St Nazaire Raid plan unnecessary

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by arnhem44, Oct 1, 2014.

  1. arnhem44

    arnhem44 Member

    Just saw a small documentary about the St Nazaire raid on TV (the so-manieth version on Nat Geo)..and it suddenly dawned to me that maybe the whole operation was unnecessary.

    Now, I haven't got books about this raid exclusively , only a general "raids" book , and articles here and there, but everytime it is sold as if it is ab-so-lu-te-ly needed as it would deny the Tirpitz battleship to make use of it for a repairs dock, and THEREFORE (!?!?) the german Kriegsmarine would NOT put the Tirpitz into action in the Atlantic. Thus it would SEEM that the raid attack is more efficient as it is less costly in terms of risked losses in comparison with a naval confrontation in the Atlantic
    Added to the argumentation is that UK bombers were not capable of bombing the relatively small dock doors from their safe bombrun height owing to the many flak defenses around the town.

    So far the salesman explanation.

    But now I started to think about it:

    1) IF the Tirpitz had come into action and it needed repairs in ST NAzaire...then the UK bombers (plus fighter protection) would have an absolutely splendid target. No matter what flak defenses and Me109's each single bomb that hit the target assures a repair time of at least a week.
    Hence; once the Tirpitz is in the would be doomed to stay there forever!
    2) The above would have CERTAINLY worried the Kriegsmarine and that may well be more the reason not to use the Tirpitz flottila from and around St Nazaire.
    ...and would they want to cope with that threat, they would have made bombproof concrete shelters over the dock, as they did with the Uboat pens.
    Again, the germans never started or planned such massive concrete roofs over the ST NAzaire dock. Hence, they were never interested in this dock for Tirpitz.

    3) the safety of a repair dock as close to the Tirpitz's field of action means that in case of St NAzaire indeed it would allow Tirpitz flottila action west of France, which would not be the case if there were only repair docks available in Hamburg. However, with the same logic, it would mean that the Tirpitz would be able to venture out to raid on the North Sea between Norway and Uk. However, we know this never happened.
    Thus the Kriegsmarine did NOT depend on the availability of drydocks to decide yes or no to sail out in a raid. Other factors/risks were (obviously) more decisive.

    Hence the ST Nazaire raid , in my opinion, may have been unnecessary.

    It may thus very well be that once again a spectacular raid has been pushed through for all the wrong reasons (to impress the USA that UK can still throw a punch at Germany, to show Stalin that UK is a powerful military nation, to test the commando's (initiative of HQ/Churchill), the eagerness of the new commando's to prove their battle worthiness).

    What's your opinion ?
  2. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    My opinion is that at that time - Churchill was acting as Chief strategist for the British - and pulled off stunts like Greece
    and Crete and others until December 1941 when Alanbrooke took over and we started to win the war - not lose it - apart from

    allowing Mountbatten to pull off the Dieppe fiasco and the American fiasco of the South of France landing allowing the 8th and

    5th Armies in Italy to be too weak to do much except to take casualties…

  3. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    If all your Allies have been defeated, or are not ready to begin the fight, e.g the USA, and you are not ready for the Big push, but you want to take the fight to the enemy where it believes it is comfortable and keep your Allies under enemy occupation on the front foot, what would you do, arnhem44 - sit on you backside and moan or take the fight to the enemy on mainland Europe and hurt it?

    There were many Commando raids on occupied Europe/Norway and one Para one at Bruneval (Opeation Biting) that I have read about, that kept the Hun on the run.

    Have you ever read about Churchill's policy in this respect?


  4. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    I don't know if Britain had intelligence reports suggesting that Tirpitz was intending to relocate to St Nazaire but it would seem to make some operational sense. Any Atlantic foray from Hamburg would run the risk of interception by the Home Fleet based in Scapa Flow (think Bismark). Of course relocating Tirpitz to St Nazaire would mean running the risk of that anyway, but Scharnhorst and Gneisenau achieved it (albeit in the opposite direction).
    I agree with Arnhem 44 that Tirpitz in dock in St Nazaire would have been a sitting duck for RAF attacks but surely the supposed point of the raid was to deny the possibility of repair facilities should Tirpitz need them. That supposes Tirpitz needed dockyard repairs, maybe for damage received during a Channel run?

