The design and construction of Campbeltown's huge demolition charge was the responsibility of Lieutenant Nigel Tibbits, RN, in conjunction with Lieutenant Commander Beattie, Naval Constructors, the Special Operations Executive and the Royal Engineer officers responsible for the on-shore demolition plans. The final decision was to encase 24 depth-charges in concrete and steel, in a special compartment built into the fuel tanks and protected from the worst of the ramming impact by the support for the 12 pounder gun. Significant redundancy was provided in respect of fusing, although in the event all systems were shot out or disabled but for embedded and independent 8.5 hour Acetone-Cellulose delay fuses which had, under test, regularly fired 2 hours later than planned. Included below are the results of an enquiry into the worrying delay in the firing of the charge, undertaken, at the conclusion of the raid, by RN officers trying to make sense of fusing decisions which had been based on an ever-changing assessment of test results and advice. With Tibbits lost and Able Seaman Demellweek a prisoner, only Able Seaman Frank Hutchin remained of the demolition party, and Frank's limited knowledge of events was not sufficient to provide all the necessary answers - as a consequence of which no surviving report (and there are several) should be regarded as entirely definitive.
The Demolition Charge in plan view: the darker colours denote which of the interlaced depth-charges were to receive time-fuses, with one fused charge to each compartment. Following the placement of the fuses, they would be secured by hammering wooden bungs into place above them. The actual weight of explosive was 7,200 lb of Amatol (3,266 kg).
Illustrations on this page, James Dorrian 2014
A cross-section through Campbeltown's Demolition Charge
HMS Campbeltown Demolition Charge
Campbeltown's bow astride the outer caisson
Lieutenant Nigel Thomas Bethune Tibbits, DSC, RN.
In the eerie aftermath of the previous night's fighting, Saint-Nazaire on the morning of March 28th, 1942, gave every indication of a battlefield slowly, but nonetheless certainly, returning to some degree of normality. German forces, emboldened by daylight and powerful reinforcements, scoured the port and town for pockets of Commandos and sailors intent on either fighting on, or attempting to escape into the countryside. The British had come from the sea to bring suffering and loss to what had always been a quiet coastline, distant from the harsher realities of war. And for what! To impale an old destroyer onto a dock gate so big and strong that the impact had barely scratched the paint? It smacked of the desperation so regularly trumpeted by Herr Goebbels and the organs of his Propagandaministerium.
As the town began to be cleared of prisoners and the wounded, they were brought to collection points such as the pavement in front of the Café Moderne, there to wait under guard for transport. Battered, dishevelled, exhausted, they seemed devoid of any surprise that might restore the fear and uncertainty of dark hours now, thankfully, in the past.
And yet, amongst the prisoners there were signs, generally missed, that might have given pause for thought. On the pavement in front of the Café the wounded Lieutenant Stuart Chant continued to wear his steel helmet. Generally there was a sense of hauteur, perhaps even arrogance that should not be present in an enemy so clearly defeated.
Some way north of Stuart Chant, Captain Micky Burn and Rifleman Paddy Bushe, hands in the air, were being marched along the quayside past the crumpled bow of Campbeltown, more apprehensive of their proximity to the ship than of the closeness of the bayonets urging them on. And between the two, clad only in a blanket, the destroyer's captain Lieutenant Commander Sam Beattie, so recently rescued from the freezing waters of the Loire, was seated in a dockside office having the futility of the rammimg rather unconvincingly pointed out to him.
It was getting on for 11.30 hrs and nerves were stretched to breaking point. For Campbeltown was a Trojan Horse, and she should have exploded hours ago. What could possibly have gone wrong? How could it have gone wrong? Had the weeks and months of planning and training been for nothing after all? And then, with a brutal crash, she finally blew up throwing the dock gate back against the dock wall and hurling sheets and fragments of steel far and wide. But why the extended delay? Why had it taken eleven hours for the charge to fire?
It was never meant to be this close....
In the early days of planning, the intention had been to carry three tons of explosi