Canada in the Second World War

Events

Account of Personal Experiences in Action on Sunday 11 June 44

by Trooper A.O. Dodds, 6 Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars)
Department of National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage, 141.4A 6013 (D3)

I am writing this at the request of my Sqn [Squadron] Leader for information it may give to him and others re missing persons and tactical and technical data. I do not intend any criticism nor yet any excuses for what had happened. It will also me observed that I knew nothing of the situation, saw little of the action, and was quite unnerved and exhausted when I left my tank, so the useful information I brought back was practically nil.

Sherman tank of the 1st Hussars in Normandy, 28 June 1944.

Sherman tank of the 1st Hussars in Normandy, 28 June 1944.
Photo by Ken Bell. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-131777.

I had been left with no tank on D Day and saw no more tank work til Fri 9 JUN, when I was put in a crew consisting of Trooper HUCKELL driver – Trooper TIMPNEY, co driver – Sergeant JOHNSTONE, gunner – and Captain RH HARRISON crew commander. Our tank was a Sherman 4A2 diesel with armour plating on some of the ammo racks. As Op [Observation Post] for Capt Harrison I was Sqn Control Op and spent most of Fri netting the sqn tanks on the Sqn frequency and on a flick to RHQ [Regiment Headquarters] frequency. There were 21 tanks altogether on the netting. Five troops of three each with six in HQF [Headquarters Frequency], two of HQF tanks were on the RHQ freq, and on flick to the Sqn. Many of the Ops were green reinforcements, most of them were new to me. The netting was quite troublesome. I had further trouble on Sat morning when I checked the net, I did not make a list of the ops names as is customary. We had moved Sat night and most of us had had only an hour’s sleep.

In the morning we were told we were moving at 1100 hrs Sun 11 JUN. The attack which had originally been planned for 12 JUN had been put fwd unexpectedly by high command. This left not time for briefing the crew and only a little time for the officers to get in the picture. I was under the impression it would be a quiet HE [High Explosive] shoot with the Artillery. I was netted to an Artillery Officer’s set before we moved, his code sign was to be “Old Abel”. We moved off and later I saw we had picked up some infantry, the Queen’s Own Rifles. There was much delay during which the air was jammed by some one asking for SUN-RAY (Capt Harrison, who was out of his tank where we halted to take on the infantry.) One other tank continually asked to be renetted, he had time to net a dozen sets by that time so I finally told him to ‘lock up and shut up’. He was o.k. at the time and so were the rest of the stations. Finally we got moving again. I saw a knocked-out tank across a road as we approached a town, Capt Harrison gave orders to speed up the attack. I could hear Jerry machine guns going. From the wireless messages no one could locate it. Our own tank fired HE and co-ax [co-axial machine-gun] at some hay stacks and other points – hedges etc. Our B set communication with the RL [Regiment Liaison] was good. He asked for our position several times in relation to code words, ‘strawberry’ and ‘raspberry’. I presumed the RL to be quite near our own tank and wondered why he couldn’t give RHQ our position himself without troubling Capt Harrison. However I did not know the scheme of the show and had not time to see the map at all.

After a short time our own tank was in a field of stuff like red clover – I saw many Jerries myself through the periscope and we were now firing much co-ax and HE as we moved into an orchard. The enemy infantry were apparently quite thick here. In a very short time we fired nearly half our Browning ammo – the rack behind the co-driver was emptied and so was the one on the left of the driver. We fired HE into dugouts at times having to back the tank up to get sufficient depression for the 75 gun. We ran out of HE in the turret twice and the capt ordered us to let him have an AP [Armour Piercing] down dugouts’ – not 15 yds away. The co-driver handed me up the ammo behind his seat, I reached it myself from the rack on the left of the driver, having some difficulty in doing so; during all this I had to hold my hand on the co-ax as the cover would not stay down by itself. Once I fired the co-ax myself as I saw a Jerry in front of us and the gunner did not see him. I also fired the co-ax to finish a belt if it was within ten rounds of the end. Often the co-ax became so hot it fired by itself.

