Raid on Dieppe – Operation Jubilee, 19 August 1942
The raid on Dieppe, on August 19, 1942, has been described as Canada’s Stalingrad. In nine hours, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division would suffer greater losses than the 1st Canadian Infantry Division in the five weeks of the Sicilian Campaign, and greater losses than suffered by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on D-Day. Canadian losses at Dieppe would exceed those of the American VI Corps at Salerno, a battle which lasted 8 days, and equal those of the U.S. Marines at Tarawa, a battle lasting 76 hours.
The losses suffered at Dieppe were not the greatest one-day losses for the Canadian Army, there were a number of days during the Normandy Campaign that losses exceeded those of Dieppe. The losses incurred in Normandy, however, were suffered in a victory, those at Dieppe in a loss. In Canadian military history there are very few losses and Dieppe is the worst. This has led to much questioning about Dieppe, its planning, its execution, and particularly its justification. The raid on Dieppe has become the most traumatic event in Canadian military history; this is its story.
Losses in Amphibious Operations
Prisoner or Missing
Length of Operation
Jubilee - Dieppe, 1942
1,874 (568 wounded)
Galvanic - Tarawa 1943
Avalanche- Salerno, 1943: U.S. VI Corps
The successful evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk set in motion a series of events that would lead to the unsuccessful raid on Dieppe in 1942. The apparent “ease” of evacuating over the beaches of Dunkirk on an impromptu basis led the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to believe that a deliberately planned landing would be similarly “easy”. He established the Combined Operations Headquarters to make such plans, and appointed his friend, Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Geoffrey Keyes, as Commander Combined Operations (CCO).
Admiral Keyes brought some experience to his command. In World War I he had been Chief of Staff to the Naval Commander of the Gallipoli Expedition. He had been Admiral Dover, responsible for overseeing the planning and execution of the Zeebrugge raid. He also shared Churchill’s belief that the Chiefs of Staff were overly reluctant to pursue offensive action. During his tenure as CCO (1940-1941) many large raids were conceived (including the capture of Rome!), but only small raids, not exceeding company size, were executed. When his position as CCO was downgraded in late 1941 to Adviser, Combined Operations, he resigned.
The man brought in to replace Admiral of the Fleet Keyes was Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, the king’s cousin. In his career, Captain Mountbatten had shown an ability for innovation in both signals and gunnery. His ship, HMS Wishart, would win the “Cock of the Fleet” award, indicating the best destroyer in the Royal Navy. Promoted to Vice-Admiral, the Adviser Combined Operations was instructed to make large-scale landings on the German occupied coast of Europe. Large-scale meant landings of brigade, or preferably, division size, at one point a corp-sized raid of three divisions was proposed. As it was, the demands of the war limited what the British were able to do.
Second Front Now
Even though the British had been continuously engaged in combat since 1940, both the Russians and Americans regarded operations in Western Europe as a “Second Front”. With serious losses of men, material, and ground, the Russians were desperate for some action which would draw German forces away from the Eastern Front. The Americans, who regarded the USSR as a fellow republic, were also putting pressure on the British to take action that would prevent a military collapse of Russian forces. British unions and the Canadian-born Lord Beaverbrook, also contributed to the Second Front Now movement.
What the Americans were proposing was a major landing on the west coast of France. The proposal was called Operation Sledgehammer; it involved landing a total of nine divisions in Brittany. Seven of those nine divisions would have been British, and two of those British divisions would have been Canadian. Only two American divisions would have been available at the expected time of the operation in September. The landing grounds were outside of the RAF’s operational air space, meaning that air support was unavailable for the landing operations as well as the subsequent defensive operations. The Royal Navy was unwilling to risk its ships in the area for any length of time, so that meant that once the landings were completed the Royal Navy would withdraw. Operation Sledgehammer was a suicide mission, the soldiers to be dropped on the beaches and left to fend for themselves until they were either dead or forced to surrender. Neither the British nor the Canadians were willing to simply throw away that many soldiers on the off chance that Germany would divert formations from the Eastern Front. What the British countered with was a proposal based on German behaviour that had resulted from the Commando raids on Norway.
The Norway Effect
To launch a Commando raid on any coast required the approval of the appropriate British commanders in that area. For the French coast that meant the both the Naval Commanders at Portsmouth or Dover, and the equivalent Army Commander for Southern Command, or Southeastern Command. It was rare that both agreed. Raids on Norway were a different matter, there was no Army Command to worry about, only the Naval Commander, who was normally willing to agree. This resulted in a larger number of large raids (Commando or battalion size) on Norway.
