Operation Chariot

Operation Chariot

Sailors and workmen on a ship in dock

HMS Campbeltown being converted for the raid. There are twin lines of armour plate down each side of the ship and the Oerlikon mountings. Two of her funnels have been removed, with the remaining two cut at an angle to simulate a German ship.

Operation Chariot stands as a testament to the audacity and courage of Combined Operations during the raid on the port of St. Nazaire in German-occupied France. The destroyer, HMS Campbeltown, laden with a substantial amount of high explosives, intentionally collided with the gates of the sole dry dock that could accommodate the German battleship, Tirpitz. As a result, heavy equipment and machinery that were essential to the operation of the St. Nazaire dry dock became shrapnel.

A group of 15 men in uniform carrying weapons

British Commandos, 1942

The impact was so devastating that the dock was incapacitated for the war’s duration.

On 28 March 1942, by noon, the dock was obliterated. The fate of the two tankers within the dock remains contested; some reports suggest they were either submerged by the explosive wave or propelled to the dock’s far end. Approximately 40 German officers and civilians, who were inspecting the Campbeltown, perished in the explosion. In total, the blast took the lives of around 360 German soldiers.

Photographic evidence from RAF reconnaissance planes, captured months after the incident, displayed the remnants of Campbeltown inside the dry dock.

Normandie Dock months after the raid. The wreck of HMS Campbeltown is visible inside the dry dock.

The blast ensured the dock’s non-operational status for the remainder of the war, successfully preventing the Tirpitz from threatening the Atlantic convoy routes. The raid on St. Nazaire was a definitive success.

Ship speeding at sea with a white bow wave; land can be seen in the background

MTB 74 had her torpedo tubes mounted on the forecastle so they could be fired over anti-torpedo nets

Adolf Hitler’s fury was palpable upon learning that the British had effortlessly navigated a flotilla up the Loire. Consequently, he dismissed Generaloberst Carl Hilpert, the then Commander in Chief West. This raid heightened German vigilance regarding the Atlantic Wall, with fortified measures particularly focused on ports to preempt similar future assaults.

The Aftermath:

White rock with metal plate of front; yachts at anchor in the background

By June 1942, in response to the raid, the Germans escalated their defensive measures, employing concrete for the reinforcement of gun emplacements and bunkers at scales previously reserved for U-boat shelters. In a pivotal meeting with Armaments Minister Albert Speer in August 1942, Hitler laid out ambitious plans, advocating for the establishment of 15,000 bunkers along the Atlantic coastline, stretching from Norway to Spain, by May 1943. However, the battleship Tirpitz never ventured into the Atlantic waters. Instead, it loomed in Norwegian fjords, posing a persistent threat to Allied shipping until its eventual destruction by the RAF in Operation Catechism on 12 November 1944.

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View of the “New Entrance” locks gates to Port Saint-Nazaire towards the Loire River.

Operation Chariot Written by Harry Gillespie

Edited by USS New Jersey Curator Ryan Szimanski

Historian Harry Gillespie : Collected Works

Battleship New Jersey Hosted by Ryan Szimanski