Doc Alexander’s Dieppe journal entries (no timeline)

Dieppe
On Aug. 16/42 at night – B-Squadron and three troops of C-Squadron left by Carrier for a distant port and embarked.

At 11 p.m. – Aug. 17/42 – We left Seaford with the Carrier – and the Blitz Ambulance and at 2 a.m. The following morning embarked on board T.L.C. #8. My staff consisted of – Lea [sic] Sgt. Rutledge – Capt. Timmy Cameron and myself on the Carrier – Cal Halmer, Carl Morrison on the Blitz.

All the craft were loaded during the night, and the following day we lay in harbour, below deck as before.

Aug. 18 – 9:30 p.m. The Craft moved slowly out to sea, escorted by various Torpedo Boats and small destroyers. They gained formation outside the Harbour and all that could be seen were the tiny tail lights of the Craft immediately in front. The canvas rigging which formed a covering, were all removed, all maps and papers were handed in – everything was in readiness for an immediate landing.

Aug. 19 – 2 a.m. We were somewhat startled by a call from the Bridge “Action Stations – Enemy sighted”. A faint distant booming could be heard, although nothing could be seen from our ship. For the next two hours the journey was uneventful – we stood around watching but were not allowed to smoke.

At about 4:30 a.m. we could hear planes overhead flying towards the French Coast. It was still dark. Shortly afterwards we could hear explosions and could see the flashes of light on the Coast ahead, which did not now seem so far distant. Then the tracer bullets of the German Ground defense could be seen like thousands of fire rockets in the sky. Shortly after this, German Aircraft flew over us and some air fights could be seen, but not very distinctly.

The Coast was now clearly visible, daylight had come, but from now on all my references to time are very inaccurate. As far as the eye could see, the sea was covered with ships of all descriptions. We could see forms in near the shore which we took to be our leading T.L.C. There was a deafening roar over all, and smoke from firing guns and smoke screens were making visibility difficult, but the firing from the shore batteries did not seem excessive and nothing was really bothering us then as we were probably one-half mile from the shore.

At about 6 a.m. – I think – word was received over the wireless that the South Saskatchewan Regiment had landed on Blue Beach unopposed, and soon after this came word that the first Tanks had landed.

At about 6:30 a.m. We received word that the Tanks were having great difficulty in getting through the Sea Wall and that the Engineer demolition party had not  been able to do their work. At about 7:30 a.m. – The second wave of Tanks went in, including our Craft and two B-Squadron Craft. We reached and beached on Red Beach, right near the Jetty. The fire was fairly heavy, but I did not think excessive, and our boat was undamaged. We were all in our places, loaded on our Craft, ready to pull out. Aussie ahead, Col. Andrews next, John Begg next, and myself with two vehicles next. The motors were running – the unloading door or ramp dropped perfectly, the ship stopped and the leading Tank, piloted by Aussie Stanton rushed onto the shore. It was immediately in difficulties – a high hill of loose shale leading up to the Sea Wall – could not be crossedd by it. It go on the mound and worked back and forth, could neither go ahead or back up. He blocked the only exit from the ship – the Engineers tried to rush palisading to his assistance, but the first three out were mown down – and the machine gun fire became very severe.

The ship was ordered to pull out from the Beach and find another landing spot. We only suffered the three casualties on this attempt.
We pulled back and into the Harbour and got in touch with Major Glenn, who was in command of all Tanks on shore; who ordered no more Tanks to come ashore until congestion could be relieved.

Eventually, word was received that a few Tanks had broken through and we were ordered to attempt a landing on White Beach near the Casino.

All this time great aerial battles were in progress – some German planes were getting through , but mostly the R.A.F. Had control of the skies. Some bombs had fallen fairly close to us, and shells from shore had also come in our direction, but we had not had a great deal of trouble.

As we drew nearer the Beach the second time, Germans could be seen on the shores by the cliffs, and as we drew nearer, we were caught in a terrific hail of fire from Shore Batteries, Field Guns, and a constant hail of Machine Gun fire and bursting shrapnel. The wounded and dead were everywhere.

The fire grew worse as we drew nearer the shore – we were called to our stations – the motors of our vehicles were again started, adn when we were within fifty yards of shore, all hell broke loose. The call for stretcher bearers was heard in all directions. We left our vehicles and climbed to the upper parts of the boat.

On reaching the upper part, a shell exploded which knocked me back to the bottom of the boat – but I was unhurt.
I climbed to the top again when another shell hit and blew me the opposite direction – right off the boat, but somehow I caught an Engineer’s foot – and was pulled back on again.

