An Interview with Frank Koons,  1st Ranger Battalion

On August 19, 1942, 4,963 Canadian troops, 1,075 Commandos, and 50 American Rangers made a raid on the French coastal resort town of Dieppe. The raid was a failure but was spun by the Allies as valuable "lessons learned" and therefore instrumental in preventing mistakes from occurring on D-day. But not every aspect of the Raid was a disaster, and in the western sector of the raid, No. 4 Commando performed a "textbook" operation by destroying a battery of guns at Varengeville. The following interview is with Frank Koons, a Ranger attached to No. 4 Commando.
I joined the Rangers on June 6, 1942.  I had to go through preliminary training that lasted three weeks. Out of about 3,000 volunteers, I was one of a couple hundred that made it. Prior to joining,  I was in Ireland at the time with the 34th Division and there were a goodly number of men from the 34th who volunteered with me. About every American unit that was in Ireland, and there weren’t many, had men that volunteered for the Rangers.

What was the initial training like?

Pretty darn tough! There was physical and psychological training. They wanted to know that you were worthy of being a Ranger. It wasn’t just a matter of someone trying to get out of their regiment. You had to have it deep in your heart to be a Ranger. You had to put up with a lot. I had a small hernia at the time and I had been hiding it throughout my service in the Army. I was afraid to go and have an operation but during the examination for the Rangers, the Doctor found out about it. He said to me, "You know you have a hernia." And I said to him "Yes sir!" He told me I was not fit for service. I said, "Let me prove it to you that I am." So I did a couple of strenuous exercises where I bent over to touching my hands to the floor to prove that it wouldn’t affect me and I did this a couple of times until finally the doctor said, "Fine! You don’t have a problem!" You had show that kind of spirit you really want to be a Ranger. When the rough got going you had to keep going.

Next we had to go through the Commando School (at the time I was just a Buck Private, not even a Private First Class). During Commando School I was chosen to go on the Dieppe Raid. I really don’t know how I was chosen to go on the Raid, I guess some people observed me or something … I really don’t know. I had a company commander that I thought was pretty good. I realized that anybody who was over me was trying to train me for combat. No matter what they poured on to me I worked that much harder.

The Raid

We got on the ship in the evening on the 18th of August and I noticed Lord Moutbatten who had come on board. He said "boys this is the real thing. As you know they tried this once before but it was called off." The code name for this operation was "Jubilee." He said "we are on and everything is go." Of course you must remember that there was 5,000 Canadians and about 1,000 other allied troops who were going to be on the raid also. There were only 50 American Rangers that were interspersed with all these other troops. Four of us, me, Bill Bradley, Alex Szima, and Stetson, were attached to a platoon of Commandos.

I fell asleep in the boat trip over. I didn’t wake up until a spray of water came up over the side of the landing craft and hit me in the face. It was a salutary summer morning on the 19th of August when we landed. There were tracers going up all over the place and there were planes coming over. I began to think "Hey this is really World War II." I had been reading about the war since I was in sixth grade and now I was really in it! The landing was fairly uneventful; we didn’t draw any fire until we started moving inland and it started getting hotter. I landed with the No. 4 Commando at St. Margaret, it was a few miles from the town of Dieppe.

Our unit was on the complete right flank of the entire operation. Our primary mission was to knock out several big coastal guns and a radar station. The town itself was a kind of resort area where Europeans would go on vacation. We had to go about a mile inland; it was a fairly short distance from the beach. Resistance wasn’t very organized by the Germans because they weren’t expecting us. We were with a group of British Commandos who where doing an excellent job. We were moving along with them, doing the best we could since we hadn’t had time to train with them. We didn’t really see that many Germans up close; they were off in the distance. If you do see them up close it’s either "you’re gone or they’re gone!"

I never assaulted the coastal guns but I supplied supporting fire for the men attacking the coastal guns. I was in a barn with men armed with a Boyz Anti-tank rifle which fires a 50-caliber bullet. We were providing supporting fire to the men attacking the guns. This attack was pretty well rehearsed. Everyone one had good timing. This was the best combat I had ever been in. We were on shore for a total of 4 hours from between 5:00 and 9:00 and successfully went back to the boats after the guns and radar station was destroyed.


Interview by Pat O'Donnell with Frank Koons 6/98