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Commando Patch

Number 4 Commando at Varengeville,
Dieppe Raid

19 August 1942.

One of the interesting things about the Dieppe raid was the number of smaller operations off to the sides of the main assault. These ‘raids within a raid’ were launched with the aim of preparing the way for the main assaults on the Dieppe beachfront by knocking out guns, observation posts and other flanking positions.

The most successful of these side shows was the attack by No. 4 Commando on the Varengeville coastal defence battery to the west of Dieppe. 

The 252 men of the Commando were split into two groups. Group One landed in front of two gullies that led up to the battery position through scrubland. Group Two landed about 1½ miles west of Group One by the mouth of the Saane River.

Group One, commanded by Major Derek Mills-Roberts, consisted of the Group HQ, C Troop and 1 section of A Troop, plus various support personnel, a total of 88 all ranks. Group Two, commanded by the unit’s founder, Lord Lovat, had 164 personnel made up of A (less one section), B and F Troops, and the force HQ.

Dieppe Operation Map

The Plan

Their objective was to destroy the battery near Varengeville to stop it firing on the naval forces and the Canadians engaged in the main assault on Dieppe.

Group One’s task was to penetrate from the coast and engage and pin the Germans around the battery positions with covering fire while Group Two moved inland to out flank the German positions. Once in position they were to wait for a flight of Hurricanes to make a strafing run on the battery at Z + 90 minutes (90 minutes after their scheduled landing time) and then assault the battery and defended positions. Once the battery was knocked out the Commando was to retire to the beach and withdraw.

Group One’s Landing on Beach One

At 0430 hours No. 4 Commando hit the beach. Group One made straight for the gullies in front of their landing position that led off the beach, all haste was called for as the lighthouse had shut down, indicating the raid may have been detected.

The landing met no resistance and the men of Group One made for the shelter of the cliffs flanking the entrance to the gullies leading off the beach. C Troop’s leading section reconnoitred the left gully, but found it impassable.

Varengeville Raid Map
The right hand gully was then checked, but also found blocked by wire and other defensive obstacles. The commandos used explosives to clear the way, the sound was covered by the German batteries firing at the incoming flotilla.
Commandos after the raid

Group One, then made their way up the gully into the wood. No. 1 Section of C Troop scouted ahead and led the way into the Varengeville Sur-Mer wood, clearing a few houses as they went. No. 2 Section cleared the house immediately above the beach and guarded the gully down to the beach.

The single section of A Troop attached to Group One worked its way behind the lighthouse and cut the observers telephone cable running from it back to the battery. Once C Troop had worked its way forward to the wood edge facing the battery position, they were soon engaged in a firefight with the Germans.

The Group One A Troop section then worked around the flank of the German positions and engaged them from positions among the houses. By 0540 hours all of C Troop was in position and pouring rifle, Bren light machine-gun, Boys anti-tank rifle and mortar fire onto the Germans.

Group Two’s Landing on Beach Two

Group Two’s landing was not so easy. A Troop (less the section attached to Group One) came ashore under fire from mortars and machine-guns and had to negotiate the thick barbed wire entanglements, suffering four casualties in the process.

The commandos used Rabbit netting to cross the wire. The remainder of the Group Two, coming ashore 150 yards up the beach from A Troop, made for the Saane River mouth, also taking casualties. Relief came when the mortar fire lifted to fire on the withdrawing British landing craft.

Group Two soon received an opportunity to escape the beach. Over-flying British bombers distracted the Germans defenders long enough for the commandos to make a rush up to the Quiberville-St Marguerite Road. Crossing it, they made their way along the eastern bank of the Saane River. The going was difficult as they moved along the river bank, as the river had overflowed into the long grass beside it. By this time it was 0515 hours and fully light. B Troop led the way, followed by the Force HQ and then F Troop. The steep riverbanks offered protection from the direction of St. Marguerite, and smoke was prepared in case of fire from the direction of Quiberville. When Group Two hit the bend in the river they swung east towards the rear of the German battery.
Lord Lovat goes ove the plan

As the commandos of Group Two moved east the ground became more open and a loose formation was adopted, the sections moving in bounds across the open areas. As they got closer to their objective they could here the firefight taking place between the Germans and Group One.

