Operation Chariot: The Men

The young Army Commandos and Sailors who together achieved the impossible

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Amidst the darkness and mystery of the Naval dockyard at Saint-Nazaire, the whole burden of defeating a numerically superior enemy was to fall on relatively tiny groups of Army Commandos, a new force created at the behest of Winston Churchill to carry the fight to German forces stationed all along the coast of Occupied Europe. Highly trained, superbly fit and brimming with confidence these young men, all carefuly chosen volunteers, were being asked to achieve what, till then, had always been thought impossible; which was to steal unseen into a heavily defended port and overwhelm its defences, fighting with only such weapons and ammunition as they could carry ashore from ships it was rashly assumed would still be afloat, at the conclusion of the action, to carry them home. Of these ships only one, the old ex-American destroyer HMS Campbeltown, was steel-hulled, the remainder consisting of wooden Coastal Forces launches whose chances of survival amidst a hail of enemy fire were poor in the extreme.

Shown above left, and exemplifying the spirit which so imbued this special group, are five men from 2 Commando - only one of whom would return to British shores before war's end. Left to right they are, Lance Corporal Ted Bryan, killed on board ML 267; and Private Fred Wilkes, Private W. Eckman and Lance Corporal Dick Wilcock, all of whom became PoWs; Private John Fitchett, extreme right, was returned to his departure port of Falmouth when his ML (number 443) failed to achieve a landing at an Old Mole whose defences remained unsubdued.

Top right are shown the crew of Motor Gunboat 314 with, on the far right Able Seaman Bill Savage, destined to be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. Below right are the crew of ML 262, whose captain, Lieutenant Ted Burt, DSC, is shown seated, centre, with Sub Lieutenant Kenneth Hills (KIA) to his right, and his 'Jimmy' Sub Lieutenant Robbie Roberts to his left.