Operation ‘Fuller’ – “The Channel Dash”.

On 12th February 1942, 18 young men took off on a daring mission from RAF Manston, in outdated and out gunned biplanes, to attack the German fleet sailing through the English Channel.

Leaving Brest harbour, a force of mighty ships including the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, attempted a break out, supported by sixty-six surface vessels and 250 aircraft, they were to head north through the Channel out into the North Sea and homeward to Germany where they could receive valuable repairs.

For many weeks the British had been monitoring the vessels awaiting some movement out to sea. Then,  German transmitting stations based at both Calais and Cherbourg, began a cat and mouse game transmitting false readings to interfere with British radar sets on the south coast. In mid February, the Luftwaffe organised themselves over northern France and the radars went wild with false readings and interference. Temporarily blinded by these measures, the British were unable to ‘see’ the mighty armada slip out into the Channel waters. Their escape had been a success.

The British, fearing such an attempt, had prepared six Fairy Swordfish of 825 Naval Air Squadron at nearby RAF Manston in readiness for the breakout. Ageing biplanes, they were no match for the Luftwaffe’s fast and more dominant fighters, nor the defensive guns of the mighty German fleet they were hoping to attack.

Of the eighteen men who took off that day, only five were to survive.

Leading the attack, Lt. Cdr. Esmonde was warded the V.C. Posthumously, he had previously been awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the attack on the Battleship Bismark; an award that also went to: S/Lt. B Rose, S/Lt. E Lee, S/Lt. C Kingsmill, and S/Lt. R Samples. Flying with them, L/A. D. Bunce was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and twelve of the airmen were mentioned in dispatches.

In their honour and to commemorate the brave attempt to hit the German fleet that day, a memorial was erected in Ramsgate Harbour, the names of the eighteen men are listed where their story is inscribed for eternity.

Operation Fuller was a disaster not only for the Royal Navy but also for the Royal Air Force. A force of some 100 aircraft made up from almost every Group of Bomber Command also made its way to the Channel. By the time evening had dawned it had become clear that some fifteen aircraft from the force had been lost. The loss of life from those fifteen aircraft totalled sixty-three, with a further five being captured and incarcerated as prisoners of war.*1

February 12th had been a disaster, but from that disaster came stories of untold heroism, bravery and self sacrifice that have turned this event into one of Britain’s most remarkable stories of the war.

Operation 'Fuller'

The memorial stands in Ramsgate Harbour.

Operation 'Fuller'

The names of the 18 airmen and the Swordfish they flew.

Further reading

*1 To read more about Bomber Commands part in Operation Fuller and a German film of the event, see the Pathfinders Website

9 thoughts on “Operation ‘Fuller’ – “The Channel Dash”.

  1. Hi Andy, What a sacrifice, wish that the photos of the memorials were face on so that I could honor their names and read the dedication inscription. Reminded me of the Ploesti raid on the Romanian oil field , operation Tidal Wave, 178 B-24s in with 53 planes lost. What heroes and what a sacrifice. When I send on your articles do you get credit for the advertising hits? Had my first jab, get the next one on Friday the 17th.
    Stay safe my friend, we’re not out of this mess by a long shot, Bill

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Bill. I did have a problem with the sun and reflections when I took this, you can see from the second one that even that was difficult to get so you could read it. Losses in many of the war’s major battles were high and we should indeed honour them all! You stay safe too Bill and take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent account of one of the disasters of 1942. Three days after this,Singapore fell, and the surrender brought the total to at least 130,000 POWs.
    I’ve been doing some posts about the Japanese and their Kamikaze attacks, and I said that a lot of RAF and FAA missions were kamikazes in all but name, and surely this Swordfish attack was one of them. Five survivors from eighteen men was a tragedy, with, as you rightly point out, more than four times as many casualties in other aircraft. Overall, I suppose it turned out to be a little bit like an enemy version of those ramrod/rodeo/circus type operations,except now it was the Germans who baited the trap, got ready 250 aircraft and the British paid the price.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Operation Fuller was indeed a disaster, sadly. That is a lovely memorial to the men who lost their lives but I will never understand why on Earth they even contemplated attacking such mighty German warships with “Stringbags”!

    As a little aside, just behind that memorial, moored in the harbour, is one of the Dunkirk “Little Ships”; the 38 foot “SUNDOWNER”. At the time of Operation Dynamo, she was owned by a retired Naval Officer, Lt. Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller, DSC and Bar. He was the senior surviving officer from the RMS Titanic. He took his boat, his son and a Sea Scout to Dunkirk during those ten days in May, dodging both mines and a determined attack by the Luftwaffe. The character played by Mark Rylance in the 2017 film DUNKIRK is based on Lightoller, who managed to safely rescue 127 soldiers with SUNDOWNER.

    Liked by 1 person

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