Soldiers from Bath’s Territorial Army Commando unit plan to cycle 600 miles in six days from 3-10 May as a tribute to Operation Chariot, one of the most daring, courageous episodes of the Second World War, now known as ‘The Greatest Raid of All’.
In 1942, Germany was gaining the upper hand in the battle for control of the Atlantic thanks to a new fleet of warships, spearheaded by The Tirpirz.
St Nazaire’s huge Normandie Dock was a key German base. So, in a move that proved vital to changing the course of the war, an obsolete destroyer packed with explosives and disguised as a German ship was despatched from Falmouth with 600 commandos on board.
Despite facing formidable German resistance and suffering many casualties, the raiders succeeded in ramming the dock gates. A delayed explosion then put the facility out of operation for the rest of the war.
The cyclists from 131 Independent Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers, will be riding from St Nazaire to Falmouth, where a memorial to the 169 British soldiers who died in Operation Chariot is on the Prince of Wales Pier. Also taking part will be colleagues from 131 troops in London and Plymouth and altogether they aim to raise £10,000 for The Royal British Legion and other charities.
“St Nazaire is one of the Commandos’ greatest achievements, high among their 38 battle honours of the Second World War,” explained Bath troop commander, Lieutenant Chris Harvey, a 25-year-old Bristol-based civil servant. “A total of 89 decorations were awarded, including five Victoria Crosses.”
Altogether, this is a very busy year for the Bath unit, who give combat engineer support to 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, in specialist areas such as demolition, bridge building, mine warfare, field engineering, water supply and force protection.
The soldiers of 131 will be taking part in the Bath Half Marathon on 3 March. They head to Gibraltar in June for annual camp. Several members may be deploying to Afghanistan later in the year. Recruitment has gone well recently, although there are always opportunities for ambitious newcomers to train as fully fledged commandos and wear the famous Green Beret. “We are looking for people with a good level of fitness because obviously we have to be a little more selective than other TA units,” said Lieutenant Harvey.
“But recruits don’t have to be the finished article. We will give them the training they need and, as long as they are committed and willing to put in plenty of work in their spare time, we will get them through it.”
To support the cycle initiative, go to www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/ex-chariot-challenge.
131 Independent Commando Squadron train on Tuesday evenings at Bath TA Centre. For more information go to www.army.mod.uk/131cdo or www.facebook.com/131cdo or call 01225 427747.