Dieppe, German-Occupied France August 19, 1942

Ever since the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) had launched its sur­prise Blitz­krieg on the Soviet Union in June 1941 (Oper­a­tion Bar­ba­rossa) the Allies had been sensi­tive to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s increas­ingly des­perate appeals to Western leaders to open a “second front now” in North­western Europe. British Prime Minis­ter Win­ston Chur­chill glommed onto the idea of a large-scale sea­borne raid, or a “recon­nais­sance in force,” on the cross-Channel port-cum-holi­day resort of Dieppe in Northern France.

The Dieppe raiding force consisted of roughly 5,000 mostly untested Cana­dians and a much smaller com­mit­ment of 1,057 British troops and newly formed Royal Marine Com­man­dos. Embedded in the front line of the Royal Marine Com­man­dos were 30‑odd volun­teers of the Intel­li­gence Assault Unit who were about to become known as Lt. Cmdr. Ian Fleming’s Com­man­dos (aka 30 Com­man­do)—the same Fleming who would later create the fic­tional British secret ser­vice agent, James Bond. The prize of Fleming’s men was the Enigma cypher machines used to encode and decode German naval signals traffic, as well as coding tables and lists of settings kept in the German naval head­quarters located in a Dieppe hotel. Fleming’s unit, if suc­cess­ful, would but­tress what the 34‑year-old intel­li­gence offi­cer privately believed was a ridic­u­lously lame venture. Sur­pris­ingly, this detail of the Anglo-Cana­dian raid has only come to light in recent years. Aug­menting the raiding party were 50 U.S. Army Rangers, seve­ral Royal Air Force squad­rons, and a hand­ful of Free French com­man­dos. The Dieppe raid’s archi­tect was recently appointed Chief of Com­bined Opera­tions Head­quarters, Vice Adm. Louis Mount­batten, a can-do glory-hunter for himself and his organization.

In the predawn hours on this date, August 19, 1942, the mainly Anglo-Cana­dian force launched Opera­tion Jubilee, an oper­a­tion com­pro­mised the week before by a British Special Oper­a­tions Exec­u­tive (SOE) double agent on the pay­roll of the German Abwehr (mili­tary intel­li­gence). Miles from land­fall, the Allied flo­tilla was “dis­covered” and a British gun­boat leading the LSIs (Landing Ship, Infantry) got the worst of it in an exchange of gun­fire with armed German trawlers. The LSIs scattered for safety and were unable to be at the right sector of the inva­sion beaches at the right time. Allied sur­prise lost, the Germans scrambled to man their defen­sive posi­tions in prep­aration for the approaching landings.

When the invaders managed to reach the six narrow landing beaches, four in front of the town itself and two on the eastern and western flanks, they were pinned down by unex­pectedly lethal and accu­rate machine gun, rifle, and artil­lery bat­teries. Twenty-seven tanks that disem­barked from Royal Navy craft were destroyed as soon as they came ashore. Near Puys (Blue Beach), one of four color-coded beaches adja­cent to the town, just 60 out of 556 men of the Royal Regi­ment of Canada sur­vived to return to England. Two hun­dred Royals were killed, pinned against the sea­wall and the cliffs above, and 264 captured.

At 11 o’clock the withdrawal began. It was com­pleted by 2 p.m. Losses from the dare­devil raid included 3,367 Cana­dians (killed, wounded, or taken prisoner), 275 British com­man­dos, and 3 U.S. Rangers. The casual­ties repre­sented almost 60 per­cent of the 6,086 men who made it to shore. The Royal Navy lost one destroyer and 33 landing craft out of 237 vessels, suffering 550 dead and wounded. The RAF, spoiling for com­bat over the French coast, lost 106 air­craft (92 killed and wounded out of some 10,500 parti­ci­pants) to the Luft­waffe’s 48 air­craft. For the RAF it was the worst single day of losses in the war. German Army casualties were 591 out of roughly 1,500 men.

Dieppe grabbed Adolf Hitler’s attention. The Fuehrer ordered a speed­up in con­structing the Atlantic Wall along the Channel coast. To the Allies, Dieppe proved the need for better intel­li­gence as well as the futility of making an uni­mag­i­na­tive frontal attack against a well-defended port. Future Allied attacks, both in the Medi­ter­ra­nean (Oper­a­tion Torch, Oper­a­tion Husky, and Oper­a­tion Dra­goon) and cross-Channel (Oper­a­tion Over­lord), were con­ducted in remote loca­tions by extremely power­ful landing forces supported by heavy and con­cen­trated air and naval bom­bard­ment right up to the water­line. Still, it’s open to debate whether the high degree of sense­less slaughter, tacti­cal blunders, and ill-fated miscal­cu­lations at Dieppe was a tragic albeit essen­tial dress rehear­sal to the success­ful 1943 and 1944 in­va­sions of Western Europe as Mountbatten and his admirers have argued.

