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Sam Beattie

The Lizard Lifeboat Honorary Secretary who led the wartime raid on St Nazaire
by John Harris.

Cut and pasted from Grade Ruan Gazette May 2013

Stephen Halden (Sam) Beattie VC RN (retired) was Honorary Secretary - now called Lifeboat Operations Manager - of the Lizard Lifeboat from 1973 until his death on 24th April 1975. At that time we knew not why he had been awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) and, as you would expect, he never talked about it. After his death however, we discovered that he was the Commanding Officer of HMS Campbeltown (an ex-American destroyer) which rammed the dock gates at St. Nazaire in France on 28th March 1942. The reason for this raid was to stop the German Battleship Tirpitz and U-boats from using the port from which to launch raids on Allied convoys coming from the USA to Britain with vital supplies.

A small flotilla of 16 motor launches carrying 260 Commandos, and escorted by a motor torpedo boat and the two destroyers – Atherstone and Tynedale – and HMS Campbeltown packed with 3 tons of explosive, set out from Falmouth on the night of 27th March 1942. On HMS Campbeltown, which had been altered to give the appearance of a German destroyer. Lieutenant–Commander Beattie, together with 353 naval officers and ratings, were able to get within 2 miles of the docks before being challenged. HMS Campbeltown pressed on under heavy fire and rammed the dock gates at full speed. Delayed action fuses had been set and the ship blew up hours later killing almost 400 German troops. The British Commandos and naval personnel suffered heavy casualties and only 3 of the launches returned to Falmouth. Lieutenant Commander Beattie and 214 of the raiders were taken prisoner for the rest of the war.

For this daring raid Stephen Beattie, together with 4 others, was awarded the VC.

In addition there were 2 DSOs; 17 DSCs; 11 MCs; 4 CGMs; 5 DCMs; 24 CSMs; 15 MMs; and 51 Mentioned in Dispatches. Many of these awards were posthumous.

Stephen Beattie retired from the Royal Navy with the rank of Captain and lived his last years in Mullion; he is buried in Ruan Minor churchyard



The 'audacious' suicide mission that was a turning point of WWII

It was a bright sunny day when hundreds of incredibly brave men set off in boats from Falmouth bound for France on what they were told was a "suicide mission" to carry out an audacious raid to destroy a french port.

But it would later became viewed as a turning point in the second World War.

The heavily defended port of St Nazaire was destroyed when, fighting off enemy German fire, the men managed to blow up the old destroyer HMS Campbeltown which had been packed with explosives and disguised as a German ship.

Operation Chariot on March 28, 1942, led to the deaths of 168 of the 622 men who left Falmouth and the capture of many more. It also resulted in 89 decorations being awarded for the raid, including five Victoria Crosses.

At the time, Earl Mountbatten of Burma said: "Surely, by far, the highest number of VCs ever awarded for a single operation, and this is the measure of the heroism of all who took part in that magnificent enterprise."

Before they set off the men had been told by their commander that the job was dangerous and he didn't expect anyone to return.

Therefore he didn't want anyone married or with family responsibilities to go and anyone who felt they could not go was given the option to stand down.

Until 2008 the service took place around a small memorial stone in Church Street car park, with just a handful of people attending.

Mr Dawkins, who has organised the parade for three decades, was instrumental in expanding it and relocating it to the Prince of Wales Pier.

It came about after presenter Jeremy Clarkson fronted a programme about the raid and said all there was to show for it was "a lump of concrete in a car park in Falmouth".

The new memorial was unveiled by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in July 2008. It features oval benches containing the story of the raid and inserted into the pavement leading to the memorial silhouettes of the five Victoria Crosses with the winners names and ranks on.

Veterans of the raid on St Nazaire, three of whom were held prisoners of war with the Duchess of Cornwall's father, attended the rededication service and were humbled by the experience.

Lt Colonel Bob Montgomery, Major General Corran Purdon and Dr Bill Watson, were all held at Spannenburg Castle with Major Bruce Shand.

