Operation Jubilee

To begin at the end, Winston Churchill had this to say of the Dieppe raid in his series of books The Second World War:

It is not my purpose to write an account of the raid as a whole. Instead I simply want to convey a personal impression of what it was like to be at the sharp end that day - without doubt the most amazing day of my life.
It all began with the need in 1942 to do something more on the coast of German-occupied Europe than stage hit and run Commando raids. The Russians were hard pressed by the powerful German armies. "A Second Front in Europe NOW" (to help the Russians) was becoming a slogan in Britain with which to bait the Government and those directing the war effort. For anybody who knew about the realities of our capacity to invade Europe at the time, the slogan was nonsense. Yet there was the feeling that something should be done to cause Hitler to become more concerned about his western front and to attract troops and resources there which might otherwise be sent eastwards. Furthermore, planning the re-entry into Europe had begun, albeit tentatively: it was necessary to find out the hard way whether it was possible to attack a French port from the sea and capture it. At this stage there would be no question of holding on to the place; the assault troops would be withdrawn once they had demonstrated that the proposition was feasible. So, early in 1942, Operation Rutter was conceived at Combined Operations headquarters under the direction of Lord Louis Mountbatten. The selected date for the assault on Dieppe was 4th July, with a day-by-day extension to 8th July depending on the weather. Although British Commandos were to attack targets on the flanks of Dieppe, the main assaults were to be carried out by Canadian troops; they had been training - and training - in southern England since early in the war without any opportunity of action.

The assault fleet was assembled in the Solent. On 2nd July the troops embarked in the ships carrying the LCAs (landing craft, assault) which would actually land most of the soldiers. The remaining troops would be put ashore in LCP(L)s (landing craft, personnel, large) which would cross the Channel under their own steam.

But Operation Rutter was cancelled on 8th July, to the great dismay of the Canadians, all of whom had been fully briefed and were keyed up for their first contribution to the war. The weather throughout the critical days had been poor: but what really killed Operation Rutter was the fact that on 7th July German fighter bombers attacked two of the LCA carriers, as they lay in Yarmouth Roads, off the Isle of Wight. Both ships were hit, but the damage to the Josephine Charlotte was severe, putting her out of commission for a considerable time. The fact that these two ships could not take part in the proposed raid effectively aborted the operation.

Although the troops returned to camp and everything was unwound, the need to do something remained. In spite of the obvious security risk (so many people having been briefed for Rutter) it was soon decided, at the level of Churchill and Mountbatten, that the Dieppe raid should be remounted - this time codenamed Operation Jubilee. The next favourable period, in terms of the tide and so on, was mid-August; the 18th/19th of that month was the chosen date. The naval force was to be commanded by Captain J. Hughes-Hallett, RN.

At this point, enter the 4th LCP(L) Flotilla in which I, then a Sub-Lieutenant RNVR, was a humble boat officer in command of LCP 192. There were twelve boats in the Flotilla, each with an officer in command: his crew consisted of a coxswain, a seaman and a stoker (i.e. engineman). The letters LCP(L) stood for landing craft, personnel, large, as I've already mentioned. The curious adjective "large" concealed the fact that these craft were the smallest seagoing vessels in the wartime Royal Navy. They were a mere 37 feet long, with a beam of 10 feet 8 inches, were made (believe it!) of seven-ply wood and were totally without armour protection. They were driven by a single 250 hp Hall-Scott petrol engine and could do around 22 knots unladen, half that speed with 25 soldiers aboard.

Originally known as R-boats (short for raiding boats) the craft had an intriguing history. They were built by a firm called Higgins, of New Orleans in the USA. The folklore about them was that they were designed to run liquor into the States from Cuba and such islands during Prohibition. When, following the fall of France, the Combined Operations set-up was formed, there was a lack of purpose- built landing craft capable of carrying out Commando raids. Somebody became aware of the Higgins boats which - with their overhanging bows - were reasonably well suited to the task of putting soldiers on to a beach. So the Royal Navy bought a lot of them, formed them into flotillas operated mainly by RNVR officers and "hostilities only" ratings - and the raiding boats started work. Their main base was HMS Tormentor on the Hamble River at Warsash, between Portsmouth and Southampton.

