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Le Mesnil-Patry PT. 2, B-Squadron

Captain Harrison did not brief his crew, and Trooper Dodds his loader/operator was under the impression that the Regiment was about to participate in a High Explosive (HE) shoot with the artillery not attack an enemy held village. The Crew did not even know that they had infantry riding their tank. As they left the harbour Dodds remembers that as the control for the Squadron radio net he was quite upset with the amount of radio chatter going on. One person was continually asking to speak to the Squadron Commander, another asked repeatedly to have his radio re-netted, and a third seemed to be acting as a tour guide. This person provided exact details of every location and land mark that they passed which as we have seen provided the enemy the exact location of the Regiment and timing of the attack. It was 14:37 (more than an hour and a half late) by the time B-Squadron made it out of Norrey and began its assault across the flat wheat fields. 15 minutes later the Squadron came under intense small arms and mortar fire and the radio net was jammed with requests to locate the guns. The Infantry quickly dismounted and the Squadron began engaging the enemy in all directions with 75mm HE rounds and machine gun fire. Captain Harrison then ordered the Squadron to speed up. At this point C-Squadron was still attempting to move out of Norrey which was under intense mortar and artillery fire and as a result B-Squadron was attacking on its own. Trooper Dodds was busy loading both the 75mm gun and the coax machine gun as Sergeant Johnstone was rapidly firing at known and suspected targets. The German infantry in the wheat field were taking a beating but the tanks could not stop. At this point the Squadron split up with two troops under Captain Wildgoose heading up the main road towards the village while the remainder under Captain Harrison outflanked the village to the East. As they approached the village the B-Squadron tanks crested a slight rise in the ground and were immediately engaged by the enemy antitank guns with devastating effect losing many vehicles to first round hits.

Captain Richard Wildgoose

1st Hussars Sherman tanks on the move

Infantry riding on tanks were very exposed

The group under Captain Harrison advancing on the left entered a large orchard defended by a reinforced company of infantry and several antitank guns. Here the action can best be described as barely controlled chaos. Trooper Dodds notes that they were firing HE at trenches left and right. Sometimes the enemy trenches were so close that they had to back up in order to depress the gun enough to engage. They quickly ran out of HE in the turret and began to engage bunkers with Armour Piercing (AP) rounds. The Co Driver Tempe was handing Dodds ammunition from the racks beside him and Dodds was grabbing rounds from the rack behind the driver one handed on his own. He was one handed because the coax machine gun had fired so much that the cover over the breach would not stay closed and he had to hold it down while Sergeant Johnstone fired. At one point Dodds was firing the coax himself as Germans that the gunner did not see ran in front of them. Soon the coax became so hot that it began to “Cook off” that is fire on its own until Dodds stopped it by releasing the body cover that he was holding down. As the gunner Johnstone was engaging targets on his own, Captain Harrison was engaging the German infantry swarming around the tank with hand grenades. Dodds remembers handing him 12 high explosive and 11 smoke grenades. During a brief lull Captain Harrison attempted to regain some control of the Squadron by requesting nearby tanks to move one at a time so that he could identify who was who. While doing this he was wounded in the head. Sergeant Johnstone moved up to bandage the captain ordering the driver Huckell to continue to advance. At the same time word came over the radio that German tanks were approaching. Dodds was on the floor replenishing the turret ammunition racks when there was a tremendous bang and vibration. The driver’s hatch was blown off and the main gun was knocked out. The advancing German tanks very quickly knocked out Harrison’s and five other tanks. Sergeant Johnstone yelled “Bail out” and both he and the captain were gone. Given the amount enemy small arms fire hitting the tank Dodds decided the escape hatch in the floor would be a safer exit. The escape hatch, sealed shut by water proofing material since D-Day was stuck fast and Tempe had to use a hammer from the gunner’s kit to get it open. With the hatch off they could see that the tank was moving slowly in reverse and as Huckell turned to take it out of gear two more hits sent sparks up through the hatch. Dodds' immediate response was to launch himself out through the the turret and hit the ground running for the nearest cover.

After crawling some distance Dodds poked his head out of a hedge to look around. He was spotted by a German from about 50 yards away. Ducking back into the hedge and quickly crawling away he heard three shots go over his head. Eventually looking out again Dodds saw Tempe and an officer about 15 yards away crouching beside a burning tank. Reaching them he found that Tempe did not know what had happened to Huckell and the officer that he did not know was wounded in the shoulder but able to crawl. They decided to make for another burning tank about 50 yards away. When they arrived, they found Troopers Hancock, Loucks and Silverburg. Hancock was OK, but Loucks and Silverburg were badly burned and though in rough shape appeared to be able to move. When several Germans appeared in a field about 100 yards away the group decided that they needed to keep moving and made for another tank on the side of the road about 50 yards further away. On the way they passed through some discarded Canadian equipment and both Dodds and the Lieutenant picked up hand grenades. When they arrived at the next tank Loucks and Silverburg were not with them and could not be seen. Hancock and Tempe decided to strike out on their own and Dodds and the lieutenant crawled under the tank to hide from a group of Germans that suddenly appeared coming through the hedge at the side of the road. Even though the tank was burning at the time the Germans climbed aboard to inspect it. Looking back the way they had come Dodds saw another German crouching down and looking in their direction as if he were trying to see what was under their tank. Knowing that they had to get out and hoping to scare the Germans away from the tank Dodds threw his grenade into the hedge. When it went off the Germans were momentarily distracted but did not move. The Officer attempted the same thing from the other direction with the same lack of effect. With the German soldier coming down the road looking at where they were hiding and the others on the tank the Officer felt it was time to give up. But Dodds was determined not to do so. He was able to crawl through the hedge without being noticed. From there he crawled and was eventually able to run back the way he had come a just short time before. Dodds had several close calls over the next few hours twice needing to dive back into cover and crawl vigorously as bullets clipped the bushes very close to his position. On one occasion he lay in a hedge while the Germans were talking quite close by. Suddenly one of them began shouting “Englander Englander” several times. Deciding it was time to leave he bolted for the next hedge line followed by several shots. Fortunately, the Germans did not seem interested in pursuing him.

Eventually Dodds came upon several tanks in a defensive position. They turned out to be British but they were able to direct him to some nearby Canadians. These turned out to be an antitank unit from the 3rd Infantry Division. They fed him a dinner of roast duck then and passed him on to their Brigade Headquarters. Here he was turned over to a Captain from the Winnipeg Rifles who transported him to the Commanding Officer of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers who was on his way to the Hussars Headquarters. Unfortunately, the Regiment had moved that evening and he was eventually dropped off at the Headquarters of the Fort Gary Horse where he spent the night. The next morning, he was delivered to the Hussar echelon at Pierrepont. In order to return to the regiment Trooper Dodds travelled approximately 5 kilometres on foot through enemy lines.

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