HMS Campbeltown (I42)

HMS Campbeltown (I42)

HMS "Campbeltown" was a Town class destroyer of the Royal Navy during the Second World War. She was originally an American destroyer, the USS "Buchanan", but like many other obsolete US Navy destroyers, she was transferred to the Royal Navy in 1940 as part of the Destroyers for Bases Agreement. "Campbeltown" became one of the most famous of these ships when she was used in the St. Nazaire Raid in 1942.

As USS "Buchanan"

USS "Buchanan" was a "Wickes" class destroyer, ordered from the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, and laid down on 29 June 1918. She was launched on 2 January 1919 and commissioned into the Navy on 20 January of that year. She had an unremarkable career, and had been placed into the reserve by 1939. She then became one of 50 destroyers transferred to the Royal Navy in 1940 after the finalisation of the Destroyers for Bases Agreement. She was transferred on 3 September 1940 and commissioned on 9 September at Halifax, Canada.

As HMS "Campbeltown"

Having been formally commissioned she took passage from Halifx to Plymouth, travelling via St. Johns, Newfoundland. She arrived at Devonport Dockyard on 29 September and was taken in hand for modifications to fit her for service with the Royal Navy. The refits lasted throughout October, and on completion of the final harbour trials on 1 November she was nominated to join the 17th Flotilla operating in the Western Approaches. The next, whilst she was carrying out sea trials, she collided with the SS "Risoy" and sustained damage, but continued on to Liverpool. She arrived safely and underwent repairs from 7 November. On their completion on 24 November, "Campbeltown" continued on to join the flotilla. She began deploying with the flotilla in early December, but on 3 December she collided with the SS "Comus" and had to put into port for repairs. The repairs lasted until late March, and involved the shortening of the fourth funnel.

On completion of the work on 28 March "Campbeltown" was transferred on loan to the Royal Netherlands Navy, and she joined the 7th Escort Group, and deployed with them throughout April and May. There was at this time a proposal to rename her "Middleburg", but this was not agreed upon, as it would have been contrary to the naming agreed with the US Navy on her original transfer. She underwent further repairs throughout June, and resumed convoy defence with the group in July through to August. She was then nominated to be returned to the Royal Navy in September, but remaining with the 7th Escort Group. She spent September working up with her Royal Navy crew and rejoined the group in October, where she covered convoys travelling between the UK and West Africa. On 15 September she picked up the survivors of the Norwegian motor tanker "Vinga", which had been damaged in an enemy air attack. She carried out escort duties throughout November and into December, before taking passage to Devonport to undergo repairs.

The St. Nazaire Raid

She began these repairs in January. During this time she was selected for a special operation and was withdrawn from regular service for modifications. She was to be used in Operation Chariot, a planned assault operation on the docks at Saint Nazaire. In 1942, the German battleship "Tirpitz" anchored at Trondheim in Norway was considered to present a grave threat to Atlantic convoys. However, should the ship enter the Atlantic then the drydock that had been originally built for the liner SS "Normandie" in the German-occupied port of Saint-Nazaire, France was a vital target. It was the only one in German hands on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe that was large enough to hold her.cite web | url = | title =The Chariot Story | work = St Nazaire Society | accessdate=2007-03-24 ] It was decided that if this drydock could be put out of action, then any offensive sortie by the "Tirpitz" into the Atlantic could be much more dangerous for her, and probably not worth that risk. [cite book | author = Winston Churchill | title = The Second World War - Volume IV The Hinge of Fate | publisher = Penguin Books | pages = 106 | id= ISBN 0-14-008614-5 ]

Operation Chariot was a plan to ram an explosive-laden warship into the dock gates. Accompanying her would be a number of small boats carrying British Commandos, who would destroy the dock's pumping and winding machinery and other infrastructure. The troops would then be evacuated by the small boats before the explosives in the ship detonated. A particular difficulty was that the dock was located several miles up the estuary of the Loire River. As an obsolescent destroyer, HMS "Campbeltown" was considered to be expendable, and she was selected to be the ram-ship. She spent February undergoing modifications. These included removing her third and fourth funnels, and having the remaining two funnels raked, to simulate the structure & appearance of a German "Möwe" class destroyer. A 12-pounder HA (?) gun was installed forward, and a demolition charge made up of 24 depth charges was installed with suitable firing mechanisms. Some extra armour protection was provided for the bridge structure, and eight 20mm Oerlikon guns were installed on the upper deck. The final modification work involved landing all unnecessary stores and equipment in order to lighten the destroyer.

