Wednesday, 5 June 2013

An unusual link to the St Nazaire Raid

Travellers along the A5 to the west of Corwen speed past the gates of the Rhug Estate and probably never see this memorial. Their eyes will be drawn to the herd of bison on the south side of the road, or to the attractions of the Rhug Farm Shop, which is now in a building of extraordinary quality, a little further to the west than its original site when it was a humble bacon butty caravan in an old farmyard.
However, this gate is worthy of inspection. It is a memorial to Michael “Micky” Wynn, the 7th Lord Newborough. His military career was unusual. It started off in the army as a commissioned officer in the 9th lancers in 1935, but he was invalided out in 1940. However in May, as a civilian, he was given command of a yacht in the Dunkirk evacuations and made 5 successful trips before being hit by shellfire. The Royal Navy recognised his abilities and gave him a commission in the RNVR in July 1941. He was involved with modifying torpedoes for an attack on German battleships. This was how he became involved in the St Nazaire raid with his motorboat MTB 74, where it was proposed she could torpedo the inner caisson of the Normandy dock using delayed action mechanisms and then pick up the survivors of HMS Cambeltown which was to ram the dock gates and then explode using delayed action charges. St Nazaire was the only port on the Atlantic seaboard that could house the German battleship Tirpitz, which could have lost us the battle of the Atlantic. Fortunately, after much loss of life, the dock gates were successfully rammed and Micky picked up the survivors. Wynn was ordered to return to England. He turned his craft and ran his full speed of 40 knots (74 km/h). Wynn spotted two men in the water directly ahead of him. He had to make a snap decision, either to stop—which could be done quickly—or to drive on, which would have meant that the men would be washed off their float and probably drowned. He later recorded, "it was an awful decision . . . I decided to stop the vessel and we pulled up right alongside them. My crew had got hold of them, but unfortunately at that very moment the German shore batteries found their mark and two shells went straight through us." Wynn was blown from the bridge down to the bilges. He was saved by the chief motor mechanic who decided to search that area before jumping overboard. He held the severely injured Wynn and joined other survivors on a float. When the Germans found them 12 hours later only three men were left out of 36.
That morning, whilst the Campbeltown was being inspected by Germans, five tonnes of explosive blew up rendering the dock completely useless until after the war. Two days later Wynn's two torpedoes exploded and destroyed the gates of the old entrance. Wynn was now blinded in one eye and heard the explosion. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded for the raid with Wynn awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He was sent to Colditz in January 1943 and repatriated on medical grounds in January 1945.
He succeeded to the barony with its 20,000 acres of farmland in 1965, but was forced to sell Bardsey Island in 1971 to meet death duties.
After the war he returned to farming, and in 1963 became High Sheriff of Merionethshire. In 1965 he succeeded his father as Lord Newborough and inherited 20,000 acres (81 km2) in North Wales. In 1971 to meet the increasing cost of taxation he was forced to sell Bardsey Island to the Bardsey Island Trust.
He was the owner of Fort Belan, and when he died in Istanbul in 1998 his ashes were shot out of an 18th-century cannon.

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