Kids by German Gun Turret, Dieppe, 1989

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Kids by German Gun Turret, Dieppe, 1989

Jack Nissenthall – The VC Hero Who Never Was. (By Martin Sugarman – Assistant Archivist, Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women Jewish Military Museum) 1. Flight Sergeant 916592 Jack Maurice Nissenthall was a Jewish Cockney born in Cottage Row, Bow in the East End of London on Oct 9th 1919. He was a pupil at Malmesbury Road […]
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Kids by German Gun Turret, Dieppe, 1989


Jack Nissenthall – The VC Hero Who Never Was. (By Martin Sugarman – Assistant Archivist, Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women Jewish Military Museum) 1. Flight Sergeant 916592 Jack Maurice Nissenthall was a Jewish Cockney born in Cottage Row, Bow in the East End of London on Oct 9th 1919. He was a pupil at Malmesbury Road Primary school with his sister Marie and later at...

Jack Nissenthall – The VC Hero Who Never Was.

(By Martin Sugarman – Assistant Archivist, Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women Jewish Military Museum)


Flight Sergeant 916592 Jack Maurice Nissenthall was a Jewish Cockney born in Cottage Row, Bow in the East End of London on Oct 9th 1919. He was a pupil at Malmesbury Road Primary school with his sister Marie and later at Mansford Technical School. His father Aaron was a Polish Jewish immigrant tailor from Pelots/Annapol near Warsaw, and his mother Annie Harris-Schmidt was born in Bow itself. As a boy, Jack attended the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Jewish youth club when his family moved to Blythe Street, Bethnal Green, from Bow.

Jack had been interested in radio and TV ever since childhood and had worked at EMI from 1935, taking an advanced electronics course at Regent Street Polytechnic. “From an early age I was obsessed with wireless. When still in short trousers I was making my own radio sets and repairing those belonging to my neighbours. I remember that when I did so for one old lady, she gave me half an apple as a reward. I never did discover who ate the other half….I used to spend the whole day at the National Science museum, going out to eat fish and chips and then going in again”.

When working in the EMI shop in Tottenham Court Road in 1936, an RAF Officer who was known only as Ft. Lt. “Bob”, came looking for apprentices. Jack was taken on to work part-time at weekends and holidays at the first radar station at Bawdsey, on the isolated Suffolk coast, with the eminent radar expert Robert Watson-Watts.


He volunteered for aircrew in the RAF on the outbreak of war in 1939 but was posted instead to working in secret radar stations up and down the country because of his recognised knowledge and skills; from the early days of the war, the RAF had made many modifications to their radars at Jack’s suggestion. These ideas of his had a major effect on the ability of radar in British night fighters to knock out German bombers and his work on “Mandrel” helped destroy the U Boat offensive. He was a key player in the RAF’s GCI – Ground Control Interception – work at Bolt Head in Devon. He also submitted a report on the escape of the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau from Brest in 1941, which was submitted to the RAF Director of Radar. The weaknesses in the British radar defences that Jack pointed out in this report was extremely sensitive information and though acted upon, Jack’s part in the corrective work was hushed-up and has never been revealed to this day.

Physically fit, unmarried (but with a steady girl, Adeline Bernard, or Dell) and an enthusiastic 22 year old, he also volunteered to give up leave and train in Scotland for the Commandos. He came from a military family, as his father and uncles Michael, Max and Lew had all fought and been wounded in the First World War. Little surprise, therefore, that he was selected and asked to volunteer to be the radar expert to take part in the tragic but magnificent raid on Dieppe in occupied France, on August 19th 1942 – operation Jubilee.

Interviewed by the avuncular and pleasant Air Commodore Victor Tait (RAF Director of Signals and Radar) in Whitehall, Jack was told why he had been selected, but warned that as he knew so much, he would be assigned eleven soldier bodyguards on the raid who had strict instructions that Jack must not be allowed to fall alive into enemy hands. This was clearly stated in “The Dieppe raid Combined Report, Task 6”, now kept at the Public Record office (Jack discovered after the war that this was in fact a breach of the Geneva Convention). Being Jewish was an added risk and he was told to go and think it over till the next day. Jack returned and told Tait he would go.

