DIEPPE - AUG 19 1942
Operation Jubilee, the Dieppe Raid was very costly for Canadian forces but valuable lessons were learned in planning future operations, especially D-Day. However, a recent History TV documentary (Aug 2012), based on 15years of research by David O'Keefe, provides fresh insight into other top secret purposes behind the raid. See "Correspondence" below.
1942 was the worst year of the war for the Allies. Great Britain could not boast a single victory in the field. British and Commonwealth troops in North Africa were being contained and driven back by the Africa Corps. In the Far East the Japanese were dismembering and occupying substantial parts of the former British Empire. The Americans were still feeling the after effects of their material losses at Pearl Harbour and struggling to maintain what was left of their Philippine Army and the Russians were being steadily pushed back as Hitler developed his thrust into the Caucusus. The immediate outlook was bleak.
The most serious situation was on the Russian Front where immense armies were pitted against each other in a fight to the death. There seemed to be no way of stopping the German offensive. Stalin called loudly and often for an offensive in the West to reduce some of the pressure on his armies. At this stage of the war a Russian military collapse was considered a possibility with a consequent catastrophic effect on the whole Allied war effort.
The Russian plea was strongly supported by the Americans, even though they themselves were unable to provide significant material support, or troops, for an offensive in the West. There was significant agitation by several senior American military and naval leaders, that, unless an offensive in the West was developed and executed within the short term, they would concentrate their efforts in the Pacific against the Japanese. The general public also agitated for offensive action to support the beleaguered Russians. Mass rallies held in both Trafalgar Square in London and Madison Square gardens in New York, during April 1942, called for "a second front now!"
There was, therefore, unbearable pressure on Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff to develop and execute an offensive operation on the Western front - an operation that would, it was hoped, either draw German divisions from the Russian front, or at least hold the existing divisions in France in place thus preventing additional reinforcements being sent to the East.
It was against this menacing background that the Dieppe raid was planned and executed.
"Don't worry men, it'll be a piece of cake!" - Canadian Major-General "Ham" Roberts briefing his officers on the eve of the Dieppe raid.
Originally conceived in April 1942 by Combined Operations Headquarters (C.O.H.Q.), and subsequently code named "Operation Rutter", the Allies planned to conduct a major division size raid on a German held port on the French channel coast and to hold it for the duration of at least two tides. They would effect the greatest amount of destruction of enemy facilities and defences before withdrawing. This original plan was approved by the Chiefs of Staff in May 1942. It included dropping paratroopers inland of the port preceding a frontal assault from the sea. Such a raid was however vulnerable to weather conditions in the area. Most importantly this size of raid would provide the Allies with much needed experience in conducting an amphibious assault on a defended coast - the last large scale amphibious assault by the British had been at Gallipoli during the First World War. The planners therefore felt it was imperative that a raid incorporating modern military techniques be conducted before a serious attempt to breach Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" could be made.
For the first time ever, in an amphibious assault, tanks were to be landed on the beaches to support the infantry. There was a feeling that this innovation would ensure the success of any landing attempt. The raid was scheduled for July 7th but was firstly postponed 24 hours due to unfavourable weather conditions and then postponed indefinitely after an aerial attack by German fighter-bombers on the troopships and the supporting fleet gathered in the Solent. It was reasoned at the time that the element of surprise, on which success depended, had been lost and two troopships damaged could not be quickly and easily repaired or replaced. The unsettled weather conditions added to the gloom as the prospect of success became increasingly unrealizable. The troops and shipping were dispersed.
Continued and increasing Russian and American political pressure and public opinion to mount an offensive caused Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff to look once more at the previously planned raid on Dieppe. It was the fastest way to respond. Although the original target selection and planning had been by C.O.H.Q., an inter-service committee representing Air, Army and Naval forces had been busy improving the plan and to make the operation less weather dependant. The original paratroop component was replaced by commando forces landing from the sea. The final plan, accepted by all 3 services and the Chiefs of Staff, envisaged assault landings at eight separate locations in the vicinity of Dieppe, with extensive air bombing support and fire support from a naval force stationed offshore.