Operation Jubilee: Audacious Hit-and-Run Raid on Dieppe, German-Occupied France, Turns Into Allied Rout

Operation Jubilee: Churchill tanks, Canadian dead, Dieppe beach, August 19, 1942Operation Jubilee: Churchill tanks, Canadian wounded, Dieppe beach, August 19, 1942

Left: In the aftermath of the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942, abandoned Chur­chill tanks and dead Cana­dian soldiers (perhaps mem­bers of a demo­li­tion team) lie on the edge of pebble-strewn Blue Beach, which was situ­ated at the foot of a sheer cliff. Nearly 60 brand-new Chur­chill tanks were allo­cated to support the infan­try and com­mandos, to be put ashore by landing craft. Several of these heavy tanks in each of the four inva­sion “waves” were lost on or before reaching shore. Only 14 got off the pebble beach and past the sea­wall. Although the tanks were effec­tive in engaging the defenders in the town’s buildings, their progress was blocked by con­crete barriers; the demo­li­tion teams proved unsuccess­ful in accom­panying the tanks. Some tanks were able to return to the beach once a with­drawal was ordered but none was taken off. Hitler was thankful that the Allies had left a hefty arse­nal of wea­pons on the beaches, which provided the Wehr­macht with a close-up study of enemy weaponry.

Right: Canadian wounded and abandoned Chur­chill tanks lie on Dieppe’s beach after the abor­tive raid in the Normandy region of Northern France. The tracks of most of the Chur­chill tanks were stripped as they were driven on to the pebble beach, and the bogged-down vehicles became sitting ducks for withering German anti­tank guns. Tanks that did cross the sea­wall were stopped by concrete roadblocks. A landing craft is on fire in the background.

Operation Jubilee: Dieppe beach, August 19, 1942Operation Jubilee: Blue Beach near Puys, Dieppe, August 19, 1942

Left: Destroyed landing craft on fire with Cana­dian dead on the beach. The steep beach gradient can clearly be seen. A con­crete gun emplace­ment on the right covers the whole beach. A pre-invasion bom­bard­ment of the beach­front had been planned from the begin­ning, but it was canceled due to the fear of harming French civil­ians and per­haps dampening a friendly recep­tion to the Allies’ inva­sion of Vichy-held French North Africa, Operation Torch, less than three months away.

Right: Canadian dead from the 1st Battalion, the Royal Regi­ment of Canada lie where they fell on Blue Beach near Puys. Trapped between the beach and Dieppe’s high sea wall forti­fied with barbed wire, the Cana­dians made easy cross-fire targets for German machine gunners raking the beach from hardened bunkers, whose posi­tions in the cliffs on either side of the town had gone unno­ticed by raid planners. Only 6 per­cent of the men who landed on Blue Beach returned to Britain. Although it is extremely diffi­cult to see in this image, a bunker’s firing slit appears as a dark line just above and to the left of the head of a German soldier walking along the beach. Supporting fire by Allied naval destroyers was far too light to have much effect.

Operation Jubilee: German soldiers examine British tank, Dieppe, August 19, 1942Operation Jubilee: British and Canadian soldiers march into captivity, Dieppe, August 19, 1942

Left: German soldiers examine a Churc­hill tank at Dieppe, August 19, 1942. The Germans decided to reward the towns­people for not helping in the Anglo-Cana­dian raid—this by freeing French POWs origi­nating and living in Dieppe before the Franco-German Armis­tice of June 21, 1940. To the delight of Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of the collab­o­ra­tionist French govern­ment, a train carrying around 1,500 French POWs arrived at Dieppe on Septem­ber 12, 1942. Addi­tionally, Hitler gave Dieppe’s citizens a gift of 10 mil­lion francs to use in repairing damage caused during the Anglo-Canadian raid as a reward for what he called the town residents’ “perfect discipline and calm.”

Right: Anglo-Canadian POWs at Dieppe are marched away from the port area. News media in Britain and the United States reported that the Allies had staged a success­ful raid on the enemy coast and hinted that Dieppe had served as a dress rehear­sal for a much larger and more ambi­tious inva­sion in the future. They played down the casual­ties and losses of the opera­tions. Prime Minister Chur­chill summed up the Dieppe raid this way: “Honor to the brave who fell. Their sacrifice was not in vain.”

The Dieppe Raid: Ominous Dress Rehearsal for Operation Overlord

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