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15 October 2014
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Richard Bradley, Escape from Stalag VIIIB, Part 1 - The Raid on St. Nazaire

by Monica_Robinson

Contributed by 
Monica_Robinson
People in story: 
Richard (Dick) Bradley
Location of story: 
Stalag VIIIB Prisoner of War camp, Upper Silesia on the Czech-Polish border
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A7185279
Contributed on: 
22 November 2005

Richard (Dick) Bradley, taken on his Wedding Day, Kilburn, London, 4th November 1945

This story was submitted to the People’s War Site by Monica Robinson on behalf of Richard Bradley, MM, 06/01/1915 — 26/02/2004.

INTRODUCTION

The following account was written by my father, Sergeant Richard (Dick) Bradley. The story is his, and the words are his, set down on paper prior to his death. It tells of his participation in the commando raid on St. Nazaire, and through 4 more chapters his subsequent capture, imprisonment in Stalag VIIIb, escape attempts, and meeting his future bride (my mother) upon escaping to Switzerland.

CALL-UP AND TRAINING

Having received my call up papers in early May 1940, I left London for Blandford, in Dorset, on the 13th June, 1940. Blandford Camp was approximately three miles from the town and it was enormous in size. By the end of the day I was Private R. Bradley, 5344190, of the Royal Berkshire Regiment.

Despite the fact that I was born in London - Chapel Street, Islington, to be precise, which incidentally makes me a Cockney - owing to circumstances beyond my control I was brought up as a young boy in the Black Forest, very near the Swiss border. From the age of 11 to 14 I went to a Cistercian Monastery school near Bregenz, in Austria, by Lake Constance. From there I came back to London at the age of fourteen. I can speak fluent German with what you might call a Southern German-Swiss accent. I also speak English with what you might call a Southern German-Swiss accent.

Having been with the Cistercians for three years made discipline and early rising in the Army no problem for me. After nine weeks of initial training came 15th August and the invasion scare. Our Company was sent to Wimborne, in Dorset, to defend that part of England. How much of England we could have defended after nine weeks of training is debatable. September 15th came and with it the glorious Battle of Britain and the end of the invasion scare. Our Company was sent to the Royal Berkshire Depot at Reading to carry on training where we had left off.

In due course volunteers were needed for special service and so, on the last day of 1940, I found myself on the way to Paignton, in Devon, to join No. 1 Special Service Brigade. It was on the first day in Paignton, 1st January 1941, that I met Alf Searson who had also volunteered for special service. No. 1 Special Service Brigade was eventually formed into No. 1 and No. 2 Commando. Alf Searson and I became members of No. 1 Troop, No. 2 Commando and by the middle of 1941 we were both Section Leaders in No. 1 Troop with the rank of Sergeant.

The last six weeks of 1941 I spent at Achnacarry, Scotland, training new volunteers for the Commandos. Here I met Jimmy Brown who was one of the new intakes. He, in due course, went to No. 5 Commando. About the middle of February 1942, small units of different Commandos met at Rothsay, Scotland, for special demolitions training. From there half the party went for ten days to Cardiff Docks, the other half to Southampton Docks, and then vice versa, laying demolition charges on all parts of the docks, day and night, until we could almost do it blindfold. Here I came across Jimmy Brown again and I introduced him to Alf Searson and we became great friends for a few days.

All the demolition parties from the docks in Cardiff and Southampton left for Falmouth, in Cornwall, where we met up with a special assault party of No. 2 Commando, plus a number of naval forces. Our quarters were a pre-war converted cross channel steamer, waiting for us in the harbour. Also in the harbour were sixteen motor launches. Each motor launch, in addition to its naval crew, carried a small demolition and assault party of Commandos. Every day all sixteen motor launches went out to sea with the Commandos to exercise in glorious Spring sunshine, but no-one as yet had any idea for what specific operation we were training.

On Tuesday 24th March, 1942 each demolition and assault group had to study a large scale model of a naval and U-boat dock. From then on we had no more contact with the mainland. On Wednesday 25th March all Commando units were addressed by Colonel Newman, in charge of the military forces for the Operation, and told that the next day, 26th March, we would leave Falmouth soon after midday to attack the docks and U-boat harbour of St. Nazaire at precisely 1.30 am on Saturday 28th March.

THE RAID ON ST. NAZAIRE

Our flotilla, leaving Falmouth at midday on 26th March, consisted of sixteen motor launches, one motor gunboat, and an old Yankee destroyer, Campbeltown by name. This Yankee destroyer was converted to look like a German Moewe Class destroyer, flying the German flag and loaded with five tons of high explosive. Our journey took us all Thursday afternoon and evening into the Atlantic and then in a wide half circle all day Friday towards the Loire estuary in the Bay of Biscay, where we arrived at midnight on Friday 27th March.

Keeping up our bluff with the German flag and German signals we got within two miles of the docks when our bluff came to a halt. Our German flag came down and the Ensign went up and all guns from our flotilla went into action as well. At precisely 1.34 our destroyer rammed the Normandie dock as planned. Alf Searson and I were in motor launch number 11, carrying about 60lbs of demolition charges each in a rucksack. Although we made a perfect landing I didn’t get to our destination. On the way a bullet hit me in the chest, went through my lung and came out through my back below the shoulder blade. For a split second I thought that somebody had given me a push, then I could feel the warm blood running down my back and front and my knees giving way. Lt Watson, who was next to me, gave me a morphine injection, so that with that injection and the enormous loss of blood I began to lose consciousness, saying a prayer and thinking of my mother. Here begins my story as a prisoner of war.

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