Dieppe Raid a victory delayed

Article / August 17, 2017 / Project number: 17-0191

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Note: to view additional photos, click the photo under Image Gallery.

This year marks 75 years since a largely Canadian force, drawn from 2nd Canadian Division, suffered heavy casualties landing on the beaches near Dieppe, France.  While the debate over the raid continues today, the sacrifices made on August 19, 1942 contributed to the better outcome just under two years later during the invasion of Normandy.

Dieppe, France — The raid on Dieppe, France was by no measure a military success. Or, at least, not an immediate one.

Just a few months before the ill-fated mission took place on August 19, 1942, Allied forces in Europe were on the defensive, having been pushed back across the English Channel to the British Isles.

Allied commanders knew they would have to take the continent back to secure ultimate victory but they were in no position to mount a full-scale assault. Dieppe, a port in France’s Normandy region, was chosen to be the site of a more modestly-sized raid.

To this point, Canadian Army troops had been stationed in the United Kingdom for two years and had seen little action. Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, who would later lead the First Canadian Army in the invasion of France, wanted to see Canadians at the forefront of the raid and got his wish.

Some 6,000 troops would take part in total – 5,000 of them Canadians. By late May 1942, members of 2nd Canadian Infantry Division were training for the operation on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel. Operation Rutter, as the mission was then called, was set to take place in July but was postponed due to inclement weather.

Despite some calls to abandon the plan, it was dubbed ‘Operation JUBILEE’ and postponed to August 19.

The multi-front attack got off to a bad start when the element of surprise was lost on the eastern flank, where the assaulting troops unexpectedly encountered a convoy of German ships. Only one small group of commandos on the eastern flank made it to shore, taking a position less than 200 metres from German forces. They were able to keep enemy guns from firing on other Allied assault ships for over two hours.

Troops of the Royal Regiment of Canada had been banking on both surprise and darkness. The latter advantage was also lost when their landing was delayed. They hit the beach just as the sun was rising and were pinned down alongside reinforcements from the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada. More than 200 of this group died on the beach or succumbed to their wounds later, making the skirmish the heaviest single-day toll suffered by a Canadian battalion in the war.

A main attack force, which included the Essex Scottish Regiment, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, and The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment), was unable to overcome German defenders positioned on nearby clifftops, suffering massive casualties.

It was at Dieppe that the Canadian Armoured Corps saw its first action of the war. Tanks from the Calgary Regiment were delivered to shore via amphibious tank landing crafts. The 29 that landed successfully were hampered by both German weapons fire and the seashore itself, composed of small pebbles. Nevertheless, the tank crews were able to provide support to infantry by firing from their positions.

The South Saskatchewan Regiment and Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders landed at Pourville and fought their way out of the town to attack German positions to the east. Elements of the Camerons made their way inland to Petit Appeville before they had to withdraw as German reinforcements arrived.

When the guns stopped at mid-day after nine hours of fighting, more than 900 Canadians were dead, another 2,500 wounded, and 1,900 taken prisoner. Two Canadians, Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt and military chaplain Reverend John W. Foote, were each awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions at Dieppe.

Lessons learned, such as the need for better intelligence, communication and more fire support from air and sea would inform later assaults, including D-Day.

To comment on this article, visit the Canadian Army's Facebook Notes.

Date modified: