MTB 74 and the St. Nazaire Raid MTB built

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    invisible officer

    Wanting more diversity in my Vosper force the special attack MTB 74 was a must.

    Recce had shown that Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had been at Brest behind three rings of protective booms. The RN decided that a 1940 type Vosper MTB was to be converted into a special attack vessel.

    It got a special device at bow to cut or jump the booms that never worked well. The 21” TT got removed and replaced with 18” at the bow. They should project the “torpedoes” with compressed air over 150 yards. The projectiles had no engine, so 1200 ibs Aminol explosive found room.

    The twin .303 was removed and a new exhaust system with big mufflers was added aft.

    There are some light variations of the camo on contemporary pics and modern color reconstruction, may be there had been some repairs. Or did it get “Plymouth pink” painting for St. Nazaire?
    After some training MTB 74 under Sub Lt Wynn RNVR made a dummy run to Brest. Only to hear in radio news that the German battleships left Brest.

    Getting news of the planned Operation Chariot the CO, Wynn insisted to be part of the raid.
    Lacking the range MTB 74 was towed to St. Nazaire.
    We all know how HMS Campbeltown was rammed into the gate of the big dock and exploded 8 ½ hours later. Killing more than 120 curious Germans that visited the place.

    A brave and gallant action that was rewarded with 7 VC. But the losses had been high.
    A much needed ASW ship spent and of 15 Coastal forces vessels at St. Nazaire just two made it back home. Of the 611 men who undertook the raid, 228 returned to Britain, 169 were killed and 215 became POW.

    German losses in the fights had been 42 dead and 127 wounded + those dying in the Campbeltown explosion. The MTB 74 torpedo explosions two days later made some think of another attack and some German and French OT workers got killed by friendly fire.

    The list of main targets was
    1. Destroy the Normandie dock. – Full success
    2. Destroy all the exits of harbor used by U-Boote and other vessels – Failure
    3. Commandos to attack the U-Boot bunker and destroy the 20 submarines there. – Total failure.

    MTB 74 was to destroy the old gate and fired delayed fuse torpedoes that sank to the ground and exploded two days later. The pumps had been damaged by the commandoes before.
    Wynn reported back to Cdr. Ryder, telling that he completed the mission. He was told to leave with 26 survivors. Running at full speed the future Lord Newborough stopped to take two survivors from the lost Motor launches. A bad idea, the German coastal AA that had destroyed so many ML hit the MTB within seconds. Just three men survived and Wynn became a guest at Colditz castle.

    invisible officer

    The “brilliant success” of “the greatest raid ever” claimed in many English language books shows that many writers do research limited to English language sources. The Kriegstagebücher are rarely read. Some even claim not to know the number of U-Boote. A trip to German archives and….. .

    Same with troop numbers. Some count 6.000 Germans, simply including all in the wider area around town.. There was not a single Heer infantrymen in the fight at the docks or bunker Only in mopping up in town later did they come into play.
    The Commandoes failed in the mission against the submarines, beaten by the men from 16. Minensucherflotille. Commandoes got defeated in land combat by sailors from Trawler type Minesweepers.. They destroyed two tugs and two small tankers used in harbor, and a Hafenschutzboot was sank by own crew. They also destroyed the pumps of old gate. They blew up some stores but the Germans collected more than 5 tons of not exploded British explosives.

    Worse, failing to attack and destroy the new/southern entrance the operations of the two submarine flotillas got not disturbed. The damaged old one was rarely used by the Kriegsmarine before the raid.

    The Kriegsmarine had abandoned the hope of successful use of battleships in Atlantic post loss of Bismarck. The many attacks by British bombers had made the Atlantic coast an unhealthy area for the big ships. The Channel breakthrough should have made clear to RN that the dock had lost the strategic importance.

    To get Normandie dock and old harbor exit gates out of order was a success. But the modern Southern gate made that futile. St. Nazaire stayed operational as submarine base. Many brave men died for a propaganda victory.

