Jeremy Clarkson’s the Greatest Raid of All – the FULL documentary
The documentary is well worth watching
The HMS Campbeltown was disguised as a German destroyer before the raid and rammed into the ‘Normandie’ dry dock at Saint Nazaire on 28th March 1942. It had been painted “Mountbatten Pink” before the raid, as this was seen as some of the best camouflage at the time (Lord Mountbatten had once seen a pink ship disappear, so he tested it on RN ships… it somewhat worked, especially at dusk or dawn.).
This beaching was not an accident. The Campbeltown, a WWI era US-loaned destroyer, had been rammed into the dock while carrying commandos and Royal Navy troops. This force had sailed up the river Loire unnoticed for the most part, however, were forced to reveal themselves early, as they were challenged for the password by German sentries. They gave the password, captured from a German trawler a few days ago, and sailed by.
It was only as they got closer to the docks that they were fired upon by German shore guns. They pulled down the Kriegsmarine flag and raised the White Ensign, then began to fire back. The commandos were mostly unprotected, and many were wounded. When the destroyer rammed the dock, they attacked the surrounding installations, with small arms and explosives.
611 men were sent on this daring raid, their plan was to strike fast and get out on Motor Torpedo Boats. Unfortunately, many of the commandos were unable to make it to the extraction point provided. Out of the 611-man force, only 227 got away on small, wooden MBTs. 169 men died in the raid and the other 215 became POWs.
At Noon on the 28th March 1942, the HMS Campbletown detonated. What no-one had told the Germans was that there were high explosives hidden in the hull of the ship. Originally destined to set off at 4:30, the acid detonators were delayed due to seawater getting into the fuses.
Just before the explosion, one of the raiders, Sam Beattie, was being questioned by a German Naval Intelligence Officer. The officer was taunting Beattie by remarking how the damage to the dock could be fixed incredibly quickly. At that exact moment, the ship blew up, killing 360 Germans in the blast and completely destroying the dock. Upon hearing the explosion, Beattie remarked “We’re not quite as foolish as you might think!”
Then, at 16:30, two delayed action torpedoes exploded at the old entrance to the dock, causing further damage.
The only dock that the Germans would be able to repair the Tirpitz, Gneisenau, and Scharnhorst wouldn’t be repaired until 1949, four years after the war ended. This raid was a major part of why the Germans largely hid their battleships for the rest of the war.
The raid became known as “The Greatest Raid of All” within British military circles.