The St. Nazaire Raid, or Operation Chariot, was a British raid on the well defended Normandie dock in St. Nazaire, France. It later turned out to be a success. The attack was carried out by British Commandos and the Royal Navy on March 28, 1942. The goal of the attack was to destroy the only Atlantic coast dock big enough to hold and repair the German battleship Tirpitz or any other large warships fielded by the German navy. There were four other separate attempts to sink the Tirpitz, all of which failed.

The rather obsolete destroyer HMS Campbeltown and eighteen other ships left Falmouth and crossed the English Channel on the 26th of March.[1] When they arrived at St. Nazaire on the 28th, HMS Campbeltown was rammed into the Normandie dock gates.

It had also been prepacked with explosives that detonated later that day, thus rendering the dock unusable for the rest of the war. The British Commandos had to fight their way through the town. The consequences were high; only two-hundred and twenty eight men would return to Britain alive, while one-hundred and sixty-nine were killed and two-hundred and fifteen were captured. Eighty-nine decorations were given to the Commandos, including five Victoria Crosses.[N 1] The raid has now earned the general title of "The Greatest Raid of All".

Planning and Preparation

The raid had three main objectives: The destruction of the Normandie dock, the destruction any U-boats or other German vessels, and the destruction of the gates of the Basin de St. Nazaire along with water pumping machinery and other machinery/installations. The initial plan was to have two destroyers, one filled with explosives and rammed into the dock gates and the other to evacuate the Commandos after the first one detonates.

Also, while the first destroyer was rammed in the dock, Commandos would attack gun emplacements, search lights, etc. Then the RAF would carry out several air raids in the area to support the commandos. When the Admiralty saw the plan they quickly refused to support it; the RAF also complained about the plan.[2]They came up with a new and revised plan which would have one destroyer to ram the gate and the other smaller craft to transport the Commandos. It took about ten days to upgrade the Campbeltown for the raid.

The Battle

The raiding party was first noticed by the Germans on the docks at about 01:15 but they were not fired upon until 01:22. The force attempted to trick the Germans by trying to convince them it was friendly fire, but their deception only lasted a few minutes.


Reconnaissance photograph of St. Nazaire before the raid.

The party was only one mile away from the dock gates, and soon came under heavy fire. The HMS Campbeltown rammed the gate and the Commandos boarded the docks. There were five demolition teams and two assault teams, making a total of seven teams.

They destroyed four gun emplacements and two tug boats. The Commandos later realized that evacuation by sea was not possible. The Commandos tried to escape through the town, but they were soon surrounded. Although they did clean up pockets of German resistance, they eventually ran out of ammunition, and were forced to surrender. Before they surrendered however, the HMS Campbeltown's demolition charges detonated, killing about four hundred German soldiers and officers who were investigating the ship.[3] Not all the Commandos were captured, though. Five of them, for instance, managed to escape through Spain.


  1. One of these was awarded posthumously, due in part to the testimony of one of the German officers tasked with defending the dockyard.