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Obituary: Captain Montgomery

Bob was awarded the Military Cross in 1945 for his services during the raid on the port in St. Nazaire, 1942, codenamed ‘Operation Chariot.’ The operation had the most Victoria Crosses awarded of any operation, ever.

Captain Bob Montgomery
1921 – 2016

Montgomery had led two daring demolition teams into effective martyrdom on the Western coast of France 380 miles from England, ramming the reconditioned HMS Cambeltown (a stripped-out disguised destroyer packed with 4 tons of explosives) into the gates of the only dock large enough to contain the devastating German battleship ‘Tirpitz,’ that had been plaguing Britain destroying supply convoys to Russia. The trip was a one-way ticket for many of the commandos, and they knew it was such – the HMS Cambeltown had no armour after its modifications and the return vessels were simply commandeered fishing boats – no match for the 6 artillery outposts along the coast that would open fire upon sight.

The raid is legendary, known as one of the most daring and most heroic events of both wars, and the raid is well documented. The ordinariness of the lives of the valiant volunteers who would take the one-way ticket with pleasure, is itself as extraordinary as the raid.
The government had pushed for ‘war spirit’ during World War II, and objectors were punished with mundane or excruciating labour. Despite this harshness of government, the operation wasn’t mandatory. The General had said that even he was terrified, that it was a suicide mission, and that they could choose to walk away. But each man had consulted his family, and each family had supported their sons, husbands and fathers.
Not one person chose to abandon.

Bob was living with his wife in Scotland when he volunteered for the special squadron, who provided elite training in initiative and special tactics. Both of them had known the dangers of the raid. His role, in particular, required extra courage. He captained a squad of commandos that blew additional charges at the other end of the dam to let water from the sea into the dam and destroying its integrity. Most died, including nearly all commanders, and the soldiers’ return vessels had been destroyed by artillery. The troops under his and Michael Burn’s command fought their way out to travel to neighbouring Spain (a trip that would take weeks). They couldn’t make it through the swathes of German troops and were captured. But when the ship belatedly exploded, the elite soldiers took advantage of the situation and tried to make their escape, commandeering German boats to make the return trip. The surprising initiative had taken the German army off guard, but they were soon captured and put to work as Prisoners of War.

Bob become a leading member of the St. Nazaire committee in later life; a society dedicated to preserving the memory of fallen comrades and protecting the widows and children of those victims. He will be remembered as a heroic leader and patriotic defender of Britain, whose sense of duty had compelled him to serve yet 12 more years in the Army despite being one of only a handful of survivors of a tide-turning event.

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