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Dieppe Raid

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Dieppe's pebble beach and cliff immediately following the raid on August 19th, 1942. A scout car has been abandoned.
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Dieppe's pebble beach and cliff immediately following the raid on August 19th, 1942. A scout car has been abandoned.

The Dieppe Raid or The Battle of Dieppe or Operation Jubilee was an Allied (mainly Canadian) attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, France on August 19, 1942 during World War II. On the day, the raid was mostly an unmitigated disaster, very little was achieved and 4,384 of the 6,086 who made it ashore were killed, wounded or captured.

Contents

The Plan

The origins of the raid are rather unusual. Various raids had been planned, but the Dieppe raid was brought into reality only by the desires of the new Chief of Combined Operations, Louis Mountbatten. One of Mountbatten's principal assistants, Captain John Hughes-Hallett, served as Naval Commander of the raid. The actual raid was undertaken without the approval of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and many elements in the planning suffered from the unofficial nature of the raid.

The previous Chief of Combined Operations, Roger Keyes, who had commanded the famous raid on Zeebrugge in 1918, had been ordered to organise raids on occupied Europe. He was replaced by Mountbatten in 1941, through the direct intervention of Winston Churchill, and a number of raids took place – notably on Vaagso, Bruneval, and the larger attack on St Nazaire. Detractors of Mountbatten have contended that all the raids prior to Dieppe were originated under the leadership of Keyes.

Operation Rutter

The 1942 raid on Dieppe was initially planned for July and code-named Operation Rutter. The aim was relatively straight-forward: to seize and hold a major port for a short period, firstly to see if it was possible, also to gather intelligence from prisoners and captured materials and to examine the German responses. The nature of combined operations would also allow the Air Force to draw the Luftwaffe into a large, planned encounter and the use of Canadian troops would, it was hoped, satisfy the Canadian commanders following the long inactivity of Canadian forces in England. Churchill grew more supportive as the defeats in northern Africa incited a wave of press and parliamentary criticism.

Rutter was approved in May 1942. It consisted of a main attack onto Dieppe town beach, two flanking attacks by paratroops, a thousand RAF sorties and a naval bombardment. The Canadian 2nd Division would lead the attack, elements advancing as far as Arques. The operation was scaled down, especially the RAF bombing support as destruction of the town was not desired, but the troops boarded their ships on July 5. The weather became much worse while the ships were still in harbour and on July 7 the operation was cancelled.

Operation Jubilee

Almost all concerned believed that a raid on Dieppe was now out of the question; however, though Montgomery wanted it cancelled indefinitely, Mountbatten did not. He began reorganising the raid from July 11 as Operation Jubilee. Despite not receiving Combined Chiefs of Staff authorisation, Mountbatten instructed his staff to proceed in late July. This lack of top-level go-ahead resulted in certain dislocations in the planning. For example, the failure to inform the Joint Intelligence Committee or the Inter-Service Security Board meant that none of the intelligence agencies were involved, so no current information was added.

It was later suggested that detailed information was communicated to the Germans by their agents in Britain. However, post war examination of German and British intelligence records has so far failed to substantiate this, while it did find British intelligence lacking in its assessment of Dieppe, particularly its defences. It should also be noted that no comprehensive security measures were considered for the troops involved after the original Operation Rutter was cancelled.

Operation Jubilee still relied on the Canadian 2nd Division to attack Dieppe, Puys and Pourville, while the paratroop assault on the flank gun batteries was replaced by an amphibious assault by Commandos. No.4 Commando to attack Varengeville and Quiberville to the west and No.3 Commando to attack Berneval to the east. 50 Men of the new US Rangers were interspersed among the Commandos, and a small composite special section from SSRF, SOE, SIS and No.10 (Inter Allied) Commando conducted limited intelligence. Ground support was provided by thirty of the new Churchill tanks, delivered using the new LCT landing crafts.

