shortcomings: first, the inability of the motor launches to land the commandos quickly, and secondly, a disjointed assault resulting from too many targets and too little unity. Both of these problems could have been identified in a full-dress rehearsal. Had all the commandos and all the motor launches participated in the rehearsal, it would have been apparent that landing in sequence was a slow procedure that required modification. Additionally, if during the dress rehearsal all 257 commandos had gotten ashore, it would have become obvious that “unity of command was a big problem.”47 Directing that many men over a two-hour period and then extracting under fire was more than a small headquarters element could hope to accomplish.

Again, owing to the size of the force and concern about security, the plan was rehearsed only once. The few problems that were identified never had the opportunity to be resolved in a simulated environment. The value of repetition cannot be overemphasized. Although individual skill training (i.e., demolition placement, small-boat handling, and weapons firing) was exceptionally thorough for all phases of the mission, the failure to conduct a full-dress rehearsal prevented the commandos from understanding how these individual skills needed to dovetail in order to be effective in combat. These shortfalls in the preparation phase eventually surfaced in the execution phase with disastrous results.

Surprise. The planners of the raid on Saint-Nazaire suffered from a common problem among special operations personnel. They equated surprise to relative superiority. They assumed that gaining the element of surprise would immediately provide them with a decisive advantage. In a ground engagement, surprise alone cannot overcome defensive warfare. Surprise is only a prelude to a longer battle, and the enemy generally has the advantage the longer the battle continues. Had the Combined Operations staff approached the raid from the position that there would be no surprise, or at best minimum surprise, the plan would have been considerably different.

Overreliance on surprise placed the small craft in an untenable position. Like submersibles that rely solely on stealth, small craft have virtually no protection from the enemy once their coup de main is compromised.* This was particularly true in the case of Saint-Nazaire, where the target was ringed with shore batteries, and the only escape route was back to the Atlantic through a gauntlet of coastal guns. By overestimating the value of surprise, the planners falsely assumed that the motor launches could land the commandos and then somehow loiter until extraction time. Had they planned for no surprise, they could have used the speed and agility of the motor torpedo boats to outrun the shore batteries and fire on the Old Entrance as well as the dry dock. This would have negated the use of the commandos, but it would have improved the chances of achieving relative superiority by making better use of the other principles of special operations, innovation and speed.

The Campbeltown aspect of the mission did not rely entirely on surprise. The planners knew that the ship “would be an excellent target for coastal battery No. 3 at a range of 3200 yards.”48 Consequently they planned around the defensive strong points and relied on the armor plating to sustain the vessel until impact. This proved to be an effective plan, for even when the Campbeltown was plastered by shore batteries five minutes from the target, she still sailed to victory.

The importance of the principle of surprise should be neither understated nor overestimated. Surprise generally provides only a momentary advantage, and although it is usually necessary for success, it alone is not sufficient for success.

Speed. In a raid more than in seizing an objective, speed is vitally important. The raiding party is at a tremendous disadvantage because it must destroy its objective and escape the danger area before reinforcements arrive. Nevertheless the planners at Combined Operations Headquarters stated, “[The raiders] should be ashore no longer than 1-1/2 hours, landing at 0130 and reembarking at no later than 0330 hours on the 28th of March.”49 At Saint-Nazaire the German defenders numbered approximately three hundred with a reinforcement of six thousand men within a few miles. This number does not include the sailors aboard the seventeen vessels in the immediate vicinity.

Those commandos who got ashore quickly from the Campbeltown did an excellent job of destroying the German gun positions and moving to their targets. Unfortunately, they began to be overwhelmed within thirty minutes.

Had all the 257 commandos gotten ashore as planned, it is conceivable they could have destroyed the small bridges that connected the city of Saint-Nazaire to the dock area and prevented German reinforcements from overrunning their positions. This would have allowed the demolition parties time to carry out their assigned tasks and reembark the motor launches. The flaw in the plan was the assumption that they could get sufficient combat power ashore quickly enough to prevent immediate reinforcement by the Germans.

Again the approach used aboard the Campbeltown was simple and well conceived. As soon as the old destroyer impacted the southern caisson, the commandos stormed ashore. Even with heavy German resistance the soldiers were ashore in under five minutes. This eventually led to a successful attack of the dry dock targets.