    I think the raid was largely as Arnhem suggests:
    A major test for the Commando forces.
    A morale and propaganda tool.
    Proof of Britain's determination and capabilities to US and Russia.
    To keep the Germans on their toes and tie up large forces for the defence of France (and other occupied countries).

    From the casualty point of view yes, it cost a significant number of POWs, the lives of many of the troops, and loss of many Motor Launches but it was a statement of intent at a difficult time of the war. Whether the damage to the dock gates was a major factor may be almost irrelevant. I believe they were repaired but not for many months (or maybe more) by which time the whole strategic situation would have changed significantly. Maybe the major result was to make Germany think twice about the vulnerability of a major warship within striking range of British aircraft or raiding forces.
  5. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    I cannot fault your Logical thinking.

    A major test for the Commando forces.
    A morale and propaganda tool.
    Proof of Britain's determination and capabilities to US and Russia.
    To keep the Germans on their toes and tie up large forces for the defence of France (and other occupied countries).

    It was really good Propaganda at the time and boosted Morale Overall.

    Plus, however good the Training is, actual battle conditions are vital for learning future lessons of what was carried out correctly and what was not.

  6. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Gazette report of the raid:

    There's technically a complex set of aims for that business, but I always thought it was as much about a 'message', and if a stunt, a legitimate one.
    Dark times in Early '42. Alamein c.9 months away, suspicion in the higher echelons of what Auchinleck was achieving in the most active theatre, victories few and far between.
    I dare say I would have found the news from St. Nazaire most heartening were I a man in the street at the time. A glimmer of hope that Adolf's boys weren't quite so safe in their European hold as things seemed.
  7. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    The raid on St Nazaire was related to the strategy of the British Government in both world wars.

    In the Great War the strategy was to prevent the Kaiser's Grand Fleet to emerge from its German bases and create havoc on the high seas among the Britsh merchant fleet that was vital to the war economy.Apart from one occasion when the German fleet got out into the North Sea and resulted in the Battle of Jutland in 1916,the German fleet never ventured out again.

    The Second World War was no different with the same strategy and apart from the excurions into the North Sea in 1940 and the fatal run of the Bismark in 1941,this strategy did not fail.The raids on the Arctic convoys to Russia presented a much harder task with the Germans having enemy bases in Norway which were difficult to contain.However it should be said the Germans took the advantage of Norwegian coastal bases to achieve air power superiority over the Allied convoy routes.

    The inherent problem for German sea going power is that the country was land locked apart from the Baltic and North Sea outlets,both capable of being superintended from the east coast of the British Isles.While the German outlet to the seas was restricted to the Baltic and North Sea outlets in the Great War,the German occupation of western continental Europe presented them with additional North Sea,Arctic,English Channel and Atlantic bases to attack Allied shipping and interfere with the movement of war supplies and personnel.

    It was recognised that the only dry dock that could take the Tirpitz on the Atlantic seaboard was the Normandie Dry Dock at St Nazaire.The British thinking was should the Tirpliz escape from the British blockade and have damage inflicted on it which required extensive repairs, the port of call would be St Nazaire.Hence the raid but as regards the Germans not defending the dry dock with a bunker,the answer lies across the Bassin de St Nazaire at the U Boat pens.The Germans thinking would be that the waging of submarine warfare would give a better return than surface ships and hence their priority was the building,from 1941, of U Boat pens at Brest,L'Orient,St Nazaire,La Pallice and Bordeaux in addition to the extensive project of building the Alantic Wall.

    The other point regarding the German U Boat type bunkers was that the RAF did not have a bomb developed which would have some success against a heavily reinforced structure design which was incorporated into the these naval bunkers.Further at the time of the raid on the dry dock in March 1942,there were few Lancasters in service and the couple of squadrons that were equipped with them were at a working up stage.It was not until the summer of 1944 when the Tallboy became available and which could be only delivered by a modified Lancaster that an aerial attack on these naval bunkers had some chance of being successful.There was no point in the Britsh procrastinating on a decision to deny the likely future use of the Normandie Dry Dock .If the dry dock was to be put out of action,the only option would have to be a land operation and sooner the better with a commando raid based on good intelligence relating to the layout and the essential functional components of the dry dock.