The crew, which would be evacuated with the commandos, was reduced to 75 men, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Stephen "Sam" Beattie. An explosive charge consisting of 24 Mark VII depth charges containing a total of 4.5 tons of explosive was fitted into steel tanks installed just behind the steel pillar that supported her most forward gun mount. The charges were to be detonated by multiple eight-hour time pencils connected together by cordtex, set before steaming out and cemented in to prevent any interference with the detonation. [cite web | url =| title =Explosive Charges | work = St Nazaire Society | accessdate=2007-03-24 ] HMS "Campbeltown" steamed from Devonport to Falmouth, Cornwall on 25 March to join the other ships that would take part in the operation.

A flotilla of 21 vessels – the "Campbeltown", sixteen 65-ton Fairmile B motor launches, one motor torpedo boat, and a Fairmile C motor gun boat acting as the troops' headquarters left Falmouth at 2 p.m. on 26 March 1942, escorted for most of the crossing to France by two Hunt-class escort destroyers.cite web | url = | title =The Chariot Story | work = St Nazaire Society | accessdate=2007-03-24 ] Apart from a brief clash with a U-boat, "U-593", whose captain misreported the task force's course and composition, the ships reached France unmolested. One motor launch suffered mechanical problems and had to return to England.

The preliminary air raid carried out by 35 Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys and 25 Vickers Wellingtons was much smaller than originally planned, and was ineffective, apart from alerting the defenders that something unusual was happening. Nevertheless, by flashing genuine German recognition signals, the force approached to within less than a mile of the harbour before being fired upon. Naturally, the "Campbeltown" as the largest target drew most of the fire.

At 01:34 on 28 March 1942, the "Campbeltown" rammed the dock gate 4 minutes later than planned. The Commandos and ship's crew came ashore under heavy German fire, and set about demolishing the dock machinery. 169 of the raiders were killed (64 commandos and 105 sailors) out of the 611 men in the attacking force. Of the survivors, 215 were captured and 222 were evacuated by the surviving small craft. A further five evaded capture and travelled overland through France to Spain and then to Gibraltar. [cite web | url = | title= HMS Campbeltown Commemorates the Raid on St Nazaire 28 March 1942 | work = UK Ministry of Defence | accessdate = 2007-03-24 ]

The charges in the "Campbeltown" exploded the next day, 28 March, an "hour and a half after the latest time" that the British had expected them to detonate. Although the ship had been searched by the Germans, the explosives had not been detected. The explosion killed around 250 German soldiers and French civilians, and it demolished both the front half of the destroyer and the 160-ton caisson of the drydock, with the rush of water into the drydock washing the remains of the ship into it. The St. Nazaire drydock was rendered unusable for the rest of the war, and it was not repaired until 1947. [cite web | url = | title =St. Nazaire, Raid on, (Operation Chariot), Part Two (28 March 1942) | work = Military History Encyclopedia on the Web | accessdate=2007-03-24 ]

The delayed-action torpedoes fired by the motor torpedo boat into the outer lock gate to the submarine basin detonated, as planned, on the night of 30 March. This later explosion led to panic with German forces firing on French civilians and on each other. Sixteen French civilians were killed, and around thirty were wounded. Later, 1,500 civilians were arrested and interned in a camp at Savenay, and most of their houses were demolished, even though they had had nothing to do with the raid. [cite web | url = | title =The French view of Operation Chariot| work = St Nazaire Society | accessdate=2007-03-24 ] Lt. Commander Beattie, who was taken prisoner, received the Victoria Cross for his valour, and in 1947, he received the French Légion d'honneur. [cite web | url = |title = Royal Navy (RN) Officers 1939-1945 | work = World War II Unit Histories and Officers | accessdate=2007-03-24 ] His Victoria Cross was one of five that were awarded to participants in the raid, along with 80 other military decorations.


The ship's bell of HMS "Campbeltown" was given to the town of Campbelltown, Pennsylvania, as a gesture of appreciation towards the United States for the lend-lease program. This ship's bell was later lent by the town to the current HMS "Campbeltown", a Type 22 frigate, when she was commissioned in 1989, and the bell will remain on the frigate as long as she is in service with the Royal Navy. [cite web | url= | accessdate=2007-03-26 | title= HMS Campbeltown | work= UK Ministry of Defence]

The 1952 film "The Gift Horse" was loosely based on the story of HMS "Campbeltown". [ [ IMDB] ]



* cite web | url =
title = HMS CAMPBELTOWN - ex-US Destroyer | work = Geoff Mason's ship histories | accessdate = 2008-04-03

* cite web | url =
title = HMS Campbeltown Commemorates the Raid on St Nazaire 28 March 1942 | work = UK Ministry of Defence | accessdate = 2007-03-25

* cite web | url =
title = HMS Campbeltown (I 42) | work = | accessdate = 2008-04-03

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