Overlord'S Blog: Who Rescues the Rescuers?
For background and context please read last weeks article which can be found here.
On August 19, 1942 the Allies launched operation Jubilee, more famously known as the Dieppe Raid. With over 60 squadrons tasked to take part and all the military shipping in the area rescue was considered. After deliberations within five miles of the landing beaches the Royal Navy would take care of rescue duties. Outside of that area it fell the fledgling, newly formed SARF force of the RAF. During the course of the day 47 SOS's were received and 31 rescue vessels attended. Most were High Speed Launches (HSL's), which were just wooden boats, with no armour and crammed with fuel tanks. On top they had a pair of .303 Browning's to defend themselves. Their standing orders were not to open fire unless fired upon. They were planned to operate under the air umbrella for the Dieppe operation, however often the launches had to leave the cover to make a rescue, which exposed them to enemy aircraft.
The HSL's from Dover were mostly crewed by men from 961 Squadron, which had flown barrage balloons.
The first HSL was scrambled in the early hours of August 19th. At 0430 it left its harbour, but more were soon to follow. Most stayed on station picking up survivors for the entire day. One of them was Flight Lieutenant D. Morrison, a Canadian of 401 Squadron picked up by HSL 177. FLt Morrison wasn't injured so 177 stayed on station to help with other rescues.
At 1635 HSL 123 was under way when it was suddenly strafed by two FW190's that dropped on it and gave it a long burst. The cannon shells ripped through the fragile wooden hull and injured two of 123's crew. Luckily both German planes missed the fuel tanks. They also both made a single pass and then disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. Luck was not on the side of 123, as shortly afterwards she was challenged by signal lamp from a shore position on the French coast. When she was unable to respond coastal batteries opened fire on her position. Due to the speed of the HSL the shells fell well astern of her.
Things got worse as four more FW190's pounced on 123. The launch weaved around several times to shake off the pursuing German planes, cutting a huge wake in the water at a speed of 36 knots. When the 190's broke off 123 turned to the north west and made to link up with her sister ship HSL 122.
On 122 things were going worse than on 123. Acting Corporal M. Nunn had been below deck at his station as a Wireless Operator. When his launch was attacked by Heinkel bombers, Cpl Nunn stayed at his post as the boat was hammered by the guns of the bombers, and near misses from the bombs pelted shrapnel through the fragile hull. Eventually the radio took a hit and was smashed to scrap metal. Scrambling up on deck Cpl Nunn found himself alone. Every other crew member had been hit and either wounded or killed. The Heinkels were still swooping overhead, flashes of gunfire lit up their airframes as they made repeated attacks on the helpless launch.
Cpl Nunn raced for the engines where he struggled to shut them down (the source on this fails to say why he tried to shut them down). The fumes from the engines were filling the room where he was working, choking he staggered on deck nearly fainting from the fumes. He ran to the wheel and set course for England.
122's medic, Leading Aircraftman Albert Dargue was badly wounded. Despite this he continued to work to save the lives of his colleagues. He kept on working while Cpl Nunn tried to save the boat.
At about 1715 HSL 123 spotted Cpl Nunn's stricken boat with the Heinkel bombers still overhead. By the time 123 pulled alongside the stricken craft the Heinkels had left the scene. As 123 pulled alongside, she tied up to the badly damaged boat and began to transfer the wounded.
Again bad luck stayed with the launches. Eight FW190's swooped in from the port side and began to make repeated attacks. The cannon shells smashed through the hull of the boats, puncturing the fuel tanks. Flames ripped through the boats and both began to sink, spreading a sheet of burning fuel across the sea with the survivors, some wounded, of both launches thrashing in the water. The burning fuel and burning wooden boats sent a giant black pillar of smoke into the sky to mark their pyre.
Some distance away HSL 177 saw the smoke column. Having received the earlier message from 123 that read "Urgent Help! 182 Dungeness 23", they knew something was wrong. They had contacted a Royal Navy rescue launch (number 513) and more importantly a pair of RAF fighters.
The force headed for the smoke. Upon their approach, the two boats each at top speed, with foaming white wake around their bows ploughing through the sea, and the dots of the two fighters overhead, the German planes broke off contact and fled for shore.
As 177 and 513 reached the area they set about picking up the crew. At this point FLt Morrison saw an unconscious body floating away from the area. Unhesitatingly he dived into the sea of burning oil and swam out to the body. It was LAC Dargue, 122's wounded medic whom had kept his colleagues alive despite his own injuries. FLt Morrison towed LAC Dargue back to 177. Having found all the survivors and with the end of the day closing, and packed full of people pulled from the sea 177 made a course for home.
During Operation Jubilee the SARF suffered fifteen killed, eight wounded, eleven captured and three are still missing. From then on more guns and armour were fitted and the rules of engagement were changed.