The largest raid conducted by Combined Operations prior to Operation Jubilee was the combined Operations Archery and Anklet. These were raids on the Lofoten Islands. Meant primarily as annoying diversionary raids, these attacks greatly annoyed Hitler and made him afraid that the British intended to invade Norway. The result was that the Germans reinforced the garrison in Norway until there were over 350,000 soldiers stationed there. If raids on France could accomplish the same thing, then only raids would be needed, and not a sacrificial landing.
The decision was made to proceed with a division-sized raid, the largest raid that the Royal Navy was capable of supporting. As it turned out, the Royal Navy could in fact only transport two of a divisions three brigades, plus a battalion of tanks and a few supporting arms. The division chosen was the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division with the 14th Tank Regiment (Calgary Regiment) supporting. The Fourth and Sixth Brigades of the 2nd Division were selected to participate.
The operation was planned as a full combined operation, the RAF, the Navy, and the Army would all participate. The RAF was to provide preliminary bombing, as well as air cover during the operation. The Navy would provide the small ships as well as supporting bombardment. The Army, of course, was providing the soldiers for the ground assault. The plan was simple, the Canadians would assault the small port of Dieppe, penetrate inland about 5 miles and assault an aerodrome and headquarters, then withdraw and evacuate from Dieppe harbor. The defenders of Dieppe were expected to be a single battalion of a garrison regiment (a 500 man unit without heavy weapons) plus the 1,000 artillerymen manning coastal batteries in the area. There were also a number of secondary objectives attached to the raid. Naval encryption machines (4-rotor Enigma) were to be seized by No. 30 Royal Marine Commando (see TV documentary Dieppe Uncovered), radar equipment was to be retrieved from the radar station on the west headland (documented in the book Green Beach), and gun sights from anti-aircraft artillery was to be captured.
Intelligence estimates showed that only two infantry companies guarded Dieppe. As these belonged to a garrison regiment, there should have been few heavy weapons available. There were a number of Luftwaffe platoons manning anti-aircraft batteries, and the coastal batteries. All told, there were believed to be 1,500 German soldiers in the Dieppe area.
The plan, prepared by Lieut.-Gen. Montgomery and his staff, was a simple frontal assault. Airborne forces would take out coastal batteries on the extreme flanks. On the eastern flank, the Royal Regiment of Canada would land at Puys (Blue Beach) and secure the heights overlooking the harbor. On the western flank, the South Saskatchewan Regiment would land at Pourville (Green Beach) and secure the heights overlooking Dieppe. The main assault would be across the beaches in front of Dieppe (Red and White) by the Essex Scottish Regiment and Royal Hamilton Light Infantry respectively, supported by the tanks of the 14th Tank Regiment (Calgary Regiment). With the beaches secure, the Cameron Highlanders of Winnipeg would land on Green Beach and advance to an aerodrome behind Dieppe. Tanks from the Calgary Regiment would meet up with Highlanders and support their attack. The Fusiliers Mont-Royal would land behind the Essex Scottish and advance to the harbor, while No. 30 Royal Marine Commando, would sail into the harbor and land there. Withdrawal was to take place after five hours through the harbor.
Six Canadian infantry battalions versus two German garrison battalion, a three-to-one ratio that was considered the standard necessary for success. A little less than 5,000 Canadian soldiers against approximately 1,500 German soldiers, a sufficient margin to ensure the accomplishment of the mission.
As the preparations for the raid proceeded a major change was made. In 1942 RAF Bomber Command realized that they had a tough time hitting a target. Bomber raids on Germany were showing only a third of bombs falling within five miles of the aiming of point. Even targets on the coast of France showed only two-thirds of crews getting close to their aiming points. With Bomber Command unable to guarantee hitting aiming points, and the possibility that such bombing could produce rubble and craters that impede the progress of the tanks, the Canadian commander, Maj.-Gen Hamilton Roberts decided that it was best to cancel Bomber Command’s participation in the raid.
- Thousand Bomber Raids
A history of the thousand bomber raids conducted in 1942.
Admiral Mountbatten tried to have the firepower of the bombers replaced with a capital ship, either a battleship or a cruiser. But the previous year had not been kind to the Royal Navy. Since the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May of 1941, the Royal Navy had lost 5 battleships, either sunk or disabled. With the entry of Japan into the war in December of 1941, the Royal Navy was stretched dangerously thin in trying to protect Britain’s supply lines. Four battleships had been sent to the Indian Ocean to defend India, but they were no match for the Japanese battleships, and incapable of operating without air cover.