(Document WO 106/4196 at the PRO Appendix L page 3 says “RDF expert (ie Jack) to examine and search RDF station….with assistanceof one Field Security Other Rank as detailed……travels with SSR on “Invicta” to provide adequate protection as RDF expert (AUTHOR’S CAPITALS) MUST UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES FALL INTO ENEMY HANDS ” Page 4 adds, “SOE to assist RDF expert”).

His second interview was with the Senior Intelligence Officer at Combined Operations, Wing Commander The Maquis de Casa Maury, a patronising and distant man and a completely contrasting experience. He warned Jack of the risks and said, “Nissenthall” – accentuating the un-English sound of his surname – “why should a Jew volunteer for such a dangerous operation?” – adding quickly -“You will get nothing out of this you know!”.

Immediately Jack replied, “we’re not given to expect something out of everything we do, sir”. Clearly Maury’s remark was a poorly disguised piece of racism (he was a close associate of Oswald Moseley, the British Fascist leader interred during the war), though he offered the excuse, “I wanted to find out if you’d break under the pressure”. He added that Jack must accept the condition of permanent silence on the death order if he returned; “after 25 years, nobody will believe you anyway”, he added.


Jack was to be attached to A Company (commanded by Capt. Murray Osten), South Sasketchawan Regiment (SSR – of the 2nd Canadian Division led my Major-General J H Roberts), who were based on the Isle of Wight training for the raid – although they had NO part in the planning of the operation. The Canadians were to form the bulk of the 6,000 man raiding force. Their commanders were straining at the leash to have their men tried out. However, the raid had 16 different objectives on 5 different beach sites along a sixteen kilometer front, and British No 3 and No 4 Commandos, with elements of No 3 “Jewish” Troop and other Troops of the 10th Inter-Allied Commando, a Royal Marine Commando and 50 American Rangers would also be involved, as well as the Navy providing bombardment and transport (327 vessels including four destroyers), and the RAF fighter cover (70 squadrons including eight Royal Canadian Air Force). Embarkation would also take place from Newhaven (the main point of departure), Shoreham and Littlehampton, as well as the Solent ports.

Put simply, the raid was designed to fulfil three objectives –

a) to be an essential learning source about the problems of launching a surprise seaborne invasion of France in preparation for D-Day especially with regard to amphibious Combined Operations landings at an enemy port.

b) to show the Germans that their defences could be breached and so force them to divert resources from the Russian front and so create Stalin’s desired “Second Front” in Europe.

c) to provide the Allies and Nazi occupied nations with a victory and hope of liberation during the darkest days of the War, when both Germans and Japanese were advancing everywhere.


Dieppe was chosen as it was believed not to be as heavily defended as larger ports such as Cherbourg (this was based on false intelligence, it turned out), was within easy reach of British fighter cover and had worthwhile targets, such as the radar station, coastal cannon batteries, railways, petrol dumps and an airfield. Objective 13 was for the SSR to escort a radar expert to the Freya 28 radar station on a cliff top at Pourville, designated as Green Beach just 4 kms west of Dieppe, and within a few minutes uncover its secrets; the expert was Jack Nissenthall.


Before leaving his last base at Hope Cove in South Devon,to take part on his mission, Jack prepared his blue RAF small pack with his most precious possession, a small avometer given to him by his late father for his Barmitzvah. In his last two letters to his mother and Adeline, he included the Jewish prayer made before embarking on a journey, “O Lord deliver us from our enemies..send a blessing upon the work of our hands”.

In London, he reported to RAF Intelligence in Whitehall. He refused to remove his Jewish RAF identity discs; he wished to live and die with the sign of his people. He did not relate to the officer the anti-Semitic jibe he had heard from another Intelligence Officer on his first visit, or his firm belief that having a crack at the Nazis would be a way of getting back at them for the murder of his Jewish relatives in Poland.

