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The Dieppe Raid, August 1942
In the spring of 1942, the Allies planned a large raid on German occupied territory to take place during the first week of July 1942. Originally code-named "Operation Rutter," the objective was the French port of Dieppe.
Dieppe Raid
Above: Canadian troops of the 2nd Division land at Dieppe. The Allied command had given the Canadians the almost impossible task of establishing a beachhead against a well-fortified enemy. In the foreground, Churchill tanks are disembarking from landing craft and soldiers are running up a hill, heading for cover. Exploding bombs dominate the middle ground. The background shows the outline of a cathedral against light grey cliffs.
  United States
Assault Troops
On August 19th, 1942, the ground forces that were taking part in the raid included 4,963 men and officers from the 2nd Canadian Division, 1,005 British commandos, 50 US rangers and 15 Frenchmen. A fleet of 237 ships and landing barges, including 6 destroyers, brought them near the seashore. In the air, Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force bombers and fighters took part in the operation. Although some questioned the very concept of a full frontal assault on a fortified position, the British and Canadian strategists were in agreement with the military doctrines that prevailed at the time and success was likely.
At Dieppe, 907 Canadians, including 56 officers, lost their lives in a battle that lasted for only nine hours. A total of 3,369 men were killed or wounded. At Dieppe, the Canadian Army lost more prisoners than in the whole eleven months of the later campaign in North-West Europe, or the twenty months during which Canadians fought in Italy.

6,108 men took part in the raid (from the Land Forces), 1,946 were taken prisoner, 2,460 were wounded

4,963 were Canadians (907 fatalities), 1,075 were British Commandoes (52 fatalities), 50 were American Rangers (3 fatalities), with 20 others.
In addition, the Royal Navy suffered 75 killed, with 269 missing or prisoners.

Overhead the RAF and RCAF lost 119 aircraft - the highest single-day total of the war (62 fatalities) while the Luftwaffe lost just 46.
Canadian troops embarking in landing craft during training exercise before the raid on Dieppe.
Personnel of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in England treating "casualties" during rehearsal in England for raid on Dieppe.
Canadian troops disembarking from landing craft during training exercise before the raid on Dieppe.


The 1942 raid on the French port of Dieppe, code-named Operation Jubilee, was spearheaded by Churchill’s new Chief of Combined Operations, Louis Mountbatten, who chose the Canadian 2nd Division to lead the attack. The aim was to seize and hold a major Channel port, test new amphibious equipment, gather intelligence from prisoners [and possibly Enigma-encoded German radio traffic] and gauge how the Germans responded to an invading force. A primary goal was also to boost Allied morale, devastated by losses in North Africa and Russia.

Churchill hoped the use of Canadian troops would satisfy the Canadian commanders following the long inactivity of Canadian forces in England. General Andrew McNaughton, who commanded the First Canadian Army and General H.D.G. Crerar, commander of I Canadian Corps eagerly accepted this chance for Canadian soldiers to get some combat experience. They had been stationed in Great Britain for two years without having ever engaged the enemy in a major operation. Canadian public opinion was starting to question this inactivity, and Canadian soldiers were raring to go.

Churchill also wanted some good news to counter the defeats in Africa that Spring. The British press were clamoring for action, the Soviets were pushing Roosevelt to open a second front in Europe, and the overconfident Americans in turn were pressuring Churchill to mount some kind of operation. The British Prime Minister, who felt that one Gallipoli in a lifetime was enough, balked at a full-scale assault with litle chance of success. But he gave the green light to Mountbatten.

Above: Bodies of Canadian soldiers lying among damaged landing craft and ’Churchill’ tanks of the Calgary Regiment following Operation ’Jubilee’

The Raid

Almost 240 ships left British ports on the night of 18 August. As they approached the French coast the next morning, things started to go wrong. The ships carrying No.3 Commando ran into a German convoy, which alerted coastal defences at Berneval and Puys, leaving little chance of success. The craft carrying No. 3 Commando were scattered and most of the unit never reached shore. Those who did were quickly overwhelmed. One small party of 20 commandos got within 180 metres of the battery. Their accurate sniping prevented the guns from firing on the assault ships for two-and-one-half vital hours before they were safely evacuated.

The Eastern Flank
Two km east of Dieppe, at 0500, the Royal Regiment of Canada made their approach to the narrow beach of Puys, a small seaside village . They were behind schedule and had lost the advantages of surprise and darkness. As the sun rose, the well entrenched Germans aimed at the landing crafts that were still ten metres from the shore. At 0507, the first LCA lowered its ramp. Canadian soldiers dashed forward in a violent hail of machine-gun and mortar fire, and fell in waves, mowed down by bullets and shrapnel. Those who made it to the heavily wired seawall were taken prisoner after a few hours of useless resistance.

Three platoons of reinforcements from the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, were pinned on the beach by mortar and machine-gun fire, and were later forced to surrender. Evacuation was impossible in the face of German fire. A total of 200 were killed and 20 died later of their wounds; only 33 made it back to England; the rest were taken prisoner. It was the heaviest toll suffered by a Canadian battalion in a single day throughout the entire war.

