Ian Bernard Henry Henderson was born in 1911, the son of Arthur and Ethel Rose Henderson of Greystones, St. Just in Roseland and husband of Norah Clennell Henderson of Dousland, Devon.
In 1931 I. B. H. Henderson is recorded as having finished second, in stormy conditions, competing in the yachts not exceeding 7 tons class at Fowey Regatta in Marie. According to one of the men who served under him he was a stockbroker before the war.
From the history of the sailing club:
In 1934, Frankie Peters designed and built an International 14 called Moonyeen (pictured above) for Ian B. Henderson. That summer Ian entered her for the Prince of Wales Cup, the annual race which decides the class’s national champions, with Frankie crewing for him. In a fleet of forty-one boats, they came fourth, a result which brought great acclaim for Frankie in the press. “Considering that her opponents included the product of some of the most eminent builders of International dinghies, this was a remarkable achievement,” read one report.
By March 1942 he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in command of a Fairmile motor launch, H. M. M. L. 306. That month his boat was assigned to Operation Chariot, the raid on St. Nazaire. He was supported by two sub-lieutenants: Philip Dark (nicknamed Jimmy-the-One by his men) and Pat Landy, an Australian. Philip Dark was the permanent second in command while Pat Landy was assigned specifically for the St. Nazaire operation.
The following is only a brief description of the role played by Henderson, Dark and motor launch 306 on 28 March 1942. Motor launch 306 is one of the most prominent vessels in accounts of the raid and greater detail can be found in published accounts, see bibliography below.
For the raid 14 commandos were assigned to Henderson’s vessel under Lieutenant Ronnie Swayne and Lieutenant John Vanderwerve. Swayne and his men were tasked with blowing up two locks and a swing bridge. Vanderwerve and the five men under his command were to protect Swayne and his men while they did so.
The vessels involved in the raid left Falmouth at 14:00 on 26 March 1942. Motor launch 306 was part of Group One and formed up seventh in line off the port side of HMS Campbelltown, the old destroyer that had been converted into a floating bomb and was to be driven into the dock gates at St. Nazaire. Group one was tasked with landing its commandos at the Old Mole. This meant that the group had to penetrate the dockyard defences less deeply than Group Two whose target was the Old Entrance.
At 01:22 on 28 March the vessels approaching the dockyard were spotted by the Germans and illuminated by spotlights. However, by using codes supplied by intelligence they were able to confuse the Germans for a few minutes. By 01:28 the Germans had recognised the threat and opened fire.
When the time came for Henderson to land his commandos, he was unable to do so as motor launch 447 was adrift in flames and preventing any approach to the Old Mole. Also, the Germans defending the area had not been neutralised and were still manning the gun emplacement there and shooting up any vessel attempting to approach. Consequently, Henderson decided to withdraw without landing and return home.
Motor launch 306 was the least damaged of all the vessels involved as it withdrew despite having come under heavy fire, a tribute to Henderson’s superb seamanship. Therefore, at about 05:30 it was 45 miles out from St. Nazaire, well ahead of the surviving vessels and heading for Point T, the second designated rendezvous point, having already passed Point Y, the first. It was at this point that the boat encountered the five destroyers of the German 5th Flotilla.
Seeing the dark shapes of the destroyers looming out of the darkness Henderson ordered the extinguished, the engines cut and the crew to silence. Unfortunately, it was too late. The Jaguar, under the command of Korvettencapitän Friedrich Paul had been ordered to circle and investigate the dark shape spotted to the starboard of the flotilla.
Illuminated by the searchlight from the Jaguar a request for the launch to surrender was shouted over a loud hailer. However, Henderson was not willing to surrender without a fight so opened fire on the destroyer. Initially the Jaguar attempted to finish the launch off by ramming her, but deft seamanship by Henderson ensured the collision was only a glancing blow, though several men were lost overboard as a result, including Vanderwerve. Having failed to ram the launch, and despite having inflicted twenty casualties on the crew of the launch with machine gun and cannon fire, the Jaguar moved away in order to be able to bring main armament to bear. The devastation this caused left Henderson mortally wounded, with one leg completely blown away and Dark unconscious. Paul now requested their surrender again only to be answered by the Lewis guns being operated by Sergeant Tommy Durrant. Following another burst of fire, a second surrender request was greeted the same way by Durrant. This continued until Durrant finally collapsed, dying, having been wounded multiple times. Then, Swayne, only lightly wounded, stood up and said, first in English and then French, “I’m afraid we can’t go on”. Durrant would be awarded a posthumous VC on the recommendation of Paul, the first one to be awarded on the initial recommendation of an enemy officer.
The Germans then boarded the launch, took the wounded and surviving prisoners off and the launch in tow. Henderson died on the journey back to St. Nazaire and was subsequently mentioned in dispatches. The boat and its crew arrived back in St. Nazaire before the Campbelltown detonated (it finally went up eight and a half hours later than it was supposed to). The explosion happened as the wounded were being taken off the Jaguar and Philip Dark was being interrogated as the senior surviving officer.
Ian Henderson is buried at Escoublac-La-Baule War Cemetery.
Fairmile B class Motor Launch
Displacement 73 tons
Speed 16 ¾ knots
Armament 1 3pdr, 2 .303 in (2 x 1) machine guns
306 was built by Solent Shipyard (Sarisbury Green) and commissioned on 18 December 1941. It became the R. A. 9 in German service and was sunk on 16 August 1944.
Displacement 933 tons standard
Speed 34.6 knots
Armament 3 105mm/45 C28 (3 x 1), 2 20mm, 6 500mm torpedo tubes (2 x 3)
Jaguar was built by Wilhelmshaven Naval Yard, launched 15 March 1928 and commissioned 15 August 1929. It was bombed and sunk at Le Havre on 15 June 1944.
Into the Jaws of Death Robert Lyman Quercus Editions Ltd.
Operation Chariot Jon Cooksey Pen & Sword
St. Nazaire 1942 Ken Ford Osprey Publishing
The Greatest Raid of All C. E. Lucas Philips Pan
The Cooksey in particular devotes an entire chapter, eleven pages, to the encounter with the Jaguar.
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