The Mediterranean was also of great concern to the Royal Navy. The seesaw battles of the Eighth Army were still ongoing. Winston Churchill was insisting on resupplying the island of Malta, at great cost to the Royal Navy. The Italian Navy had four battleships and a large force of cruisers that had to be guarded against. Vichy France, while neutral, had been showing signs of reaching a friendlier accommodation with Germany that would place her three battleships and two heavy cruisers at the disposal of the Germans. To deal with these threats the Royal Navy had only two battleships at Gibraltar, with the two battleships at Alexandria unable to sail.
The German Navy was also a dangerous threat at this time. The Germans had concentrated their naval forces in Norway to forestall any possible British landings there, but these forces also menaced both the convoys to Russia and the North Atlantic convoys. There was the battleship Tirpitz, the battlecruiser Scharnhorst, the pocket battleships Lutzow and Admiral Scheer, and the heavy cruisers Hipper and Prinz Eugen. The British King George V battleships were too lightly armed to engage the Tirpitz one on one (14 in. guns vs. 15 in. guns), at least two would be needed. Another battleship was required to match the Scharnhorst, and while heavy cruisers might be able to engage the pocket battleships, it would be preferable to have a battleship available to deal with those as well. The Royal Navy had four King George V battleships available at the time, the King George V, the Duke of York (which would engage the Scharnhorst in the last battle of battleships in December of 1943), the newly commissioned Anson, and yet to be commissioned (29 August 1942) Howe.
In the months preceding the raid on Dieppe, the Royal Navy had decided to cease convoys to Russia because of the losses suffered from German forces in Norway, and had suffered heavily from air and submarine action in resupplying Malta (Operation Pedestal). The danger to its battleships from supporting a raid was considered not worth the risk, and the Royal Navy’s battleships stayed put at Scapa Flow to guard against the German battleships in Norway.
One vital component of Operation Rutter was the participation of airborne forces to attack coastal batteries on the flanks of the landing area. High winds made a parachute drop too dangerous and Operation Rutter was canceled due to weather. This left the British with a major problem, they had promised their allies an increasing number of raids of increasing size in 1942, what they were delivering was nothing.
What made the issue of raids so important to the British was the lacklustre performance of the British army. In December of 1941, the garrison of the fortress of Singapore had surrendered to a numerically inferior Japanese force. In June of 1942 the garrison of the fortress of Tobruk in Libya had surrendered. On the oceans the Royal Navy had cancelled the convoys to Russia and was suffering huge losses in merchant convoys crossing the North Atlantic. Huge risks were being run to keep Malta supplied, but nothing was being done to help the Russians. Bomber Command had launched major raids against German cities in May and June (The Millennium Plan), but Bomber Command was not growing in size. Somehow, somewhere, Britain’s fighting forces needed a victory. The French port of Dieppe with only a two company garrison was considered to be Britain’s best chance of victory. The decision was made to remount the raid but as Operation Jubilee. The paratroopers would be replaced with seaborne Commandos, otherwise, everything else would remain the same. Great emphasis was placed on secrecy and very few written orders were issued, and only the immediate Chiefs of Staff were informed, not their deputies, leading some to suggest that the action was in fact, unauthorized (see Unauthorized Action).
Operation Jubilee was to be a frontal assault against a fortified port during a single tide. The six battalions of Canadian infantry, supported by one tank battalion, were considered adequate to overcome the opposition of the expected two 500 man garrison battalions. The two brigades of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division were loaded onto their ships and landing craft on August 18th expecting to take part in yet another exercise. Once on board they learn that the raid on Dieppe is back on.
At 3 a.m. the point of no return was reached, from this time the raid is required to go on regardless of what else happens. At 3:20 a.m., the landing ships reach their designated offloading spots and begin disembarking soldiers into landing craft. At 3:47 a.m., a German convoy runs into Task Force 5, the eastern most task force carrying Commandos to Yellow Beach. A short gun fight ensues with most of the Task Force being scattered. The German forces on the outer eastern flanks are brought to alert. The forces in Dieppe were not included in this alert.
There were 23 landing craft in Task Force 5, only seven of them reached the beaches of Yellow I and Yellow II. The 120 men of No. 3 Commando landing on Yellow I never got off the beach and 82 became prisoners of war. A single landing craft put 20 men ashore on Yellow II, these men would successfully engage the German coastal battery for two and a half hours, preventing it from firing on the ships off of Dieppe. The commander of the group, Major Peter Young, would receive the Distinguished Service Order for his efforts.
On the far western flank, No. 4 Commando landed without incident and managed the only completely successful operation of the mission. They destroyed the battery that was their target and were successfully withdrawn by 8:50 a.m.