The Western Flank

On the western side of the town, the No. 4 Commando operation destroyed the guns in the battery near Varengeville, and then withdrew safely. At Pourville, the South Saskatchewan Regiment and Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada had some degree of surprise, and initial opposition was light. But as they crossed the River Scie and pushed towards Dieppe proper, heavy fighting developed and the Saskatchewans were stopped well short of the town. The Camerons pushed on towards their objective, an inland airfield, and advanced some three kilometres before they too were forced to halt.

Both regiments lost heavily during the withdrawal, as fierce enemy fire raked the beach from dominating positions east of Pourville, and also from the high ground to the west. The bravery of the Navy landing craft crew allowed 341 men to embark but increasing pressure meant that the rest were left to surrender. Another 141 had died.

The Main Attack

The original failure to clear the eastern headland enabled the Germans to enfilade the Dieppe beaches. This doomed the main frontal attack from the start.

Dieppe was also well defended by machine guns, mortars and artillery, and had a myriad of cliff caves. The heavier guns were carefully concealed, and the heavily sloping shingle beach led up to a maze of tank traps and pillboxes.

The main attack took place at 0530, thirty minutes after the flanking assaults. The tanks were to be sent ashore in the middle with the Essex Scots to the east and The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry to the west. The assault was met with intense fire right from the start. The eastern assault was held at the beach waiting for late tank support. The western assault gained a hold in a shore-front casino but few soldiers made it across the bullet-swept boulevard and into the town. When the twenty-seven tanks of the Calgary Regiment were landed, only fifteen managed to climb the shingle banks under fire. The six that reached the esplanade were completely stopped by anti-tank blocks and traps and destroyed. Unable to leave the beach, all the remaining tanks could do was provide fire support and cover the retreat.

At around 07.00, the disaster was compounded as the Canadian reserve troops - 600 men of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal - were committed to the beach due to a mistaken signal that the advance troops had gained a foothold in the town. The Montrealers took fire all the way in, and only 125 men made it back to England. On White Beach, 369 men of No.40 Commando Royal Marines landed in withering fire, and none ashore achieved more than a matter of yards.

At 10.50 a general order to retreat was issued. As the tide rose, the sea was stained with red, and many wounded were carried away by the waves with the dead..

Lessons Learned from Dieppe

Dieppe was a pathetic failure. Sixty years later, it seems obvious that Jubilee was a bizarre operation with no chance of success whatsoever and likely to result in a huge number of casualties. In August 1942, British and Allied officers did not have yet the knowledge and combat experience to make a proper assessment of the risks of such an operation. This catastrophe was useful precisely in providing that knowledge which was later to make victory possible.

The Dieppe fiasco demonstrated that it was imperative to improve communications at all levels: on the battlefield, between the HQs of each unit, between air, naval and ground forces. The idea of capturing a well-defended seaport to use as a bridgehead was dropped after August 19th, 1942. In addition, the raid on Dieppe showed how important it was to use prior air bombings to destroy enemy defences as much as possible, to support assault troops with artillery fire from ships and landing crafts, to improve techniques and equipment to remove obstacles to men and tanks.

The true meaning of the sacrifices made at Dieppe was made obvious two years after this ill-fated date, when on D-Day the Allies gained a foothold in Europe to free the continent from Nazi aggression.

Canadian General H.D.G. Crerar says D-Day would have been a disaster were it not for the lessons of Dieppe. Among those lessons: don’t assault a fortified fort; rather, attack on the beaches, give infantry support and plan it all down to the last hand grenade.

Dieppe - Training: 0:53
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Dieppe - Defenses: 0:35
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Dieppe - Air Battle: 0:47
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Dieppe - Raid: 3:00
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Dieppe - Aftermath: 3:49
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 Photo Gallery
Landing craft en route to Dieppe, France, during Operation Jubilee. August 19, 1942, Dieppe, France.
H.M.S. Calpe laying smoke screen off Dieppe.
Troops in landing craft preparing to go ashore during Operation Jubilee, the raid on Dieppe.
Soldiers who took part in Operation Jubilee, the raid on Dieppe, returning to England.
Canadian prisoners of war being lead through Dieppe by German soldiers.
Canadian prisoners of war being lead through Dieppe by German soldiers.
View looking east along the main beach at Dieppe, showing damaged Churchill tanks of the Calgary Regiment.
Troops of the Cameron Highlanders of Canada in landing craft prior to raid on Dieppe.
German troops examining "Churchill" tank of the Calgary Regiment abandoned during the raid on Dieppe.
Personnel landing craft draw away from a motor torpedo boat to start their run-in to the beaches during the raid on Dieppe.
Soldiers who took part in Operation Jubilee, the raid on Dieppe, disembarking from a Royal Navy destroyer in England.
Damaged Churchill tanks of the Calgary Regiment on the main beach at Dieppe.
Captured canadian troops.
Landing craft taking part in Operation Jubilee, the raid on Dieppe.
Scout car abandoned during the raid on Dieppe.
Douglas Boston aircraft of the Royal Air Force taking part in Operation Jubliee, the raid on Dieppe.
Douglas Boston aircraft of the Royal Air Force taking part in Operation Jubliee, the raid on Dieppe.
Canadian dead litter the Dieppe beach among ruined and abandoned tanks.
German Officers standing on Dieppe beach among Canadian dead and wounded.

Last updated on Nov 9, 2008 19:42. Page viewed 238818 times.