Blue Beach at Puys

BLUE Beach at Puys

Wednesday, 19th August 1942

The landing on BLUE Beach at Puys by the Royal Regiment of Canada commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Ellisson Catto with three platoons of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) of Canada attached was scheduled to begin in the pre-dawn darkness. However, they were delayed and the Regiment began their run into the shore 16 minutes late as the sun was rising at 05:06 hrs.

The muffled sounds of the meeting engagement between the German convoy and No 3 Commando at sea earlier that day had led the German commanding officer at Puys, Hauptmann Richard Schnösenberg, to call an unscheduled morning alarm exercise. This meant that when the Royal Canadians came into the shore at 05:06 hrs the enemy were waiting in their well placed and heavily armed positions. Hauptmann Schnösenberg waiting in his command post saw the landing craft emerging from the early morning fog and ordered his men to open fire.

The Royal Canadians were met by a hail of mortar and machine gun fire as their landing craft touched down killing many of them as they leaped onto the beach.

As Captain John Anderson approached the beach the LCM in which he was being conveyed was heavily engaged by light artillery and machine gun fire. He quickly organised the Bren gunners and taking control of one of the Bren guns opened fire. Wounded in the head by shell splinters Captain Anderson continued at his post until the LCM reached the beach. Once ashore he rushed across the beach to the seawall wall where he began organising those still able to fight.

As he exited his landing craft Sergeant Major Norman MacIver jumping over a row of dead bodies as a bullet penetrated his steel helmet but did not stop him. Running across the beach he saw a wounded soldier and paused to pick up the man and carry him through the killing zone to the cover of the concrete seawall before passing out. The wall, however, offered scant protection as mortar bombs and shells took their toll of the sheltering soldiers.

Lance Corporal Leslie Ellis was the fourth man out of his LCP, jumping into the water before the ramp had fully lowered he dashed across the beach to the cover of the seawall. Looking back towards the sea he saw his comrades being cut down by the withering machine gun and mortar fire, in mere seconds BLUE Beach had become a killing field. Of the 100 or so Royal Canadians in the first wave only fifteen made it to the seawall. Without the element of surprise, the Royal Canadians had exited their landing craft into the jaws of hell; it was carnage and they sustained heavy casualties.

The seawall at Puys

The seawall at Puys.

Lance Corporal Ellis, and those few that had made it to the seawall, now had to climb the 2.75 metres and get through the wire strung out along its top. He found the stairway that led from the beach to the top of the seawall. Once there he faced the mass of triple concertina-style dannert wire that he recalled was "just like a tube." Crawling through the wire he headed for the top of the hill. The enemy were concentrating on the beach and he made it up the hill unnoticed.

In a better position to see what was going on Lance Corporal Ellis scanned the nearby houses and saw a German pillbox on the opposite heights. Dust flicked off the pillbox indicated that his comrades still on the beach were firing at it, but he could not see any enemy activity within it. He then noticed the string of tracer bullets coming from the bushes at the side of the pillbox and then made out the white blob of the machine gunner's face. Lance Corporal Ellis was a trained sniper and setting his sights to 650 yards he fired at the white blob. The tracer fire immediately changed direction and arched up into the sky, Leslie Ellis had found his mark and the German machine gunner fell back dead with his finger still on the trigger.

The second and third waves of Royal Canadians, including three platoons of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) of Canada, followed the first wave into this maelstrom of lead onto the beach where they too bled and died under the brutal and terrible fire.

Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Catto lay prone on the seawall, snipping away at the tangled barbed wire preventing his advance. Eventually he cut a lane through the wire and led a small group of twenty men up the hill where they destroyed six enemy machine gun posts. This brought some relief for the men on the beach, but he realised that his Battalion's mission to secure the attack's right flank was by now unattainable. At 07:40 hrs, when Major General Roberts received the message "Doug landed three companies intact at Blue Beach … all going well," the attack by the Royal Canadians had already collapsed. Lieutenant Colonel Catto's small force was soon cut off from the beach and surrounded. Unable to fight their way back they eventually surrendered and joined the mounting numbers of Canadian soldiers who became prisoners of war.

On the beach the German fire steadily reduced the remnants of the Battalion pinned down at the seawall. Sergeant Major William Jacobs in command of the Battalion's Headquarters protective beach detachment noticed that a landing craft full of wounded was trying to get off the beach under heavy German machine gun fire from a nearby pillbox. Armed with some hand grenades he left the comparative safety of the seawall to throw the grenades at the vision slits in the pillbox thereby distracting the German machine gunners. He called to his men for more grenades which they tossed to him and he in turn pulled out the pins and threw at the pillbox. Sergeant Major Jacobs was eventually shot and killed whilst carrying out this valiant action to cover the evacuation of the wounded.

After killing the machine gunner, Lance Corporal Leslie Ellis began to make his way back down to the beach. Partway down he came upon a badly wounded Canadian and half dragged, half carried the man until he came upon more barbed wire. He started to make his way through with the wounded man in tow and encountered what he believed to be some communication wires. He gave these a tug and was knocked back by an explosion, Leslie Ellis had triggered either a booby trap or mine. The explosion killed the injured soldier and wounded Lance Corporal Ellis in the face, hand and foot and ruptured his eardrum.

Back to the seawall Lance Corporal Leslie Ellis leaped over the wire and landed in more wire back on the beach. There was little movement on the beach now; the dead and dying were scattered from the shoreline to the seawall. In the haze he saw an landing craft attempting to take men off the beach. Despite his wounds, he crossed the beach to help shove the overcrowded boat back into the water. So swamped was the boat that Ellis recalled the naval rating on board hitting the soldiers trying to climb in from the sides.

Minutes later the boat capsized, probably hit by a mortar round, and Lance Corporal Ellis, realising that the action at BLUE Beach was over, decided to swim for it. He took off his boots and stripped off his equipment and swam for his life. A German sniper fired at him, just missing his nose by inches. He played dead for a while before resuming his swim. With his strength almost gone, Leslie Ellis came across a dead soldier floating in front of him; he removed the dead man's lifebelt and carried on. The last thing he recalled before blacking out was an image of some men in a dinghy; they hauled him onboard and eventually they were all picked up by the Royal Navy.

Very few of those landed at BLUE Beach on the morning of 19th August 1942 made it back to the UK and most of those that did had been wounded. The majority were unable to be evacuated and they too joined the mounting numbers of Canadian soldiers who became prisoners of war.

The Cost

The Royal Regiment of Canada sustained 89% casualties during the Dieppe raid. Of the 554 officers and men that embarked on the raid, 227 were killed or died of their wounds, more deaths than any other unit involved, and a further 264 became prisoners of war, of which 136 were wounded. Only 63 made it back to the UK.

The three platoons of the Royal Regiment of Canada sustained 68% casualties during the Dieppe raid. Of the 111 officers and men that embarked on the raid just 44 returned to the UK; of the remainder 4 were killed, 8 were wounded and 63 became prisoner of war.

The plaque on The Royal Regiment of Canada Monument at Puys, reads:

"You who are alive on this beach, remember that these men died far from home so that others, here and elsewhere, might freely enjoy life in God's mercy."

Enquire About Your IN THE FOOTSTEPS Tour

Last updated: 14th December 2018