    Dr Dave

    Interesting take on the raid. Clearly the primary objective wasn’t to engage the German army, but to destroy the dock gates to ensure that the dock could never be used again. Certainly the pictures taken during the mopping up reveal that there are few German infantry proper on hand. The raid wasn’t launched to achieve a propaganda victory, but to knock out the dock. In that regard it was a success. It’s only with a post-war understanding that the Germans might not use it again that you can say it might not have been necessary. But all it would take would be a change of policy and the dock might be used. It’s rather like saying that bombing the V3 site was a waste of time because V3 would probably never have worked. No one in the UK was in a position to make that call – it’s up to the Germans not the Brits, so All the RN and RAF were doing is making sure of the job!

    invisible officer

    Absolutely true. I stated the destruction as success.


    The Germans could not understand that the southern gate was left intact. The U-Boote being a main target of the raid!
    With that gate the Harbor was fully operational.

    War propaganda sold the raid as a superb success. That is naturally in wartime. But not in books post war.

    Two U-Boot Flottillen operated from St, Nazaire, protected by bunkers against the RAF. How many ships could Tirpitz destroy in an Atlantic raid? And how many 20 U-Boote from a safe repair base at Atlantic?

    The U-Boote had three possible ways out of St. Nazaire. Normandie Dock, Harbor gate and Southern gate. The last being the one most used by Kriegsmarine. To destroy 2 of 3 was a failure, not victory. A gate too far….;-)

    Brave men died in that action. They deserve praise for their courage. But not those on green table.

    Dr Dave

    I’m not clear why you think the U-boats would use the Normandie dock. It’s a dry dock for massive ships. They don’t need that kind of facility anyway. Not sure they ever used it beforehand. The anti U-boat effort was understood to be very difficult if not doomed to failure. The secondary objectives were to wreck the ancillary dock facilities. I think classing the raid as merely a propaganda success is a bit disengenuous. The raid was deemed a success at combined ops at the time after the war. It’s perhaps understandable that German sources paint it differently since it was so humiliating. As Arthur Harris realised the easiest way to stop the U-boat menace is to kill them “where they’re born”, not where they live.

    invisible officer

    You miss my point. The just three ways out of St. Nazaire Bassin.

    Old harbor gate, new (Southern) gate and in emergency via the drydock. If all three would have been destroyed the subs in bassin would have been captured. For a long time.

    Not chasing them in Atlantic.

    The Harbor gate pumps got destroyed by Commandoes. It was near the dock. They could have done more, they had many explosive stores that they did not use. 5000 kg collected by the Germans later.

    Why not try to use the special big explosives of MTB 74 in Southern gate? The main gate for KM?
    Or even better, use a second ship there? No, they told the Commandoes to storm to the bunkers. A big planning mistake.

    For Germans, like Befehlshaber Sicherung West Ruge, it was a miracle that the gate was not destroyed.

    He was very satisfied with his men, reservists and young new sailors. Minimum crews, most men being absent in air shelters. Against elite Commandoes.

    Imagin rules for that. No, nasty IO. Bad bad Boy.

    My model gives many game options. The original Brest Operation, St. Nazaire as done and St. Nazaire as possible.

    Dr Dave

    No I think I get your main points:

    “The “brilliant success” of “the greatest raid ever” claimed in many English language books” – Yes, the veterans who went there still view it as a success. You should drop an email to the RBL to let them know it wasn’t 🙂

    Since it was a British raid planned in Britain all of the operations orders are in English so I’m not sure why English language Books are immediately unreliable where those in German (?) must be trusted. 🙂

    “War propaganda sold the raid as a superb success” – The Commandos I work with still view it as a superb success. 🙂

    “They could have done more” – downright lazy if you ask me – plus they’d have needed a larger force (more big ships) to tackle all of your gates. Should have tried harder. 🙂

    “A big planning mistake” – yes, what a fiasco! 🙂

    “5000 kg collected by the Germans later.” – but the main bit went off right 🙂

    Like I said – it’s easier to kill them where they’re being born. 🙂

    Did the British ever get anything right? Stop being such a sore loser! 🙂

    Obviously Op Chariot pales when compared to German operations of similar size and daring! 🙂

    invisible officer

    Sore loser? Come on.

    Yes, they destroyed the main target. That would have been a trap for Tirpitz. Inter service rivalry blinded the admirals. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had fled from Atlantic coast, RAF bombed.