At this time – the ramp on the front of the ship was starting to open as we were approaching the shore – a shell exploded in the front of the ship – breaking the cables and rigging and allowing the door to fall into the sea, forming a brace which kept us from going in further, and a direct hit was registered from he side. The ship was a complete standstill, the skipper was wounded and ordered “abandon ship” then jumped into the water.

The call came up from below to reverse the engines, and seeing no one on the bridge and discovered no living people left – everywhere were dead bodies – some badly mutilated, some not. I shouted down that there were no living people above deck. I heard a call from the cat walk for help and ran there to find it crowded with dead and dying men – all wounded, not one uninjured man.

At this time was the first that I had noticed that the Col’s Tank had gone off the ship. His cover had been torn away by the protruding steel on the doorway, and it immediately submerged in about 6 feet of water and as the cover was gone – the engine flooded and stopped.

Some of the men escaped from the turret and I saw them picked up by a small L-Boat which immediately put out to sea, but only travelled a short distance when it received a direct hit from one of the short battery and burst into the flames. I saw the men again jump into the water, but do not know whether they were again picked up or not.
At this time a little distant from our boat, the sea was dotted with human bodies, held up by Mae West life belts and the Germans were pouring both Machine Gun and shells into their midst.

Our boat was now hopeless, all the Naval crew were either killed or blown overboard and we floated sideways into the Beach, receiving broadsides from all of the shore guns. Machine gun bullets were beating a constant tattoo on the boat. Explosions were occurring inside and out, and at one time the inside of the boat was a sheet of flame. Men were blown overboard. Many whom I had just finished bandaging, whne I turned back I found had been killed, and nearly all were blown completely off the ship. The boat came to a stop between the Col’s Tank and the short., but something floated it off the Beach again and we floated helplessly in front of this range of guns until we were reported to the Navy to be absolutely out of action.

A French hospital ship pulled alongside us and we loaded a few of our casualties on it and it pulled away.

Dive bombing was added to our bombardment and three huge black German aircraft flew straight at us and when only a short distance away released aerial torpedoes.
I was on the cat walk facing them and saw three which went in front of the ship. Timmy Cameron was on the rear of the boat and saw two go behind it.

We gradually drifted away from shore. Our engines were running but we could not steer it. The Locust drew up beside us and we transferred to her, what casualties we had left, she tried to tow us, but failed, then came along side and tied up to us and due to the fact that a Marine Sergeant had been able to start our motors, we could travel if the Locust steered us.

All our Naval Crew were gone, but one, and another who had gone overboard but had swum back and took charge of the boat, all our Gunners were dead and our guns were all out of action. We were a complete derelict. We could see a T.L.C. Burning on the shore, and I saw another sink. The smoke stack and bridge of our boat was blow away, the hull was riddled with holes large and small – thirty-three holes were registered by direct hits from large guns – and I have no idea how many were there from small ones.

Oil, water and blood were over everything – it was an awful mess – one Tank, my Blitz and carrier along at the front of the boat. We brought up the rear of the Convoy being practically the last to leave the French coast, and thanks to Naval and Air Force protection, arrived safely in New Haven harbour, without further incident at about 9 p.m. And were taken to our berth by tugs and unloaded at 11:30 p.m.

We started out with one hundred and seventeen Military men and thirteen Navel – we returned with thirty Military and three Naval men. Five of the returning Military men were slightly wounded, including myself. All of the three Naval men were wounded.

We were the first to return to the Regiment, utterly exhausted. We knew that most of the Unit was still in France and it was not until the following morning that we learned that all of A-Squadron and three troops of B had not been able to land.

They returned safely, but of all others who actually got ashore, or off the boat numbering in all – one hundred and seventy eight – we lost one hundred and seventy five. Three only, were returned to us, all wounded. We lost seventeen officers and one hundred and fifty eight men. A very large number of these we believe are prisoners. The Tanks stood up exceptionally well and did terrific damage to the Germans, but when out of ammunition, the fire on the beaches was so terrific that Landing Craft could not get in, to either bring ammunition to them, or to bring the Tanks out.

The days following were full of gloom, but the spirit of the men was not dampened. We had succeeded in landing at an impossible point.

Reinforcements immdiately were sent and on the following Sunday, a full strength Bn attended a memorial service conducted by Capt. Smith who took the most fitting text”Greater love hat no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend”.

You will notice that I have said very little about the men on shore. I saw very little of them through the smoke. I have only attempted to tell you what I actually saw and know to be a fact.

In this little story I shall not attempt to say what the objectives were or what was accomplished. All that in later years will no doubt be dealt with.

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About Rob Alexander

I am a writer, photographer and historian and the author of The History of Canmore, published by Summerthought Publishing of Banff, AB.

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