Operation Royal Marine

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Operation Royal Marine
Part of the Second World War
Map commune FR insee code 67472.png
Soufflenheim and vicinity
Sufflenheim is located in France
Soufflenheim, a commune in the Bas-Rhin department, north-eastern France
Operational scope Tactical
Location Rhine, Moselle, Meuse rivers
48°50′N 7°58′E / 48.83°N 7.96°E / 48.83; 7.96Coordinates: 48°50′N 7°58′E / 48.83°N 7.96°E / 48.83; 7.96
Planned by Winston Churchill
Commanded by Commander G. R. S. Wellby.
Objective obstructing German rivers and canals with fluvial mines
Date October 1940 (1940-10)
Executed by Military Intelligence Research [MIR(c)], Royal Navy parties
Outcome Temporary suspensions of German river traffic and damage to barge barriers and bridges

Operation Royal Marine was a military operation in May 1940 during the Second World War, in the Battle of France (10 May – 25 June 1940). Fluvial mines were floated down rivers from France into Germany, to destroy bridges, barges and other water transport. After several postponements insisted on by the French government, fearful of German retaliation, the operation began on 10 May 1940, when the German offensive in the west began. The mines caused some damage and delay to German river traffic on the Rhine, from Karlsruhe to Koblenz and damaged bridges and protective barriers. Part of the plan was for Royal Air Force (RAF) bombers to drop the mines into rivers and canals on moonlit nights but this had hardly begun when the campaign ended. The success of the plot was nullified by the Allied defeat and the Franco-German Armistice of 22 June 1940.


Despite the concerns of the French government during the Phoney War, over German air attacks and reprisals against French waterways, it was intended that the operation would take place simultaneously with Operation Wilfred, a scheme to mine the waters around Norway. The novelty of Operation Royal Marine was intended to divert American attention from the possible illegality of Operation Wilfred.[1] Wilfred was intended to force German convoys transporting Swedish iron ore into international waters, where they could be attacked by the Royal Navy.[2]

Simultaneously attacks with riverine mines against Germany, was intended to deflect criticism that the Allies were not making war on Germany, only the small countries around it that they claimed to be protecting. A decision of the Anglo French Supreme War Council was taken on 28 March 1940, to commence Operation Royal Marine on 4 April and the air-dropping of mines on 15 April but was vetoed shortly afterwards by the French War Committee, for about three months.[3] Operation Wilfred was left to take place on its own on 5 April and was then postponed to 8 April, later parts of the plan being cancelled when news arrived that the German fleet had sailed.[4][5] The British and French were able to agree that Operation Royal Marine could begin as soon as the German offensive in the west commenced.[6]



Course of the Rhine (Post-war borders of Germany.)

The plan had been presented to the Cabinet in November by Winston Churchill, as retaliation against illegal German minelaying.[7] (Sir Edward Spears claimed that he had originally proposed the idea to Churchill, when they visited eastern France in August 1939 but by the time the operation began, Churchill believed the idea was his.)[8] A stock of 2,000 fluvial mines, with 1,000 more per week, were to be put into rivers in France that flowed into western Germany, by naval parties (Commander G. R. S. Wellby). The sailors were to be based in the Maginot Line about, 5 mi (8.0 km) distance from the Rhine, to put mines in the river to interfere with Rhine traffic for 100 mi (160 km) beyond Karlsruhe.[9][8] The mines were intended to interfere with barge traffic and other boats but become inert before reaching neutral territory at the Netherlands border. On 6 March 1940, the Cabinet was notified that mines would be ready for release from river banks on 12 March and to be dropped by the RAF by mid-April, between Bingen am Rhein and Koblenz on moonlit nights. Neutrals were to be warned and the first 300–400 fluvial mines were ready by the night of 14/15 March; after French objections for fear of German retaliation, the plan was postponed.[7] In April, Churchill tried to persuade the French to drop their objections to Royal Marine and remarked after meeting the Prime Minister of France, Édouard Daladier Nous allons perdre l'omnibus.[10]


The mines were specially developed for the operation by Ministry of Defence 1 (MD1, Churchill's Toyshop), a British weapon research and development organisation.[11] Each mine contained 15 lb (6.8 kg) of Trinitrotoluene (TNT) trials of the mines were carried out in the Thames in December 1939 and depending upon type, either floated or bounced along the riverbed.[12]


On 10 May, mines were released into the Moselle against pontoon bridges built by German engineers; other mines were put into the Rhine to negligible effect.[13] On 13 May, the British put 1,700 mines in the Rhine near Soufflenheim, reported by General Victor Bourret, the Fifth Army commander to have caused damage to the barge barrier protecting the bridge at Karlsruhe. Several pontoon bridges were damaged and river traffic was temporarily suspended between Karlsruhe and Mainz.[14][15][6][16] By 24 May, over 2,300 mines had been released into the Rhine, Moselle and Meuse rivers.[9] On 9 June, General de Armée Andre-Gaston Pretelat, commander of the 2nd Army Group, ordered the fluvial mines to be sent down the Rhine to delay a German attack on the Maginot Line.[17] The RAF mine dropping between Bingen and Koblenz and into canals and river estuaries feeding the Heligoland Bight began but few mines were laid by aircraft before the Battle of France ended and the damage caused could not be measured.[18][19]


In Assignment to Catastrophe, Edward Spears, the personal representative of Churchill to the French Prime Minister, who had first mooted the mining of German rivers in 1939, quoted Churchill from Their Finest Hour (1949) that,

The success of the device was, however, lost in the deluge of disaster.

— Churchill[14]


  1. ^ Derry 2004, p. 24.
  2. ^ Roskill 1957, p. 156.
  3. ^ Butler 1971, pp. 122–123.
  4. ^ Roskill 1957, pp. 156–158.
  5. ^ Derry 2004, pp. 25–26.
  6. ^ a b Butler 1971, pp. 181–182.
  7. ^ a b Butler 1971, p. 114.
  8. ^ a b Spears 1954, p. 21.
  9. ^ a b Ellis 2004, p. 52.
  10. ^ Spears 1954, pp. 104–105.
  11. ^ Macrae 1971, p. 31–51.
  12. ^ Telegraph 2003.
  13. ^ Rowe 1959, pp. 138–139.
  14. ^ a b Spears 1954, p. 149.
  15. ^ Rowe 1959, pp. 155.
  16. ^ Churchill 2005, p. 36.
  17. ^ Rowe 1959, pp. 237.
  18. ^ Churchill 2005a, p. 647.
  19. ^ Ellis 2004, p. 53.




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