THE Royal Navy will lead tributes to 40 men killed in a Second World War ‘suicide mission’ 70 years ago today.
Patrol boat HMS Trumpeter will sail into the English Channel where wreaths will be laid in memory of airmen and sailors lost in the infamous Channel Dash incident.
On February 12, 1942, a small number of British planes and ships were scrambled at short notice to launch an unsuccessful attack on a large German fleet as it made a surprise move through the English Channel.
Among those killed in the fighting were 13 airmen from the navy’s 825 squadron which was based at HMS Daedalus in Lee-on-the-Solent at the time.
Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for leading six Swordfish planes into the hopelessly uneven battle.
Peter Nixon, chairman of the Channel Dash Memorial Trust, said: ‘There was this massive German fleet which had rushed up the English Channel protected by 250 Luftwaffe fighter aircraft and all we had was six destroyers, Motor Torpedo Boats and six Swordfish to take them on.
‘It was a suicide mission. What these men did that day was nothing short of heroic.’
The Channel Dash came about after a British blockade had kept the German battleships, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and a heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen, stuck in Brest, France, since mid-1941.
Late at night on February 11, 1942, backed by the largest battle fleet ever assembled by Adolf Hitler, the warships made a break for it in the Channel to get back home.
The Nazi fleet sailed undetected for 12 hours until its ships were spotted by a Spitfire. Britain, which had stood down ships and air crews in Dover after believing there was no threat of such an incident, scrambled the Swordfish planes from 825 squadron.
But they were no match for the huge German fleet which was heavily protected and all six planes were shot down.
Of the squadron’s 18 airmen involved in the fighting, only five were rescued. Twenty-four men also died aboard HMS Worcester in the battle.ding officer of Portsmouth-based patrol vessel HMS Trumpeter, which is involved in a weekend of remembrance being held in Dover, Kent, said: ‘I am delighted to have the honour to participate in commemorating those service personnel who risked all on that fateful day 70 years ago. The Royal Navy is extremely proud of its heritage and my crew and I are extremely privileged to be a part of this memorial service in honour of the sacrifices and achievements of those before us.’