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Operation Chariot: A Most Daring Raid

The last voyage of HMS Campbeltown

Operation Chariot: A Most Daring Raid
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The largest drydock in the world, situated at Saint-Nazaire in northwest France, represented a very real threat to Allied naval efforts in the Atlantic. This dry-dock was the only facility large enough to house the feared battleships of the Kriegsmarine, the Bismarck and the Tirpitz, for repairs. The Allies could not afford these fearsome vessels be set upon Atlantic shipping convoys. Whilst the Bismarck was caught and sunk whilst racing for the Saint-Nazaire, the Allies needed to deny the same opportunity to the Tirpitz. Due to the precise location of the dry dock, several kilometres into the Loire Estuary, and due to its proximity to a French town, both RAF bombing and capitol ship bombardment were ruled out.  A bold scheme was thus devised to cripple the dry dock and deny the Tirpitz safe access to the Atlantic. The operation was codenamed Chariot.

HMS Campbeltown

Originally a US destroyer, HMS Campbeltown was transferred to the Royal Navy as part of the Destroyers for Bases agreement after the outset of World War Two. Though serving briefly with the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Wickes-class destroyer, laid down in 1918 and launched early the following year, was more-or-less obsolete. She was therefore drafted into Operation Chariot, her role – an explosive-laden battering ram that would charge straight at the dry-dock gates.  To facilitate this, she was heavily modified and dressed up to resemble a German ship. Stealth was the order of the day rather than brute force, the ship needed to safely manoeuvre up the Loire estuary.  She would set sail with a flotilla of vessels, which would simultaneously disgorge three Commando groups to sow chaos, and sabotage as much German equipment as able. Such was the vital importance of the mission that HMS Campbeltown, all three Commando groups, and the 18 motor boats in the flotilla were all considered expendable.

The disguised HMS Campbeltown creeps up the Loire esturary

Operation Chariot

The flotilla was within a mile of the dry dock before being exposed as British. The flotilla came under heavy fire and HMS Campbeltown raised her true colours, and surged forward into the gate. Two groups of commandos landed from motor launches, one around the Old Mole, and a second around the entrance to the Normandie dock. Upon her ramming of the gate, the third group of commandos went over the bows of HMS Campbeltown. They achieved most of their sabotage objectives and sowed chaos whilst a Vosper in the flotilla successfully torpedoed the lock gates.

HMS Campbeltown’s ramming efforts put her ten metres into the dock. Her delayed fuse charges blew late in the engagement, as did the Vosper’s torpedoes, causing such panic amongst German ranks that they fired upon one another.

The British are discovered – Full speed!


British losses amounted to HMS  Campbeltown, 13 motor launches, an MGB and the Vosper; 384 captured or killed personnel (of 611 total); and a Beaufighter and a Whitley bomber. The Germans lost two tugs,  two tankers and 360 men as well as two Ju 88s.

The result, however, was that the Saint-Nazaire dry-dock was out of action for the rest of the war and the Tirpitz never sailed South – it had little further impact on the rest of the war and was sunk by Tallboy bombs dropped by Lancaster Bombers.

The Scenario

Found on page 29 of Close Quarters! is the scenario allowing you to re-enact this remarkable sequence of events using the Cruel Seas ruleset. The scenario has been simplified, beginning at the point that the mask of stealth has run its course and the British are discovered.  The scenario is designed to scale to be workable with a player’s collection, with the British able to field up to 18 vessels, the only mandatory component being HMS Campbeltown itself.

The scenario also lends itself to solo play, as the German forces are largely static, with only three vessels, and the rest of the German force’s points allowance devoted to coastal defences.

The objective of the British, ram HMS Campbeltown into the Dock loch gates, and to put commandos ashore. The objective of the Germans; to stop this happening at all costs!

The Minature

The Flotilla

The flotilla in Operation Chariot consisted of 18 vessels, and the scenario allows you to add up to 15 Fairmile B motor Launches to your flotilla, as well as 1 Fairmile C MGB and one Vosper Type 1 MTB:

Linking to Bolt Action

This historic action involves Commandos landing to sow disruption amongst the dry dock installations. You could replicate this using Scenario 9: Point Defence from the Bolt Action main rulebook, with the British player acting as the attacker. Players could agree to play this as a linked scenario dependent on the result of their Cruel Seas Operation: Chariot game, with the British player earning additional Commandos units for their Bolt Action force for those successfully landed in the Cruel Seas scenario. The objectives represent the Commandos’ targets. We suggest removing the preparatory bombardment special rule, or you could leave this in to represent the chaos unleashed upon the Campbeltown’s successful ramming of the loch gates.


Striking from the sea, most often from the dark, the army and naval Commandos caused great apprehension to German sentries and garrisons all over occupied Europe in their daring hit and run raids. The brainchild of Winston Churchill himself who had seen the damage Boer commandos could do to a static defensive force at first hand.

This elite force (volunteers all) was Britain’s only viable way of taking a land war to the all conquering German army, who had thought themselves safe from Britain’s land forces.

Commandos contains:

  • Enough plastic components to make 25 British Commando miniatures
  • A host of options to allow for different weapon configurations and command models

Commandos Support Group contains:

  • 1 x Commando HQ
  • 1 x Forward observer
  • 1 x Commando Medium Machine Gun Team
  • 1 x Commando Medium Mortar Team
Dan Hewitson
Dan can often be found contemplating the mound of unpainted minis building up under his desk. He has a tendency to roll lots of ones. He also has a tendency to complain about rolling lots of ones.