St Nazaire - Futile Heroism?

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Bart150, Jul 1, 2008.

  1. Bart150

    Bart150 Member

    What do you think of the following argument?

    In 1942 the Germans had no intention of using the Tirpitz in the Atlantic. They preferred to keep her on the Norwegian coast.

    This strategy may seem timid but there was a lot to be said for it.

    Therefore the Germans had no use for the great dock at St Nazaire.

    When the British raid wrecked the dock, the Germans could just shrug their shoulders. The dock had no place in their plans anyway.

    Therefore the heroism and sacrifice of that raid was pointless.


    It's a very uncomfortable conclusion, but might it just be correct?
     
  2. Mark Hone

    Mark Hone Senior Member

    Sadly, much (even most) heroism in war could be dismissed as futile if you only look at the particular event in isolation. The Zeebrugge Raid in 1918 is another obvious example.
     
  3. marcus69x

    marcus69x I love WW2 meah!!!

    I remember thinking similar thoughts whilst watching the programme. That it seemed a terrible risk of loosing troops just so the ship had nowhere to be repaired. I don't know why they couldn't just blitz the thing while out at sea.

    I wouldn't call it futile heroism though.
     
  4. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    I don't know much about the Navy side of the war. But didn't the Tirpitz and other German Navy vessels keep a lot of the Royal Navy tied down at Scapa Flow?
    And the Tirpitz could cause devestation out at sea on the Merchant Navy and convoys.
     
  5. Bart150

    Bart150 Member

    The point, Gage, is that the Germans could choose between:
    - keep the Tirpitz in Norway; for certain, thereby tie down a couple of British capital ships (which was as good as sinking them) - at relatively low risk
    - or send the Tirpitz to the high seas, hope to cause devastation there, but run the risk of suffering the fate of the Bismarck.
    It wouldn't be surprising if they preferred the first strategy. If so, they would never need the dock at St Nazaire.
     
  6. cash_13

    cash_13 Senior Member

    Well if what you say was correct then why did Hitler get so incensed that he ordered all Commando's it be shot that were captured in the future
     
  7. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    then why did Hitler get so incensed that he ordered all Commando's it be shot that were captured in the future
    Because nutters don't like having their shiny captured toys broken by big brave men in heavy boots... ? ;)
     
  8. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    The point, Gage, is that the Germans could choose between:
    - keep the Tirpitz in Norway; for certain, thereby tie down a couple of British capital ships (which was as good as sinking them) - at relatively low risk
    - or send the Tirpitz to the high seas, hope to cause devastation there, but run the risk of suffering the fate of the Bismarck.
    It wouldn't be surprising if they preferred the first strategy. If so, they would never need the dock at St Nazaire.

    I suppose hindsight is a wonderful thing. The Germans wouldn't have left the Tirpitz in Norway forever and Churchill couldn't take the chance.
    And why did the RAF go to so much trouble to sink the Tirpitz with a tall boy?
     
  9. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    This operation prevented the option of the Normandie Dry Dock being used for the Tirpitz.Germany, as in the Great War was virtually land locked as regards capital battleships gaining access to the high seas.The decision to be constantly aware of the whereabouts of the Kreigsmarine capital battleships and to take action to prevent their use on the high seas was a British priority in waging the war against Nazi Germany.

    When Great Britain could not prevent this happenng, the Kreigsmarine had temporary command of the North Sea in June 1940 when the RN and the RAF suffered badly from a mauling by the Scharnhorst.It did not happen again.

    The alternative point is that St Nazaire could possibily have been heavily bombed but having said that, there was not sufficient evidence that the RAF could deliver precise bombing of the Normandie Dry Dock at this time.The operation did cause Hitler to maintain adequate troops to man the Atlantic Wall.

    It was the result of the series of small scale raids that Hitler made his irational order regarding the execution of Allied POWs captured on these raids in uniform or not. Kietel signed and issued the executive instruction on behalf of Hitler which was to prove his death sentence at Nuremberg.
     
  10. DaveW53

    DaveW53 Member

    A total of 74 British decorations, including 5 VC's, plus 4 French Croix de Guerres resulted from the St. Nazaire action. The raid cost Britain 169 killed and some 200 prisoners.

    The aim of the Tirpitz, like its sister ship the Bismarck, was commerce raider. The Bismarck in a single action engaged the new battleship Prince of Wales, and the battlecruiser Hood. The Hood was destroyed with a loss of over 1,400 lives. The Bismarck, also damaged, initially headed for St. Nazaire, the only port under German control where repairs were possible. Hence the fear of Tirpitz and the desire to deny the ship's only refuge.

    Read a comprehensive avvount here:
    Raid on St. Nazaire: Operation Chariot During World War II » HistoryNet - From the World's Largest History Magazine Publisher
     
  11. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Surely no battle is futile - nothwithstanding the cost - should it deprive the enemy of a primary asset- who knows what MIGHT have happened with a nutter in charge !
    Cheers
     
  12. WotNoChad?

    WotNoChad? Senior Member

    No it's not correct, it's hindsight driven and quite lazy I think.

    If you follow this line where does it end? Hitler in the bunker in '45? Ranting away, quite mad, insisting that the Germans deserved to be destroyed. Well lucky he didn't have much of an army, navy or airforce left, and all those efforts taken in destroying those forces quite futile, eh?

    Don't get me wrong on this, there's a number of operations both regular and commando which didn't have the required result. Despite the propaganda value of these operations the fact remains that they worry the enemy on all levels from command to civilian, and stir the allies to a similar degree.

    The Dambusters raids are a good example, although modernly dismissed by some as unsuccessful it does show how where there's a will there's a way. Despite all of Goebbels protestations, if this allied force chose to do what they did there was very little the Germans could do to stop it.
     
  13. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    I couldn´t agree more with two facts mentioned in this thread:

    1. Commando style raids, no matter what their objective was, were basically conceived as a way to take the war to the enemy, keep him on his toes, constantly seeing shadows around every corner, with no rest and no sleep whatsoever, a sort of "offensive defense" in a time when the Allies were just beginning to get ready to march back against the Axis. If you add to that the definite intention of denying the enemy a very valuable asset, you just have to accept that Chariot was well worth it in any respect, although sadly it just didn´t go as planned, great deal of casualties included.

    2. Who could know, back in ´42, that the Kriegsmarine didn´t intend to take the Tirpitz on a Bismarck style tour? Memories of 1940 sure were still haunting the men of the Admiralty, and given the strategic limitations the RAF still had in those days (remember the Mad Channel Dash by the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst), the right way to go initially was to try and take out the only place onto which the big ship could go if in need of repairs, should it break out into the Atlantic.

    No way all those lives were wasted!
     
  14. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    If we are to look for futile battles then Montecassino must rank very high on any list - three head on battles with casualties in the region of that of San Nazaire - but on a daily basis for weeks on end

    Monty's idea of creeping up the East coast to Pescara then over the mountains to Rome from the East might have had more merit - but then there was no actual plan - that was the real tragedy of Cassino and the 100,000 casualties.
     
  15. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    And even if they kept on going with the idea of taking Cassino, french general Juin´s plan was far better in all aspects than the one Allied commanders eventually used.
     
  16. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Warlord -

    I keep hearing about this plan of Gen Juin - but I have never fully understood which one it was - can you enlighten me ?

    All I know about him was that he was severely critical about everthing and felt - rightly - that we had too many vehicles as opposed to foot sloggers - and that we should be doing this instead of that -

    So US Gen Mark Clark put him to the test by swinging him to the East of the monastery towards Altina where he made good progress and might have cut Highway six - but then he was recalled to assist the US 34th Div which was in trouble closer to the Monastery - that was battle No 1 in Jan '44

    His next Battle was No 4 - May '44 when starting from the bridgehead over the Garigliano - he went storming over the Aurunci Mountains - all the time complaining that 8th Army - were as always too slow to catch up which was the general Mark Clark line - but then he was French ! and so he was first at the top of the Liri valley

    What is seldom talked about was that 8th Army and in particular the two Canadian Divisions -plus 25th and 21st Tank Bdes - 78th Division- 6th Armoured Div - 10 Indian Div- 4th British Div as well as the Polish Corps were hammering away at the toughest defences and killing grounds we had seen - wheras the French were runnng amok over virtually undefended mountains ! US 2nd corps staying close to the West coast

    There is a great deal of difference in running through an open door - and trying to unlock a barred and very secure door - which the great French General failed to point out - at any time - then they disappaeraed to take part in the relatively undefended again - South OF France landings !!!
    Cheers
     
  17. DaveW53

    DaveW53 Member

    Hmm this thread seems to have moved a thousand miles or so from St. Nazaire to Monte Cassino. Still I am with you on this one Tom. When other options were available, the allies became fixated on Cassino and that resulted in thousands of wasted lives/casualties.