The same logic was not applied to the soldiers’ disembarking from the motor launches. The plan called for a staggered landing of the commandos at both the Old Mole and the Old Entrance.* Even under the best of circumstances, it would have taken fifteen minutes for the last commando to set foot ashore. As it was, the British failed to quickly seize the shoreline and eventually were forced off their landing site by overpowering German gunfire.

The plan also called for the motor launches to loiter in the river for one and a half hours after landing the commandos. This extended time in conjunction with the lack of cover on the river placed the motor launches in an impossible position. Of the seventeen boats that participated in the operation, eight were destroyed in the river. Of these eight motor launches, four—those of Platt, Stephens, Beart, and Tillie—were hit while attempting to land the commandos. However, the other four motor launches—those of Irwin, Burt, Rodier, and Nock—were hit while maneuvering in the river, at least two of these boats being destroyed by coastal-defense guns.

Therefore, even if the commandos had gotten ashore and isolated the objective area, the ninety minutes of loiter time would have allowed the Germans ample opportunity to range and engage the boats with coastal-defense and naval guns. Those motor launches that did escape left within sixty minutes of the initial engagement, and most suffered personnel casualties from coastal gunfire.

This raid provides the best example of differences in the application of speed in an operation. When speed was properly used, the commandos aboard the Campbeltown were able to successfully accomplish their mission. When the decision was made to add more targets at the expense of speed (and simplicity) the plan broke down and disaster resulted.

Purpose. In 1942, the British had been at war with the Germans for almost two years. The British Expeditionary Force had suffered a humiliating defeat on the continent and been forced to retreat unceremoniously from Dunkirk. At home the British had had to endure continuous bombings by the Luftwaffe that cost thousands of English lives. Consequently, it was not hard for the raiders of Saint-Nazaire to develop a sense of purpose for this mission. Eric de la Torre stated later, “It had been so impressed upon us, ‘You must get to your target, doesn’t matter how many of you are killed. Don’t stop to help anybody. Just get to that target and lay your charges.’ ”50

Although I have continually faulted the planners for not limiting their objectives, at least when the objectives were identified, each commando knew exactly what was expected of him. There was no dispute over the purpose and assigned roles of the individual units. Each unit, including the demolition, the assault, the protection, the headquarters, and the naval parties, understood its objectives and trained extensively, albeit separately, for its missions.

Personal commitment was also not an issue. Captain Robert Montgomery, who helped plan the mission, understood the consequences ahead of time. “I knew I wasn’t going to get back,” he said.51 Nevertheless, he accepted that fact and enthusiastically pressed onward. De la Torre thought, “All of us would be killed … we [weren’t] going to come out [alive].” But even with this premonition, de la Torre concluded, “I wouldn’t have missed [the raid on Saint-Nazaire] for the world.”52

As expected, where a sense of purpose was not instilled, the plan failed. The pilots, who for security reasons had not been advised of the plan, never developed a sense of purpose for the mission. They flew to Saint-Nazaire, dropped a limited number of bombs, and then, owing to low cloud cover and light flak, returned to England. Had the Royal Air Force been informed about the raid and understood the need for the air cover, there is no doubt that they would have gone to any lengths to support the commandos.

Without purpose, a plan must be virtually flawless and able to overcome the disparity between the will of the enemy and the lack of personal commitment on the part of the attacking force. But, as the great Prussian chief of staff Helmut von Moltke said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Therefore, a sense of purpose is essential, and what limited success the commandos did have can be directly attributed to understanding their tasks and being fully committed to seeing them completed.

In conclusion, the raid on Saint-Nazaire represents the best and worst of special-operations planning, preparation, and execution. The use of the Campbeltown to destroy the Normandie dry dock was a stroke of military genius. It maximized relative superiority by effectively utilizing all the principles of special operations. It was a simple plan with a single objective that made good use of innovation and intelligence. Security prevented the enemy from knowing the ship’s mission and that the old destroyer contained four and one-quarter tons of demolition. Although a ramming exercise was never conducted, the Captain of the Campbeltown, Lt. Comdr. Sam Beattie, had thousands of steaming hours, thereby repeating the process of sailing in a straight line countless times. Surprise was achieved through deceptive signaling, and after surprise was lost, time to the target was under five minutes. Finally, the sailors and commandos aboard the ship had a clearly stated purpose with a personal commitment to see the mission completed.

