The Channel Dash (part of Operation Fuller), took place when the German battleships Scharnhorst & Gneisenau, along with the heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen, made their escape from the French harbour of Brest, along the English Channel and up to reach the north German ports. These ships had suffered numerous bombing raids at the hands of the RAF, resulting in sustained and repeated damage, and had little choice but to break their cover and try to return to Germany. It was known that these ships would be likely to try to get home via the Channel, and so plans for Operation Fuller were drawn up.
On the 12th February 1942, contrary to reconnaissance & radar information, the convoy was spotted in the Channel by two Spitfire pilots, who were engaged during another air operation. This was entirely unexpected, and the British were ill-prepared for making their attack.
Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde and the seventeen other members of his Squadron, who had moved to RAF Manston in Kent to await orders, made the decision to continue with their mission to attack the convoy, despite most of the vital Spitfire escorts being unable to support the squadron’s slow and outdated Swordfish biplanes.
All six Swordfish were destroyed in the ensuing battle, which lasted twenty minutes, without a single torpedo hitting its target. Out of the eighteen crew, only five survived. Lt Commander Esmonde received a posthumous Victoria Cross, and the other seventeen men were also decorated for their bravery. None of the German ships in the attack were significantly damaged, and all returned to Germany without loss.
The Monument, constructed in Black Granite, has a polished face and reverse and is dedicated to the men of 825 Naval Air Squadron, who took part in the operation. The face bears an etched depiction of Lt Cmdr Esmonde’s Fairey Swordfish aircraft, the Squadron’s insignia and details of the six Swordfish and their crew members. The reverse of the monument provides details of 'Operation Fuller'.
Photo left: 825 Squadron Aircrew.