As for myself, I had been appointed to LCPs in March 1942, soon after being commissioned as a Sub- Lieutenant RNVR at HMS King Alfred, Hove. I did my initial training in these craft at Tormentor. Then in May 1942 I was despatched to Inveraray, on the west coast of Scotland, to join the 4th LCP(L) Flotilla as a boat officer. I found that the Flotilla was attached to HMS Ettrick, lying in Loch Fyne close to the jetty at Inveraray.

Ettrick was a P&O ship converted into a troopship, but manned still by her P&O crew. The Flotilla lived on board in conditions of remarkable comfort by wartime standards. I occupied a two-berth cabin with a Lieutenant RNVR and we shared a Goanese steward with the delightful name of I. Goes. Mr Goes looked after us as a nanny cares for children: among many other attentions he washed our clothes, ran our bath water and welcomed us back on board with a hot drink when we returned at perhaps 4 am from a night exercise.

Ettrick's catering, in the wardroom and on the ratings' messdeck, was astounding. The P&O still maintained huge cold stores on the Clyde and apparently were able to replenish these with supplies bought in via their convoy vessels. For each meal in the wardroom we had a selection of dishes from a double-page menu, with a main course choice from six or seven items.

The 4th Flotilla's job at Inveraray was to train soldiers in landing operations, mainly by night. Each Sunday a new lot of troops would arrive for a week's intensive training: we would put them down on the far shore of Loch Fyne time and time again. Not very exciting perhaps, but it was a busy life. And constant practice made us very good indeed at landing soldiers on beaches in a variety of conditions.

Somewhere about the middle of July this routine existence was suddenly ended. Because the damage to the Josephine Charlotte had effectively excluded her LCAs from any immediate operation, it was decided that unarmoured LCPs would have to be used instead. The Flotilla was ordered to move south to HMS Tormentor and that extraordinary vessel, HMS Iris, arrived in Loch Fyne to carry the boats and their officers and crews to the Solent; the journey was too long for us to manage sensibly under our own steam.

Iris had been a drive-on car ferry in peacetime. For the purpose of war she had become a landing craft carrier. But instead of carrying her "chicks" on davits (as with such ships as the Josephine Charlotte) the Iris - and her sister ship HMS Daffodil - could flood the vehicle deck: a door in the stern was opened when the water had reached a certain level, the landing craft drove in and were secured to cradles - and the water was drained off. Simple and effective!

So off we set in Iris, down the west coast of Britain. A hiccup occurred off Wales. A tremendous gale blew up and, as Iris was not the best of sea boats, it was deemed prudent to take shelter in Milford Haven until the weather improved. In fact we were stormbound there for three days and a highly agreeable and relaxing time was had by all. In due course, Iris reached the Solent and discharged its LCPs. We steamed up the Hamble to the base at HMS Tormentor, where we acquired a new Fotilla Officer Lieut. Cdr. W L N Wallace RNVR. In the latter part of July and the first ten days or so of August, we carried out a series of exercises involving landings on Solent beaches. In this we were joined by the 5thLCP(L) Flotilla under the command of Lieut-Cdr N C Roulston, RNVR. By now we had a shrewd idea that we were preparing for a real operation. But as far as I was concerned, certainly, nobody suggested that it might be a rehash of the recently-cancelled Operation Rutter.