He was then given an Army uniform and an Evaders Pack, which was a small tin containing useful items to help make an escape if things went wrong. But this one included an extra item especially for Jack – a green suicide pill. He was then driven by an anonymous, armed SOE officer (wearing no badges or rank) to Waterloo and taken by train and ferry to the Isle of Wight and thence to Norris castle, to meet Colonel Merritt, OC of the SSR . Not allowed to give his full name, the Colonel addressed him as Jack.

The next day, Jack met his eleven “bodyguards”. In James Leasor’s definitve book on Jack, “Green Beach” (Heinemann, 1975), the men are named as members of “A” Company, commander by capt. Mather – Graham Mavor, Les Thrussel, Charlie Sawden, “Smokey”, “Lofty”, “Frenchie”, “Red”, “Buddy”, “Silver” and “Jim” (the last seven being nicknames as Jack wanted everyone to know as little as possible about each other in case of capture) and Sgt Roy Hawkins (the Field Security Sergeant) who joined them later.They in turn called him “Spook” because of his pale complexion gained from too many nights of work over radar screens.

The following day, Jack boarded the SS Invicta, which together with the SS Princess Beatrix was to carry him and the SSR to battle. The men thought it was a practice until the tannoy announced that they were sailing through the night and would land at dawn in France. Jack describes how there was silence for a moment and then the Canadians began to cheer and the deck trembled with the sound of men stamping their boots in delight at the prospect of action. Then Canada’s General Roberts (commanding the landing) and Lord Mountbatten (Chief of Combined Operations) addressed the men on both ships in turn and General Eisenhower visited the 50 American Rangers who would be the first US troops (under Captain Roy Murray) to face German soldiers in this war.

Next day (July 7th) the raid (until then known as “Operation Rutter”) was cancelled because of poor weather.


As pressure rose from the Russians to create a “Second Front”, however, the raid had to be re-mounted. “Operation Jubilee”, as it was now known, was set for August 19th. Jack was recalled to London from Devon but in his haste, put on a blue RAF shirt under his khaki Army battledress. Further, he had still his blue RAF pack, which stood out against his Army khaki, and no Divisional signs on his uniform, which made him look even more out of place. In the event of capture, this would make him suspect as something more than a member of a raiding party. At a second talk with Maury, he was again offered the chance to withdraw, but refused On arrival at Combined Operations HQ at 1a, Richmond Terrace, London, he was handed a tin helmet and revolver and briefed as before, and then driven to King George V dock at Southampton by another SOE officer.

The same ships and men then set sail for Dieppe. Uppermost in Jack’s mind – beside his mission – were thoughts about home and childhood, Friday night candles, Kiddush, chicken soup and lockshen, and his cheder (religious school) teacher, a Polish rabbi who took snuff!

When he reached the SS Invicta, the Canadian troops were making a tremendous din banging their tin helmets on the metal deck. The sight of a staff car with Jack in it brought the noise to a great crescendo, for “A” Company knew that Jack’s presence meant the raid was on; a huge cheer went up as went aboard.

On the journey across, Frenchie – one of his escort – blessed Jack with his rosary. When Jack said he was Jewish, Frenchie said, “it was the same God and he was on our side”.

Twelve miles out in the dawn half light with a chill wind, the men were transferred to the Landing Craft (LC’s). At one point a Navy NCO tried to tell Jack he was in the wrong LC with his escort. A fierce argument ensued but Jack stayed put. They were still two hours journey to the beaches.

Warned by the unlucky chance meeting by the invasion flotilla section of No. 3 Commando with a German navy patrol and two “E” boats from Boulogne, the Nazis around Dieppe were waiting for the Allied troops. However, the Germans were expecting an invasion along the Channel coast in any case as they were perfectly aware of the Russian pressure on the Allies , and which tidal periods would be most suitable.

In Jack’s LC a canteen of rum appeared and was passed from man to man; then suddenly they hit land. As the SSR and Canadian Cameron Highlanders came ashore at Green Beach in Pourville between 4.50 and 5.30 am, there was chaos, added to which Jack realised that they had been landed at least a quarter of a mile too far west of the radar station (code named “Study”), which was his particular target. This meant that Merritt had to fight his way across the bridge first before getting to his targets.

