Operation Chariot

The Raid on St. Nazaire

Author: Lutz Pietschker
Version: 2013-04-21

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Op. Chariot Logo Raid on St. Nazaire: A Solitaire War Game


For more information about all sorts of war games, do not omit to visit the Grognard's web page! If you play Memoir44, you may be interested in my Memoir44 scenario about "Operation Chariot".

History: The Raid

On March 28th, 1942, the British launched "Operation Chariot", a seaborne commando attack at the "Normandie" dock in the heavily defended harbour of St. Nazaire. By destroying the dock they would deprive the Germans of their only repair site on the Atlantic coast big enough for their battleship "Tirpitz", and thus discourage the ship from leaving the North Sea. At 0128 hours a force of 611 navy and commando soldiers in small wooden motor launches entered the harbour area, accompanying the destroyer "Campbeltown" that was designated to ram the dock gate.

See also the Image Gallery for some historical photos. I have walked the battlefield in 2002, and you can also see some of the images I took then.

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The Game: Abstract

AH's magazine the "General", Vol. 24-4 (April 1988) is dedicated to this game and is highly recommended reading.

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Game Concepts

The game "Raid on St. Nazaire" is a solitaire board game simulation of that raid where the player controls the British forces and the game system controls the Germans.
For the British forces there are 2 distinct phases in the game: First you must land your units, then they must try to blow up given objectives, at the same time building up a defensive against the German units. In the naval phase your boats are attacked randomly by the German harbour defence artillery. After disembarking the, the commandos have to face very determined German "Stoßtruppen" and emplaced guns.
The Germans appear at the map in random locations and then move towards the British to attack.

Your aim is to wreak as much havoc as possible by moving demolition units to the objectives where they try to blow up the harbour and dock installations, while at the same time your assault units try to keep the Germans at bay. Victory points are scored for destroyed and damaged objectives and, to a lesser degree, for British units that escape death or capture.
RSN uses an area movement system for both naval and land units, with the land "areas" represented by locations that are interconnected by a web of movement and fire lines.

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Game Play

You start with just a set of 18 boats that carry the commando units, and at the exact moment the harbour defence forces decided that you are an enemy. From the start, you just try to get the units ashore at their predesignated positions, and else play sitting duck. Only a few options for action, but some of them crucial. Do not count on your return fire to contribute much to your survival, just grit your teeth and keep a stiff upper lip. Be sure to maximize your chances to ram the dock gate with "Campbeltown"- if you lose her, the game is as good as lost anyway. You will face 2 phases of defensive fire each turn, and every time you think it is over some searchlight will catch another of your boats and the carnage continues.

Once your commandos are landed here is your chance to retaliate. Try to secure your perimeter so the demolition units can do their job undisturbed, and hope that the demolition charges do not fail. New German forces are placed randomly each turn, and in ever increasing numbers. Your big advantage is that they are obviously not always sure where to go, and sometimes stop altogether (they have a random movement rate for each turn).

The chances that boats or survivors get back to England are slim, so just try to go for the target areas. If you manage to get a hold on the bridges and lock gates with your assault units before the Germans get there you have real hope that your demolition units can burn their fireworks in the secured areas. You must be quick to take advantage of turns in which few Germans appear, or in which few of them are able to move. When the first commandos have landed the dreaded searchlights will begin to scan the land areas, too, and sometimes will direct the fire of flak tower guns at the British units.
At some time, usually around game turn 12 (sometimes much earlier), you will know that the end is near. This is when your demolition units have used up their charges, the assault squads are out of grenades, and the remaining objectives are picketed by the Germans. At this time usually one or more "Achtrad" SdKfz 231 armoured cars have appeared and add to your misery. This is the moment to re-read the rules book where it states that eliminated units do not necessarily represent killed soldiers but also those unable to fight any longer because they lack ammunition etc. Hopefully, they will be rewarded at game end by a majestic BOOM! when "Campbeltown" blows up and takes the dock gate with her.

This certainly is a grim and bloody game!

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Game Errata

The following collection is from various sources:

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Game Components

The map board is simply a beauty. It is an overhead view of the St. Nazaire harbour area in nearly photographic detail. The map also is one of the best AH ever created in terms of player support- nearly every information you need is there. The location, movement and LOS markings are complete and intuitive. It is also historically accurate to an astonishing degree as you can see by comparison with the historical pictures and in an overlay of the board on an aerial photo.

For a solitaire game, there are astonishingly few tables to look up, and most of these are printed on the map.
The counters are the usual square 1/2" counters, in colours contrasting the map nicely. I added few custom markers to keep track of the torpedoes. Be sure to get a tray or ziploc bags to organize the German units!

The game uses 6-sided dice, and after your first run-in to the dock you will be convinced that they are the meanest, most vicious and merciless set of dice you ever saw.

The rule book is adequate- it is organized to mirror the sequence of play, and it is complete with very few errata, but is distinctly less than tutorial in style. As most AH rulebooks its layout is kind of neutral and does not emphasize the important points, so there is a danger of reading over vital information.
Because of this, and since playing solitaire always carries the risk of misinterpreting rules and thus cheating the game system, I would highly recommend to read the "General" Vol. 24-4 to get around the first snags and crags.

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History: The Aftermath

Though they succeeded in entering the harbour area undetected, the boats and the destroyer came under heavy fire on their last half-mile run to their targets. Streaming flames, the "Campbeltown" rammed the southern dock gate caisson. The commandos that made it ashore quickly overwhelmed the feeble initial opposition and blasted away at the dock machinery while Mickey Wynn's torpedo boat placed time-delayed torpedoes at another lock gate.
The German forces soon rallied, and by dawn nearly the entire British force had been rounded up and captured while a few had retreated by boat and fewer still had escaped inland. By1100 hours, while German officers interrogated the prisoners and others inspected the "Campbeltown", the Germans were caught by surprise when the four tons of explosives went up that had been stuffed in the destroyer's bows and had not been detected by the Germans. The explosion destroyed the southern gate caisson completely and put the dock out of action. A flurry of nervous shooting broke out when next daythe time-delayed torpedoes went off and damaged the lock gate to the "old entrance"; this cost the lives of French workers who had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong moment and were taken to be Resistance members.

The raid's objectives were achieved: The dock was not repaired until some years after the war, and the Germans never dared to move "Tirpitz" into the Atlantic. She remained in Germany and Norway without ever really seeing action until she was sunk by British bombers. Operation Chariot was also celebrated by the French (and still is, to this day) as the first sign that they might not be under German rule forever but that there were forces at work to stop Hitler's forces and eventually defeat them.
But the price the naval units and the commandos paid was high: 169 of them died in the raid, and about half of the survivors spent years in German POW camps, until the end of the war brought the home.

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, last change 2017-05-21