An account of the raid on Dieppe

Discussion in 'Canadian' started by Chris C, Jul 29, 2017.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Because someone in a Churchill tank modelling group seemed interested, I scanned in part of an account by Lieutenant Ed Bennett from the Churchill Regiment's unofficial history. I did so entirely with my cell phone - it is kind of a revelation that it worked so well.

    There is a second part which talks about his time as a POW. I'll try to scan it tomorrow.

    It may be easier to read at my blog where I have set the text into a narrower area of the screen. Dieppe, 1942

    DIEPPE 1942

    by Lieut Ed Bennett

    On 19 August 1942 I was the Troop Leader of 10 Troop in B Squadron, with three Churchill tanks. My tank was called "Bellicose" and my driver was Bobby Cornellsen, who was killed later in the action. Bill Stannard, was my front gunner and my co-driver. Archie Anderson was my radio operator and Len Storvold was gunner; these were all from Alberta. Harry Patrick was the sergeant in charge of "Beefy" with his crew, and Ronnie Lee was sergeant in charge of my other tank, "Bloody". And we all got over the wall.

    As we were coming in it wasn't total darkness, in fact it was quite a sight to see the clouds of smoke and the firing ahead of us. The smokescreen they were supposed to provide - we saw this smoke but it certainly wasn't enough to provide any cover to be of any help to us. I realized there was a battle going on and that we were going right into it. We were to land right in the centre of the beach between Red and White Beaches; the Essex Scottish were on the left and the R.H.L.I. were on the right.. He put us right there at the right time - we may have been just a little bit late. We were very much under fire going in. Perhaps I was a little foolish, but when we were coming in I could see this cloud of smoke and the smoke screen but I couldn't see the beach. I could see some of the buildings showing above the smoke screen and I knew there was lots of action on the beach as we could hear all the firing, so when my crews loaded I remained on top of the tank standing behind the turret because I wanted to see which way we should go when we landed to the right or to the left. I guess I stayed out on the tank too long because our landing craft was hit by a shell which I assume came from a gun on the end of the pier. There was a gun emplacement just on the end of the jetty. and it hit the landing craft just where the kite balloon cylinders were placed. Those cylinders I presume were filled with hydrogen to inflate the kite balloons. and when they exploded I was in the middle of the blast. My face was burnt - all my hair was gone. But we were just coming into action and I picked myself up and we went into shore.

    I recall some Engineers --. there was a group of Engineers on board down below with us. Also Brigadier Southam and his radio crew were on the same landing craft and some of their radio equipment was damaged from this same blast. Major Rolfe at that time was a Signals Officer on the same landing craft and he was down below when it was hit.

    You can imagine the surprise my crew got when I climbed back down into the tank and pulled the lid down and here my face was all black and my hair gone and my hands burned, but as soon as the lid came down we went into action. We had to know which way we were going. I knew I'd been hit in the right eye but my left eye was all right at that time. We then decided we'd go to the right, and Harry Patrick's tank was just ahead of me. I passed his tank and told Bobby, my driver, to go down by the Casino because I had seen all the other tanks in the centre of the beach stranded in the shingle. We may have had a better chance on the beach because we didn't land as high up as the first flight of tanks. With the tide coming in it may not have been as loose shingle as it was higher up. When we saw the tanks stranded I decided that we would stick to the waterline and go along until we could see a place where we could go over the sea wall, but it was quite something going along the beach because of all the bodies. The ones we encountered I would say were in pretty bad shape and there were places where we had to straddle or go around them.

    I would say where the Essex Scottish landed they or the Engineers would have no hope of ever climbing over the sea wall, but the sea wall was not as high in front of the Casino. Where the sea wall curved out in a crescent shape and in the "V" between the straight line of the sea wall and this curve of the promenade the shingle had washed up higher. I asked Bobby, the driver, to go up there but go slow and steady, and we just gradually crept up and finally we were on the Esplanade.

    Naturally we were making for the buildings and our task was to get into the town, so we went up parallel with and on the east side of the Casino. It was there that I came across the Canadians who had either been in the Casino or were along the east side of it where they were taking cover behind the columns. I noticed them pointing and directing us towards the buildings, and as we looked up to our left here were these German slit trenches. The Germans, unfortunately for them, instead of staying in the slit trenches decided to run, and they ran for the buildings. They all sort of funnelled out of one end of the trench as we were coming along and naturally the gunners had a field day. There was one big red-headed German - he had his helmet off and he was holding his helmet just like a pail, but in his other hand he had one of those potato-masher hand grenades. He didn't realize that a Churchill tank was as maneuverable as it is for a large 40 ton tank. He was down on one knee and thought that as we approached he could hit the driver's opening, and Bobby turned the tank to the right and we went right over him.

    We went along the Boulevard in front of the buildings but every road entrance was blocked by a concrete road block about three to three and half feet high. Some of them were staggered so that a pedestrian could walk through them or take a bicycle through them. But certainly no vehicle could get through. But we went all along the full length of the Boulevard and cleared the Germans out of the trenches. Last summer [1972] when I was talking to Sergeant Harry Patrick for the first time in thirty years, he confirmed that he followed me with his tank "Beefy" and that we were able to clear all or most of the Germans out of the trenches. That's why I say that our action was worthwhile because, whilst those Germans were in the trenches, in the open area of the Esplanade no one could have safely moved above the sea wall.

