On March 28, 1942 more than 600 men left Falmouth in Cornwall in a flotilla of three destroyers and 16 smaller boats.
The special fleet included HMS Campbeltown which was packed with explosives and was to be used to ram into the gates of the docks of the French port of St Nazaire.
St Nazaire was targeted because the loss of its dry dock would force any large German warship in need of repairs, such as the Tirpitz, to return to home waters rather than having a safe haven available on the Atlantic coast.
The raid put the dry dock out of commission until the end of the war – but success came at a cost. Of the 622 men of the Royal Navy and Commandos who took part in the raid, only 228 men returned to England.
One hundred and sixty-nine men were killed and another 215 became prisoners of war. The fallen British raiders were buried at the Escoublac-la-Baule cemetery, near St Nazaire, with military honours.
Five of the raiders escaped overland via Spain.
Eighty-nine awards and medals were bestowed for the raid, including five Victoria Crosses.
*A version of this article was first published on jonkilkade.com
Coming soon from Dutton Caliber in the US (published April 2019):An enthralling work of popular history that vividly resurrects the web of everyday Germans who resisted Nazi rule
Nazi Germany is remembered as a nation of willing fanatics. But beneath the surface, countless ordinary, everyday Germans actively resisted Hitler. Some passed industrial secrets to Allied spies. Some forged passports to help Jews escape the Reich. For others, resistance was as simple as writing a letter denouncing the rigidity of Nazi law. No matter how small the act, the danger was the same–any display of defiance was met with arrest, interrogation, torture, and even death.
Defying Hitler follows the underground network of Germans who believed standing against the Fuhrer to be more important than their own survival. Their bravery is astonishing–a schoolgirl beheaded by the Gestapo for distributing anti-Nazi fliers; a German American teacher who smuggled military intel to Soviet agents, becoming the only American woman executed by the Nazis; a pacifist philosopher murdered for his role in a plot against Hitler; a young idealist who joined the SS to document their crimes, only to end up, to his horror, an accomplice to the Holocaust. This remarkable account illuminates their struggles, yielding an accessible narrative history with the pace and excitement of a thriller.
Praise for Defying Hitler:
“The question was often asked amid the ruins of the Third Reich: why did the Germans fight on for so long when all was lost? Those liberated from concentration camps knew the answer. Terror, mass murder, ruthless and barbaric persecution—all opposition had been mercilessly quashed. In Defying Hitler, Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis show in chilling and vivid detail just how courageous were those who dared to defy Hitler. A terrifying and timely account of resistance in the face of the greatest of evils.”—Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris
“This carefully researched book challenges the myth that the German people were virtually unanimous in support of Hitler… Defying Hitler is filled with almost unbearable suspense and drama.”—Booklist (starred review)
“A deeply researched work that passionately challenges the popular myth that ‘the German people followed Hitler as if as one mass, mesmerized like the children of Hamelin by the Pied Piper.'”—Kirkus