Round about 8th August, as I recall it, the 4th and 5th Flotillas were ordered to Shoreham Harbour, in Sussex. Other Tormentor LCP Flotillas were sent to Newhaven. We sailed for Shoreham in the dead of night, in conditions of great secrecy. Whoever had planned our movement (presumably at Combined Operations HQ, Cowes) intended thatour LCPs should creep up Shoreham harbour before dawn and be concealed from curious eyes under huge canvas screens which had been erected at theinnermost extremity of the harbour. Unfortunately, he had mistaken the state of the tide and the depth of water: as we chugged quietly towards the "pens", one by one the boats ran aground. Dawn broke - and there were two flotillas of LCPs stranded in full view of a great many residents of Sussex who could see us from the upper decks of buses as they went to their early morning work. So much for the secrecy and the elaborately camouflaged pens! But soon the tide came in, the boats floated off the mud, and we secured them in the pens with much derisive comment.

Although our LCPs were based at Shoreham, the Flotillas' officers and ratings were accommodated in requisitioned private hotels in Montpelier Road, Brighton. We always had to live ashore (or in bigger ships) when not actually at sea because LCPs had no sleeping quarters, no cooking facilities and no washing or lavatory arrangements (except a couple of buckets.) At sea we ate pre-prepared sandwiches and corned beef, and drank tea from monster thermoses known as safari jars. For replenishments of these goodies we relied on the generosity of bigger vessels - and very kind they invariably were, taking pity on our deprived condition.

In Montpelier Road I shared a room with Ray Barnes, CO of LCP 174. He owned a splendid pair of RAF fleece-lined, zip-up flying boots which I used to tell him - jocularly - that I coveted. He didn't wear them in summer, of course, but they stood in all their glory at the end of his bed. Ray and I, and indeed all the officers of the 4th and 5th Flotillas, thoroughly enjoyed our brief stay in Brighton, which we knew well from our King Alfred days. The town was an exceedingly lively and entertaining place in 1942, to some extent because so many showbiz people had migrated there from a hard-bombed London. The two Flotillas had by now come under the overall command of Lieut-Cdr J H Dathan, RN, to whom Lieut-Commanders Wallace and Roulston reported. It was during the late afternoon of 18th August that Dathan started the Operation Jubilee ball rolling as far as we were concerned.

We had been detailed for a night exercise and were due to set off from Shoreham between 8 and 9 pm. Towards the end of an afternoon's boat maintenance Lieut-Cdr Dathan called the officers together and said that we were to return to Montpelier Road and prepare ourselves - i.e. in terms of appropriate rig and personal gear - for an exercise which might last for two or three days. Our transport duly took us to our digs. Suitably dressed and equipped, we climbed back into the RN truck. To our surprise we were driven to South Lancing, where Dathan led us on to the beach, just inside the invasion defences. It was in this rather odd location that he told us we were to sail that evening for an assault on Dieppe. We than drove inland to Lancing College which had been requisitioned by the Royal Navy and was one of the staging posts in the RNVR commission course. Indeed I had passed through its portals at the end of 1941. It was in one of the College's science classrooms, with tiered seats, that Lieut-Cdr Dathan briefed us on the operation.

The 4th and 5th Flotillas were to transport the "floating reserve" (French Canadian soldiers, the Fusiliers Mont Royal) across the Channel. They were then to be landed on whichever beach the Army commander, Major-General J H Roberts, selected, taking account of the progress of the operation. Each Flotilla would be reinforced with two extra LCPs - one to carry troops, one as a spare boat in case any troop-laden boat broke down on the way across. Having landed the Canadians, we were to lie off the beach and in due course go in and pick them up again. Immediately after the briefing we had an early supper in the College dining room and then went out to the parade ground where the Fusiliers Mont Royal were drawn up in precise military lines. We - the officers of the 4th and 5th Flotillas - stood in a row behind a wooden platform on to which stepped the FMR's Commanding Dfficer, Lt-Col D Menard.