    I came across an interesting article on the 'net from historian James Holland who has written books about the campaigns in Malta, North Africa and more recently Italy. The link is below. Although focusing on the build up to bombing Cassino, the article mentions the alternative attack proposals by Major-General Francis Tuker, commander of the 4th Indian Division. Tuker also spent time discussing the possibilities of mountain warfare with General Juin, commander of the French Expeditionary Corps. Tuker's idea was to attack elsewhere and isolate the Germans at Monte Cassino.

    http://www.secondworldwarforum.com/2008/08/05/general-francis-tuker-and-the-bombing-of-monte-cassino/

    The article is critical of General Bernard Freyberg, commander of the New Zealand Corps but the whole sorry episode is confirmation of what can go wrong will go wrong.

    Dave
     
  18. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Dave W53 -
    would agree with most of that article except for a few little niggles such as it was 1st Armoured Div at the left hook towards El Hamma when Horrocks was dispatched along with 201 Guards bde to take over the battle from Freyberg - Tuker was in the same league as Monty re the establishment and he learned his moutain carft at the Keren Heights of Ethiopia - but he did push for the Monastery to be bombed....Juin might have cut Highway six had he not been pulled back when he was in striking distance of Altina....Tuker finally went down with jaundice which took him away for good ....The plan to finish off the North African camapign was not Tukers - but Monty's in a meeting with Alex he outlined the set up and gave Jorrocks the job - " Jorrocks - he's your man to finish it off " thus Jorrocks took 4th Indian - 7th Armoured and 201 Guards to join 1st Army 6th Armoured - 4th British and the two Tank Bdes from Medjez , Tunis and Cap Bon
     
  19. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Warlord -

    I keep hearing about this plan of Gen Juin - but I have never fully understood which one it was - can you enlighten me ?

    All I know about him was that he was severely critical about everthing and felt - rightly - that we had too many vehicles as opposed to foot sloggers - and that we should be doing this instead of that -

    So US Gen Mark Clark put him to the test by swinging him to the East of the monastery towards Altina where he made good progress and might have cut Highway six - but then he was recalled to assist the US 34th Div which was in trouble closer to the Monastery - that was battle No 1 in Jan '44

    His next Battle was No 4 - May '44 when starting from the bridgehead over the Garigliano - he went storming over the Aurunci Mountains - all the time complaining that 8th Army - were as always too slow to catch up which was the general Mark Clark line - but then he was French ! and so he was first at the top of the Liri valley

    What is seldom talked about was that 8th Army and in particular the two Canadian Divisions -plus 25th and 21st Tank Bdes - 78th Division- 6th Armoured Div - 10 Indian Div- 4th British Div as well as the Polish Corps were hammering away at the toughest defences and killing grounds we had seen - wheras the French were runnng amok over virtually undefended mountains ! US 2nd corps staying close to the West coast

    There is a great deal of difference in running through an open door - and trying to unlock a barred and very secure door - which the great French General failed to point out - at any time - then they disappaeraed to take part in the relatively undefended again - South OF France landings !!!
    Cheers

    Well, you basically hit it right on the nose, because what Juin proposed was a flanking attack well around Monastery Hill, in order to come back upon its rear, isolate it and take it without having to face the murderous fire Jerry was raining upon the allied forces that tried to go up its forward slopes.

    The whole idea was, as you already pointed out, to break free of the stalemate, by attacking over almost defenseless high ground (in fact, a door left open) that the French-African troops with their mules had already proved most capable of handling, at least better than motorized unis with lots of vehicles, stuck under heavy shelling in the middle of roadless mountains.
     
  20. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Warlord -
    That plan would have made a lot of sense had it been adopted - however that initial attack was thwarted by Clark as his 34th Div ran into difficulty in trying to get too close to the Monastery so it might have worked especially with the other Mountain Troops in 4th Div - BUT - and there is always one of them - the raping and looting by the French African troops upset a lot of people and they were banished very quickly from what was eventually 8th Army territory - Clark was fixated then about his Anzio debacle and thought that Kesselring would bring more reserves away from the Liri valley to hold them - he was wrong lots of times !
    Cheers
     

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