On the other hand, the operation of the motor launches and commandos at the Old Mole and Old Entrance shows the limitations of a large force. The plan was complicated, security was overbearing, rehearsals were inadequate, surprise was minimal and basically ineffective, and the speed on target was insufficient. In the end, only a sense of purpose and the indomitable spirit of the British commandos allowed for any success at all.


1. Roger J. B. Lord Keyes, Amphibious Warfare and Combined Operations (New York: Macmillan, 1943), 10.

2. David Mason, The Raid on St.-Nazaire (New York: Ballantine, 1970), 10.

3. Thomas Gallagher, The X-Craft Raid (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 11.

4. David Brown, Tirpitz: The Floating Fortress (London: Arms & Armour, 1977), 26.

5. H.M.S.O., Combined Operations: The Official Story of the Commandos (New York: Macmillan, 1943), 71.

6. Ibid., 5–6.

7. Ibid., 7.

8. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 22.

9. Eric de la Torre, interview by author, tape recording, London, 19 June 1992.

10. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 22.

11. Peter Young, Commando (New York: Ballantine, 1969), 100.

12. De la Torre, interview.

13. Russell Miller, The Commandos (Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life, 1981), 168.

14. Ibid., 37.

15. Saint-Nazaire raid report by naval force commander, 1942, Imperial War Museum.

16. Young, Commando, 92.

17. Lt. Col. Robert Montgomery, interview by author, tape recording, Mere Warminster, England, 19 June 1992.

18. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 43.

19. Ibid., 48.

20. De la Torre, interview.

21. “Narrative/Report on Operation Chariot,” in Saint-Nazaire raid report, Section B.

22. H.M.S.O., Combined Operations, 74.

23. Dick Bradley, interview by author, tape recording, London, 19 June 1992.

24. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 76.

25. Saint-Nazaire raid report, Section B, 3.

26. Young, Commando, 98.

27. Stuart Chant-Sempill, St.-Nazaire Commando (Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1985), 43.

28. James Ladd, Commandos and Rangers of World War II (London: David & Charles, 1978), 47.

29. De la Torre, interview.

30. Ibid.

31. Bradley, interview.

32. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 108.

33. Young, Commando, 100.

34. Ibid.

35. “Summary of Narrative of the M.L.,” in Saint-Nazaire raid report, Section C, 2.

36. Montgomery, interview.

37. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 134.

38. De la Torre, interview.

39. Comdr. Robert Ryder, “Considerations of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using or Not Using an Expendable Destroyer.” Undated but believed to be part of the minutes from a meeting held at Combined Operations Headquarters on Thursday, 26 February 1942, Imperial War Museum.

40. Adviser on Combined Operations, “Most Secret Draft Memorandum to the Chief of Staff: Operation ‘Chariot,’ ” Imperial War Museum, 1.

41. H.M.S.O., Combined Operations, 72.

42. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 61.

43. Ibid., 148-49.

44. De la Torre, interview.

45. Montgomery, interview.

46. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 148.

47. Montgomery, interview.

48. Most Secret Memorandum.

49. Mason, St.-Nazaire, 43.

50. De la Torre, interview.

51. Montgomery, interview.

52. De la Torre, interview.

*These figures do not include the personnel from the destroyer escorts HMS Atherstone, Tynedale, Cleveland, and Brocklesby, nor those from the submarine Sturgeon, none of whom were directly involved in the raid.

*Although Mountbatten was well known for his premission pep talks, interviews with several of the Saint-Nazaire raiders indicate that contrary to legend Mountbatten never inspected the troops prior to the raid.

*Although Trondheim was not comparable to Saint-Nazaire as a maintenance facility, all the necessary repair work was completed in a matter of months by staggering the tasks so that the battleship was never completely immobilized.

*Lieutenant Colonel Robert Montgomery, who helped develop the demolition plan, stated in an interview with the author that the contractors who built the British dry dock King George V were the same ones who built the Normandie dry dock. These contractors were questioned by British intelligence and their report was made available during the planning for Saint-Nazaire.

*Some of today’s small craft have the advantage of speeds in excess of sixty knots; nonetheless, it is still difficult to outrun fixed- or rotary-wing alert aircraft.

*The commandos were fully aware of the off-load problems but were constrained by the lack of good landing sites. The Old Mole and the Old Entrance provided the only quick access to the dock area that did not involve climbing the quay with full equipment.