Surveying his men he announced, dramatically something like, "Ce soir nous allons a France." The effect was astonishing. The soldiers broke ranks, shouting and cheering, and surged round their CO who was still standing on the dais. Soon he stepped down, to be replaced by the Fusiliers' Roman Catholic padre. He held up his hands, the hubbub subsided and all the soldiers knelt down on the parade ground for the padre's blessing. This remarkable sight left the naval officers distinctly nonplussed. We shifted our feet uneasily, looked at each other questioningly and took a mutual and silent decision to remain standing, but with bowed heads.

It was time to get to the boats at Shoreham which our crews - at this moment ignorant of what was actually about to happen - were preparing for a two or three day exercise. We set off well before the Fusiliers, who would take some time to pack themselves into their transport.

Digressing for an instant, for obvious security reasons Lancing College was sealed for 24 hours - i.e. no one there was allowed out and no phone calls were permitted until after the raid was over. I remember particularly what an ego-massaging experience it was to stroll through the grounds of the College in our dashing blue battledress, with a revolver strapped at our side. Bear in mind that most of us had passed through that establishment within the last twelve months and had been run ragged during that sojourn. Now we were the subject of admiring salutes from crowds of cadets who turned out to look at us. And the RN Staff Officers who had pursued us mercilessly not many months ago were now satisfyingly deferential. End of digression.

As we walked along the jetty towards our boats in the camouflaged pens at Shoreham, Ray Barnes said a strange thing to me: "If I don't come back, Colin, I want you to have my flying boots." Taken completely aback I could only mutter some platitude in response. On going aboard our respective LCPs our first task, of course, was to brief the crews. I was delighted to find that my three were in no way daunted and could be said to receive the news with some enthusiasm. They were:

Cox'n: Able Seaman Brown, a Glaswegian. A rather volatile and pugnacious character, but no quitter. As a cox'n, however, he left something to be desired: in our recent exercises in the Solent he had twice run LCP 192 on to the beach at such a speed that we suffered the humiliation of having to be towed off. I had already decided that Dieppe was no place for a repeat performance and that I would act as cox'n for the run-in to the beach.
Seaman: Able Seaman Radley, a Londoner. A pleasant young man, and a worker. Later on he became a competent cox'n.
Engineman: Stoker Robb, also a Londoner. The geriatric of LCP 192 (he must have been all of 30 years old!), Robb almost always had something to moan about (in naval terms, a "dripper"). On the other hand, he was very good with the Hall-Scott engine.

The Canadians arrived and some 25, including an officer, packed into each of the 26 boats. Conditions for the soldiers were dreadful. If you look at the photograph of an LCP you will see a canvas canopy covering the cockpit (cox'n's position) and the engine space. Between the cox'n and the engine space was a plank "bridge" on which the boat officer stood. Astern of the bridge, down both sides of the engine space, was a wooden platform raised a few inches above the bottom boards. The soldiers sat on these platforms, resting their backs against the hull of the boat. Their rifles and other equipment had to be placed on the bottom boards, between their feet. It has to be appreciated that in the middle of the boat stood this very large 250 hp engine. So when the soldiers had settled down and distributed their kit at their feet there was virtually no room for anyone to walk past them and the engine.

The men themselves had no option but to stay in their cramped position: there was nowhere for them to stretch their legs. Add to this the noise and smell of the throbbing engine and you have the picture of a miniature hell. Worst of all, the soldiers were not allowed to smoke - a great deprivation in such a situation in those days. In a calm sea we would tie up the sides of the canvas canopy above them to let in light and air. But in even a moderate sea this could not be done because of spray soaking the soldiers as they sat. Remember, too, .that our only sanitary facility was a bucket. So the normal calls of nature became an ordeal for the troops - and if the sea was rough, our passengers would be sick almost to a man, creating conditions which I can describe only as indescribable.

So the Fusiliers settled down to what was to be a period of nearly eleven hours in their cramped, dark and noisy positions.

