Wolferton and the St. Nazaire Connection
In the dark days of 1942, when Britain’s fortunes were at a low point, the continuance of the Atlantic convoys was vital and there was the possibility of German U-boats being reinforced by the fearsome 85,000 ton Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz, but this was dependent upon the Normandy dock at St. Nazaire on the Atlantic seaboard being available. If this dock, the largest in the world with gates 54ft. high and no less than 35ft. thick, could be put out of action, then the Terpitz could not sensibly be deployed. St. Nazaire was strongly defended by 5,000 troops, with a further 1000 stationed along the banks of the Loire River and with a substantial and varied compliment of artillery at their disposal.
To counter this treat, Operation Chariot was conceived and Captain Ryder, the senior naval officer and Lt. Col. Newman, Essex Regiment, were the planners and leaders of an audacious and seemingly suicidal attempt to disable the dock by ramming the gates with the redundant destroyer HMS Campbeltown, loaded with three tons of concealed explosives with time delay fuses. At the same time a commando force would destroy as much of the dock’s infrastructure as possible.
The raiders numbered 611 of which 257 were commandos. Apart from the Campbeltown, whose appearance had been altered so as to resemble a German ship, and Ryder’s gunboat, the rest of the flotilla numbered sixteen relatively flimsy launches and one motor torpedo boat.