In Falmouth cemetery there are three graves belonging to veterans, Johnny Johnson from Falmouth, Able Seaman Bill Savage, who was killed while engaging shore batteries with the quick-firing "pom-pom" gun of Motor Gun Boat 314 and for which he received a posthumous Victoria Cross and Tom Parker, a LDG motor mechanic.

Bill Bannister, from Plymouth, was a leading stoker on gun boat 314 and each year he would lay a wreath on his grave prior to the memorial service.

But Mr Bannister, the last surviving veteran in the South West, died earlier this month. The 98-year-old was due to be presented with his Legion d'honneur medal.

Mr Dawkins said: "I was president of the Royal British legion and set up a service at the old memorial. In those days the veterans were able to travel down. I also organised an annual reunion. It is not recognised as much here as it is in St Nazaire. All the children in France know the history.

"Jeremy Clarkson made reference to a lump of concrete being the only thing to remember them. We pressured the town council to put in a better memorial and moved the service to March, nearer the date of the actual anniversary.

"We started with half a dozen around the memorial on a windy November and now have around 150 people attending. I have seen it grow. It is very important for Falmouth as it was the departure and return place."

Mayor Grenville Chappel said the service was a very important occasion for Falmouth: "The men left from Falmouth and came back to Falmouth. Being involved in minor skirmishes in the navy myself, I know there wasn't much chance of any of them coming back.

"It was suicidal. You really feel for these men and what they did. The 75th is a landmark. It is a very big event."

Johnny Johnson - A Falmouth veteran

Johnny Johnson, who was captured as a prisoner of war after he and his fellow commandos were forced to jump from their fire-ravaged boat, died in 2001 aged 81.

Johnny Johnson only just survived the raid, but spent years in a prisoner of war camp.

For many years he cleaned the memorial stone in the car park and would prepare flowers in planters in preparation for the service.

His son David said: "Dad was always keen to keep the memory alive of the ultimate sacrifice that his fellow comrades made. After the ceremony each year; it was poignant to note, that Dad would stand for a while looking out into the harbour in quiet reflection with his own thoughts.

"I am extremely proud of what dad and his comrades achieved. Also, we have deep gratitude to Falmouth Town Council, the St Nazaire Society and Eric Dawkins, who maintain the annual service of remembrance."

Johnny wrote down some recollections of the raid.

He said : "In August 1940 I volunteered to join the Commandos. My commanding officer thought I had an aptitude for blowing things up so I was sent on a course to learn about explosives."

After two years training he said they still "had no idea" why they were specifically looking at dock installations and how to lay demolition charges. They travelled to Falmouth and joined an assault force and for 13 days were not told anything about the operation.

"By this time the Campbeltown had been well-prepared for her last mission," he said. "The explosives had been loaded. We spent the time in physical training, swimming, climbing the cranes in the dock in full gear and rucksacks.

"One morning our commander called us together. His opening words were, 'well chaps, this is it, St Nazaire'. We were briefed as to the various jobs. He ended with the words 'I have been ordered to say this is going to be a dangerous job, in fact he didn't expect anyone to come back. Nobody had to go on this operation if he did not want to go.

"For a while there was complete silence, Then from every throat came a mighty GURCHER. We were told to write our last letters. We were given a scale model of the dock installation and the knowledge we gained would prove invaluable."

He said the day they set off was "bright and clear" and they were waved off by dock workers. "We were close enough for me to see my father-in-law and wave. I yelled 'see you Saturday'. I did see him on Saturday; a Saturday over three years later."

As they approached St Nazaire he said the nerves set in. He was lying flat on the deck with 80lbs of explosives behind one-inch thick armour plating. As the signal was given to drop the German flag and run up the white ensign the Germans opened fire.

"Over a hundred guns of the shore batteries and countless small arms went into action. It is difficult to describe the intensity of the barrage.

"The Campbeltown's sides were alive with bursting shells and casualties were now heavy. All the little ML's were doing a magnificent job in engaging the enemy, but they were out-gunned. One by one they caught fire and were sinking."

The commandos on Campbeltown continued to fight, with Johnny's group laying their charges and detonating them.

The order was given to abandon ship, but the water by this time was a burning pool of petrol. He decided to try to swim to the furthest shore a mile away, thinking it was in unoccupied France.

