THE Royal Navy is set to pay tribute to 40 men killed in a disastrous wartime mission to attack the German fleet in the English Channel.
Frigate HMS Kent and the First Sea Lord will be present when a memorial is unveiled in Dover to remember the infamous Channel Dash incident 70 years ago.
On February 12, 1942. Adolf Hitler took British commanders by surprise by assembling his largest-ever battle fleet and 250 Nazi aircraft to free three warships which had been unable to leave Brest, France, since mid-1941 because of fears the Royal Navy would sink them.
The Nazi fleet managed to sail undetected for 12 hours before it was spotted.
The navy’s late response was to scramble just six Swordfish planes from Lee-on-the-Solent, six destroyers and motor torpedo boats.
Hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered, the brave pilots and air crew flew fearlessly towards their targets.
Within an hour, they had all been shot down.
Thirteen naval airmen lost their lives – including their squadron leader at HMS Daedalus, Lt Cdr Eugene Esmonde. who was post-humously awarded the Victoria Cross. Twenty-four sailors also died after HMS Worcester was bombed.
The new £33,000 granite memorial in Dover, Kent, pays tribute to the heroic men just a few miles from where the events of that fateful night unfolded.
Sailors from Portsmouth-based HMS Kent and Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope will be among the guests when it is unveiled in Marine Parade Gardens at 2pm next Saturday.
A German contingent representing the Luftwaffe and naval veterans will also be attending to show their respect to the bravery of the aircrews.
Malcolm Godfrey, vice-chairman of the Channel Dash Memorial Trust, said: ‘What we are doing here is recognising the fact that it was not just a brave thing to do from a British perspective, but also from the German navy as well.
‘We will remember the bravery of the British to take on the might of the German navy with just six Swordfish aircraft, and also the fact that Germany took a huge risk to free its ships from Brest.
‘The day will be about remembrance, recognition and reconciliation.
‘We are very proud and pleased to have the First Sea Lord coming and HMS Kent, whose sailors will form a guard of honour.
‘Everything is being arranged for a spectacular day. Also on parade will be the band of the Royal Air Force, and if the weather is okay there will be a fly-past of a Royal Navy historic Swordfish and a Battle of Britain memorial Spitfire.
‘We hope it will be a fitting tribute to all those brave men who gave their lives 70 years ago.’