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Re: Dieppe final
The company should have landed on the other side of the bridge and probably
already been on the cliff top an error put them in a precarious position. .
Canadians fell one after the other to the pavement as the pillbox spit its
deadly venom at them. At a break in the clattering fire one of the South
Saskatchewans dashed forward and deposited two grenades through the firing
slit of the pillbox. The machine gun went silent. Led by their battalion and
company commanders, the Canadians cleared the bridge and began to ascend the
grassy height under fire from above and to the right. Nissenthall and his
bodyguards followed the advance, running between a stone church and a hotel
to cross the bloody body plagued bridge.
Only a quarter of Company A's original 100 were left. Nissenthall's guards
were down to seven, three of whom were wounded but mobile. The RAF sergeant
recalled being momentarily deafened when "one of the men carrying a backpack
of mortar shells was hit and blown to pieces by his own shells" only 6
metres away. Using smoke canisters and ferreting out what little cover they,
the last of A Company stopped just below the cliff top.
On their left a sheer white cliff, a rock and shingle beach below, ahead the
coveted Freya. Barbed wire, riflemen in slit trenches and machine-gun nests
stood between the invaders and the objective. The company commander turned
to Nissenthall and said: "Well, there it is. Take it if you want it."
The radar antenna's motions limited to a 180-degree horizontal arc and
pausing as it focused on individual targets told Nissenthall that the Freya
was a target-discriminating accurate instrument connected to the operator's
cabin and blockhouse by coaxial cable.
More detailed information could not be obtained by simple visual
observation. Company A could not attempt an assault to get closer, however.
Their ranks were decimated. Help was needed, but the company's radio was out
of commission. After a brief discussion, Nissenthall and two of his
bodyguards raced back to Pourville, which was now under steady fire from
Germans on the high ground to both sides of the town. At battalion
headquarters, the three men learned that shore-to-ship communication was
Unable to enlist ship borne guns to soften up the Freya site as they had
hoped, they gathered together a small mortar team. A well-placed enemy shell
viciously aborted that effort. An unhurt but frustrated Nissenthall once
more ran the gantlet of fire to rejoin Company A.
The main invasion force, despite some initial successes were being driven
into the sea. The smoke and stench of battle filled a clear blue sky where
airplanes fighters fought for superiority
The sergeant then decided to implement a suggestion made before his
departure from England. If the Freya's landlines to its command post and
analysis centre were severed, the radar crew would rely on radio to relay
information on Allied air movements. This radioed information could then be
monitored to provide the British with a fairly accurate idea of the radar's
Nissenthall could see the critical telephone cables silhouetted against the
sky about 35 Metres away at the crest of the hill. On all fours, the
sergeant left cover and started through the tall grass. He moved past a
half-hidden machine-gun nest, the ground quivering against his body from the
weapon's unrelenting ranting. Nissenthall made it undetected to a
triple-pole cable support just outside the Freya perimeter, whose defences
were aimed to the front and sides but not the rear.
Nissenthall reported, "I wedged myself between the poles and worked my way
to the top." 4 Metres above the ground, he cut the Freya's six outside
communications wires. He quickly rejoined his companions, who apparently had
been in no condition to weigh Nissenthall's odds of evading death or
Still hoping for a chance to take a closer look at the Freya, a fatigued and
sweating Nissenthall returned to Pourville for the third time. His intent
was to commandeer a tank and batter his way into the radar site. (Original
Jubilee planning, which had proved to be overly optimistic, had called for
some of the Churchill tanks that landed at Dieppe to move inland toward
Pourville and escort the raiders back to the seaport for evacuation after
their mission was completed.)
This time, the Company A commander sent all seven remaining bodyguards to
escort his "spook." After more than four hours of battle, Pourville was a
shambles. The outgoing tide was exposing more bodies and discarded materiel.
Nissenthall persuaded a number of Cameron Highlanders still in the village
to accompany his small group as it set off to the southeast along a blacktop
road on which the tanks were expected to arrive.
Reaching the village of Petit-Appeville about a mile away, the soldiers
stopped at its crossroads to rest and wait. Before long, they heard the
characteristic rumble and clank of approaching armour. The armour soon
appeared not British, but German Tiger tanks supported by bicycle troops.
