Channel Dash
Naval History

Remembering The Channel Dash: One Of The Royal Navy's Darkest Days

Today, sailors and airmen marked one of the darkest days in Royal Naval history...

Channel Dash

Pictured above: Eugene Esmonde, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for leading the ill-fated attack

Today, sailors and airmen marked one of the darkest days in Royal Naval history.

The Channel Dash - otherwise known as Operation Fuller, was one of the biggest Royal Navy disasters of World War II

On February 11th, 1942 two German battleships and a heavy cruiser escaped the French port of Brest and made a dash up the channel to the safety of German waters.

The Germans had launched Operation Cerebrus; an attempt to lead the ships out of the French port to safety.

Six German destroyers and 21 torpedo boats deliberately drew fire, creating a smokescreen under which the Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and Prinze Eugen were able to escape.

In the morning, German planes provided air cover. 250 aircraft, led by Adolf Galland, worked alongside the German Navy in a brilliantly coordinated attack.

Channel Dash

However, it wasn't just the German's organisation that led to disaster. Things weren't going so well on the British side.

Bad weather majorly hindered their attempts to halt the German boats and aircraft in their tracks.

All in all, the British lost 40 aircraft and six Navy Swordfish, and all three German warships made it back to a home port.

This was one of the most embarrassing Royal Navy defeats of the Second World War, but that doesn't mean it's not worth honouring.

Those who gathered to mark the 75th anniversary of the ill-fated were reminded that the effort to stop the battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen reaching Germany went beyond the doomed sortie by half a dozen Swordfish.

Destroyers from Harwich and Sheerness were dispatched to stop the breakout, while the RAF tried to bomb the escaping ships.

Eugene Esmonde posthumously earned the Victoria Cross for leading the ill-fated attack

At 96, Sub Lieutenant Bill Wedge was the sole veteran of Operation Fuller to attend the ceremony. He said:

"We were all pretty appalled at how close we actually got towards the ships." 

Channel Dash

"I was responsible for the pom-poms on the quarterdeck - it was very scary, everyone was biting their nails.

"But our captain was very gung-ho and I reckon we got to within 2,000 yards. However, none of our torpedoes hit and in return they found their target seven times!"

Admiral of the Fleet The Lord Boyce led tributes to the men of the Channel Dash at the Operation Fuller Memorial beneath the famous white cliffs of Dover:

"We are here to remember the bravery of Royal Navy aircrew, the destroyers from Harwich and Sheerness and the RAF for their efforts in the air."

"We must also remember the astute leadership of the German ships who attempted such a daring endeavour.

"Fortunately for us their movements through the Channel resulted in the sinking of two of them soon after by mines and bombing, once they made it to Wilhelmshaven."

Representing today's German Navy was Rear Admiral Axel Deertz, who said:

"It is always moving to attend these events and like many ceremonies, you cannot help get attached to the human losses that result from these actions and fights."