With Canadian casualties mounting horrifically in bitter close fighting, Jack and his team raced up the beach and along the road east towards the bridge over the river Scie, to get to the cliff-top radar. The bridge was raked with fire and by then covered with Canadian dead, but encouraged and led by the remarkable Col. Merritt, who won his VC here as he exposed himself constantly and fearlessly to enemy fire,the men rushed the bridge and found cover on the other side.

Three of Jack’s escort (including Mavor and Sawden) by this time were already killed and one wounded, as well as the CO, Osten, but the group and others had reached the slope approaching the radar and began the ascent, surrounded by wounded and dead Canadians. It was now morning and getting warm. “A” Company’s 100 men were already down to 25.

(A few weeks before his death in 1997, Jack saw a documentary on TV which alleged that many of A company hid in some houses near the beach and because they did not press home their attack, he was unable to break into the Radar Station. He wrote a bitter letter to Col Merritt about this, but no reply came back – source, Linda Samuels nee Nissenthall).

From the roadside viewing point (there to this day) Jack was now only 100 yards away from his objective and could now see the radar station clearly, surrounded by open, short grassland and masses of barbed wire, sandbags and trenches. But the German firepower was too great and the site too impregnable for an attack and so Jack volunteered to take a narrow path a mile back again, with Frenchie and Thrussel, to the invasion HQ which was in the cassino near the beach, to try and get a radio message out, for a destroyer to shell the radar area, and extra men to rush the radar defences. Try as they might, they could not find one working radio among the fighting troops!

Blown off their feet by a mortar bomb on the return run, they somehow eventually made it back yet again up to the wounded Osten near the radar (minus Thrussel), where Jack decided smoke cannisters were needed to allow them to break in. He and Smokey rushed again down to the town and at the bridge met an exhausted Col. Merritt still rallying his men across the Scie. The CO gave Jack some reinforcements and they returned again to the hill, losing many on the way through intense German sniper and mortar fire.

By now, the mission appeared hopeless so Jack decided he would go around the rear of the station and obtain the secrets of the radar alone. He knew British listening centres on the South coast had often picked up coded messages being sent between the German radars by radio and morse. Cryptographers in Britain then decoded these messages and thus were able to determine the capabilities and strengths of the radar stations. However, now the stations used land line telephones which could not be intercepted. If Jack could cut these lines and force the use of radio again, then the German transmissions could again be picked up in Britain, and the latest secrets revealed, including the possible whereabouts of other yet unknown German radars.

He told Osten to give him covering fire explaining that whatever risk he took, either the Germans or Canadians would get him. He took two grenades from a dead Canadian ( he related how he was determined to blow himself up if in danger of capture), his own tool pack and pistol and rushed the rear wire, getting under it. He still had 50 yards to go and so far was not spotted. He crawled closer over very rough, hard ground and at last saw the wires he was after, leading out of the rear of the station via a short mast on the sloping hill and thence disappearing underground. With his wire cutters (and a spare set in his pocket), he dropped his pack – with the precious avometer given him by his father many years before – and climbed the mast, slowly cutting all eight cables as bullets flew about him – both Canadian and German! By the eighth cable he was suspended 15 feet by one hand and as he snipped it, he fell to earth, rolling away down the slope towards the Canadian positions. He had done it!


At that moment, by a twist of irony, in a camouflaged caravan listening station on the Sussex coast near Birling Gap, a Jewish WAAF Sergeant and her Jewish RAF Sergeant colleague – both German speaking – picked up signals from German radar stations on the French coast. At the same time, radar expert Ken Dearson aboard the navy Command warship “Prince Albert” offshore from Dieppe, also picked up the German signals. Jack’s ploy had worked and valuable German radar information reached British Intelligence for days after.


It was 10am and Jack now decided there was one last chance – to try and get a tank which would be coming from the landings at Dieppe, up to the radar and blast the wall and get in. He instinctively took command and with his escort (Roy, Jim, Lofty, Smokey, Silver, Bud and Frenchie) they returned to the church in Pourville – now a wrecked town – yet again, and dashed up the road to Petit-Appeville where they expected to meet some allied tanks.