As Group 7 in the operational plan, the 4th and 5th Flotillas sailed from Shoreham at 8.40 p m - 26 boats (in four columns) carrying troops, plus two spare boats. Lieut-Cdr Dathan took passage in ML (motor launch) 214, which led the procession. ML 230 brought up the rear.

The weather was superb - a real bonus, especially for the soldiers. It was warm, there was hardly any wind and the sea was glassily smooth. I particularly remember the phosphorescent effect our movement through the water produced. Tense though we were, our steady and disciplined progress through the night was almost soothing. The troops slept as best they could: Brown and Radley exchanged cox'n duties and got a little sleep, as did Robb. There was no question of getting my head down, of course, but that didn't matter; I was in overdrive, the weather could not have been better and it was all very exciting.

Occasionally the platoon commander, a Lieutenant, would join me on the bridge, partly to escape from the foetid atmosphere below, partly for a chat. It was during one of these sessions that he pressed on me a letter, addressed to his parents, for me to pass on if he should be killed.

If you have the impression that 192's passage to Dieppe was completely uneventful, this was not the case. Round about midnight, I suppose. Robb appeared with the disturbing news that the engine was overheating and that it would have to be switched off to enable him to fix it. And he couldn't guarantee that he would succeed; this would depend on the nature of the defect. Dathan's orders were that if a boat broke down there was to be no messing about. A spare LCP should be signalled to come alongside so that the soldiers could be transferred to it immediately. The broken down boat would then fend for itself or perhaps be taken in tow by ML230.

So I was in a highly embarrassing situation. To have a convenient mechanical defect, to transfer the troops to another boat and so miss the operation - what construction might the rest of the Flotilla put on all this?

But the engine had to be stopped and I was obliged to summon our spare LCP. When it came alongside we lashed the two boats together. Both craft kept going under the spare boat's power and 192's engine was switched off. The officer commanding the spare boat assumed that we would immediately transfer the troops: but I persuaded him that as we expected to get the engine working again quite soon it was pointless to go through the awful confusion of moving 25 soldiers and their gear out of my boat and into his in the middle of the night and in the middle of the Channel.

I was gratified to find that my cox'n, Brown, was with me all the way. He happened to be having a break from the wheel: overhearing the conversation with my opposite number in the spare boat he leaned across the plank bridge and said emphatically to Robb:

"I'll ------ fill you in if you don't get that engine going." Now I doubt if Robb was in the least motivated by this threat - he was perfectly capable of standing up to Brown. But within five minutes he had solved the problem - a blocked cooling water intake - and we were in business again. A somewhat frustrated spare boat cast off and dropped astern. Without wanting to make too much of the incident, if I may say so, the incident demonstrated the excellent spirit of my crew. Robb, for instance, could easily have taken us out of the operation by claiming that we had an irrepairable defect, for I certainly didn't have the know-how to challenge him. But he shared Brown's determination that we should not opt out.

Our group crossed the Channel at around 9.5 knots and arrived four miles or so off Dieppe at 4.45 am. The initial landings at various beaches took place from then to about 5.30. The plan called for gun batteries on the west and east headlands overlooking the town to be put out of action by attacks mounted from neighbouring beaches. Meanwhile LCTs (landing craft, tank) and LCAs were to land tanks and troops on the main beaches (codenamed Red and White) in front of the town itself. The attacking forces would move up the pebble beach on to the promenade and sweep through the streets.

Without going into detail about the landing operations as a whole, the assaults on the flanks were actually successful. The attacks on the main beaches, however, made little progress against powerful defences. On Red & White beaches a mere handful of tanks managed, by a superhuman effort, to get on to the promenade: the rest were held up by tank obstacles on the beach and were put out of action by sustained gunfire, one after the other. As for the Canadian infantry, they were swept by murderous machine gun and mortar fire from the promenade and from the upper floors of buildings at the far side of the promenade.