Nissenthall and the Canadians ran off in panic as the enemy opened fire.
Many fell en route back to Pourville, including another three of the
The Canadians in Pourville were at a last ditch stand while slow moving
landing craft were meat for German guns on the heights, did what they could
to recover survivors. As casualties mounted and the defence perimeter
shrank, Nissenthall's escorts remained under orders to kill him if capture
seemed imminent. He also had a cyanide pill he had been given to suicide.
The escort destroyer HMS Brocklesby moved toward the beach, laying down a
smoke screen to protect the milling landing craft. The warship's 4-inch guns
unleashed an inferno at one major source of German fire, and a section of
nearby chalk cliff blew apart. A silence followed as other enemy guns
stopped firing so as not to attract the ship's attention. The beleaguered
Canadians took advantage of the lull to race across 200 metres of open
ground to the sea. Nissenthall and his bodyguards joined them.
The Germans opened fire anew from nearby houses, the high ground and the sea
wall over which the Canadians had leaped. Discarding their helmets and gear
as they ran past the wounded placed beneath the sea wall, the men splashed
into the water. The sergeant and his one remaining bodyguard, miraculously
un-hit by the hail of lead, dived beneath the surface and swam underwater as
long as they could. Lungs bursting, they surfaced and continued seaward
toward the landing craft popping in and out of the dark smoke screen.. Shell
bursts pursued the boat into the smoke..
As the boat emerged from the billowing murk, two enemy fighters set it upon.
Nissenthall saw this, "the most frightening episode of the whole raid."
German 20mm cannon shells slammed against the small craft's sides, and it
began to take on water. The battered craft slowly sank, even as its
exhausted occupants were being hauled aboard an escort destroyer.
With the destroyer bringing up the rear, a variety of smaller vessels turned
towards England, away from the French coast. German air attacks continued as
the scruffy flotilla crossed the Channel, devastating the numerical
outnumbered British Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes.
Operation Jubilee was a expensive disaster. Inadequate supporting fire and a
delay in landing the tanks, had preordained failure. More than 3,600 men in
the invading force were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Royal Navy
incurred another 550 casualties and lost a destroyer and 33 landing craft.
The RAF lost 106 aircraft to the Luftwaffe's 48. German ground losses were
591. Combined Operations Command Chief Lord Louis Mountbatten, from the
safety of England stated, "the successful landing in Normandy (6 June 1944)
was won on the beaches of Dieppe," was an attempt to justify a poorly planed
Nissenthall disembarked at Newhaven late that 19August night. The next
morning he purchased a ticket and took commuter train to London. There, he
reported to the Air Ministry building for a full debriefing. In his own
words, "dirty, dishevelled and unshaven". Nissenthall. Had not been able to
examine the Freya firsthand and return with its innards, he had, however in
severing the telephone lines had provided the Allies with priceless
information. The British listening to the temporarily open German radio
plotting that directed Luftwaffe interceptors, learned much about both enemy
aircraft control methods and the performance of the key Freya radar. One
result was the creation of suitable jamming equipment, a task assigned to
Nissenthall was considered for a Victoria Cross but in the then class ridden
Britain with the stress on who you father was it would have been an anathema
to award this honour to an emigrant Polish Jew's son.
Two Canadian and one Essex Scot Sinclairs were among those who lay dead.
This was no victory. It was a study in Canadian valour and a lesson in poor
An eye witness, who at 66 run a local tabac told me that as a child of
almost 7 he saw from his Dieppe flat window some of the fighting. As his
memory serves him he looked out the window and remarked to his father "the
English have lady soldiers." referring to men in kilts. His father replied,
"those are not ladies, they are devils"
Nissenthall for 25 years did not speak of Dieppe the Official Secrets Act
ensured his silence. When the war over he married, changed his name to
Nissen and moved to South Africa.
Years after the war's end, the Company A commander, who had been captured at
Pourville, met Nissen. They spoke of Dieppe the former captain told Nissen
that he had found the order he had received regarding his "spook" so
repulsive that he had put it out of his mind for 20 years and then
questioned if it had been a figment of his imagination. "Could you, would
you have shot me?" asked Nissen.
The Canadian's quietly spoken unadorned answer, plain and simple, hung in
the thickening air between the two men,
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