Today, August 19, 2008 is the 66th Anniversary of the Raid on Dieppe. This is a tribute to the men who landed there, including my Uncle Bill.
In the spring of 1942, the situation with the Allied Forces in Europe was desperate. The British Eighth Army had been forced out of North Africa into Egypt. The Allies faced the Germans in Western Europe across the English Channel.
The full-scale invasion of Western Europe, Operation Overload, could not be launched at that time. The Allies decided something must be done if they were to push back Hitler’s army. A major raid was planned on the port of Dieppe, France.
Originally, the full-scale raid, Operation Rutter, was to take place in July 1942. Canadian troops would provide the main assault force. By May 20, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was stationed at the Isle of Wright. Here, they would undergo intense amphibious operational training.
July arrived. Unfavorable weather conditions prohibited Operation Rutter to be launched as planned. There was talk of abandoning the raid. Then, the Canadians received orders that the raid was to take place. At this time, the name was changed to Operation Jubilee.
On August 19, 1942, sixty-one hundred troops stormed the beaches of Dieppe. Seventy-four Allied air squadrons (8 belonged to the Royal Canadian Forces) and 8 Allied destroyers supported the assault. The Front consisted of 16 kilometers of beach. There were five different attack points. Four flank attacks were to hit simultaneously at dawn. The main attack on the town of Dieppe was to take place a half-hour later.
Canadians were to engage in the main frontal attack, as well as go in at gaps in the cliffs at Pourville, which was four kilometers to the west. They also hit at Puys to the east. At Berneval on the eastern flank and Varengeville to the west, British Commandos were to destroy the German’s coastal batteries.
In the early pre-dawn hours of August 19, the men in a landing craft on the eastern sector happened upon a small German convoy. A sea fight followed. The noise of the skirmish alerted the German coastal defenses at Puys and Berneval. There was little chance of success in the eastern sector.
The crafts carrying men from No. 3 Commando became scattered. Most of this unit never reached shore. Those who did were quickly beaten back. However, one unit of 20 men got within firing range of the battery. Snipers were able to stage an assault, which prevented the Germans from firing on the ships offshore. After two and half-hours, the men were safely evacuated.
The Royal Regiment of Canada suffered a similar fate at Puys. There was little beach there and cliffs towered above it. Upon these cliffs perched German soldiers. The success of the mission depended on surprise before first light. The naval landing was delayed. As the Canadians leapt to shore from their rafts, German soldiers fired upon them. Few were able to get over the barbed wire on the beachhead. Those who did could not get back to their unit.
Along with these troops, three platoons of reinforcements from the Black Watch of Canada (the Royal Highland Regiment) were trapped on the beach by machine gun and mortar fire. They surrendered later in the day. Two hundred men died at Puy. Twenty died later from wounds they had sustained. The remainder were captured. This was the heaviest casualty count suffered by any Canadian battalion in one day during WWII.
Some degree of surprise was achieved in the western sector. No.4 Commando’s operation was a success. The unit was able to destroy the German battalion near Varengeville. They withdrew safely. Initial opposition was light for the South Saskatchewan Regiment and Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada when they assaulted at Pourville. As they crossed the River Scie, opposition became more intense. Heavy fighting stopped the Saskatchewan and their reinforcements, the Commandos, outside of the town.
Meanwhile, the main force of the Commandos pushed ahead toward an inland airfield. They were stopped three kilometers from their target. The Canadian losses were heavy during the withdrawal. The Germans fired heavily upon the beach from both east and west. The Canadian landing craft made it through the fire, supported by brave men that made up the rearguard. Many sacrificed all on that beach. When ammunition ran out, the rearguard surrendered. At that time, further evacuation was impossible.
The main raid was made on the pebble beach at the town of Dieppe a half-hour after the attack on the flanks. German’s were hidden in buildings that overlooked the promenade. Others were concealed in the towering cliffs. As the men of the Essex Scottish Regiment leapt to shore, the enemy assaulted with heavy machine gun fire. Men dropped like flies and were unable to penetrate the seawall. Only one small party infiltrated the town. Because of a misleading message to the headquarters ship, it was believed the forces had penetrated enemy lines. The Les Fusiliers Mont Royal Battalion was sent in. They immediately found themselves trapped by heavy fire. The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, a unit which included my Uncle Bill, landed at the west end of the promenade. Here, they took an isolated casino and nearby pillboxes. Some men were able to make it across the boulevard under intense fire. They engaged in heavy street combat. Uncle Bill was wounded in this struggle. His buddy died in his arms.
The landing of the military tanks by the Calgary Regiment was a disaster. Their plans were to follow the air and naval bombardment. The timing was off. They went ashore fifteen minutes late, leaving the infantry without much needed support. When they finally reached shore, a seawall and enemy fire stopped them. Those that were able to infiltrate the seawall found the narrow streets of Dieppe blocked by concrete. A fierce battle ensued. The Canadians were ordered to withdraw about 11am. By 1pm, the battle was almost over.
Operation Jubilee had a dramatic end. Allied Forces suffered a great loss. Over 2,000 men were taken prisoner; 1600 were wounded; 1,380 were dead; 913 of the dead were Canadian.
Sixty years have passed since Canadian Forces landed at Dieppe. May we never forget the 6,100 who landed there. Over 5,000 were Canadian. The remainder was British with the exception of 50 American Rangers.
Why was Dieppe a failure? There were many reasons. The sea battle off Berneval alerted the German Forces to the impending raid. The British commanders underestimated their enemy and there was a lack of air and sea support before the beachhead landing. Other factors were lack of information and inadequate equipment.
The failure of Operation Jubilee had nothing to do with lack of skill or bravery. The men who landed there fought with determination and skill. They paid a great sacrifice.
Two years after the landing at Dieppe, Canadian Forces landed on Juno on June 6, 1944. They also participated in the Battle of Normandy. On September 1, 1944 the Canadians struck Dieppe once again. The men of the 2nd Canadian Division were successful in their quest. On that day they liberated Dieppe.
It is my hope that Canadians always remember the brave men who landed at Dieppe that August day so many years ago. Many gave the ultimate sacrifice. Many others, like Uncle Bill, lived with the memory of that day for the rest of their lives. May we also remember all allied veterans who sacrificed so much, not only at Dieppe but at every battle and skirmish during WWII. I salute each and every one of them. Without them, the world would have been a much different place to live.