Dieppe was weakly defended in terms of quality of soldiers, though in numbers was up to strength. In respect of machine guns, mortars and artillery it was adequately protected with a concentration on the main approach, (particularly in the myriad of cliff caves), and with a reserve at the rear. The 571st Infantry Regiment of the 302nd Static Infantry Division was firmly category two and their commander, Conrad Haase, wisely kept them concentrated in the town with the heavier guns carefully concealed. Elements of the 571st defended the radar station near Pourville and the battery over the Scie at Varengeville. To the west the 570th Infantry Regiment manned a battery at Berneval.

The Attack

Almost 240 ships left various ports on the night of August 18 and as they approached the French coast early on the 19th things began to go wrong. The ships carrying No.3 Commando, approaching to the east, ran into a convoy of German origin. The German ships were quickly driven off with very light losses, but coastal defences were alerted and 80% of the attacking force was destroyed. Only a handful of the scattered Allied craft landed and from these only 18 Commandos reached and engaged their target. Unable to destroy any of the guns, they were able to snipe on their crews and prevent them firing on the main assault. No.4 Commando landed in force and destroyed their targets, providing the only success of the operation. The Canadians in the centre suffered greatly.

The landing at Puys by the Royal Regiment of Canada was delayed and the potential advantages of surprise and darkness were lost. The well-placed German forces held the Canadians that did land on the beach with little difficulty. 225 men were killed, 264 surrendered and 33 made it back to England.

On the other side of the town at Pourville the South Saskatchewan Regiment and the Cameron Highlanders made it ashore with few losses. The Saskatchewan advance on Dieppe was soon halted while the Camerons were halted just short of their objective. Both regiments suffered more as they withdrew; the bravery of the 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 was at three points: the tanks in the middle with the Essex Scots to the east and The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry to the west. Attacking thirty minutes after the flanking assaults and onto a steep pebble beach all the groups were met with intense fire. The eastern assault was held at the beach. The western assault gained a hold in a shore-front casino but few soldiers made it across the road and they were soon held. The tanks arrived a little late to discover their landing point was difficult. Twenty-seven tanks were landed but only fifteen managed to climb the beach under unrelenting fire, the six that reached the esplanade were completely stopped by anti-tank blocks and traps and destroyed. Unable to leave the beach, the tanks provided fire support as they could and covered the retreat.

The debacle was compounded when, acting on fragmentary messages, the reserve were committed to the Dieppe beach at around 07.00. The 600 men of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal took fire all the way to the beach and on it. Only 125 made it back to England. The other part of the reserve comprised 369 men of No.40 Commando Royal Marines, (their first engagement and at this time termed 'A' Commando Royal Marines), who were ordered to White Beach. The first of their craft landed under withering machine gun fire and their commander, Colonel Joseph Phillips, donned white gloves to semaphore away the following craft, being hit and killed in the process. All but one saw the signal and complied, though several craft were already hit and whose landing capabilities were questionable. None ashore achieved more than a matter of yards.

At 10.50 a general order to retreat was issued. Casualty figures vary: according to one source, of 6,090 men, 1,027 were killed and 2,340 captured. Another source states that of the 7,000 men (mostly Canadians), 900 were killed, 3,000 captured and 400 missing. Overhead the RAF and RCAF lost 119 aircraft while the Luftwaffe lost just 46. The German commanders were impressed by the bravery displayed but condemned the attack, as it "mocked all rules of military strategy and logic."

Aftermath

It transpired that a senior Canadian officer, Brigadier William Southam, had brought ashore his copy of the assault plan, which was a secret document. Though he attempted to bury it under the pebbles at the time of the surrender, Southam's action was spotted and the plan retrieved by the Germans. The infantry section contained orders to shackle prisoners. When this was brought to Hitler's attention he ordered the shackling of Canadian prisoners, which led to a reciprocating order by Churchill for German prisoners in Canada. Both orders quickly lost momentum in prison camps till being abandoned after intercession by the Swiss. It is however, believed to have contributed to Hitler's decision to issue his Commando Order later that year.

There have been various attempts to re-evaluate the raid against larger objectives. Later analysts have assessed the raid as a gesture to the Soviets; a gesture to the Americans; a warning to the US about a premature invasion; and a valuable intelligence gathering exercise for the later Operation Overlord. A lesson clearly learnt was the peril of frontal assault on a defended coastal port.

See also

External links

de:Operation Jubilee

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