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During all this action Capt Harrison had thrown all our grenades out; at time he leaned half out of the turret in doing this. As nearly as I remember he threw 12-36 grenades and 11 of the 77 smoke. After the 36s were gone I kept the smoke grenades ready to give to him and had the last 77 in my pocket when I bailed out later. We got a message on the ‘B’ set saying someone reported enemy tanks in their sector. I could not ask this myself at the time and I do not know whether or not the Capt did or if he even heard it. I took care of the B set until the action started, although Capt Harrison answered some of the calls himself too, we had been getting messages on A too. During a pause the Capt tried to identify the tanks near him asking on e to move so he would know who was who. I concluded that HQF was all near us, there were no tactical signs on the tanks (B1 – B2 – etc.,)

It was shortly after this that Capt Harrison was hit; he bled all down the side of his head but did not appear to be badly wounded for at the time his head was practically inside the turret. I felt for a field dressing in my front pocket and Sjt Johnstone the gnr, said “speed up Huckell follow the tank in front until I order differently”. He then turned as though he intended to trade places with the Capt, but Capt Harrison took hold of his mike again and resumed crew command. We moved ahead a few hundred feet.

I was kneeling on the floor rearranging the ammo when the tank was struck. The driver’s hatch was knocked off and the 75 knocked out, the breech shook violently and went downwards. Sjt Johnstone said ‘Bail out’ and the Capt gave one hesitant look skywards and then both were gone. I never was the Capt again and he is still missing now*. I did not see Sjt Johnstone for several days, he is with us now and will be writing his account of what had happened. Not relishing the idea of jumping out of the turret in enemy machine gun fire, I said ‘get the escape hatch off’ and handed Timps the co-driver a hammer from the gunner’s kit. When we got it off the tank appeared to be rolling backwards and Huckell turned to put it out of gear; at this point something hit the tracks twice in quick succession and sparks appeared in the escape hatch. I went out the turret top with all the speed I could, dropped to the ground, and ran about twenty yds into some bushes. I did not see or hear any more of Huckell until he was found dead beside the tank several days later.

From the brush heaps I peered through a hedge only to see a German about fifty yds away, he had a rifle and looked ready for anything. I ducked back into the brush, moved a few feet and lay down, three shots went overt me none really close. Looking in the other direction, I saw two of our fellows beside one of our tanks which was burning. I ran the fifteen yds to them and crouched beside them; one was Timps who had come out of the escape hatch and an officer whom I did not know. He was wounded in the left shoulder apparently by one or two bullets; but appeared able to crawl. About fifty yds down the road was another of our tanks also burning, all three of us crawled down to it. At the other tank parked close to the hedge were Tprs Loucks, Silverburg and Hancock, of Capt Smuck’s crew. Hancock appeared to be o.k., Loucks was burned about the neck, head and hands and appeared to be dazed. Silverburg’s clothes were still burning but we quickly extinguished the fire. Two or three Germans appeared in the field about 100 yds or so away, on the edge of an old orchard. About 40 or 50 yds down the road was another of our tanks still burning. We all began crawling down the road towards it. There were some Cdns kit on the road. Bren guns but no mags. I got two grenades and the Officer one. I contemplated a Verey pistol but did not take it, as I thought it would not be much good. Of all six of us, Timps was the only one with a hat of any kind, and his was a beret, and the Officer had the only arm – a pistol. As we neared the tank, Hancock went on by it running half crouched down the road.

I never saw him again; he was found dead a few days later. As the Officer and I moved under the tank we could hear Germans coming out of the field through the hedge and on to the tank, all shouting and gibbering. I looked back up the road and saw a Jerry beside the tank we had left. He was stooping down trying to figure out what was under the tank where we were – or so it appeared. I saw no more of Loucks or Silverburg, whether they left the tank with the rest of us, I don’t know but when I looked back I could not see them. Loucks has since been found dead, Silverburg is missing. Both were in bad shape, but capable of moving without assistance.

