UK: HMS Kent to Honor Channel Dash Heroes


HMS Kent to Honor Channel Dash Heroes

A memorial to the heroes of the Channel Dash – a brave but forlorn attempt to stop German ships breaking through into the North Sea in 1942 – will be dedicated in Dover on Saturday. The memorial unveiling, attended by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, coincides with a three-day visit to the port by her affiliated warship, HMS Kent.

Sailors past and present will salute arguably the bravest act in 103 years of naval aviation when a memorial to the heroes of the Channel Dash is dedicated this weekend in Dover.

HMS Kent and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope will lead tributes by the present-day Royal Navy, while a fly-past from a vintage Swordfish torpedo bomber of the RN Historic Flight is planned at 1pm on Saturday (weather permitting).

The monument to be unveiled champions the deeds of sailors and airmen who set out against the odds in February 1942 to prevent the breakthrough of German battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, plus the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, from Brest to the North Sea.

They paid a fearful price for their efforts to stop that breakthrough – known to the British as Operation Fuller, to the Germans as Operation Cerberus and to history as the Channel Dash.

The three German ships were shielded by nearly 300 fighters and bombers, while the British response was poorly co-ordinated – much of the fighter cover promised the six Swordfish of 825 Naval Air Squadron failed to materialise.

Despite that lack of cover, Lt Cdr Eugene Esmonde – a veteran of the attack on the Bismarck nine months earlier – led his sluggish torpedo bombers in to sink the ships.

Although some got torpedoes away, none hit the ships, all the Swordfish were downed and only five of the 18 crew were rescued. Esmonde was not among them; he received a posthumous Victoria Cross.

The deeds of the aircrew received praise from both sides – Admiral Bertram Ramsay, the Commander-in-Chief at Dover, called it “one of the finest exhibitions of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty the war had ever witnessed”; the German breakout commander Otto Ciliax said the Swordfish crews’ bravery surpassed “any other action by either side that day”.

Motor torpedo boats based in Dover and half a dozen Royal Navy destroyers also tried to intercept the German force, but their torpedo salvo missed – and the response from the enemy guns badly damaged HMS Worcester which was set ablaze; 24 men aboard her were killed.

In addition shore batteries of the Royal Artillery and RAF fighters and bombers attempted to stop the Germans’ progress.

A granite memorial to all those Britons involved in Operation Fuller has been erected in Marine Parade Gardens in Dover.

Sailors from Kent will provide a Guard of Honour as part of the parade being held to mark the unveiling.

The ceremony coincides with a three-day visit by the Portsmouth-based frigate to her affiliated county.

She’s due to berth at Prince of Wales Pier in Dover at mid-day on Friday and will remain there till Monday afternoon.

The warship’s gangway will be open to the Dover public from 9.30am-12 noon and 3-5pm on Saturday.

On Sunday, some of the ship’s company will head to Sittingbourne where they will visit Demelza House, the ship’s affiliated charity, and meet both staff and children to hear more about the work carried out by the hospice.

Whilst there they will help redevelop part of the hospice to make it a more pleasant environment for residents and their families.

The frigate will also be hosting various groups and youth organisations, including Sea Cadets from Sheerness and Tunbridge Wells, who will be given tours.

And a friendly football match will be played between the ships XI and Icklesham United.

Further group visits will be conducted on Monday before the ship departs Dover port at 3pm.

“I am delighted to be bringing HMS Kent back to her home county,” said Cdr Ben Ripley, HMS Kent’s Commanding Officer.

“My ship’s company are pleased to be able to provide a Guard of Honour for the Channel Dash Memorial, dedicated to the memories of the extraordinarily brave men who flew their Swordfish aircraft to the heart of the enemy with little regard for their own safety.

“By contrast to this very poignant ceremony, on the very same day, I am looking forward to welcoming the people of Kent onboard and hope that as many as possible will come along and find out more about HMS Kent and life in the modern Royal Navy.

“We always receive a great welcome and fantastic hospitality when we visit Kent and I thoroughly look forward to further strengthening our treasured links with the county.”

Naval Today Staff, September 19, 2012; Image: Royal Navy