Navy's 'greatest raid' remembered in Falmouth

Veterans groups, VIPs and serving personnel gathered at Falmouth’s Prince of Wales Pier to remember more than 600 men who struck a major blow at the Germany Navy.

Seventy-seven years ago, the Cornish port was the point of departure for three destroyers and 16 motor launches bound for St Nazaire in German-occupied France to destroy harbor facilities.

The attack on St Nazaire – officially Operation Chariot and often called ‘the greatest raid of all’ by historians – attempted to make the docks unusable by the German Navy, especially major surface vessels such as the battleship Tirpitz.

More than 600 commandos and sailors took part in the attack at the end of March 1942. A quarter were killed, around 200 were wounded and taken prisoner and three in every four motor boats was lost. Just 242 men returned to Falmouth.

The service this year was particularly poignant as we prepare to also commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day amphibious landings this summer.

Brigadier Jock Fraser RM

Their sacrifice is marked by a waterfront memorial and an annual service of thanksgiving and remembrance, attended this year by the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall Edward Bolitho and the Mayors of Falmouth, Penryn and Helston, as well as HMS Seahawk’s Volunteer Band and the Royal Naval Regional Commander, Brigadier Jock Fraser RM and members of the public.

The raid, said Brig Fraser, enjoyed a “special place” in commando history and it was appreciated in the serving and veteran communities that the flame of Operation Chariot was kept alive.

He continued: “The dedication of the St Nazaire Society and Falmouth Town Council has once again enabled us to reflect together on the courage and commando spirit displayed by the 611 men who undertook the raid and to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The service this year was particularly poignant as we prepare to also commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day amphibious landings this summer.”

Destroyer HMS Campbeltown rammed the huge gates to the cavernous Normandie dock while commando raiding parties spilled out around the harbour determined to destroy infrastructure.

Long after the fighting subsided, with Campbeltown wedged in the dock gates, a series of delated-action charges hidden aboard the ship exploded, wrecking the dry dock for the remainder of the war.

Five VCs were among nearly 90 decorations presented to participants and although the attack was deemed a success, it was probably not needed.

For unknown to British planners, Hitler had already decided to pull his major surface ships back to the relatively safety of German and Norwegian waters rather than leave them at the mercy of RAF raids in occupied France.