Commando forces were to land in pre-dawn darkness. No. 3 Commando was to conduct two landings eight miles east of Dieppe to silence the coastal battery near Berneval. No. 4 Commando (including fifty U.S. Rangers) was to conduct two landings six miles west of Dieppe to neutralize the coastal battery near Varengeville. Each of the gun positions was held by more than one hundred Germans, and the two landings by the commandos would enable them to effect a pincer attack on the batteries. Both of these gun positions could easily range on assault ships positioned off Dieppe and their neutralization was considered essential. The main assault landing force was to be provided mainly by units of the Canadian 2nd division landing in four separate locations. These units were to land immediately to the east of Dieppe at Puys and immediately west at Pourville half an hour before the main assault. They're objective was to disable the guns and machine gun nests on the cliffs that covered the main landing beaches east and west of the town. The main assaults on two beaches in front of the town were scheduled for the early daylight hours - essentially a frontal assault. The total assault force consisted of some 6,000 men with another 3,000 sailors in the naval force. There were also some 65 RAF squadrons of fighters, heavy bombers and fighter-bombers. Dieppe was not thought to be heavily defended and it was considered that, with tank support in the front line, this force would be sufficient to accomplish the raid's objectives.
Operation Jubilee commenced in the late evening hours of August 18th, 1942. There was a veritable armada of over 230 ships assembled from southern English ports. It was a warm moonless night as the ships headed across the channel to Dieppe. The force commanders had no inkling that they were on a collision course with a German convoy proceeding from Boulogne to Dieppe. Radar stations on the English coast picked up these "unidentified vessels" and twice, at one thirty a.m. and again at 2.30 a.m. on August 19th, they radioed warnings to the naval commander Captain Hughes-Hallet. These warnings were not acknowledged and the raiding force took no evasive action. The main assault troops were being convoyed in large ships with their LCP's (Landing Craft Personnel) hanging from davits. Most of the commandos made the crossing in their own LCPs which held about 20 men each while the tanks crossed in their own LCT's (Landing Craft Tanks - 3 tanks to each LCT). Just after the 3 a.m. the first shots in Operation Jubilee were fired as troops in the larger ships were loaded into their LCPs and lowered for the long run in to the beaches, The "point of no return" had been reached.
No.3 commando occupied 25 LCPs at the eastern end of the assault convoy. They ran into 5 German ships including armed trawlers escorting a tanker. In the resulting melee several of the flimsy LCPs were sunk and the rest scattered. Any element of surprise the assault force had counted on was now lost and the dispersion of No.3 commando substantially prejudiced their planned suppression of the eastern flank Berneval gun battery. Only a small percentage of the men allocated to the task succeeded in arriving at their correct landing points and instead of an all out attack on the battery they had to resort to sniping. However this proved quite effective in keeping the German gunners occupied and there were no known instance of this battery sinking any of the assault convoy ships off Dieppe. No. 4 commando executed an almost flawless operation and in hard fighting eventually overran and neutralized the coastal battery on the western flank. An indication of the severity of the struggle was the subsequent award of the Victoria Cross to commando Captain Pat Porteous.
right - Cameron Highlanders of Canada). The main assault landings by some 5,000
Canadians immediately encountered fierce opposition as an alerted and prepared
enemy was ready and waiting. Plan changes had eliminated the original heavy air
bombing attack and the substituted smoke screen was blown clear of the beach by
a southerly breeze. Nine tanks scheduled to land with the first infantry assault
were late due to navigational errors. Faulty intelligence had failed to reveal
the presence of many gun and machine gun positions in caves high up in the
cliffs to the side of the beaches. Nor was it realised the that the port was
indeed strongly defended by experienced German troops. The bombardment by 4
destroyers off the beach and the low level strafing attack by 5 squadrons of
Hurricanes proved inadequate to the challenge of suppressing the German
defences. Commander Harry Leslie RNVR, recalled the failure of the support ships
to depress their guns sufficiently to hit the German positions at either end of
the bay; the height of the sea walls had not been anticipated. His flotilla of
ML's were responsible for supporting the landing craft and he was awarded the
DSC for towing damaged vessels offshore to safety in very hazardous conditions.
Almost 4,000 Canadian and British had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Canadians lost two thirds of their force, with 907 dead or later to die from their wounds. Major-General Roberts unfairly became the official scapegoat and was never to command troops in the field again. Year after year, on August 19th, a small box arrived in the post for him. Its contents a small piece of stale cake - a cruel reminder of his attempt to boost morale at the pre-raid briefing "Don't worry boys. It will be a piece of cake!"
