Hailed as the ‘greatest raid of all’, the combined naval and commando assault on the German-occupied port of St Nazaire 75 years ago was an epic of audacity culminating in a unique honour made to a soldier engaged in a fight at sea. Steve Snelling charts an extraordinary story of desperate defiance against the odds

Heroic Charioteer: Sergeant Thomas Frank Durrant VC (1918-1942). A pre-war regular who had enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1937, he served with No.2 Independent Company in Norway in 1940 and was among the earliest volunteer recruits to join the newly-formed No.1 Commando, becoming a sergeant in the demolition section.
Charge into St Nazaire: a contemporary impression of the naval element of Operation Chariot, with HMS Campbeltown on a collision course with the Normandie dock and motor launches.

The great Normandie dock was wreathed in flames and scorching heat from the acrid, smoke-shrouded inner port felt like an open furnace. To 19-year-old Ordinary Seaman Ralph Batteson, strapped inside a splinter-matted gun ‘bandstand’ perched on the stern of Motor Launch 306, it appeared they had entered “the mouth of hell” as he later wrote “Large fieldpieces, anti-aircraft batteries and machine-guns poured fire on us from either flank, the deafening roar of the explosions threatening to burst our eardrums”.

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