However cold and exhausted he decided to let the tide carry him and he slipped into unconsciousness. He was found washed ashore and taken to a German aid post and had adrenaline injected directly into his heart.

Once recovered, he was taken to a concentration camp.

After the war he worked at the telephone exchange and then became a local painter and decorator for many years, right up to when he passed away.

He was married to Jean for 59 years. She died in 2014. They had five children Kay, Susie, Chris, Debbie and Dave. He is buried in Falmouth Cemetery.

Operation Chariot

In January 1942 the German battleship Tirpitz moved from the Baltic to the Norwegian coast and there was a very real danger it would break into the North Atlantic and wreak havoc on allied Atlantic convoys.

Four separate attempts to bomb the ship failed and a different strategy was required. As the ship needed dry-docking before being deployed it went into St Nazaire and the idea emerged to destroy the lock gate at the port and prevent it from getting through.

It was the most heavily defended area along the whole German occupied Atlantic coast and sandwiched between the River Loire and the waters of the outer harbour of St Nazaire, an area of less than one-square mile.

The outline plan was simple – pack a vessel with explosives, approach the docks at speed, supported by troops who would disembark and blow it up before destroying as much of the port as possible.

HMS Campbeltown, which was originally an American destroyer called USS Buchanan, was stripped, armour-plated, packed with explosives, disguised as a German gunboat and was to be accompanied by 16 motor launches (ML) and two destroyers.

At 11.30pm on March 27 five RAF squadrons began bombing runs to divert attention away from the sea, but bad weather meant they hit other targets as well as military ones. This unusual behaviour raised concerns with the Germans.

Less than three hours later the convoy crossed the mouth of the Loire estuary and, despite an attempt to deceive the Germans, they opened fire. The convoy was still two miles from the dock gates.

HMS Campbeltown lowered the German flag and raised the white ensign and the intensity of German fire increased. By now all the ships were in range to return fire. Campbeltown was hit several times and increased her speed.

Only two of the MLs landed their commandos, but faced heavy fire. Onshore fighting was ferocious and close-quartered. Many of the little boats burst into flames as their fuel tanks were hit.

Campbeltown cleared the estuary and drove through the torpedo barrier and into the dock gates. At noon on March 28 the explosives finally detonated. It killed the 40 German officers who had gone on board and 400 other soldiers on the quay.

The dock gates were destroyed and not repaired until after the war. The following day delayed torpedoes activated, causing further damage and German casualties.

In total 168 of the 630 British commandos and sailors were killed and a further 214 became prisoners of war.




This from the West Briton 28 March 2013

A REMARKABLE coincidence linking the Lizard lifeboat, a rescue and a famous wartime raid emerged when the RNLI looked into today's 71st anniversary of the attack.

Captain Stephen Halden 'Sam' Beattie was commander of HMS Campbeltown when she sailed from Falmouth on March 27, 1942, packed with explosives, her mission to crash into the gates of a giant dry dock at St Nazaire in France (see more about the raid and a memorial service held this week on page 23).

Captain Beattie survived but was captured by the Germans. For his gallantry he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour.

After the war he settled in Mullion and went on to serve as honorary secretary of the Lizard lifeboat station from 1973 until his death in 1975.

Coincidentally, in May of 1993 the lifeboat was called to rescue a yacht called Heptarchy, which was in difficulties 40 miles off the Lizard having lost its engine and sails.

John Harris, who was a Lizard crew member, recalled: "It took three hours to reach the Heptarchy, which had been trying to get back to Cornwall from France ahead of the storm.

"We were experiencing some of the biggest seas I have ever seen, with a rise and fall of more than 20ft. The Heptarchy was in a sorry state.

"We were about to pass a towline to them when we noticed one enormous wave coming towards us.

"We had to abandon the tow transfer in order to bring the lifeboat around to meet the wave head-on, and climbed what seemed like the side of a cliff to the top.

"On reaching the crest we looked down on the Heptarchy as if she was a toy in a tank. We managed to connect the tow and took six hours to reach the calm of the Helford River.