    They missed the chance to trap two submarine flottillas in their home. For a Long time, old harbor gate was never fully operable again in war. They had not much success in killing Submarines at home in Germany in 1942/43. Not like 44/45.

    That Comandos see it as big success, sure. Like Arnhem for the Paras. Bravery celebrated. The more dead, the better. But bravery is no benchmark. Strategic effect counts. And sorry, that was minimal.

    Hmm, the southern gate, there was something about guilty of failing to “do his utmost”…..

    You know the Granville raid 1945? To restore morale of channel Island garrison and obtain needed supplies. 100 tons of coal and Food. No superb succcess but they gained what they needed. Loosing one of 6 minesweepers (Run aground and scuttled). Also in force 3 armed barges. 3 motor launches, 1 tug.
    Losses in men: 6 kia.

    Nothing big but they had to use what they had. Without air cover.

    Dr Dave

    Granville raid? Yep – been there. You should go it’s really good. But nothing on the scale of op Chariot. It’s just that you are forever judging and pontificating About allied performance and planning knowing all the facts and you’ve read them 70 yrs later. The allied planners didn’t have all the facts at the time that you have now. This is a wargames forum, not a place for you to snipe at our grandparents and parents. I’m politely suggesting you confine your comments to modelling and wargaming. Having a pop at the allies mistakes and poor standards – remember the Oran thread where you accused the RN of being war criminals (my uncle?) The chronic irony of your comments was stunning considering everything and that the French fired first. No one in the UK thinks those French were war criminals.

    If you want to read up on an unforgivable German mistake try 1400.

    invisible officer

    I should apologize. Because it was a bait. I wanted to see the reaction.

    To tell that a national memory treasure like St. Nazaire was a failure because it had no strategical effect is a ……. The commando men had order to destroy both gates. And died yards from southern gate. The bravest of Britain against German sailors from converted trawlers. Just bad luck. Even the best can die.

    It was a test. I expected the fox and sour grape reaction. It was not destroyed because we did not wanted to….. .
    Scharnhorst / Gneisenau / Prinz Eugen march through channel was no German victory. It was hardly a retreat, it was a flight. Since May 41 the ships lay there idle as RAF bomb targets. Light hits from time to time. Just a question of time until some RAF plane would hit better.

    They sank around 22 merchantmen in the Atlantic. Running away from every big ship engagement. On order! More than 3.000 German sailors, enough for more than 30 U-Boote. What could 30 submarines do in comparison?

    The OKM not even dared to send them via Atlantic raiding round UK to Norway. But even today some authors see it as German victory because they sailed in “English” channel.
    It was that “humiliation” that should never happen again. But in fact a British victory.

    Or the Bismarck mission. A big failure. Well, sinking a national treasure, the Hood. A lovely looking battlecruiser. The symbol of RN in the 20’s. But there was something wrong with the bloody battlecruiser design. A bad deal to sacrifice the modern Bismarck in a futile mission.

    Would somebody expect Hitler to send Tirpitz on same mission? With the other big ships gone home? Offering the RN another German symbol to sink? Or to get damaged so much to need that dock in RAF range?

    Could the admiralty really thought that as possibility in 1942? 1941 yes, before the Luftwaffe went away to Russia. But not post loss of Bismarck and flight of the others. Stupidity or recklessness? Well, I prefer a reckless staff to a stupid one. But both deserve blame.

    The Commando men fought bravely at South gate. And deserve respect for that. But had bad luck. To state that is not putting dirt on them. It’s just making mortal men out of a myth.

    Is a futile victory a victory? Like that of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. That won the objective. Taking a gun emplacement without guns. Not one of the French 155 mm guns was operational. 2/HKAA.1260 was no longer part of coastal defense. Not the fault of the brave men that died.

    Today’s elite forces have a habit to make myths from hard fights. From Legion in Mexico Cameron to modern times. But bravery should never become an end in itself.


    The victors write the history: the war criminals are on the other side.

    John Stallard

    hey fellas… good info in all of this..Am currently at the the cruel seas bootcamp in Nottingham.

    Someone, has just made some of those channel forts that the UK had in the Thames estuary they look fabby dabby….

    No doubt warlord will do a ST Nazaire boxed set, then we can fight it out on the table top and see what we can achieve in miniature… best regards and keep it cordial,,, john s

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