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World War II: Dieppe Raid

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World War II: Dieppe Raid

Canadian troops and equipment on the beaches near Dieppe, France, August 19, 1942

Photograph Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada / C-014160

Dieppe Raid - Conflict:

The Dieppe Raid took place during World War II (1939-1945).

Dieppe Raid - Date:

Allied troops landed on August 19, 1942.

Armies & Commanders:

Allies

  • Lord Louis Mountbatten
  • Major General John H. Roberts
  • 6,086 men

Germany

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt

  • 1,500 men

  • Dieppe Raid - Background:

    Following the Fall of France in June 1940, the British began developing and testing new amphibious tactics which would be needed in order to return to the Continent. Many of these were utilized during the commando operations conducted by Combined Operations. In 1941, with the Soviet Union under extreme pressure, Joseph Stalin asked Prime Minister Winston Churchill to expedite the opening of a second front. While British and Americans forces were not in a position to launch a major invasion, several large raids were discussed.

    In identifying potential targets, Allied planners sought to test tactics and strategies that could be used during the main invasion. Key among these was whether a large, fortified seaport could be captured intact during the initial phases of the attack. Also, while infantry landing techniques had been perfected during the commando operations, there was concern regarding the effectiveness of the landing craft designed to carry tanks and artillery, as well as questions regarding the German response to the landings. Moving forward, planners selected the town of Dieppe, in northwest France, as the target.

    Dieppe Raid - The Allied Plan:

    Designated Operation Rutter, preparations the raid began with the goal of implementing the plan in July 1942. The plan called for paratroopers to land east and west of Dieppe to eliminate German artillery positions while the Canadian 2nd Division assaulted the town. In addition, the Royal Air Force would be present in force with the goal of drawing the Luftwaffe into battle. Embarking on July 5, the troops were aboard their ships when the fleet was attacked by German bombers. With the element of surprise eliminated, it was decided to cancel the mission.

    While most felt the raid was dead, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the head of Combined Operations, resurrected it on July 11 under the name Operation Jubilee. Working outside of the normal command structure, Mountbatten pressed for the raid to go forward on August 19. Due to the unofficial nature of his approach, his planners were forced to utilize intelligence that was months old. Changing the initial plan, Mountbatten replaced the paratroopers with commandos and added two flank attacks designed to capture the headlands that dominated Dieppe's beaches.

    Dieppe Raid - A Bloody Failure:

    Departing on August 18, with Major General John H. Roberts in command, the raiding force moved across the Channel towards Dieppe. Issues quickly arose when the eastern commando force's ships encountered a German convoy. In the brief fight that followed, the commandos were scattered and only 18 successfully landed. Led by Major Peter Young, they moved inland and opened fire on the German artillery position. Lacking the men to capture it, Young was able to keep the Germans pinned down and away from their guns. Far to west, No. 4 Commando, under Lord Lovat, landed and quickly destroyed the other artillery battery.

    Next to land were the two flank attacks, one at Puys and the other at Pourville. Landing at Pourville, just to the east of Lovat's commandos, Canadian troops were put ashore on the wrong side of the Scie River. As a result, they were forced to fight through town to gain the only bridge across the stream. Reaching the bridge, they were unable to get across and were forced to withdraw. To the east of Dieppe, Canadian and Scottish forces hit the beach at Puys. Arriving in disorganized waves, they encountered heavy German resistance and were unable to get off the beach.

    As the intensity of the German fire prevented rescue craft from approaching, the entire Puys force was either killed or captured. Despite the failures on the flanks, Roberts pressed on with the main assault. Landing around 5:20 AM, the first wave climbed up the steep pebble beach and encountered stiff German resistance. The attack on the eastern end of the beach was stopped completely, while some progress was made at the western end where troops were able to move into a casino building. The infantry's armor support arrived late and only 27 of 58 tanks successfully made it ashore. Those that did were blocked from entering the town by an anti-tank wall.

    From his position on the destroyer HMS Calpe, Roberts was unaware that the initial assault was trapped on the beach and taking heavy fire from the headlands. Acting on fragments of radio messages which implied that his men were in the town, he ordered his reserve force to land. Taking fire all the way to the shore, they added to the confusion on the beach. Finally around 10:50 AM, Roberts became aware that the raid had turned into a disaster and ordered the troops to withdraw back to their ships. Due to heavy German fire, this proved difficult and many were left on the beach to become prisoners.

    Dieppe Raid - Aftermath

    Of the 6,090 Allied troops that took part in the Dieppe Raid, 1,027 were killed and 2,340 were captured. This loss represented 55% of Roberts' total force. Of the 1,500 Germans tasked with defending Dieppe, losses totaled around 311 killed and 280 wounded. Severely criticized after the raid, Mountbatten defended his actions citing that despite its failure it provided vital lessons which would be used later in Normandy. In addition, the raid led Allied planners to drop the notion of capturing a seaport during the initial stages of the invasion, as well as showed the importance of pre-invasion bombardments and naval gunfire support.

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