'NORMANDIE' Dock, St Nazaire
(Forme-Ecluse Louis Joubert)




Launched in 1932, the liner 'Normandie', at 80,000 gross tons, was so large that a special entrance had to be constructed to allow her to pass between the River Loire and her fitting-out berth in the Bassin de Penhoët.  Capable of acting both as dry dock and passage lock, this structure's sheer size has ensured that it remains in use today, its vast dimensions still capable of housing some of the world's largest ships - as demonstrated below by the liner 'Millenium', photographed from the roof of the fortified lock that was constructed in the wake of the raid to guarantee access to the submarine basin. (Note the armoured machine-gun cupola centre left, and its dominating position above the dry dock approaches, bottom right.)



At 350 metres in length, by 50 metres wide, and encompassing a volume of more than 260,000 cubic metres, the dock is capped at either end by giant hollow steel gates, or caissons (shown below) each weighing in at almost 1,500 tonnes. Capable of being filled selectively with seawater to cope with external pressures, these 9 metre deep monsters can be wound in and out of sockets set in the western quayside and controlled by dedicated Winding Houses. Essentially immune from destruction by ramming alone, it is small wonder that the initial impression of the port's defenders was that 'Campbeltown's' attack had been little more than a futile and costly gesture.


 

Aside from the sheer scale of the caissons was the degree to which the southern structure - 'Campbletown's' target - was dominated by nearby German guns. Photographed from a position between cannon positions 66 and M70, on the eastern quayside, the image immediately below shows all too clearly the height advantage enjoyed by the crews of the guns on top of the Pumping Station roof (nos 64 and 65), who were able to fire down on the destroyer's crowded decks at point-blank range. The other images in the sequence demonstrate both the scale of the climb awaiting Captain Donald Roy's  assault troops - whose task it was to access and destroy the rooftop positions - and the confusion of galleries below the Pumping Station floor, which greeted the wounded Lieutenant Stuart Chant and his men as they descended through the darkness to their target impeller pumps far below.

        

    
    St Nazaire - the Pumping Station as it is today. Visitors should note that this area of the dock is closed to the public.
            




Looking southwards from the North caisson towards the structure rammed by 'Campbeltown', the size of the distant Pumping Station  only serves to reinforce  the scale of the task facing  'Colonel Charles', Bob Ryder and the soldiers and sailors of the Operation CHARIOT force. The fact that so much destruction was wrought by so few, so far from home, will forever remain a tribute to the sheer guts and determination of those young men who sailed from British shores having accepted that they would probably never live to see home again.