As for the 4th and 5th Flotillas, with ML214 still leading us, we waited for orders three miles or so off Red and White beaches. At 6.10 am the assault headquarters ship HMS Calpe, summoned Lieut-Cdr Dathan and Lieut-Colonel Menard on board. There they were told that Major-General Roberts had decided to send his floating reserve into Red and White beaches at 7 o'clock. In hindsight this was a ghastly mistake - the obvious military rule is to reinforce success, not failure. In hindsight again, we might have done better to put the Fusiliers ashore on Green beach, at Pourville. But it must be appreciated that Major-General Roberts and Captain Hughes-Hallett in Calpe had only a sketchy idea of what was actually happening on shore. Clouds of smoke obscured the beaches visually, and the inadequacy of the radio communication was one of the bitter lessons learned that day. What they had gathered was that some tanks had gained the promenade in central Dieppe. This was interpreted as a good indicator for the reserve to be thrown in on the promenade beaches.

Back on ML 214 Dathan told us over the loud hailer what we had to do and wished us good luck. The shapeless mass of 26 LCPs quickly formed into two columns in line ahead, with our lot, the 4th Flotilla, in the port column and the 5th Flotilla to starboard. Lieut-Cdrs Wallace and Roulston led the two columns towards the smoke which concealed our landing area, the nature & position of which most of us were unaware, of course, there being no opportunity for a specific briefing. It was by now a brilliantly sunny morning. We were in clear view of the gun batteries on the headlands and they shelled us vigorously as we went ahead in perfect formation. In 192 I had taken over the wheel and throttle, dispelling the vision of A. B. Brown thrusting the boat on to the beach at ten knots. I had despatched him to the bridge with our stripped Lewis gun, which could be fired from the shoulder.

Half a mile before entering the smoke the signal was given to deploy into line abreast. Wallace's boat turned 90° to port, Roulston's 90° to starboard. As each succeeding boat reached that spot it turned to port or starboard to follow its next ahead. At the moment the last boat in each column made its turn we were, therefore, in one long line, parallel to the smoke-hidden beach but the respective Flotillas were actually steaming away from each other. Instantly the order came for the 4th Flotilla to turn 90? to starboard and the 5th Flotilla to port - and lo and behold, all 26 craft were in perfect line abreast, heading for the beach. It was a manoeuvre we had practised often in the Solent and it took some doing to get it absolutely right even there. But to see it happen impeccably under intense shellfire was an inspiration.

We were quickly engulfed in the wall of smoke, some of which came from smoke floats and canisters but some from LCTs burning on or just off the central beaches. When we emerged I found that 192 was in clear visibility, about 200 yards from the beach. We then realised, rather disconcertingly, that on this bright, sunny morning, we were about to touchdown in front of Dieppe's central promenade area, and I must admit that in all the manoeuvering up to this point I had concentrated so much on my "driving" duties that I'd forgotten to tell the Fusiliers' Lieutenant to get his men up on deck, ready to land. He it was who, seeing his colleagues appearing in the adjoining LCPs, asked as we entered the smoke - "Should I get my men up?" I hastily agreed, but by the time we were approaching the beach in the clear only about half the platoon were crouching on the deck. In fact, my omission almost certainly saved some casualties on board 192: in other craft the crowd of soldiers on deck now led to casualties as we came under machine gun and mortar fire from the promenade. Many of my passengers came up from below and went more or less straight on to the beach.

I can say unhesitatingly that the stretch between the smoke and the beach formed the most dangerous 200 yards of space I've ever had to cover. Shells from the headlands were still pitching among us: mortar bombs - presumably with impact detonators - were exploding everywhere but most alarming of all was the machine gun fire from the high buildings at the back of the promenade.

Facing 192 was a tall yellowish building with black iron balconies. From the top floor somebody was operating a machine gun with tracer in the belt and I had the distinct impression that he was firing at me personally. The general din was so tremendous that I couldn't hear the bullets whizz by: but I could certainly see the tracer and found it disconcerting.

