OPERATION "FULLER" or THE CHANNEL DASH (taken from our February 2011 newsletter)
Late evening on 11th February 1942 German warships "Scharnhorst, "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen" with an escort left the port of Brest. Then, evading naval and RAF surveillance had, by morning, sailed up the Channel under cover of bad weather and jammed British radar.
Two Spitfire pilots of 91 Squadron on patrol and flying below cloud-base had then spotted them and radioed the information back, but little notice was taken of it at HQ 11 Group as the Air-Officer Commanding was away.
At the same time Group Captain Beamish and Wing Commander Boyd, who had flown out from Kenley, were chasing two Messerschmitts through low cloud when they also saw and identified the warships which fired at them as they flew back to base and to raise the alarm. However, Victor Beamish had the same difficulty in convincing 11 Group of the ship's presence, and reaction was slow in alerting strike forces, as everyone expected any movement of the German ships along the Channel, would be during hours of darkness. This was despite a warning given of the Germans' imminent intentions from an agent based in France!
Without waiting orders Victor Beamish had put the Kenley Wing on immediate readiness but it was two hours before they were sent to meet with some Beauforts over Manston. When these failed to appear the Wing's Spitfires went out and shot up some escort vessels, also claiming four Messerschmitts.
During that afternoon confused and unsuccessful attacks were made on the armada by Royal Navy destroyers, motor torpedo boats, and by six Fleet Air-Arm Swordfish aircraft, all of which were shot down.
Also, despite several uncoordinated attacks by varied RAF aircraft, the ships had remained undamaged due to the heavy anti-aircraft fire put up by the German warships and the close cover provided by Luftwaffe fighters, under the command of Oberst Adolf Galland.
As darkness fell, and the weather got even worse, all sea and air attacks were called off, ending a humiliating day for both of the British Services, in spite of all the bravery shown during the operation. A destroyer, HMS "Worcester" had been badly damaged and over fifty aircraft lost with little result other than an E-boat sunk and seventeen German fighters shot down. During the day there had been an example of German "friendly-fire" when a Dornier 217 bombed one of their own destroyers, the "Herman Schomann". Also that evening "Scharnhorst and "Gneisenau" had both hit mines that had been sown by RAF bombers previously, but even then the ships still managed to reach the port at Kiel the next day.
Following recriminations among politicians, and air and naval high commands, an Inquiry was held into "Operation Fuller" or the Channel Dash, as it became known. This was to find out how the enemy warships had progressed beyond Le Touquet before detection and had escaped subsequently without damage. It showed that without an overall commander appointed, there was a lack of co-operation between the two Services, leading to late, unplanned attacks. In contrast the German operations (coded "Thunderbolt") were skilfully planned, making full use of the expected bad weather and visibility, with low cloud over the Channel. This was accurately forecast using daily reports sent from four Condor aircraft and from three U-boats out in the Atlantic, starting from 5lh February, seven days before the break out.
DID YOU KNOW that when three German capital ships with some twenty other smaller warships had sailed along the Channel in daylight, it was said that no other enemy fleet had dared to do so since the seventeenth century?