Obituary: Lord Newborough

ON 28 March 1942, Sub-Lieutenant "Micky" Wynn, later Lord Newborough, played a decisive part in the most spectacular and daring seaborne raid of the Second World War. The target was St Nazaire, the only port on the Atlantic seaboard where the newly completed German battleship Tirpitz could be docked.

Operation Chariot was an audacious plan in which an ex-American destroyer, Campbeltown, laden with 24 time-fused charges, was to ram the gates of the harbour, release the commandos on board to destroy vital installations on shore and later explode, with luck destroying the dock caisson. To accompany Campbeltown were two destroyers, a motor gun boat, 16 motor launches and a motor torpedo boat MTB74, commanded by Micky Wynn, which carried two delayed-action torpedoes to be fired at the dock caisson in the event of Campbeltown's not succeeding in her task.

Chariot force sailed from Falmouth with MTB74 towed by Campbeltown. They crossed 400 miles of open sea and were three miles up the estuary of the Loire before the Germans opened fire. Campbeltown, which was flying the German ensign, immediately replied in German by Morse and Aldis lamp, and the enemy batteries held their fire, allowing Campbeltown to creep closer to its target.

At 1.27am and closing on the gate, Campbeltown replaced the German flag and hauled up the British ensign. Under intense fire Campbeltown cut through the torpedo net and rammed the dock gates at 1.34.

Wynn, who had been cast off from Campbeltown, now fired his two torpedoes at his secondary target, the gate at the old entrance. Having picked up survivors from Campbeltown and an MTB, Wynn was proceeding down the river at full speed (40 knots). Three- quarters of the way down he saw two men on a Carley float 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 was to record later, "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. Only the presence of mind of his chief motor mechanic, Chief Petty Officer Lovegrove, who decided to search that area before jumping overboard, saved him. He held the severely injured Wynn as they made their way to the other survivors on a Carley float. In the intense cold the men began to slip away: when the Germans found them 12 hours later there were only three left out of 36.

That morning, after hours of chaos, a number of German officers and technicians were inspecting Campbeltown just as her five tonnes of ammonal blew up rendering the dock completely useless. Two days later, just when the Germans thought it was all over, Wynn's two well-placed torpedoes exploded and blew the gates of the old entrance to pieces. Now a POW and blinded in one eye, Wynn had the satisfaction of hearing the explosion. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded for this daring raid. Wynn was awarded the DSC.

Micky Wynn was born in 1917, the eldest son of Lord Newborough, and educated at Oundle. In 1935 he was commissioned into the 9th Lancers, later joining the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and 16/5th Lancers. He was invalided out of the Army in 1940.

In May 1940, as a civilian, he was given command of a yacht acting as the Air Sea Rescue boat for the Naval air station at Lee-on-Solent. When the British forces were evacuated from northern France he went to Dunkirk, and made five successful trips before being hit by shellfire. He barely made Ramsgate.

Wynn was given command of a Norfolk fishing boat and sent to the beaches south of Calais where it was thought the Guards Regiment were hiding in the dunes. On landing he walked up and down searching for them. Thinking that he might be arrested as a spy he abandoned his civilian clothes and insisted on wearing naval uniform. He never did find the Guards.

The Royal Navy recognised the courage and determination of Wynn and gave him a commission in the RNVR. Always eager to get into the fray, he became involved in designing depth charges which could be fired from a motor torpedo boat. The targets were the mighty battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Unfortunately while this experiment was still at trial stage both ships made a daring escape from Brest. However all was not wasted. Further tests were carried out prior to the raid on St Nazaire and adjustments made to the delayed-action mechanism of the torpedoes which were fired by MTB74 with such devastating effect.

Wynn had lost an eye during the raid but was well looked after by the German medical staff who gave him a glass replacement. He was then moved to Marlag Nord near Bremen. From here he escaped and was sent to Colditz in January 1944. He was repatriated on medical grounds in January 1945.

Hearing that Lovegrove was held in a German naval camp he volunteered to join the relieving force and was delighted to meet up again with the man who had saved his life at St Nazaire.

After the war he returned to farming, and in 1963 became High Sheriff of Merionethshire. Two years later he succeeded his father as Lord Newborough and inherited 20,000 acres in North Wales. In 1971 to meet the increasing cost of taxation he was forced to sell Bardsey Island, which had been owned by his family since the time of Henry VIII.

In 1976 he was called before the magistrates for allegedly firing a 9lb cannon ball across the Menai Strait from Belan Fort, which had been built by one of his ancestors. Unfortunately it went through the sail of a passing yacht and Newborough was charged with causing criminal damage. Even though it was his mother-in-law's birthday, he denied the charge, protesting that it must have been someone else. He was found guilty and fined.

Robert Charles Michael Wynn, naval officer and farmer: born 24 April 1917; DSC 1942; succeeded 1965 as seventh Baron Newborough; High Sheriff of Merionethshire 1963; married 1945 Rosamond Barber (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1971), 1971 Jennifer Acland (nee Allen); died Istanbul 11 October 1998.