A great deal seemed to happen in what must really have been quite a short time. We had all reduced speed for the touchdown, but the formation remained perfect. My soldiers were clambering on deck. The Lieutenant crouched in the bow ready to lead his men ashore. On my shouted instructions Brown was firing the Lewis gun, over my head, at the window in the yellowish building from which the tracer was emerging.

A typical minor incident: a mortar bomb exploded to port, close to 192. A metal fragment from it cut through the leather strap of the watch on my left wrist, went on to graze the back of my left hand (which was clutching the wheel) and buried itself in the wooden fascia above the windscreen.

From Lieut-Cdr Dathan's official report on the run-in: "When the boats came out of the smoke the beach was sighted at varying distances between 50 and 200 yards. Very heavy firing was opened on all boats from buildings in front of the beach, from machine guns which appeared to be on the boulevard, and from the top of the west cliff further heavy machine gun fire, coupled with grenades."

That was a naval officer's matter-of-fact report. Subsequent authors of books on the Dieppe raid have described the scene rather more dramatically, e.g.

In the face of such intense fire why weren't we all massacred on the run-in? Various reasons, of course, but mainly (I think) because 26 boats, well spaced out, formed almost too many small targets to aim at in a short time. And we were going in on a low tide, which meant that the nearer we got to the steep pebble beach, the less we could be seen from the promenade except, perhaps, from the top of the tallest buildings. I imagine, too, that the mortars on the promenade were simply firing speculatively, or on fixed lines, the German soldiers operating them being unable to see us as we beached. Incidentally, when 192 had its damage repaired back at Tormentor the bow, packed with balsa wood, was found to be riddled with bullets - mostly received, I fancy, soon after we emerged from the smoke in a bows-up attitude.

As I touched down on the pebble beach my faculties were fiercely concentrated on keeping the boat at right angles. We did not want to slip sideways in the tide and broach to: Dathan had reminded us of the need to get off the beach quickly when we had landed the troops so as to be available to pick them up again in due course. The Lieutenant jumped from the bow and led his men up the beach. But in a dozen or so strides over the pebbles he was hit, mortally I believe.

The general scene on the beach was appalling. I took in the sight of a couple of LCTs lying broadside and burning fiercely. Tanks were stranded, motionless; dead and wounded Canadians (from the Essex Scottish and Royal Hamilton Light Infantry regiments which had assaulted Red and White beaches at about 5.15 am) lay everywhere. Others still in action, were sheltering as best they could under the sea wall at the top of the beach.

As soon as 192 was empty of troops, I put the engine into reverse and backed off. The congestion of boats going astern was considerable (LCPs were difficult to control in reverse, with only one propeller,) but we were soon pointing in the right direction and heading out to sea. Enemy fire was still intense. But the machine gun in the yellowish building had ceased firing: could it be that Brown's enthusiastic efforts had succeeded?

Just before 192 re-entered the smoke screen, Brown - still brandishing the Lewis gun on the bridge - pointed to a Carley float and told me there were two men lying in it. In passing, a Carley float was the predecessor of the stout rubber dinghy of today; they were carried on the upper deck of most RN ships of any size and were the main lifesaving means if a vessel was sunk.

Another dilemma. We were still in full view from the promenade and the west headland and were being shot at: if I stopped to see to the Carley float we might well be hit and not be available for the troops' withdrawal. On the other hand there were two wounded men in the float, looking for help. So I went alongside and told A. B. Radley to lean over the stern and secure a line to the float so that we could tow it away. At that moment, however, Bill Wallace, my C.O., came past me and shouted "Don't stop - I need you later." I pointed to the float but he added a firm "No, no - come on!" as his boat accelerated away. So the dilemma was resolved for me and I had to obey his orders, such is war. But my Flotilla Officer was right: we had had losses and his prime duty was to maximise his force for the withdrawal later.

