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Channel Dash memorial service in Ramsgate marks Second World War raid Operation Fuller

By Matt Leclere

Veterans, relatives and the military joined together to remember one of the worst days in the history of the Royal Navy.

The anniversary of Operation Fuller - known as the Channel Dash - was marked at the memorial in Ramsgate to the airmen and sailors who lost their lives.

The battle is commemorated every year and the service at the Operation Fuller memorial outside the Maritime Museum on Harbour Parade took place last Tuesday - exactly 77 years to the day.

Channel Dash commemoration for 77th anniversary, Ramsgate
Channel Dash commemoration for 77th anniversary, Ramsgate

The Channel Dash on February 12, 1942 saw 18 brave naval pilots and their crew take off from RAF Manston to intercept an armada of German ships making their way through the Dover Straits.

Representatives from the Royal Navy including Admiral Sir Ian Garnett and Alex Sims from 825 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service - now based at Yeovilton - joined veterans associations and members of the public around the memorial to pay their respects.

Among those to lay flowers was Carol Lee, whose husband flew in the raid.

Members from the Royal British Legion and commanding officers from the Sea Cadets as well as the mayors of Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Margate all attended.

Later in the day, a second service was held at the memorial in Dover remembering the role played by other squadrons and warships which later joined six Swordfish bi-plane bombers.

The mayor of Sandwich, Cllr Veronica Liote, and chairman of Dover District Council, Cllr Sue Chandler were in attendance alongside the military representatives.

Sheila Howard, from the Channel Dash Association, said the group is looking for new members to help keep the commemorations going.

She said: "We desperately need new members to keep it running. It started with 240 but we're now down to 27 as people are dying off.

"You don't have to be a serviceman, anyone with an interest in history can join."

The daring raid led by 825 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm was an attempt to stop two giant German battleships and a cruiser return to their home port in northern Germany.

But just five of the 18 men returned following the attack on the fleet of 66 ships.

The prize targets for the British were the two battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the large battle cruiser Prinz Eugen, which had been causing extensive damage and disruption to the Atlantic convoys vitals for the Allies' war effort and were being repaired at the port of Brest in France.

The Germany Naval Command decided to bring the ships back to Germany after repeated attacks by the RAF on the port as Adolf Hitler demanded more protection in occupied Norway.

The British were aware this plan could take place and established Operation Fuller as a counter-measure with patrols running up and down the coast of southern England and over Brest to monitor movements.

Naval intelligence believed the Germans would not dare make a move through the Channel under daylight and expected them to try to pass Dover at night.

The Channel Dash took place over the Dover Straits involving air crews who took off from RAF Manston on Febraury 12, 1942
The Channel Dash took place over the Dover Straits involving air crews who took off from RAF Manston on Febraury 12, 1942

Several training missions for night raids took place but Britain decided to drop the guard thinking the moment had passed and the Germans seized their opportunity.

In the early hours of February 12, the German ships left Brest and made it all the way to Dover before being spotted at around 11am.

The Swordfish planes, which only had a top speed of around 90mph and were mainly made of wood and canvas, scrambled from Manston were horribly outdated and outgunned by the 200 fighter aircraft escorting the German ships with their big guns.

Led by Lt Cmdr Eugene Esmonde, the Swordfish had been promised five squadrons of Spitfires as fighter cover but only received one squadron.

All six Swordfish were shot down with only five men being picked up from the cold waters of the Channel.

As a final throw of the dice, the RAF sent in 242 bombers to sink the German ships but the attack failed causing only minor damage as they safely made it back to Germany with Britain losing 42 planes in the raids, including the six Swordfish, suffering more than 250 casualties, including 147 killed.

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