K/X 117366 Stoker Vyall D.M.
David Vyall had lived at 3 Priory Road, Hungerford and worked as a clerk for Mr Adnams the corn merchant in the High Street. He was the son of Hugh and Marie Vyall.
He volunteered for naval service on 14 October 1940. Serving first on the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, followed by several corvettes, before going on to HMS Campbeltown as a stoker.
Thousands of tons of merchant ships bringing vital supplies from America were being sunk by U-Boats and battle cruisers including Scheer, Hipper, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Bismarck. All these large ships were able to put into St. Nazaire for resupply and repairs, instead of having to return to the German port of Keil, their only Atlantic port.
The plan was not only to put the dock out of action but also do as much damage as possible to the dock area, the power houses, pump rooms and the submarine docks. To do this, commando and other raiding parties were to go in on Campbeltown and her escort of motor gunboats, do their demolition work and get out on the waiting gun boats.
The RAF were to mount an air-raid on the docks before the raid and then bomb the town area, thus hopefully giving the small ships the chance to get in close to the gates and be taken for a blacked out German convoy.
The raid took place on 28 March 1942 with David Vyall volunteering to take the place of a married man who had four children and sick wife, who later died. Ethel Piper, David's sister, feels that he would have thought he had done the right thing in taking his place.
Under cover of darkness, the convoy approached the port, flying the German flag. They were, of course, challenged but were able to bluff their way closer all the time but this did not last. Soon the Germans saw what was happening and with the ship and her escort lit by searchlights the Campbeltown struck her White Ensign and Battle Colours and with a motor boat leading the way charged towards the lock gates. Many of the gunboats, which had had extra fuel tanks fitted for the return trip, were hit and set on fire. Campbeltown was under continuous fire as she ran the gauntlet with many of her crew being killed or wounded. The gun crews on the motor boats were trying to knock out the searchlights as well as the gun batteries. As Campbeltown crashed into the dock lock gates the order to flood the ship was given and the sea cocks were opened.
In the meantime the raiding parties were going ashore to do their various tasks of demolition. The order was now given to abandon Campbeltown as she settled in the water, with the crew trying to get the wounded off, but leaving the dead. Charges were being set to blow up the ship.
It is known that David Vyall got off the ship and was picked up by a gunboat crew. Unfortunately the gunboat received a direct hit and most of those on board were lost. David was among them but his body was never found.
Commander S H Beattie of HMS Campbeltown was awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his crew's valour. VCs were also awarded to 4 other participants of the campaign.
David Vyall's name is on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.
- David Vyall