    To my knowledge there were no other tanks over the sea wall before we arrived on the Esplanade. Ronnie Lee followed in "Bloody”. I don't know how many others got over but I was burned on my face and my left eye was all right - it still has some powder marks on it. Later in the day as my face became inflamed and my left eye closed up the only way I could see was by lifting up my eyelid and seeing out. but I did get a good view of the action - and this is another foolish thing looking back on it. I saw these Canadian officers by the Casino and they were frantically pointing towards the trenches. Through the pistol-port in the turret I couldn't get a very clear view so I thought "Well. I‘ll take a quick look,“ and I lifted up the turret lid and took a look up and down very quickly and did have a clear view of the area to the left of us. and that's when I had a good picture of what was there on the Esplanade. I can't say how many tanks there were over the sea wall later. but I know there were quite a few. I know some of Troop #8 and #7 Troop made it. One of Art Breithaupt’s tanks got stranded in one of these trenches «there is a photograph of the No. 7 tank with the front and stuck down into a trench. The crew had to remain there until the show was over. We cruised up and down the Esplanade and along the Marshall Foch Boulevard and sent messages back. I remember one was something like "good hunting" because that was when the Germans were pouring out of the trenches. and I think that is recorded in the official messages that came back from the tanks. When the message came through to evacuate we were running low in ammunition. We moved along the Esplanade back and forth, back and forth, right from the Casino to the harbour. Even the road leading along the harbour area was blocked off with the concrete blocks which our Engineers were supposed to blow. They had had no opportunity whatsoever to reach that far ashore, but when the message came to evacuate we decided to head for the beach and so we went back over the sea wall.

    As we approached the sea wall we realized there were Infantry and Engineers and other troops taking cover underneath the sea wall so we went over rather gingerly and dropped down. It was quite a steep area at that spot but we got onto the beach and turned left facing the high cliffs. Whilst we were on the beach we were in good position to turn our six-pounder turret gun on the high buildings on the cliff. We had pretty well expended our small arms ammunition on the Esplanade but we still had some of our large gun ammumition. I'm very proud of Bill Stannard with his marksmanship with the six-pounder gun because one of the buildings on the cliff had a tower on it and there was machine-gun fire coming from the Germans in that tower. I recall seeing the whole side of the tower where the fire was coming from just crumble. It was a perfect hit. That was the highlight of our shooting on the beach, but we continued to fire the gun until all the ammunition was expended.

    There was a message that there might be some boats coming in to take us off. We were in the tank on the beach fairly close to a T.L.C. that was broadside on the beach so I thought we should get out of the tank and down behind the landing craft I guess it was luck because we stumbled, and it was fortunate we did stumble, because when we sprawled on the beach, just ahead of us there was some heavy machine-gun fire and had we not stumbled we wouldn't have made it. We got just behind the landing craft. Inside it was crowded with wounded and in behind on the seaward side there were others taking cover, and we were all waiting to be taken off . I guess the tide was out at its maximum because the landing craft was stranded and I was sitting on the beach with my back to the landing craft.

    By this time both my eyes had closed up - I could occasionally see by lifting my left eyelid and I was able to see what chaos it was. Archie Anderson stayed with me and also Bobby Cornellsen and Bill Stannard and Len Storvold. We were all together and then Archie said “They're bringing in some Assault Craft to take us off ". I think I made a good decision then and I said, "well, Archie, we'll take the second flight.“ A few Assault Craft came in, and naturally most of those on the beach went out into the water to get on the Assault Craft. The Germans realized what was happening and they withheld their fire until the Assault Craft were loaded, when down came everything on them. There were some survivors but there were a great many killed in the water and some wounded trying to get back in. It was when this happened that Bobby Cornellsen said, "Mr. Bennett, we're going out to bring some of them in,” so he and Archie Anderson went out and a few minutes later Archie came back and said “Well, they got Bobby".

    Later on when the surrender came the tide was coming in again. Some of the bodies that were on the beach were floating in the water. When the Germans came down onto the beach I was standing up with water up to my knees and I slipped my belt and my pistol into the water so that there were no souvenirs for them. They then led us up the beach and I was taken through the town to the Hotel Dieu. That was the hospital and Archie left me there. He worked all day on that beach bringing bodies and wounded up and putting them in ambulances. He told me he never was so tired in his life because he worked right until dusk that evening before he was taken away himself. Because my hands and wrists were burned I was never chained .

    Well, I was in the hospital at Dieppe and I remember how kind the nurses and nuns were there. We didn't have any treatment there. In the tank I had put Gentian Violet over my face burns and had a shot of morphine and I guess I wasn't feeling as much pain as I might have. That night we were loaded in railway boxcars all the wounded were packed in like cattle until we reached Rouen. When we arrived at Rouen we weren't taken off until 8 in the morning and during that night wounded men were dying and others crying for water. A great many of them died l'm sure, in the boxcar that night. We were then taken to the hospital in Rouen and I received quite good treatment there. I recall there was one German nurse who was very sympathetic. They put a coating of something like oatmeal all over my face and then it was bandaged. My one eye was good and I could see if I pried it open, but my right eye had gone and I didn't ever recover the sight in that one. I have a scar on my neck, also I got shrapnel in my chest and groin, but otherwise I was mobile and able to walk up the beach. I had the satisfaction that I'd been able to stay with the boys and had the opportunity to lead them into what action there was.

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