Winged Chariot

Author/Artists: Peter Lush


Grub Street


$39.95 MSRP from Casemate


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 192 pages, 16 photos, hardbound, ISBN 978-1-910690-24-6

One of the most audacious raids of WWII was the British commando raid on the southwestern French port of St. Nazaire. It was during the raid that the HMS Campbeltown, a former US destroyer, was loaded with explosives, driven into the huge repair dock situated there and blown up, destroying the drydock and putting it out of use for the remainder of the war.

The reason for wanting to do this was that this drydock, built to maintain the luxury liner SS Normandie, was also big enough to handle the largest German warships like the Tirpitz, Gneisenau and Sharnhorst. It is where the Bismark was initially headed after it was damaged by British torpedo planes, but as we know, it never reached the port.

While the sinking of the Bismark and subsequent removal of the smaller battle cruisers from French ports during the channel dash reduced the immediate threat of this drydock being used, it was still a threat and plans were put forth to destroy it.

Winged Chariot is, as the subtitle states, a complete account of the role of the RAF during this operation. The RAF's main task was to provide a diversion during the approach of commandos to the port. They were to keep planes above the city for several straight hours so that not only would the defenses be distracted, but the sound of their engines would drown out the sound of the motor launches carrying commandos.

To do this, Bomber Command sent over mostly Whitley bombers who were given a nearly impossible task. Not only could they not bomb the town, but they had to stay above 6,000 feet and drop their bombs singly. Yup, each bomb run would result in only one bomb being dropped. This was to allow a constant stream of planes over the target. As luck would have it, despite a forecast of clear weather over the target, it was overcast, resulting is some planes dropping no bombs at all, yet still droning above the clouds.

Needless to say, the poor weather was a bonus for the troops even if it did not enable the RAF to properly fulfill its mission. Without giving away too much more, the mission was a success, but it was a costly one with many commandos being either killed or captured and only a percentage of them reaching home.

The author has certainly done his research on this one. He tells the full story of the raid, including the planning, the journey, the raid and the withdrawal. He does this by way of dozens of back stories. This includes many of the personalities involved, the squadrons, the bases, the aircraft and even the weapons used. It includes the formation of Coastal Command itself and how it related to Bomber Command. I found this a fascinating way to tell the tale. It covers every single mission involved including initial reconnaissance, air cover during the raid and during the withdrawal. It also includes the various search missions as well as any ancillary missions flown.

There are four well done appendices in the book. One is a summary of sorties flown that includes plane type, unit, and base from which it flew. The second is a complete mission plan and I have to say that these sorts of things are so encompassing that it gives one a new respect for those who have to develop them.  Next is the Bomber Command operational order regarding Operation Chariot, and finally a report from the RAF liaison officer regarding the mission. The book also draws conclusions that are somewhat different from the way that many have seen this mission over the years. It all makes for a great read and book that enthusiasts should pick up.

January 2017


Review book courtesy of  Casemate Publishing, where you can order your copy of this book at this link. 

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