Suddenly they heard a distinct and distant rumble , but when vehicles came into view they saw to their horror that they were Panzers. With bullets flying all around them they back-tracked at once for the beach at Pourville, with Germans barely yards behind them. Two more of Jack’s escort were lost in the flight back (Silver and Frenchie). He himself was hit on the back of his helmet, leaving a huge dent which punched the metal onto his skull. At the church, not one minute from the beach, they met a German patrol and a fire-fight began as they were now shot at from both front and behind. Suddenly in the midst of this, three elderly French World War 1 veterans in berets appeared on the road wearing their medals. Summing up the situation at once,one of the veterans deliberately stepped out into the line of fire, calmly walking down the road puffing on his Gauloise.

A German officer ordered cease fire, for shooting a French civilian could lead to disciplinary action. As the Frenchman came close to Jack and the Canadians, he glanced at Jack, as if to say, “I am holding their fire; now get out!” Within a few minutes they had reached the beach HQ safely thanks to the great courage of a gallant ally.

In and around the cassino – now the casualty clearing station – Jack and his escort now joined in a desperate last stand in order to gain time for Landing Craft to come and take them all off. Here, Lofty was killed. Dozens of wounded Canadians littered the building and the courtyard outside whilst dozens of others fired at the advancing Germans. Jack himself was firing a bren gun and then when the magazines ran out, an anti-tank rifle, especially at the German machine guns on the cliffs above them. Added to this cacophony, the RAF and Navy were shelling German positions trying to give support and covering fire to the survivors in the beach area.

It was now 11.30am. Putting the cyanide pill in his pocket ready for use in case, Jack, with Roy Hawkins, decided after a long discussion with the officers and men in the cassino, to make a run for a Landing Craft lying several hundred yards off the shore. Smokey, one of the escort,at first threatened Jack with his knife if he tried to leave, but Jack convinced him that they, with Bud, Jim and Roy could form a group and make a run for the LC. At that moment a Navy smoke shell landed nearby and Jack knew this was the moment. The group, plus several others, on Jack’s command,amid all the chaos and smoke and debris, vaulted through a rear window and were away, racing towards the sea wall and the shingle, and jumping barbed wire as bullets whined all about them. Smokey and Bud disappeared. Jim was killed on the wire but Hawkins kept up with Jack, who was quietly reciting the Shema ( a Jewish prayer) to himself as he ran. He now discarded his helmet and jacket, but this revealed his blue RAF shirt and made him a particular target. Within seconds they were in the sea, half crawling, half swimming. About fifty yards ahead they saw an LC in the smoke screen. In one last great effort, they swam, exhausted, to the half open ramp and grabbed the side; two sailors grabbed Jack and pulled him in. “Pick up my mate!” blurted Jack. “What do you think this is, the No. 8 bus?” quipped a cockney sailor, hauling Roy in too. The LC turned north and made for England.


At Pourville, firing slowly stopped, as the Canadians ran out of ammunition and a ceasefire was agreed. By 1pm it was all over. They were lined up outside the Hotel de la Terrasse and Col. Merritt, now wounded, watched with pride as his surviving men marched away, in disciplined ranks, to become POW’s.


Holed by Luftwaffe strafing, the LC made for a nearby flak ship and transferred all the passengers, just as the LC itself finally gave up the ghost and sank. Like the sailors on the LC, the Royal Marine crew on the ship were Cockneys, and this cheered Jack enormously.One of them gave him an old RM jacket to keep warm. They made for home. Jack had survived and at 2am they reached Newhaven, where he and Hawkins found a warehouse and fell into a sleep of the dead.

Next morning Jack and Roy parted company, without knowing they would not meet again for 25 years. Of the eleven men who had set out for the radar station on the hill at Pourville, only these two got back to England.

Jack was taken by two MP’s to Canadian Army HQ in Reigate where he had some difficulty persuading the Intelligence de-briefers who he was, with his army trousers, RAF blouse and RM jacket! German prisoners had been brought back and it was possible some could have got into allied unifroms to pass themselves off as friends! Eventually he made his way to Waterloo, London, thence by tube to the Air Ministry and at last met again with Air Commodore Tait.