What went wrong? The operation was a tactical disaster and the Germans inflicted a sorely felt defeat on the allied forces involved. With the benefit of hindsight it is evident that the final assault plan contained a number of flaws:
After the Dieppe raid Allied planners were forced to review their previously held supposition that the capture of a significant port was an essential precursor to an invasion of mainland Europe. This view had been justified by the perceived scale of logistical follow up and support following an invasion - it could, it was reasoned, only be provided through established port facilities. So with this option firmly placed on the back burner Dieppe became the inspiration behind the development of Mulberry Harbours, PLUTO (pipe-line under the Ocean), and other special initiatives that later contributed to the success of the Normandy invasion. It was also realized that much better intelligence would be required - not only about the defending forces but also on the topographical conditions in and around the landing area. Better communications were seen to be needed between the troop commanders afloat and the assaulting troops and command decisions required better organization. The need to develop armoured landing craft, at least proof against small arms fire, was now considered an imperative as was the case for heavier bombardment of entrenched defensive positions prior to the landing of men and supplies (Photo above: German soldiers inspect the wreckage on the beach.)
Who knows how many lives were saved in later amphibious landings, particularly Normandy, as a result of the casualties at Dieppe? This failed assault had ramifications for the German forces too. Their confidence grew in their ability to withstand an invading force and they came to believe that the inevitable Allied invasion would include an area with good port facilities. They subsequently concentrated on providing stronger defences around the main ports to the detriment of open beach locations. (Photo; Canadian POWs in Dieppe. In the middle/left of the photo is John Machuk of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Winnipeg giving a wounded soldier the support of his arm).
The Dieppe raid carried with it a high cost but the lessons learned were invaluable and led directly to the success of the Normandy landings.
At a ceremony held in November 2003 to award Corporal Leslie Ellis a commemorative Dieppe medallion for his part in the Dieppe raid he recalled that he landed with the Royals at Puys... "some say it was a dress rehearsal for the invasion (of Normandy) and some say it was a whim of the top echelon. History says the Germans were waiting for us and we didn't have a chance after that. We were all well-trained, we did what we were trained to do. We were proud to have done it, we were soldiers ... we did what we were expected to do."
The impact of that major battle may still be debated but what remains certain is that the Canadian soldiers were brave and there was "a feeling of pride" to serve with them. "They were a great bunch of people. I was fortunate that I got over the (beach) wall and got back with a few injuries and the Good Lord spared me. It all happened so fast." He had made it behind enemy lines but as the power of the German ambush became clear Canadian soldiers were forced to retreat.
When Ellis ran back to shore he found the landing craft already weighed down with injured soldiers and he knew that if he stayed at Dieppe he would either die from enemy fire or be taken prisoner of war. So he decided to swim in the hope that he might be rescued. "There was no sense for me to get on that boat so I took off my clothes and swam. I was heading for England!" A soldier in a row-boat finally found him but he doesn't remember being pulled out of the water. "I woke up in an anti-aircraft (naval boat)," he recalled.
Ellis received the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) for his bravery. His citation as printed in The London Gazette of October 2 1942 read
The NCO landed with the first wave at Puys, during the operation in the Dieppe 19 Aug 42. After a gap was blown in the wire on the sea-wall, L/Cpl Ellis passed through the gap and proceeded up the hill to the right; He immobilized booby traps, explored a recently abandoned enemy post, and arriving at the top, engaged an enemy post east of the beach. Finding himself alone, and seeing the second wave coming in, he returned to the wall to guide them forward. Coming across a comrade paralyzed in both legs he dragged him nearly back to the wall. Here the wounded man was killed and L/Cpl Ellis himself wounded. He succeeded in crossing the wall and was evacuated as a casualty. L/Cpl Ellis in this action displayed the greatest initiative, skill and devotion to duty.
Printed copy of the Official Report by Combined Operations HQ of the Dieppe raid. 292 pages, 35 photos, 15 maps and 30 illustrations. £70.00 (2010) from MLRS Books - Military History Books.
Commando Training Manual Considering the loss of life at Dieppe there was little good came of it except lessons learned. However so successful was the raid by No 4 Commando that a training manual based upon their experiences was published for the benefit of future operations. Visit the above link and scroll down the page to see the manual pages.
The Commandos at Dieppe: Rehearsal for D Day by Will Fowler. Published by Harper Collins 2000. ISBN 0 00 711125 8. Detailed account of the successful destruction of the Hess Battery by No 4 Commando commanded by Lord Lovat.
Dieppe: Tragedy to Triumph, Brigadier General Denis Whitaker and Shelagh Whitaker, 1992, ISBN 0-07-551385-4 (Denis Whitaker was an infantry captain who landed on the main beaches at Dieppe. One of the most authoritative books on the subject).