- No. 4 Commando at Varengeville, Dieppe Raid
Number 4 Commando at Varengeville Dieppe Raid 19 August 1942 One of the interesting things about the Dieppe raid was the num
- No. 3 Commando at Berneval, Dieppe Raid
Number 3 Commando at Berneval Dieppe Raid 19 August 1942 As part of the Dieppe operations No 3 Commando was to attack the Go
The village of Puys lay to the east of Dieppe, it was fronted by cliffs with only a small draw leading off the beach. The Royal Regiment of Canada, with a company of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, and detachments of artillerymen, were supposed to land here in three waves.
The landing craft were to form up on a gunboat, that would then lead them into the beach. A different gunboat strayed into the area and some landing craft followed it, time was lost as the errant craft were gathered up. To regain position, the lead gunboat sailed toward Dieppe harbor, where a German tug, awaiting the arrival of the convoy that had encountered Task Force 5, flashed recognition signals at them. When the gunboat did not reply, it sent out a warning and the German defenders of Dieppe were roused 20 minutes before the main landing. Speeding up, to make up for lost time, the first wave was split into two elements, three landing craft with the gunboat, and two LCMs with four LCAs twenty minutes behind.
Puys was defended by the Heavy Company of the 3rd Battalion, 571st Infantry Regiment. Dieppe was not guarded by a two-battalion garrison regiment, but by a three-battalion infantry regiment. These were full infantry battalions, each with a heavy weapons company. In addition the regiment had a battalion of engineers (pioneers), an anti-tank company, and an infantry gun (artillery) platoon. The German battalions were larger than the Canadian battalions, and had greater fire power. At Puys, the 10th Company deployed nine machine-guns with a Luftwaffe platoon adding another three, all focused on the three LCAs landing as the first wave at 5:10 a.m., twenty minutes late.
When the majority of the first wave landed another twenty minutes later, there was no evidence of a prior landing. Soldiers rushed to the sea wall and used Bangalore torpedoes to blow holes in the barbed wire, but no one was able to get through due to the machine-gun fire. The second wave came in, with landing craft carrying the mortar platoon beaching on a sandbar and disembarking the mortar crews into water over their heads. The men carrying the base plates dropped them to swim to the surface, and the mortar crews reached the beach with ineffective weapons. The CO of the battalion, Lt. Col. Labatt, managed to cut a hole in the barbed wire and lead a party of 20 men up the draw. They were unable to significantly affect the battle and surrendered that afternoon. The men on the beach would surrender by 8:30 a.m., with only 67 returning to England that day.
On the western flank, the South Saskatchewan Regiment (SSR) landed on time and without opposition. The problem they faced was due to the normal attrition of personnel from the time of Operation Rutter to Operation Jubilee. Some the personnel manning the landing craft had not participated in the rehearsals for the raid. Assigned to the raid, they were told simply, “Follow the boat in front of you.” The plan called for the SSR to be landed astride the River Scie, which divided Green Beach. Instead, the entire battalion was landed west of the river. The river, though small, had steep banks, and only a single bridge crossed the river at Pourville. It was in leading his men across this bridge under fire that the battalion CO, Lt. Col. Merritt would earn a Victoria Cross. Successfully occupying the small town of Pourville, the SSR was unable to secure the heights overlooking the beaches of Dieppe.
When the Cameron Highlanders landed, the German defenders were fully awake. The battalion CO was killed as he stepped ashore, and to make matters worse, instead of landing the battalion entirely on the eastern side of the river, they were landed astride the river. Some of the battalion became embroiled in the efforts of the SSR to subdue the German defenders on the hill between Dieppe and Pourville. The 2ic gathered up the remainder of the battalion and headed inland for the aerodrome. They did not get far before they encountered the Infantry Gun platoon of the 571st Regiment. With no heavy weapons of their own, and with the tanks nowhere in sight, the Camerons withdrew to Pourville.
Under heavy fire, the two battalions evacuated a significant number of their men. The South Saskatchewan Regiment suffered the lowest losses of the day, sixty-three per cent of their number became casualties.
The main landing at Dieppe was planned to occur after the headlands had been seized on either side. In addition, the troops in the landing craft expected to see bombers going in and blasting the defences. What they actually saw were Hurricane fighter-bombers strafing, no bombs and no rockets. The small Hunt-class destroyers laid down a barrage, one round for each yard of beach frontage, insufficient to silence the German guns in concrete pillboxes.