There he was told of the success of his work. Prof Reginald V Jones (who died in Dec 1997), a leading member of Air Intelligence and a radar expert, told Jack that because he had cut the wires as he did, the German radars as expected had communicated by radio and all the signals had been intercepted in England and analysed. As a result, it was now clear that there was no second standby radar system being used by the Germans across North West Europe and that they used several different call signs for the same fighter squadron, so deceiving the Allies into believing that they had far more air power than in fact existed; it was also clear how long it took them to calculate that an Allied air attack was incoming, for scrambling their aircraft – especially the night-fighters which did so much damage to Bomber Command – so giving them very early warning. In addition much was being learned about the technical capabilities of the German radar system itself which in turn meant that jamming devices could now be used to saturate the radars, undoing all the German deception work and so make all future air attacks against the Germans more efficient and so save Allied lives and eventually shorten the war. One result was that at the Normandy landings later, whilst the Allies could see everything with their radar, the German radar was completely jammed.


Jack would have loved to tell the Canadians that their terrible sacrifice had been so worthwhile, but he was sworn to secrecy. He and Tait shook hands and Jack left, tired but happy. He made his way to 27, Mattock Lane in Ealing by tube, where his mother now lived, buying a newspaper on the way. The “Daily Express” headline read, “The Great raid is over…Commandos leave Dieppe in flames…”. His mother answered the door amazed at the grimy state of her eldest son. “What happened to you?” she gasped. He handed her the newspaper, and she knew. He bathed and went to bed; within seconds he was asleep.


Of the 4963 Canadians who had sailed, 907 (one fifth) were killed (half at sea) but over two fifths (2210) were back safely in England. 1840 (just under two fifths) were taken prisoner. Of the others, the British lost 14 soldiers and 31 Royal Marines, with 466 POW’s; the RAF 70 killed; the Navy 75 killed but 270 missing, and 13 casualties occured among the US Rangers (on this raid, the American Col Hilsinger was the last man to be injured in the attack ;Lt Edwin Loustalot the first American to be killed in Europe; and Cpl Frank Koons the first to kill a German in Europe and win a British decoration, the MM – for bravery in action). Overall there were 4259 casualties, of whom 1 in 3 died. 33 Naval vessels were lost including the destroyer Berkeley, and 106 aircraft – 5 by friendly fire

The Germans admitted to 600 killed (but Allied estimates suggest far more), two coastal batteries destroyed, a ship sunk, 37 prisoners and over 50 aircraft shot down.

After a communal burial by the Germans at Janval,the Allied dead were exhumed and buried individually at Hautot-sur-Mer, just above the Scie valley, where they lie today, surrounded by Canadian maple trees.Two years later in summer 1944, the 2nd Canadian Division returned and liberated Dieppe.

The lessons learned from the Dieppe raid were clear – deficiencies in fire power, landing craft, harbour facilities, pre-landing bombardment by sea and air, radio communication , radar jamming and diversion landings. The correction of these resulted in the remarkably low casualties in the Normandy landings two years later.



Jack’s toolkit was later found by the Germans at the radar site, but its significance was never discovered. A captured Jubilee plan revealed to the Germans that an allied radar specialist had been ordered to examine the Freya, but despite interrogations of locals and POW’s, no light was thrown on his role in the raid. The radar station was heavily fortified after the raid but its secrets were already out and just before D Day it was heavily bombed. In Spring 1974, the concrete section remaining fell to the foot of the eroding chalk cliffs where it remains to this day. Old gun emplacements around it still remain. Every August, Canadians return to Dieppe and the other landing sites to honour their soldiers who fought and died there as well as meet the many local people who helped them. At Pourville itself – which is little changed in over 50 years – the curator of the small War Museum related to the author in August 1996 how he had met Jack on one of his visits in August 1994.

The site of the cassino is today grassed over, the church and Hotel de la Terrasse remain as they were. The town has several moving memorials, easy to see and visit, scattered along the streets and promenade.