Dieppe, the Shame and the Glory by Terence Robertson published by Pan 1965. 500 pages.
Dieppe Revisited - a Documentary Investigation by John P Campbell. Published by Frank Cass & Co Ltd.,1993. ISBN 0 71 463496 4.
Dieppe (through the lens of the German war photographer) by Hugh Henry. Published by Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd. ISBN 0 90 09176 2.
Mountbatten and the Dieppe Raid by Brian Loring Villa. Published by Oxford University Press 1994. ISBN 0 19 541061 0.
Clash by Night by Derek Mills-Roberts. Published by William Kimber, London 1957.
Storm from the Sea by Peter Young. Published by William Kimber, London 1959.
Rendezvous at Dieppe by Earnest Langford. Published by Harbour, Madeira Park, BC 1992.
Dieppe at Dawn by R W Thomson. Published by Hutchinson, London 1956.
The Price of Victory by R W Thomson. Published by Constable, London 1960.
Raiders from the Sea by Contre-Amiral Lepotier. Published by William Kimber, London 1954.
Dieppe 1942 - The Jubilee Disaster by Ronald Atkin. Published by MacMillan, London 1980.
Dress Rehearsal - The Story of Dieppe by Quentin Reynolds. Published by Random House, New York 1942.
We Led the Way: Darby's Rangers by William O Darby. Published by Presidio Press 1980.
Dieppe: the Dawn of Decision by Jacques Mordal, Paris, France 1962. English translation by Souvenir Press, London 1963. (Authentic account drawing on many German and French documents.)
DIEPPE: August 19 by Eric Maguire. Published by Jonathon Cape, London, 1963
Destined to Survive: A Dieppe Veteran's Story by Jack A Poolton. Dundurn Press, Toronto, 1998. 7¾" - 9¾". Personal reminiscences of a Canadian Soldier taken prisoner at Dieppe in World War II. 144pp, photo illustrated. ISBN: 155002311X / 1-55002-311-X)
One of Churchill's greatest concerns during the war was the submarine menace particularly in the Atlantic. It had the potential to bring the UK to its knees as merchant ships carrying vital war supplies and food, were sunk. However, the British ability to decipher the enemy's "enigma" encoded radio transmissions gave the Allies a considerable advantage in the battle of the Atlantic.
In early 1942 this advantage was lost when the Germans changed from a 3 "rotor" system in their "Enigma" encoders to a 4 rotor system. Not surprisingly, Allied shipping losses increased dramatically and were fast approaching the tipping point where they would exceed the capacity to replace them. It was, therefore, an imperative to crack the new encoding machines since failure to do so could quite possibly lose the war. British Intelligence was desperate to get their hands on any encoding material, particularly those concerning enemy naval traffic.
Against this background the History TV channel documentary "Dieppe Uncovered" (Aug 2012) puts forward the proposal that the Dieppe raid was a "pinch" operation i.e the whole purpose of the operation was to steal or "pinch" the latest code books and machines from the German Naval HQ in Dieppe or German ships in Dieppe harbour. It further maintains that Mountbatten was persuaded by Ian Fleming (James Bond author), who at that time was directly under the Chief of British Naval Intelligence.
On Fleming's suggestion, a small "commando" unit, AU 30 (assault unit 30), comprising a few select commandos dedicated to looting any secret material found on raids, was formed in April 1942. A surviving member of this unit recalled that their orders were to attack the German Naval HQ in Dieppe and, in his words, to "kill Germans". The lieutenant in charge on the day had the street address of the German Naval HQ with orders to remove any secret material and to deliver it to Commander Ian Fleming who would be waiting offshore during the raid.
AU30 was temporarily attached to the Royal Marine Commandos on board "The Locust" as they attempted to enter the harbour. However, they were driven off by heavy defensive fire so transferred to small boats for a second attempt to land on a nearby beach. Once again they were beaten back.
Of the outcome of this raid there is no doubt, but the big question the documentary raises is whether or not Operation Jubilee was a cover for the "pinch" operation described above or was it just an adjunct to the raid? The documentary's explanation of the attack plan on the town and harbour can certainly be viewed as being in support of the "pinch" while other more conventional reasons were simply promulgated to disguise this fact and to deceive the enemy.
The possibility that the Canadian sacrifices had a nobler justification than the "whim" of senior commanding officers will no doubt provide some welcome relief for the veterans and their families.
George H Pitt (Canada)
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