This was the kamikaze attack against the Nazi navy that had a Basque stamp

This was the kamikaze attack against the Nazi navy that had a Basque stamp
This was the kamikaze attack against the Nazi navy that had a Basque stamp

‘Operation Chariot’: This was the kamikaze attack against the Nazi navy that had a Basque stampNdG Editorial

One of the episodes of the Second World War that took place Basque Country It was the Allied landing in Baiona on April 4, 1942 and can be considered a very small-scale test of the famous D-Dayin Normandy. As we reported a few days ago in a previous article, the action was unsuccessful, although there were no casualties among the British and Free French commandos who carried it out. This time we bring here an attack that, on the contrary, fulfilled the mission entrusted to it and that, according to Churchill himself, agreed to war in six months, but at the cost of many casualties.

Both raids, the one on 28 March 1942 in Saint-Nazaire and the one carried out a few days later on 4 April in Bayonne, had common elements. Both were designed and led by Lord Mountbatten, who was put in charge of Combined Operations by Winston Churchill, a device that coordinated commandos, naval and air forces, charged with stinging the German defences along the French coast and putting an end to the placidity in which the garrisons quartered in French ports and beaches lived.

And the other point in common between both operations was that the Information Services dependent on the Basque Government were essential in providing information on the defences and installations of both ports, Saint-Nazaire and Baiona. The Mugalari Emilio Ithurria told in an interview He said in 1978 his task was to transport allied airmen who had fallen during their raids in Europe and documents such as the maps of the port of Saint-Nazaire, which he hid in the hollow handle of an axe that he slung over his shoulder when he crossed the border, while in his pocket he carried a bottle of Peppermint, whose minty smell obscured the sense of smell of the German dogs who were trying, in vain, to seal the border.

The port of Saint-Nazaire was the second most important in France after Brest.. It had an important submarine base, protected from British bombers under eight meters of reinforced concrete, but more importantly, and what motivated the attack by Lord Mountbatten’s commandos, it was the only naval base with a dry port capable of repairing ships the size of the battleships Bismarck or Tirpitz. The first was sunk by the Royal Navy when it was heading to Saint-Nazaire to be repaired after being seriously damaged. But its twin brother, the Tirpitz, remained. In 1942, except for the eastern front in Russia, the war in Europe was being fought at sea. The Beast, as the flagship of the German Navy was nicknamed, until then in the North Sea, had to be prevented from operating in the Atlantic, putting at risk the convoys that supplied Great Britain from the United States and that had enough to do with avoiding the deadly attacks of the German submarines that attacked, like wolves, in packs. To prevent this, it was necessary to neutralize the only place on the coast with direct access to the ocean where the most powerful battleship built to date could be repaired.

Operation Chariot against Saint-Nazaire: this is how it was

Following the provision of information and maps of the port of Saint-Nazaire by personnel from the Basque Government Information Service, which is transferred to the British consulate in San Sebastian Thanks to the mugalari Emilio Ithurria and the complex network that operated on both sides of the border, Combined Operations in London came up with an action they called Chariot. All the commandos and sailors participating had to volunteer for a mission considered suicidal.

On 28 March, a fleet of fast boats is tasked with crossing the Loire estuary at night, while RAF planes draw out the German defences. They are accompanied by the former American destroyer Buchanan, loaned to the British and renamed HMS Campbeltown, disguised as a German ship to evade the German defences at Saint-Nazaire. At 01:27, the British naval ensign is hoisted, drawing intense fire from the German defences. But too late, the ship, with its reinforced bow, crashes into the gate of the Joubert quay, disabling the winches that open and close it, as well as the pumping station that allows the water to be removed and the ships to be dry-docked. The 75 men of the kamikaze ship leave the deck and try to flee to the meeting point where they were to be evacuated..

The Germans quickly gained access to the ship and looked on in dismay at the effects of the crash, although nothing their engineers could not repair in a few weeks. There were still German officers and soldiers on deck when the following morning, at 10:30, nine hours after the attack, the HMS Campbeltown exploded thanks to the camouflaged charges inside and ready to be detonated with timers, ripping off the door and rendering the enormous dry dock, built in 1933, initially to accommodate passenger liners and, because of the war, converted into a strategic element, unusable for the rest of the war.

The mission was a success and was the only successful Combined Operations action on the French coast until D-Day.. But 169 British commandos and sailors lost their lives at Saint-Nazaire and 215 were taken prisoner. Of the 611 volunteers, only 227 managed to return to Britain. The failure of Operation Myrmidon at Bayonne a few days later was followed in August by the landing at Dieppe, during which 5,000 of the nearly 7,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

The operation on the port of Saint-Nazaire He confirmed to the Allies the effectiveness of the Basque Intelligence Service, which in France was led from Dax by Pepe Mitxelena. and also played a key role in delivering sand samples from the beaches of Normandy, where two years later the largest landing in history would take place, key to the liberation of Europe.

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