Jack’s part in the Dieppe raid is well known in Canada and something of a legend, but it has never been recognised by the British authorities. Many Canadians he knew were decorated, including Hawkins who received the MM. Col Merritt knew very little about the importance of Jack’s objective until after the war. In an interview he said that had he been properly briefed, he would have got Jack into the radar station.

Professor R V Jones – a leading adviser in Scientific Intelligence to the Government during the whole war and for decades after the war – wrote “Jack was a man who willingly went into the hard, savage clash of Dieppe, spurred by patriotism and an enthusiasm for electronics, and knowing that if things went wrong – which they did – he had a peculiarly slim chance of returning….His own deeds speak for themselves …I only wish that I had such a tale as his to tell.” Despite such praise, Jack always felt a deliberate barrier had been erected between the “professional” university scientists on the one hand and the self-made radar technician from Bow on the other, who actually outclassed them! In private, unkind things were said about the Jew from the East End.

Lord Mountbatten said that because of what was learnt at Dieppe, for every one man killed, a dozen were saved at Normandy two years later. But he had no idea of the orders to shoot Jack if he was in danger of capture, or even that he was supposed to enter the radar station, or indeed was a radar expert. The danger that he may have been caught and tortured to give away top radar secrets known to him, horrified Mountbatten, who said that had he known the truth, Jack would not have been allowed to go, and especially as he was Jewish and in particular danger without being given a false identity. Nor did he know that Jack had returned safely; “If I had been told, he would most certainly have been decorated on the spot…. his action may have shortened the war by two years”.

However, in Nigel West’s 1998 book “Counterfeit Spies”, he alleges that RV Jones wrote in 1978 that the order to shoot Jack, had he been captured, had been given in error! He wrote, “Actually there was no more reason for him (Jack) to be shot than there would have been for Cox (the RAF Flght. Sgt radar expert) in the Bruneval raid (six months before), since they knew comparable amounts about our own radar, and only as much about German radar as was necessary for dismantling captured equipment. It was a misapprehension regarding my own (possible) presence (ie Jones) on the (Dieppe) Raid that resulted in (this) dramatic order”.



After Dieppe Jack turned down a Commission but was sent to work on mobile radar development in the Middle East. At war’s end he married Dell and then accepted a place at the RAF College, Cranwell. There he was advised to change his name to Nissen to avoid any post-war hostility from Germans who may have discovered his role in the radar war and the effects on the bombing of German cities. In 1948 he was invited by the Smuts government to plan radar installations in South Africa, but then the incoming Nationalist government refused him a position. However, he stayed and opened a TV and hi-fi business but fell foul of the regime for teaching Black students at his training school. He faked an assembly line so when the authorities came to check, he could pretend it was a factory; when they left it became a school again. Finally he had to leave and in 1978 he went to Toronto in Canada where he lived until he died on Nov 8th 1997, survived by his wife, daughter Linda, son Paul and 3 grandchildren.


In August 1967 Jack returned to Pourville for the 25th anniversary of the landings and met many old and decorated friends, including Les Thrussel. Les had always told friends the story of how he had orders to shoot a top British scientist on the raid had he been in danger of capture, but nobody believed him. Now he met Jack and told him to tell Les’s friends the truth!

In a cafe in Dieppe that evening Jack sat reminiscing with the three VC’s of the raid – Merritt, Porteous and Foote. There was a loud knocking on the door and several young Canadian soldiers serving with NATO walked in. “We heard Jack Nissen was here and we want to shake his hand”. Jack recalled afterward, “There I was sitting with three VC’s and these young men wanted to shake ME by the hand. I was in tears. This was my reward and the highlight of my life”.



In 1991 the first re-union of WW2 radar personnel was held in Coventry. Jack Nissenthall was an honoured guest, but he did not even rate a mention in the souvenir programme which marked the event, and few even saw the presentation made to him – a replica of the precious avometer his father gave him for his Barmitzvah, and that he lost in his toolkit on the Dieppe raid.