Touching down on time, the troops were held up by multiple rolls of barbed wire, while German machine-gun and mortar fire hammered at them from all sides. The tanks were late, the landing craft bringing them in were off course and fifteen minutes late. When they did arrive (27 landed) 15 of them managed to get over the sea wall, but as they drove over the barbed wire, it sprang back into place, unlike the Allied wire which the soldiers had rehearsed with. The tanks would access the boulevard in front of Dieppe without infantry support, and because of tank obstacles, they were unable to enter Dieppe itself.
On the right flank of the beach, White Beach, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) found the Dieppe Casino still intact. Although defended, they managed to enter and clear the building, and use it as a passage from the beach to the boulevard. Only a few small groups of soldiers managed to enter Dieppe, and in the confused communications of the day, these were interpreted by the divisional CO, Maj.Gen. Hamilton, as an indication of success. Believing he was reinforcing this success he ordered his reserves into battle, the Fusiliers Mont-Royal (FMR) were to land on Red Beach, and No. 30 Royal Marine Commando, finding that the gunfire from the east headland prevented them from entering the harbor, were to land on White Beach. The landing was confused and the FMR found themselves on the western edge of White Beach where they pinned down. The Marines, finding themselves under extremely heavy fire, did not attempt to land. At 9 a.m. the decision was made to withdraw.
The first landing in the operation had taken place at 4:50 a.m., at 1:10 p.m. the surrender of the troops ashore was relayed to the HQ ship. The operation had taken a just over eight hours. The official casualties show 807 men killed in action, another 28 as died of wound, with 72 dying in captivity. Of the 4,963 men embarked, 2,210 returned to England, approximately 1,000 of those never landed More Canadian soldiers became prisoners of war at Dieppe than during the Italian Campaign (July 1943-January 1944) or during the entire Northwest Europe Campaign (June 1944-May 1945).
The reason for the failure at Dieppe was simple, the intelligence was bad. Instead of a two-battalion garrison regiment, there was a three-battalion infantry regiment. The entire force for Operation Jubilee comprised just over six thousand men, sufficient for a three-to-one ratio that was considered necessary for success. The actual number of defenders in the Dieppe area was just under seven thousand, meaning that they actually outnumbered the attacking force.
It has been stated that Dieppe saved many lives in subsequent Allied landings as a result of the lessons learned. Only once after Dieppe would the Allies attempt a frontal assault on a port (Operation Torch). The official history of the Canadian Army (Six Years of War) notes that prior to Dieppe, nothing larger than destroyer was considered for naval support of a major landing, after Dieppe all operations included both cruisers and battleships. Allied intelligence was more careful in its reconnaissance of potential assault areas after Dieppe, for Operation Overlord it was almost dead on. The most apparent lesson learned from Dieppe, was the need for specialist vehicles for the engineers. The British would develop a number of Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) for Operation Overlord. These would include bridgelayers, fascine carrying vehicles for bridging craters, Ark vehicles for crossing sea walls, and spigot mortar vehicles for dealing with fortifications.
In its primary objective of drawing German formations to France, the operation failed. Apparently unknown to British intelligence at the time, two German SS units were reforming not far from Dieppe, the 1st and 2nd SS. These units were reforming from regiments to Panzer divisions. They would be sent to Russia when completed. The failure of Dieppe did cause Hitler to believe that he was following the right policy of fortifying ports, and the Germans would continue to build fortifications along the coast of France right up until 6 June 1944.
A Comparison of Canadian Losses
Prisoner or Missing
Length of Operation
Juno Beach (D-Day)
Was the raid on Dieppe justified? August 1942 was the low point of Allied fortunes in the Second World War. The Germans were pressing the Russians in the east. The Afrika Corps with their Italian allies appeared to be ready to conquer Egypt. The Japanese had yet to be driven back in the Pacific. With the Russians fully committed in the east, the Americans active and successful in the Pacific (the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea had already been fought, the battle for Guadalcanal had begun on August 7th), the British needed to do something. That something was Dieppe.
Things would get better for the Allies after Dieppe. The Americans would capture Guadalcanal. Montgomery would be sent to command Eighth Army in North Africa and begin an unbroken string of advances and victories at El Alamein in October of 1942. In November, an Allied force would land in French North Africa. New techniques and technologies would allow the Allied navies to overcome the U-boat menace. But in August of 1942 the Allies were still losing the war and the raid against Dieppe seemed likely to succeed. Had the raid succeeded as a tactical operation, it is also likely that it would have succeeded in its strategic concept, that of drawing off German formations to France, just as the raids on the Lofotens had done in Norway. That it failed is not to suggest that it should not have been tried, for war forces commanders to try difficult things, and sometimes those difficult things fail.