At the woods to the rear of the German Battery B and F Troops split. B Troop continued east and followed the southern edge of the wood. They then split into their sections and used fire and movement to advance through the orchard and village. They silenced a machine-gun post in the process and were soon in position to assault the battery. 95 minutes after landing they were ready for the assault.

Commandos return to England

F Troop headed northeast towards the rear of the battery. Using the cover of smoke they advanced from the wood on the German positions to penetrate their wire perimeter. They surprised a patrol of Germans just inside organising an assault on C Troop from Group One. The F Troop commandos assaulted, killing them all. Once these were cleared away, further resistance was met in and around the farm buildings. The fighting was fierce, but the commandos’ special combat training shone through, they proved quick and deadly against all opposition encountered. Several more casualties were sustained. Finally they reached their planned start positions for the assault on the battery. They now laid in wait in the ditch lining the road behind the battery’s position for the next phase of the operation.

The Force HQ move up between the positions of B and F Troops, coming under fire from F Troop, but this was soon stopped by radio calls from the HQ.

The Assault on the Battery

Both Group One and Two were in position for the assault and firing on the battery. The A Troop fighting patrol (the section attached to Group One) continued to inflict heavy casualties on the Germans from their flank position west of the battery.

The planned Hurricane flight arrived on time to strafe the battery position, unfortunately they were followed by some FW-190 Focke-Wulf fighters who interrupted their strafing run.

Luckily the commandos had already inflicted sufficient damage on the Germans and by 0607 hours the battery had been silenced. This intense fire from Group One silenced the forward facing machine-gun positions. Group One 2-inch mortar rounds also detonated the German batteries cordite dumps, stunning and burning may of the batteries crew. A German 8cm mortar opened fire on C Troop’s position and they took their first casualties. The signal for the assault was given at Z+100.

B Troop attacked the buildings to the east of the guns while F Troop stormed the battery position itself. F Troop rushed across the open ground through defensive fire overrunning several strong points to finally end amongst the battery itself. All the Germans were quickly dispatched, with only four prisoners taken for intelligence purposes. The Guns were made inoperable by explosive charges. Gun barrels, breach blocks and other equipment vital for the batteries continued use were destroyed.

B Troop mopped up the surrounding defensive positions, some pillboxes causing more casualties until finally silenced with grenades and Thompson submachine-guns.

Germans were piled everywhere, many burned by the battery’s cordite explosion and many more killed by A and C Troops covering fire and the assault by B and F Troops.

B and F Troops consolidated under the cover of smoke from their smoke generators and No. 77 Phosphorous grenades.

The Lord Lovat

The Withdrawal

While B, C and F troops withdrew to Group One’s landing beach, A Troop was busy guarding the St. Marguerite flank in case of German counterattack. A German patrol was sent from St. Marguerite and was ambushed by A Troop. Once the wounded were withdrawn, A, B, C and F troops retired covered by C Troop who were the last off the beach.

The whole operation had been a complete success. The No. 4 commando had suffered 45 casualties, 12 killed, 20 wounded and 13 missing.

Captain Patrick Anthony Porteous, VC

Victoria Cross

Captain Patrick Anthony Porteous coordinated communications between the two groups of No. 4 Commando and Lovat’s headquarters during the Varengeville raid (see pages 14 and 15). During the raid he was crossing from Lovat’s HQ to liaise with Group One when he was confronted by a German officer who shot him through the hand and arm. He then disarmed the German and killed him with a bayonet thereby saving the life of a Sergeant.
Continuing on his way he soon came across a slit trench occupied by two Germans, which he quickly dispatched with a grenade. He then arrived at Groups Two’s position and took command after they had lost their commander, ordering B Troop to clear the buildings, he then led F Troop in the final assault on the Battery. Shot through the thigh during the assault he finally lost consciousness only after the battery was taken.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross on 3 October 1942. The citation for his Victoria Cross stated: “Captain Porteous’s most gallant conduct, his brilliant leadership and tenacious devotion to duty... were an inspiration to the whole detachment.” 

He was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI on October 28 1942. Porteous told reporters outside: “It was just luck I got the award.” Patrick Porteous V.C. retired from the army in 1970 with the rank of Colonel, he died in 2000.

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Last Updated On Friday, April 30, 2010 by Wayne at Battlefront