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Crawley survivor remembers Dieppe raid on anniversary
7:33am Monday 19th August 2013 in News
Today marks the 71st anniversary of the ill-fated Dieppe raid.
The 1942 raid was a Second World War allied attack, from five ports, including Newhaven, on the German-occupied port of Dieppe on the northern coast of France, and resulted in a catastrophic loss of life for the British and Canadian forces.
One of the few remaining survivors, Alan Saunders, from Crawley, recalled the fateful night which claimed more than 3,500 Allied troops, to reporter KIMBERLY MIDDLETON.
It was a beautiful night when Alan Saunders sat on a French naval vessel in the channel.
The fleet assembled in the calm seas around him.
After weeks of intense training in the Scottish Highlands as one of the first 400 Royal Marine Commandos, the boxes of live ammunition on the deck around the then 19-year-old indicated they were “on to something real, something worthwhile”.
The Dieppe raid was supposed to be a surprise – but at 2am the servicemen started seeing flashes and hearing bangs. They soon realised the element of surprise had been lost.
Mr Saunders said: “We heard number three commandos had run into a small German convoy that was going up the coast.
“There was a gunfire exchange and the poor devils were gone. Then the whole coast was up in flames.”
The plan had been for the Royal Navy Commandos to get into the outer and inner harbour, breaking through barriers, or booms, with the specially reinforced bows of HMS Lotus.
Mr Saunders said: “We were circling around outside being shot at and could see the Lotus heading around and making three attempts.
“We could see her almost stand up on her stern with the weight of shot and shell thrown at her. It was quite apparent we couldn’t get in to do our job.
“If we had got into the outer harbourmyjob, with four other guys, was running gun shot to get one of our mates into the German Naval HQ.
“We knew exactly what building, which floor and which room, and in the corner of the room he would find a safe.
“He had some knowledge, life experience, of opening safes, and was supposed to get lots of secret documents out.
“But we couldn’t get into the harbour.
“We lost all concept of time. Must have been about 10 or 11 in the morning.
“There was a report back through that the Canadians had broken through German defences on West Beach, to the extreme right of Dieppe, and were making their way through the town and wanted support.
“Royal Marine Commandos were transferred on to a landing craft and put to land to support the Canadians.
“It was blatantly obvious it was a false report.
“On the beach there was a 15- degree slope and just thick, heavy pebbles, and tanks were expected to surmount this.
“It was 1940.
They hadn’t got the tanks they had in 44 or 45 and they were just stranded there.
“The traps were there, G e rmans up beyond and it was a turkey shoot.
They were just having a bit of a day out.
“ T h e beach, I can even see it now, was strewnwith burnt-out tanks.
Tanks and men were blown to pieces, body parts were all over the place.
“As we were going in we were shot at. It was hopeless.
“Colonel Pickton Philips said it was impossible and useless, squandering life to put any more men ashore.
“He put on some white or yellow gloves and got as high as he could to indicate a withdrawal.
“Major Robert Howton stayed to help the wounded, see they got treated, and the prisoners were catered for properly.
“The landing craft I was on got shot at. Fifty yards from the beach it went up in a shot of flames.
“It was over the side.
Every man for himself. The whole place was like a hell’s kitchen. All the debris and carnage of bodies and body parts.
“Whatever were you to do? You never got rid of your equipment and your arms, but if you hung on to themyou were going to the bottom. Best to discharge and save yourself until another day.
“Some decided to swim to the beach. Some of us said ‘hell to that, we’ll only get shot at or put in a PoWcamp. Portsmouth is this way, let’s go’.
“We knew two destroyers would be on survivors patrol.
“Someone was on our side to a certain extent. The weather was extremely calm and little groups of us, once we got 300 yards from shore, away from the debris and the carnage, started to head off in what we knew was the right direction.
“We knew we wouldn’t get to Portsmouth, but we hoped a destroyer would pick us up.”
After a night of collecting the servicemen who were still alive the vessel headed back to England.
“A couple of boys landed at Newhaven. John Lewis had relatives in Brighton. News was out then and they called in to see John’s relatives.
“They didn’t get back to the Isle of Wight where we were based until later on the following day. They were reported missing in action because their parents wouldn’t let them go.”
Nightmares of that night plagued Mr Saunders’ dreams for weeks.
He said: “I had some pretty horrible nights. But we were young, we shook it all off and got on with the job.”
AFTER he lost his sight as a result of Age Related Macular Degeneration and Cataracts, Alan became a member of Blind Veterans UK, formerly St Dunstan’s, the national charity for blind ex-Service men and women that has provided him with support, rehabilitation and welfare for his battle against sight
Blind Veterans UK launched its No One Alone campaign in October 2012. It aims to reach out to the estimated 68,000 plus blind or vision impaired ex-service personnel who could be benefiting from the charity’s services but either do not know about the charity or they do not know that they are eligible for its services.
Research suggests that the majority of these did National Service, are currently in their 70s and 80s and suffering from age related sight problems.
If you are or know of a veteran with vision impairment, go to: www.noonealone.org.uk or
telephone 0800 389 7979.
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