- Evans, P.
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1999 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The following article is copyright© and has been prepared by P. Evans, on behalf of the Fairmile Association, for the Naval Historical Society of Australia Inc. It is for their exclusive use and may be edited by them. Any other use or reproduction of the article, in whole or in part, is not permitted unless approved in writing by the Fairmile Association.
May I add to the article [The raid on St Nazaire 1942] (Volume 19, No. 3, September 1998), which deals almost exclusively with HMS Campbelltown [sic]. The ’16 armoured patrol launches’ referred to, were in fact Fairmile `B’ type ships. In addition to the gunboat mentioned which was a Fairmile ‘C’ type (MGB 314), there was also a Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB 74). This was a one off adaptation of the Vosper 70 design. It had 5 motors and was capable of 38-40 knots, ((Fast Fighting Boats 1870-1945. First published in the German language, 1973. Translated to English 1978, published by Nautical Publishing Co. Ltd., Hampshire, England. Page 133/4.)) in addition it carried 2 x 18 inch torpedoes with delayed settings. Her role was to torpedo the dock gate should Campbeltown fail to get through. With limited fuel capacities for the distance, both MTB 74 and MGB 314 would be towed each way.
The role of the Fairmiles and MTB 74 was pivotal to the success of the operation and their contribution far greater than the article suggests.
The primary target was the huge Normandie dock and its support services at St Nazaire, which took its name from the 80,000 ton French ocean liner built there in the mid 1930s. The dock could take ships of over 85,000 tons; it is worth noting that when the 56,000 ton German battleship Bismarck was sunk, in August 1941, it was heading for St Nazaire.
In addition to the dock, the Germans had built 18 concrete U-boat shelters with supporting workshops. St Nazaire was one of the principal U-boats bases and ranked the third most important outside of Germany.
The combination of the dock with its ancillary services, capable of handling any of Germany’s largest ships and the submarine base made the port a significant part of the enemy’s Naval strategy.
The idea to attack the Normandie dock had been under consideration since August of 1941. It was not until a satisfactory, though daring, plan was submitted and approved by the Chiefs of Staff Committee on 3 March 1942 and code named `Operation Chariot’ that the idea became a reality. From the time of approval it was only 23 days to the commencement of the operation.
The plan called for an `explosive destroyer’ to demolish the dock and 12 Fairmile craft to carry and land commandos and provide return transport for them and the crew of the destroyer. This later became the 17 Fairmiles and 1 MTB noted above. The chosen destroyer was HMS Campbeltown, launched in 1919 as USS Buchanan and one of the 50 obsolete destroyers exchanged with the US in September 1940 for the right to establish military bases on British possessions in the West Indies and Newfoundland ((This arrangement, promoted by Churchill, extended leases for 99 years to the USA. It preceded the Lend-Lease Act by six months.)).
Admiralty detailed Campbeltown as `an expendable ship’.