Ken Dearson, who was a member of the Mountbatten briefing team for the raid and presented the replica to Jack, has always been aware of his outstanding courage and remarkable achievment at Pourville, and for several years has been campaigning to get Jack the VC. Jack went to Dieppe ” under a sentence of death”, he wrote. Mountbatten had personally told Dearson after the War that Jack should have been given the VC. But this means overturning a 1949 directive ending the issue of WW2 medals. Dearson argues that some events, however, were so secret that little could be known about them till many years later. Jack’s identity has been concealed for years by the Official Secret’s Act, and only recently have Mountbatten’s archives and other documents been released for public scrutiny, revealing Jack’s crucial achievement. In fact it was Mountbatten’s Publicity section which put out the story that a scientist called “Prof. Wendall” had been on the raid; this was in fact Jack.

Appeals to Prime Minister John Major and the Honours Committee in 1991 and again in 1997 were fruitless, and to this day Jack Nissenthall’s deeds remain officially unrecognised. His daughter Linda who lives in North London with her family says this is scandalous. Jack said his main reward was helping to destroy Hitler; “I still feel that way” he said. Actors Michael Caine and Roger Moore have both said they would like to have played him in a movie and such a film has been long contemplated.

At his funeral in the Jewish cemetery in Toronto on the “11th of the 11th” 1997, there was a huge escort of Ex-Servicemen from the Jewish and Canadian Legions, and many young people. Jack had been a legend in his own lifetime there – truly the unknown hero of Dieppe.




In July 1997, the author spoke to Jack’s daughter who described how after the war Mountbatten and Prince Phillip wrote to Jack expressing their admiration for his achievments at Dieppe, Mountbatten agreeing that a gallantry award should be made. Both Prince Phillp and Prince Charles have also met Jack at Dieppe reunions asking to speak to him privately after the official proceedings and repeating their praise for his work and great courage on the raid.

After the war, Jack met the German Engineering Officer who had been in charge of the Pourville radar station – Willy Weber – and they became friends. It was Weber who had first spotted the invasion flotilla at Dieppe but had been told he was imagining it! Weber also discovered the wires cut by Jack after the raid but reported it was shell damage. Little did he know! At one reunion at the Canadian cemetery Weber was refused entry because he was a German. Jack saw him, however, and personnally brought him in and stood next to him during the ceremony.

Sadly, Ken Dearson died in 1995 but the struggle to get Jack his award goes on – even though Jack himself remained indifferent. Canadian Ex-servicemen, British MP’s and former MP’S and the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) have continued to press for recognition for him!

After the war, Dearson continued working for Mountbatten and when ever any failure occurred in the communications system, The First Sea Lord would shout, “Send for Nissenthall!”



1. “Green Beach” by James Leasor (Heinemann 1975) – contains many references to other sources but is based on several personal interviews with veterans and especially Jack Nissenthall.

2. Saga Holiday Magazine – Folkestone – 1991.

3. “The man who went back” – Lucien Dumais (Leo Cooper 1975)

4. Jewish Chronicle – Aug 1991; Feb. 1992

5. “Battlefields of Northern France” by Michael Glover (Michael Joseph 1987)

6. Ville de Dieppe information leaflet.

7. “The War of the Landing Craft” – P Lund and H Ludlum (Foulsham 1976)

8. “Commando Gallantry Awards of WW2” – George A Brown (London Stamp Exchange – 1991).

9. Article (1987/88) of the New Cambridge and Bethnal Green Old Boys Club Report, by D Roxan.

10 “The Radar War” – Nissenthall and Cockerill – R Hale, 1989.

11. “Counterfeit Spies” Nigel West, St Ermin’s Press, 1998.

12.My deep thanks to Linda Samuels (nee Nissenthall), whose many anecdotes about her father’s life were passed on to me from Jack himself,and have never before been published, and to Cyril Silvertown, historian, for their help.Jack’s decorations are the 1939-45, Africa and Italy Stars, Defence and War Medals

Jack is commemorated not only at the Pourville Museum, AJEX Museum and Combined Operations Museum at Inverary (Scotland), but also on the RAF Hope Cove/Bolt Head memorial near Marlborough village, Salcomb, in Devon.