"Later we discovered that the ten people on board the Heptarchy included Captain Beattie's son Tim, his daughter-in-law and grandson."

Read more at http://www.cornwalllive.com/lifeboat-rescue-linked-tale-vc-winner/story-18544988-detail/story.html#ITRGOVML8JdCORtq.99



Copied from the Victoria Cross Website


b. 29/03/1908 Leighton, Wales. d. 20/04/1975 Mullion, Cornwall.

Stephen Haldane Beattie (1908-1975) was born in The Vicarage, Leighton, Montgomeryshire, Wales on 29th March 1908, the eldest of five children. His father was Reverend Prebendary Ernest Halden Beattie MC, MA, originally from Perth, Scotland, and mother was Ethel (nee Knowles). His father was awarded the MC as a Chaplain in the 1st Civil Service Rifles in World War I. During Stephen’s childhood, they moved regularly with parishes in Shropshire and Herefordshire before settling in Ross on Wye.

Educated at Rugby School, he decided on a career in the Royal Navy and was given direct entry in 1925 via the Royal Navy Training Ship “Thunderer”. He proved to be a popular officer. In 1933, as a Lieutenant, he married Philippa Blanchflower and they had four sons. Known to the family as “Ste”, it is not quite known why in the Navy he was known as “Sam”.

On the outbreak of war in 1939, he was serving on destroyers as a Lieutenant Commander and in 1940, took command of HMS Vivian, based at Rosyth in Scotland, operating as part of the defences for convoys in the North Sea as well as regular patrol work. On the night of 20th-21st September 1941, Vivian was part of the escort for FN21, a convoy of 16 ships. For his actions that night, he was Mentioned in Despatches.

In January 1942, he was ordered to stand-by for a transfer to a new destroyer, HMS Petard, then under construction on the Tyne. Before he could take up his command, he received the posting to HMS Campbeltown. The planned raid on St Nazaire was to see the refitted Campbeltown, armed with high explosives, to destroy the harbour. On the 26th March 1942, the flotilla involved in Operation Chariot, set sail from Falmouth. They then navigated the difficult passage into St Nazaire harbour. Under intense fire directed at the bridge from point blank range of about 100 yards, and in the face of the blinding glare of many searchlights, he steamed her into the lock-gates and beached and scuttled her in the correct position.

They came under further fire, and heavy shelling set the Campbeltown alight. Beattie managed to escape, and ended up in the water on ML177. They were eventually pulled out of the water by a German trawler. Beattie, wrapped in a blanket, when he reached shore was sure the mission had failed as the explosives had not gone off. The explosives eventually went off at 10.45am, and suddenly changed the mission into a massive success. Beattie was taken into captivity.

He spent the first part of his captivity in Frontstalag 133 at Rennes in France, before being moved to Germany. When in the German camp, Beattie was called forward along with Augustus Newman and was told that he was to be awarded the VC. He was only immediate award for the St Nazaire Raid (4 VCs were announced later including Newman). He remained in German captivity for the rest of the war before being released at Lubeck on 10th April 1945. In June 1945, he was presented with the VC by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. Promoted to Commander a week later, he remained in the Royal Navy and continued to serve on destroyers. He was promoted to Captain in 1951, and retired in 1960. For the last ten years of his working life, he held posts abroad, closely associated with his naval service. He retired to live in Cornwall in 1970.

Like many VCs, he was always reluctant to talk about his St Nazaire experience, although he did appear on a TV show in the early 1970s. Beattie died peacefully at his home, Salt House, in Mullion, Cornwall on 24th April 1975, and was laid to rest in Ruan Minor Churchyard, Cornwall. His medal group including the VC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, France and Germany Star, British War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, French Croix de Guerre, Legion d’Honneur and the Order of Memelik (Ethiopia) was placed on loan to the Imperial War Museum, where they are still on display in the Ashcroft Gallery.



HMS Campbelltown
HMS Campbelltown (right) soon after aquistion by the Royal Navy
HMS Campbelltown
HMS Campbelltown being converted for the mission
HMS Campbelltown
A German picture of HMS Campbelltown rammed into the dock. Those men standing on the foredeck are in for a nasty surprise.


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