On this day in history, a team of 611 British Army Commandos and Royal Navy personnel arrived at the French port of St Nazaire to destroy its dry-dock, the largest of its kind on the Atlantic coast capable of accommodating the colossal German battleship Tirpitz. Without the dry-dock, Tirpitz would no longer pose a significant threat to Britain’s vital sea routes. Using the destroyer HMS Campbeltown and several motor launches for transport, the Commando assault parties, demolition parties and their protection parties quickly got to work under heavy German fire. The raid successfully rendered the dry-dock useless, but the team lost 169 men, with 200 taken prisoner; less than half would return to Britain.
The above picture depicts Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Newman of No. 2 Commando leading the surviving troops, who have just laid and fired their explosive charges around the dry-dock. Establishing his HQ near the U-boat pens, Newman was one of the first of the Commando force to disembark. With their motor launches damaged and in flames, the Commandos decided to fight their way home instead of surrendering. A sudden charge across a heavily-defended lifting bridge meant the troops were on their way towards the St Nazaire town. But a combination of fatigue, wounds and low ammunition meant that the survivors were swiftly captured by dawn. Newman would survive the war and, along with four others, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his exceptional effort during the raid.
By Ibrahim Zamir