Operation Action of La Ciotat

The 'Action of La Ciotat' was a US and British naval engagement against two German vessels off the south coast of Vichy France as part of 'Dragoon' (i) (17 August 1944).

The Allied leadership, whose forces were engaged in the main 'Dragoon' (i) landings, ordered a small force of US and British warships under the command of a US officer, Captain John D. Bulkely to make a feint against the port of La Ciotat, some 15.5 miles (25 km) to the east of Marseille, as a diversion which, the Allies hoped, would serve to draw some of the German land forces away from the main assault areas at Cavalaire sur Mer, St Tropez and St RaphaŽl. During this diversionary operation, two German warships attacked the Allied flotilla.

On 17 August 1944, the Allied vessels proceeded to La Ciotat with a strength of the US destroyer Endicott, 17 US PT-boats and the British 'Insect' class gunboats Scarab and Aphis. When the Allied force arrived off La Ciotat, the PT-boats and gunboats were sent in ahead of Endicott and sank a German merchant vessel in the harbour. The warships then bombarded targets in the city until the approach of two German warships was spotted. These were the former Italian 'Gabbiano' class corvette Antilope, now in German service as UJ 6082 and the former Egyptian armed yacht Nimet Allah: UJ 6082 was armed with a single 100-mm (3.93-in) gun and two 450-mm (17.7-in) torpedo tubes, and the yacht with only one German 88-mm (3.465-in) gun.

The two British gunboats engaged the Germans with their 6-in (152-mm) and 12-pdr guns, but the German fire was so accurate that the British vessels were forced to withdraw. With only a single 5-in (127-mm) gun currently in operation, Endicott opened fire from a range of less than 1,500 yards (1370 m). The Germans switched their fire from the gunboats to Endicott and hit her, wounding one man, who was the only US casualty. Although it did not detonate, the shell ripped a large hole in Endicott's side. In an engagement that lasted just under an hour, the US and German ships exchanged fire at close range until both the corvette and the yacht had been sunk. The Allies then resumed their bombardment of La Ciotat. The German casualties are unknown, although Endicott rescued 169 men to become prisoners of war.