No. 3 Commando at Berneval, Dieppe Raid

Commando Patch

Number 3 Commando at Berneval,
Dieppe Raid

19 August 1942.

As part of the Dieppe operations No. 3 Commando was to attack the Goebbel artillery battery at Berneval to the east of Dieppe. They were to knock out the battery to stop it firing on the Canadians’ main attack on Dieppe. No. 3 Commando’s attack was to work on surprise. They were to land under the cover of dawn and engage in an enveloping manoeuvre to out flank their target battery. However, unlike their comrades in the No. 4 Commando at Varengeville, the attack of No. 3 Commando did not go smoothly.

Luck was against them

As No. 3 Commando’s landing craft made their final approach towards their target beaches at Berneval, a German convoy appeared made up of several armed trawlers escorting an oil carrier. A short engagement occurred and some of the Commando’s landing craft were scattered, damaged or lost. The Element of surprise was lost. By the time the last of the intact landing craft beached at 0515 hours the cover of darkness was also lost. Seven landing craft (LCP: Landing Craft, Personnel) made it to the beaches at Berneval, one on Yellow Beach 2 at 0445 hours and six on Yellow Beach 1 at 0515 hours (see map on page 2).

Berneval

They were covered by fire from a flotilla Motorboat as they disembarked.

On Yellow Beach 1

Most of the Commandos who hit the beach were from F Troop No. 3 Commando and Captain R.L Wills took command. Also present was a small number of US Rangers commanded by Lieutenant E. D. Loustalot. Wills had at his command 96 commandos, 6 Rangers and some French guides.

Berneval Cliff Face

Once ashore they planned to make for the low section of cliff in front of Petit Berneval to the east of the Battery position. 

At 0530 hours, while still unloading, a strong German patrol (about 2 or 3 platoons) from the 572. Infanterie-Regiment arrived. A frantic firefight ensued. Many Commandos were killed trying to exit the LCPs. The rest made for the shelter of the cliffs that ran on either side of the gully. The Commandos started to push towards the gully that was their only exit from the beach. A German machine-gun position was knocked it out, but progress was halted by alert Germans in well-prepared positions. The defensive fire proved too heavy to make any further advance towards the battery.

Captain Wills was killed during the dash for the cliffs and Lieutenant Loustalot took command. Loustalot was also killed a little later.

With the Commandos pinned down in their positions by the cliffs, it was decided at 0700 hours to make an attempt to get back to the landing craft to make their escape. Once again they came under heavy fire from the Germans. However, at the waters edge they discover that the landing craft have been damaged and made un-seaworthy. The German launched a counterattack at 1000 hours and captured the remaining 82 Commandos.

Yellow Beach 2

Meanwhile the sole LCP to hit the second beach on the western side of Berneval was to make a gallant effort to fulfil their mission objective, the destruction of the Goebbel battery. This section was commanded by Major Peter Young and consisted of himself, two other officers and 17 commandos. With them they had ten rifles, six Bren light machine-guns, three Boys anti-tank rifles and two 2-inch mortars.

While still motoring towards the beach they spotted a cleft in the cliff and recognised their target beach. Their LCP made for the beach and unloaded Young’s men without incident.

Once clear of the beach the only way to clear the cliff was up the narrow cleft they had seen earlier from the LCP, but it was heavily protected by barbed wire. They had no explosives or wire cutters to clear the way, so another approach was called for. After investigation it was discovered that the wire was firmly attached to the gully sides, the Commandos used these anchor points to climb to the top of the cliff. What had been intended as an obstacle had become an aid. Fifteen minutes later Young’s men were at the top of the gully.

Commando climbing cliff
They moved straight through the wood and towards Berneval. Once inside the village they looked to set up firing positions over looking the Battery. An attempt was made to set up a Bren light machine-gun in the bell tower of the church, but it lacked a staircase for access. The locals suggested they move through the orchard and take position in the corn field less than 200 meters from the German battery’s position.
Commandos return home

Young’s men opened fire on the battery once in position; they kept up a hail of fire for 1½ hours, suppressing the battery so it was unable to fire. During this time the Germans had no idea how many men were attacking them. Only after the Commandos had exhausted their ammunition did they withdraw to the beach and their landing craft.

At no point did Major Young and his men know the fate of the Commandos on Yellow beach 1.    

The attack on Berneval was unsuccessful, the Goebbels battery was not destroyed and No. 3 Commando lost 25 killed or missing and 110 prisoners. The only bright light in what was a dark day for No. 3 Commando was the heroic efforts of Major Young and his men keeping the battery silent for 1½ hours and probably saving many lives among the men of the flotilla in the process.

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Peter Young