    The Bismark had been sunk in May 1941 and in distress in the North Atantic did not head for its home base but attempted to seek a safe haven in Brest.I would think that the British naval powers would have considered that had the Tirpilz got out into the North Atlantic and intercepted,it would probably head for St Nazaire, if possible, to effect any extensive repairs,if severely damaged.
    Smudger Jnr likes this.
  8. brithm

    brithm Senior Member


    what was the Nat Geo documentary like?

  9. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    I have to back up Harry, and the others.

    It was a time that morale needed to be heightened and that Britain could strike back - even if it was only only a small way - Operation Frankton (Cockleshell heroes is another example). Having visited St Nazaire last year, it was apparent that Bomber Command could not destroy the submarine pens or the docks, so they took the decision in bombing terms to destroy what they could, which was the town, the maintenance sheds, bars, sleeping quarters etc to try and make it as difficult as possible for the crews to rest and enjoy themselves.

    As regards whether it was unnecessary or not I guess one would have had to be there at the time with the situation in front of you.

  10. Cee

    Cee Senior Member Patron

    I think it's the "Commando Do or Die" doc from the WWII's Greatest Raids series. It's also viewable on YouTube.

    Regards ...

    Edit: Link
  11. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    OP, in comparing the risks and costs of the St nazaire raid with the potential cost of a naval engagement in the Atlantic...I've \ feeling that you're comparing the wrong thin gs ;)

    Instead, you should perhaps be comparing the costs of the St Nazaire raid with -

    ...the costs over MANY months to Bomber Command of the long bombing campaign against the Scharnhorst (and eventually Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau) in Brest in dock there. It distracted Bomber Command's efforts for MONTHS - and eventually the virtually the entire strangth of the Heavy Force (as it stood then) was turned against Brest to try and deal with the trio...and achieved only a handful of hits on two of the three, didn't materially damage the port facilities - and caused decades of resentment among the population of Brest!

    And THEN - when they did eventually make a run for it - despite it being long expected - virtually the only direct contact with the KM flotilla during CERBERUS was IIRC Esmonde's Swordfish attack...despite a huge RAF, FAA and RN deployment.

    So the British pretty much knew that there was next to nothing "conventional" they could do to the Tirpitz if it made it to St Nazaire...except rack up casualties and losses of aircraft...
    arnhem44 likes this.
  12. arnhem44

    arnhem44 Member
    WW2 greatest raids... one episode lasts 40 minutes (1 hr minus all the commercials)
  13. arnhem44

    arnhem44 Member

    Thanks for the valuable contribution. I knew of the Cerberus succes, but did not realise they came from repair docks in France and thus this is a good comparison of information.

    And thanks also to the other good contributions above.
  14. Bob Wilton

    Bob Wilton Junior Member

    I have a document from a Royal Marine Major which he wrote to his old batmat in Warrington explaining everything thing that happened prior to the Campbeltown ramming the lock gates and the fight into St Nazaire,so when I can find it I will post it on here.It makes very interesting reading.
    brithm likes this.
  15. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I couldn't say whether it's the best, but here's an e-text of the most famous book on the St Nazaire Raid: (cunningly hidden via a typo) - apparently an alternative text to the British edition.
  16. NickFenton

    NickFenton Well-Known Member

    The original programme refereed to was on again the other night.


  17. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code

    Regardless of whether the st Nazaire raid achieved the aim of denying the Tirpitz a French port the raid has immense consequences.

    Hitler published his Atlantic Wall Directive No 40 on 23 March. A few days later the British demonstrated that they could sail a flotilla of under protected boats in a major port. This was an embarrassing highly spectacular act that demonstrated vulnerability.

    As a consequence the Germans had to make sure that whatever else happened this was NOT to be allowed to happen again. Ports and the rivers accessing them were given a high priority across the Atlantic wall, much higher than on the actual invasion beaches. On D Day the much feared guns at Merville battery were not laid on Sword beach, but on the locks at Ouiestrehem to prevent commandos penetrating to Caen.

    This is a story i tell when I stand beside unfinished bunkers at Omaha and Gold Beach.
    Rich Payne likes this.

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