We roared through the smoke, following Wallace, who led us two miles or so out to sea. There we regrouped with the 5th Flotilla and checked who had made it and who had not. Of the 26 boats, five had been lost. LCP 174 was one of those lost and Ray Barnes and his crew were dead. Many of the surviving LCPs had casualties on board, mainly Fusiliers, and these were transferred to bigger ships with proper medical facilities.

The tension of what had been a searing experience eased. Amazingly we were still alive, and the thought that we would be going in again to pick up the Fusiliers could be put on one side for the time being. We ate corned beef and dried-up sandwiches and drank tea. But we were not left in peace for long. The shelling from the headlands started again and occasionally a German plane streaked across and loosed off a bomb. Incidentally, though the RAF was supporting the assault by attacking German airfields inland, there were some tremendous dogfights overhead. We were constantly on the move in order to dodge the shelling. As time went on it became clear that as far as Red and White beaches were concerned the raid was a disaster. What was equally clear was that if the landing had been an inferno, the withdrawal would be infinitely worse, if only that to embark tired and wounded soldiers would take ten times as long - and on an exposed beach. Indeed, in our wooden boats it was going to be suicidal. I remember Radley asking me if we would be all right when we went in again - and my assuring him with assumed confidence that we'd made it once and would do so next time.

At about 10 o'clock the fateful order to go in for the withdrawal came from Lieut-Cdr Dathan in ML 214. Again we set off in two columns and for the first and only time in my life I resigned myself to death. It is a very strange sensation to know that you are likely to be dead in ten minutes time and that you can do absolutely nothing about it. Curiously enough, it was because I could do nothing about it which reconciled me to the situation. We'd travelled perhaps half a mile towards the beach when the miracle occurred. Captain Hughes-Hallett, in HMS Calpe, also decided that to send in LCPs was suicidal - and, more important, would not achieve the objective of rescuing the troops. So we got a signal to turn round and await further orders. And instead of LCPs it was the armoured LCAs and LCMs (landing craft, mechanised) which were sent in to Red and White beaches. In an epside of extreme gallantry they managed to pick up (I think) some 120 of the 600 Fusiliers and around 200 of the other Canadians who had landed on the central beaches.

But there was nothing more for the 4th and 5th LCP Flotillas to do and I suppose it was about 11 am that we were ordered to return to the UK. By now I was very tired, and moreover my boat had something badly wrong under water. At low engine revs an alarming metallic clanking noise could be heard; this disappeared when we picked up speed. When 192 came out of the water in the maintenance yard at Tormentor it transpired that the A-bracket (which supported the propeller shaft clear of the horizontal rudder bracket) had disappeared, presumably blown off by the bomb which half-lifted the boat out of the water during the waiting period after the landing. At low revs the unsupported shaft drooped so much that the propeller blades were hitting the rudder bracket; the blades were grossly deformed as a consequence but somehow contrived to push 192 through the water at a respectable speed.

The two Flotillas were back at Shoreham about 7pm (as I recall it.) Out of 104 officers and ratings in the 26 boats which landed troops we had lost 30 killed, missing or wounded.

A few random points as a postscript:

  1. My crew had behaved splendidly and I was proud of them.
  2. When I saw Ray Barnes' flying boots at the end of his bed in Montpelier Road, I could not bring myself to take them. They went back to his parents.
  3. The Lieutenant's letter was passed to the Canadian Army for transmission to his home.
  4. LCP(L)s were never again used to transport troops to an opposed landing. Instead most of them were converted into specialist layers of smoke layers and in this role we made a worthwhile contribution to the invasion of Europe in 1944.
  5. Lieut-Cdr Wallace was appointed Senior Officer of the LCP smoke-laying flotillas and was in overall charge off Normandy on D-Day and thereafter.
To end, perhaps I may be forgiven for quoting from the summing-up in Lieut-Cdr Dathan's official report on Group 7's performance at Dieppe: