HMS CAMPBELTOWN, ex-US destroyer and Victoria Cross ship
and her final conversion before the Raid on St Nazaire, 28th March 1942
sister ship HMS Lincoln
(courtesy NavyPhotos, click for enlargement)
My thanks to Dave Martin for sending me this photograph of HMS Campbeltown being converted to resemble a German destroyer before the famous and heroic raid on St Nazaire.
Note the two cut-down funnels and the lines of protective plating being added along both sides behind which the Commandos took cover.
Dave informs me that apart from a few poor photos of her rammed into the Normandie dock gates, he has not seen any more of her during this period, probably "all hush hush", although he has heard that the dock gates at Cardiff were used at night for training.
A brief account of the raid follows the photograph, together with the citations for the three Victoria Crosses awarded.
Raid on St Nazaire, 28th March 1942 - Concerned about the possibility of battleship ‘Tirpitz’ breaking out into the Atlantic, the decision was made to put out of action the only dry-dock in France capable of taking her - the 'Normandie' at St Nazaire. Ex-US destroyer ‘Campbeltown’ would be loaded with high explosives and rammed into the lock gates while British commandos, carried over in British ML's or motor launches landed to destroy the dry-dock installations.
The force sailed from southwest England on the 26th, and by various ruse de guerre penetrated the heavily defended port early on the 28th. In the face of intense fire, ‘Campbeltown’ was placed exactly in position and many of the commandos got ashore to carry out their mission. Losses in men and coastal forces' craft were heavy, but when ‘CAMPBELTOWN’ did blow up, the lock gates were put out of commission for the rest of the war.
28th March - Cdr Robert RYDER RN, Commander, Naval Forces, Lt Cdr Stephen BEATTIE RN, CO HMS Campbeltown, and Able Seaman William SAVAGE, gunner on MGB.314 all took part in the successful raid on the heavily-defended port of St Nazaire to put the Normandie dry-dock out of action. All three were awarded the Victoria Cross, posthumously in the case of AB Savage.
The London Gazette, Thursday 21 May, 1942 - (From the ADMIRALTY, Whitehall, S.W.1)
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS for daring and valour in the attack on the German Naval Base at St. Nazaire, to:
Commander Robert Edward Dudley Ryder, Royal Navy.
For great gallantry in the attack on St. Nazaire. He commanded a force of small unprotected ships in an attack on a heavily defended port and led H.M.S. Campbeltown in under intense fire from short range weapons at point blank range. Though the main object of the expedition had been accomplished in the beaching of Campbeltown, he remained on the spot conducting operations, evacuating men from Campbeltown and dealing with strong points and close range weapons while exposed to heavy fire for one hour and sixteen minutes, and did not withdraw till it was certain that his ship could be of no use in rescuing any of the Commando Troops who were still ashore. That his Motor Gun Boat, now full of dead and wounded, should have survived and should have been able to withdraw through an intense barrage of close range fire was almost a miracle.
Lieutenant‑Commander Stephen Halden Beattie, Royal Navy, H.M.S. Campbeltown.
For great gallantry and determination in the attack on St. Nazaire in command of H.M.S. Campbeltown. Under intense fire directed at the bridge from point blank range of about 100 yards, and in the face of the blinding glare of many searchlights, he steamed her into the lock‑gates and beached and scuttled her in the correct position.This Victoria Cross is awarded to Lieutenant-Commander Beattie in recognition not only of his own valour but also of that of the unnamed officers and men of a very gallant ship's company, many of whom have not returned.
Able Seaman William Alfred Savage, C/JX. 173910.
For great gallantry, skill and devotion to duty as gunlayer of the pom‑pom in a motor gun boat in the St. Nazaire raid. Completely exposed, and under heavy fire he engaged positions ashore with cool and steady accuracy. On the way, out of the harbour be kept up the same vigorous and accurate fire against the attacking ships, until he was killed at his gun. This Victoria Cross is awarded in recognition not only of the gallantry and devotion to duty of Able Seaman Savage, but also of the valour shown by many others, unnamed, in Motor Launches, Motor Gun Boats and Motor Torpedo Boats, who gallantly carried out their duty in entirely exposed positions against Enemy fire at very close range.
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