The tank we were under was burning, some Germans were on top of the tank. I threw a grenade from the front of the tank so as to land it in the hedge alongside the tank, the shouting stopped for a moment and then resumed. Then the Officer lay on his back at the rear of the tank pulling the pin from his grenade cost him a great deal of pain and effort with his wounded shoulder, but he got it out and threw the grenade in the same manner as I threw mine only from the rear of the tank, the shouting stopped again, and for a moment all we heard was rounds popping off inside the tank. But then the shouting resumed and a Jerry started coming towards us. The Officer took his pistol and said to me ‘Give yourself up kid’ – I said ‘No’ and through the hedge I crawled and ran down the road and through another hedge to my right. I saw no more of B Sqn that day. The Officer I mentioned was blonde with a moustache, about 5’10” and quite husky; there was no time to talk about names so I don’t know yet who he was.

In going through the hedge into a pasture field I saw a German not forty yards away with a carbine, I did a half left and dived into some brush, and burrowed under like a rabbit. Several shots went by me, I stopped and lay flat, more shots came into the brush ticking off leaves a few feet from me as the Jerry fired where he thought I should be. Since I was quite out of breath for the moment and my watch said 1700 hrs, I decided to lay up until dark.

There were Jerries quite close, I could hear them talking and shouting and one was groaning as though wounded. After a few moments, one began an awful clamour shouting to some of the others who were near the road. He repeated the word ‘Englander’ several times. I figured he had spied me in the brush and either had no weapon or thought I was dead and was calling the others overt to where I was. Raising up I could see I had crawled almost to the edge of the brush and something told me to get going and I got. A few more shots rang out but did not come close. I went through several hedges, pastures etc., keeping to cover as best as I could but at time running across open stretches.

I remembered the tiny compass I had saved from my emergency pack, which broke open after its immersion in the sea on D Day and by its aid I headed due North. I crossed one more road where there was a Jerry about 100 yds up and to my left. He saw me as I stepped out but I crossed quickly and jumped up the bank on the other side and through the hedge. This was a very sticky moment, the hedge was thick and I could not get through it very quickly, but I must have been out of sight of him because both shots went by. He was the last Jerry I saw.

I ran and walked quite a bit further trying to identify my position in relation to the enemy by the sound of the confused machine gun fire. Two Arty smoke shells fell in front of me coming from my right. I passed the blackened ruins of a plane in a grain field and saw three civilians in the distance who stared when I raised my hand and kept going. I passed a three ton lorry (Cdn) loaded with anti-tank mines. There was a pile of mines beside it as if it had been half unloaded, and it was burning fiercely with flames going twenty feet into the air.

I now turned to my right past a field in which there were several dead cows and came to a road and a level crossing over a railway. To my left there was an overhead bridge and a sign on the railway said 71 in large letters. I continued up the road where I saw much British equipment but nobody seemed to be around. I started to turn down a road to the right but heard heavy footsteps in the distance, and decided to keep going on the main road. I passed a dead Jerry laying the middle of the road. Finally I saw a civilian working in a garden, after a struggle with the French language I got a drink of water from him, and washed my face also.

At last I came to some burned Shermans on the left of the road where there were three good tanks also, apparently on defensive duty. They all three traversed their turrets but I waved my paybook and handkerchief as I approached. I came close to one and spoke to the crew commander (he would not expose himself at all, just showing the top of his head) who directed me to some Canadians in a field near by, I walked over through a belt of anti-tank mines and into an orchard where there was a group of 3 Div anti-tank people. They fed me some duck dinner and the Officer tried to find the location of 6 CAR [Canadian Armoured Regiment] by Slidex over the wireless but he failed. They gave me a steel helmet to wear and after an hour or so put me in a jeep going to their Bde HQ [Brigade Headquarters]. Here I was turned over to a Winnipeg Rifles Captain who in turn sent me to the CO [Commanding Officer] of the 27 CAR who was in a scout car enroute to where he thought the 6 CAR were. As they moved on that night I had no idea where they were, but we finally came to the 10 CAR area. Their Medical Officer and orderlies gave some supper they also loaned me a blanket and anti-gas cape and I dug myself a shallow trench and slept in it all night. Next day the 10 CAR Regiment Sergeant Major dropped me off at the 6 CAR Echelon at PIEREPORT. As near as I could figure from a map I had started walking from a point South-East of Le MESNIL PATRY and crossed the railway at the Station North of NORREY EN BESSIN.

Signed AO Dodds