The "greatest raid of all"
January 6, 2019 5:37 AM   Subscribe

WWII saw the development and introduction of many components of war that are, today, considered commonplace (assault rifles, aircraft carriers). And while military forces had always raided, WWII saw the development of the first highly trained and specialized commando units at the order of Winston Churchill who really liked the idea. Jeremy Clarkson, of Top Gear, has produced a short documentary about the first major commando raid of WWII, Operation Chariot.
posted by sotonohito (12 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Aircraft carriers are considered commonplace because there's not been an open conflict between nations possessing aircraft carriers and submarines since 1945.

Anyway... Churchill probably liked the idea because he fucked up WWI so terribly.
posted by pompomtom at 5:55 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]


It wasn't a new idea even in the British army. Robert Rogers regularized ranger raiders as early as 1755.

Perhaps Churchill knew about the Australians.

Interesting doco, though, new to me.
posted by BWA at 6:42 AM on January 6


If you like this sort of thing, then check out an old BBC documentary series, Secret War, which covers WWII radar, photoreconnaissance, and much else, including a lot more background to the raid.

It's a bit dated, as it came out just around the time that the wraps were coming off Bletchley Park, but thus has the advantage that it has extended interviews with people like Albert Speer and R. V. Jones.

This isn't a coincidence. R. V. Jones was coming to the end of his time at the University of Aberdeen in the late 70s, and realised that on retirement he was going to lose the grace-and-favour house that came with the job. So he wrote up his wartime intelligence experiences in a book that spilled very many beans, which sold gratifyingly well and led to the BBC documentary.

About ten years ago, I had the chance to talk to someone who worked in spooky circles around that time and who knew RV. I leaped at the chacne to ask about him, as he'd been a bit of a fascinating figure to me for years. My interlocutor was unexpectedly frank about how much the book was not appreciated on its appearance, both because of its subject matter and because of a perception that RV was a bit too eager to take the credit for other people's work - which, of course, they felt unable to point out. How much of that was true and how much good old professional jealousy, I cannot say, but it was very entertaining John le Carresque backbiting.
posted by Devonian at 7:01 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]


More raid details and history at The Story of 'Operation CHARIOT' and WP’s St. Nazareth Raid.

A gallery of post-raid German photos at The Commando Veterans Association > St. Nazaire - Operation Chariot includes captured (but smiling) British commandos and ominous pre-explosion shots of the Campbell.
posted by cenoxo at 7:20 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


HMS Campbeltown (I42), sry.
posted by cenoxo at 7:31 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Aircraft carriers are considered commonplace because there's not been an open conflict between nations possessing aircraft carriers and submarines since 1945.

Does the Falklands War not count?
posted by kersplunk at 8:23 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Nice summary from cenoxo's link above.

At 01:34 on 28 March, four minutes later than planned, Campbeltown rammed the dock gate. The Commandos and ship's crew came ashore under heavy German fire and set about demolishing the dock machinery. 169 of the raiders were killed (64 commandos and 105 sailors) out of the 611 men in the attacking force. Of the survivors, 215 were captured and 222 were evacuated by the surviving small craft. A further five evaded capture and travelled overland through France to Spain and then to Gibraltar, a British territory.[5]

The charges in Campbeltown exploded at noon, an hour and a half later than the British had expected. Although the ship had been searched by the Germans, the explosives had not been detected. The explosion killed around 250 German soldiers and French civilians and demolished both the front half of the destroyer and the 160 short tons (150 t) caisson of the drydock, with the rush of water into the drydock washing the remains of the ship into it. The St. Nazaire drydock was rendered unusable for the rest of the war and was not repaired until 1947.[6]

The delayed-action torpedoes fired by the motor torpedo boat into the outer lock gate to the submarine basin detonated, as planned, on the night of 30 March. This later explosion led to panic, with German forces firing on French civilians and on each other. Sixteen French civilians were killed and around thirty wounded. Later, 1,500 civilians were arrested and interned in a camp at Savenay and most of their houses were demolished, even though they had had nothing to do with the raid.[7] Lt-Cdr Beattie — who was taken prisoner — received the Victoria Cross for his valour and in 1947 received the French Légion d'honneur.[8] His Victoria Cross was one of five that were awarded to participants in the raid, along with 80 other military decorations.

posted by Brian B. at 8:35 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, was a commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during WWII. In that capacity, "Fleming formed a unit of commandos, known as No. 30 Commando or 30 Assault Unit (30AU), composed of specialist intelligence troops. 30AU's job was to be near the front line of an advance—sometimes in front of it—to seize enemy documents from previously targeted headquarters... The unit was filled with men from other commando units, and trained in unarmed combat, safe-cracking and lock-picking at the SOE facilities."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:04 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Minor nit: Aircraft carriers were developed and used in WWI.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:57 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Minor nit pick: In WWI, the Tondern raid [WP] on 7/19/1918 was the first successful carrier attack using seven carrier-launched aircraft (Sopwith Camel biplanes). However, at that time, the converted HMS Furious could not land planes, so after the raid three returning planes ditched near other British ships, three other planes landed in Denmark, and one plane (with pilot Toby Yeulett) was lost at sea.

For a detailed history of this attack, see The Raid on Tondern 1918.
posted by cenoxo at 1:04 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


> kersplunk: Does the Falklands War not count?

To avoid British attacks*, Argentinian carrier-based aircraft didn't engage British Royal Navy forces in the Falklands War. From WP's article about the carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (V-2):
After hostilities broke out on 1 May 1982, the Argentine carrier attempted to launch a wave of A-4Q Skyhawk jets against the Royal Navy Task Force after her S-2 Trackers detected the British fleet. What would have been the first battle between aircraft carriers since World War II did not take place, as light winds prevented the heavily loaded jets from being launched. After the British nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror sank General Belgrano, Veinticinco de Mayo returned to port for her own safety. Splendid never tracked down the carrier.
*Perhaps Argentina feared the British knew the old WWII carrier's vulnerabilities too well. The Veinticinco de Mayo was purchased in 1968 as the HNLMS Karel Doorman (R81) from the Netherlands , who purchased it from the British in 1948 as the HMS Venerable (R63) (keel laid December 1942, launched December 1943, commissioned January 1945).

War stuff certainly has a way of getting around.
posted by cenoxo at 3:22 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


In addition to the aircraft carrier mentioned above, Argentina deployed two submarines, one of which* was badly damaged by British helicopters and scuttled.

*formerly a US Navy boat built in 1944.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:00 AM on January 7


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