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D - Day B Squadron Part 2

Trooper Athelstan O. Dodds

Trooper ‘A.O.’ Dodds was the loader/Operator on Captain Richard ‘Dick’ Wildgoose’s tank. Captain Wildgoose was the Battle Captain of B Squadron on D-Day and was the last vehicle in the Squadron to launch. The other members of his crew were Gunner-Sergeant Richard Pelkey, Driver-Trooper George D. Huckell, and Co-Driver-Trooper Frank S. Meadows. Even with the aid of two seasick pills each Dodds, Pelkey, and Huckel were very sick at the time of launch. Word had been passed that the tanks were going to be landed directly on to the beach and everyone was surprised when only a few minutes later the launch bells started to ring and the ramp was lowered. The launch was a little unnerving for Dodds as once in the water the propellers failed to engage. They had to be raised and lowered two or three times before they finally engaged. Captain Wildgoose had Sergeant Pelkey command the tank on the run in so that he could keep track and report on the progress of the Squadron. The run in was extremely rough with waves breaking over the top of the screen and pouring into the turret. Capt. Wildgoose called Tpr. Meadows out onto the front hull and they both braced the struts which were in danger of collapsing. Shortly after launching Captain Wildgoose had Dodds report “29 delivered” indicating that all tanks had launched. At about 2000 yards the squadron moved from columns to line abreast and shortly after Tpr. Dodds reported “Opposition light” and the loss of the Squadron commander’s vehicle.

As the vehicle touched down enemy fire became more effective and everyone scrambled inside for the move up the beach. Quickly the orders to “Break struts, Deflate, and Action” were given. At this point they found that they were about 50 yards in front and slightly right of their first target, a concrete pill box mounting a 75 mm gun cleverly disguised as a house. Both the tank and the Germans fired at the same time but due to the angle of the beach and the location of their tank the German gun could not be brought to bear on the tank. Sgt. Pelkey on the other hand, blasted them with everything he had, High Explosive, Armour Piercing and Coax machine gun rounds. After firing a few more rounds the driver,Tpr. Huckell, asked permission to move further up the beach saying that he had water coming into his compartment. Unfortunately, before he could do this another huge wave hit them killing the engines and flooding the tank up to Dodds’ ankles in the turret. Realizing that they were now immobile Capt. Wildgoose ordered Sgt. Pelkey to continue firing using manual controls (All electronic equipment was shorted out) until they had to abandon the vehicle. They had fired about 25 rounds in this way before Troopers Huckell and Meadows informed the captain that the water was up around their necks and requested permission to “abandon ship”.

The crew got out onto the back deck of the tank. They sheltered behind the turret with machine gun bullets clipping the water all around them while Dodds inflated the life raft. The captain attempted to hail two passing LCTs with no success and it became apparent that if they were to make it to the beach their bright yellow rubber raft would be the means by which that happened. As he left the turret Captain Wildgoose had managed to save his haversack and as the crew hunkered down behind the turret preparing to shove off, he produced a bottle of whiskey for the crew to celebrate their arrival in France and fortify them for the next leg of their journey. Leaving the tank, the wind and waves drove them considerably eastwards and they had to use the paddles to push away from numerous mines that were sticking out of the water on poles and to add insult to injury they had to scramble out of the way to avoid being run down by an incoming Landing craft.

Swamped DD. The incoming tide flooded the engines

RAF "Type J" life raft. The beaches were protected by thousands of mines and artillery shells on posts

Once ashore they took cover in the dunes and rendered first aid to wounded infantrymen. Here the Captain left the men in charge of Sgt. Pelkey as he went in search of another tank in which to continue the advance inland. Sometime later Dodds' crew reunited with members of four other crews, they were from Lieutenant Bruce Deans and Major Duncan whose tanks had been sunk on the swim in and Sergeant James ‘Ace’ Bailey, and Lieutenant Cecil Mills (A Sqn.), whose tanks had also been swamped after landing. Throughout the rest of the day these men made themselves useful assisting the wounded. the beach remained under heavy artillery fire and then about 21:00 hr Lieutenant Deans collected the men and they marched off to an assembly area.

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