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Ted Else 24th March 2020 09:50

Saint-Nazarie Raid
 
An anniversary of this action is commemorated on the Coastal Forces website HERE

Tomvart 24th March 2020 12:08

Thanks for posting that very informative link Ted, which highlights the extreme bravery of the lads in Coastal Forces - many of whom went into this raid in flimsy unarmoured ships with vulnerable fuel tanks - knowing full well that they were unlikely to return home

King Ratt 24th March 2020 12:23

This poem about the raid was penned by my late uncle George C Davidson DSM BEM RNLI who was a telegraphist with the MLs on Op Chariot and who was captured at St Nazaire.

28 Mar 1942.

Operation Chariot-The Raid on St Nazaire-HMS Campbeltown

Grim, garbed in grey
In Trondheim Fiord the mighty “Tirpitz” lay
Waiting and watching to select her prey.

The whole world knew that no ship, one to one
could take her on and hope to win the day;
Nothing afloat that she could not out-gun
and none from which she could not run away.

Were she to make a sortie, breaking West
out through the cordon lying off in wait
The broad Atlantic then would suit her best
to maul the convoys and annihilate
as many little ships as she could find
before the escorts made her think again
And then she’d slink away and leave behind
The flotsam and the oil and drowning men.

And like a fox eventually she’d slide
out of the picture to locate a lair
to lick her wounds, to rest awhile and hide
And Britain knew it must be St Nazaire.

But how to stop that earth? The Huntsmen knew
to stop her earth would be no simple task
But there were men prepared to dare a do
and all the Huntsmen had to do was ask.

And so in ’42 there came the day
in March, before the winter snows had gone
When Falmouth saw the small craft under way
Then “ Campbeltown” and “Chariot” was on.

Down for the Bay of Biscay, South and West
Sailing as though for Gib’, the little force
maintained the bluff, then East and inwards pressed
Till darkness cloaked the vital change of course.

No more for Gib’, not even La Pallice
The heading then was up towards the Loire;
The danger of detection would increase
But Lady Luck smiled on them thus far.

And somewhere in the darkness up ahead
The “Sturgeon” marked the predetermined spot
which someone in the planning stage had said
would give the fix the navigator sought.




That all-important fix: The submarine
would show a light to seaward making “M”.
Dear God, the tension till that light was seen,
A tiny pinpoint right across the stem.

The needle in the haystack had been seen
And so the time had come when they must part
from “Atherstone” and “Tynedale” who had been
their shield and stalwart escort from the start.

Into the night of phosphorescent gloom
the two destroyers turned and hurried on.
Their bow waves each a luminescent plume
Their wakes a trillion fireflies, and they’d gone.

Then on their own with forty miles to go
The “Charioteers” drove on towards the land,
Towards the target and towards the foe
And all as yet precisely as they’d planned.

Through amber veils of moonlit haze they sped
Then suddenly the veils were lifted back
And on the dark horizon far ahead
They saw the flash of gunfire and the flak.

The RAF was somewhere over there,
Holding the Huns’ attention whilst they stole
like thieves in shadows nearer St Nazaire
Each trembling moment nearer to their goal.

“I smell the land” exclaimed an English voice
“Hey Jock , you been in foreign parts before”?
“Just once” said Jock, “and that was not by choice,
I went to England, but I’ll go no more”.

The shallow banter faded as the land
became reality, the silhouette
Of trees and buildings close, so close at hand
But “Chariot” was undetected yet.

The suddenly abaft the beam to Port
A searchlight cast a beam that found no mark,
Across the wake it swept but traversed short
then out, and once again the scene was dark.

But not for long, suspicious now, the Hun
switched every searchlight on and bathed the Force
In blinding light that showed up every one
increasing speed but still maintaining course.

The game was up – the German guns let fly
But “Chariot” had one final chip to spend
The Aldis on the Gunboat flashed the lie
that German guns were firing on a friend.

The guns fell silent, baffled by the bluff
that “Chariot” had used to win some ground,
And win they did, not much but just enough
Before the angry guns began to pound.

Then “Campbeltown” hauled down and cast aside
the Nazi flag – the “ruse-de-guerre” complete
And allied hearts were fit to burst with pride
As Battle Ensigns broke throughout the fleet.

No warnings now, no shots across the bow,
At point blank range and murderous, the flak
raked every little ship. The Lord knows how
enough survived to press home the attack.

But “Campbeltown” stormed on and by the Mole
She altered course to Port a point or so
To stem the massive gates that were the goal
And then she struck the crucial violent blow.

Steel shrieked on tortured steel, the crumpled bow
jammed on the armoured fabric of the gate
And cradled fast she fought her corner now
For naught remained except to fight and wait.

Though sheets of flame across her seething wake
The river battle raged - each little boat
True to the sacred memory of Drake
fought on though some were stopped and half afloat.

A few broke through to land the special troops
With high explosive packs they slipped ashore
Like knotless thread they disappeared in groups
A few returned but some were seen no more.

But still their tasks were done – they’d lit the fuse
That fired the charge and stopped the throbbing heart
Which fed the life-blood to the Forme Ecluse –
The great impeller pumps were blown apart.

After the night of madness came the dawn
Tiptoeing, stunned,, across a smouldering scene
Where pockets of resistance lingered on
Though “Back to Blighty” was a might have been.

Bewildered morning saw the battle wane;
The crippling cost alike for friend and foe
The weary and the wounded and the slain
And all for what? And no-one seemed to know.

The answer cracked like thunder in the air
As “Campbeltown” exploded – somewhat late
It rocked the dockside end of St Nazaire
And left the Form Ecluse without a gate.

The show was over then – the deed was done
The final act and so the curtain dropped;
And “Tirpitz” then had nowhere left to run
The fox was cornered for the earth was stopped.
+

Poem by the late Coxwain George C Davidson DSM BEM RNLI
who was in ML 192, one of HMS Campbeltown's escorts.


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