Fact File : Dieppe Raid
19 August 1942
Location: The port of Dieppe, France, and surrounding coastline.
Players: 4,963 men of Canadian 2nd Division, 1,075 British troops (mainly commandos), 50 US Rangers, Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Major General JH Roberts, General Kurt Zeitzler.
Outcome: 3,367 Canadians either killed, wounded or captured; 275 British killed, one destroyer and 33 landing craft lost; 550 seamen dead, 106 aircraft downed.
Soldiers returning from the Dieppe Raid©
This operation, originally codenamed Operation Rutter but later called Jubilee, was undertaken to test German defences of the port in Dieppe. Britain had enjoyed success against the Germans with the sinking of the Bismarck
and the raid at St Nazaire in March 1942, but Churchill was determined to 'set Europe ablaze' and had created the Special Operations Executive (SOE) for the purpose. The British were also under pressure to exert themselves in France and divert the Germans from operations in Russia.
The Dieppe Raid was planned by British Combined Operations HQ and GHQ Home Forces. The Canadians were keen to be involved and the 2nd Canadian Division under Major General JH Roberts was nominated to take part. Just under 5,000 Canadians were joined by 1,075 British and they landed at Dieppe on 19 August 1942.
The force left from five different British ports divided into 13 groups. The men had support from a naval force of 237 warships, and eight destroyers opened fire as the troops were landing. A combined Allied air force prepared for a battle with the Luftwaffe.
The attack was launched at dawn and covered a ten-mile front taking in the towns and villages of Varengeville, Pourville, Puys and Berneval. A small German convoy had already exchanged fire with part of the landing force, blowing their cover so the essential element of surprise was gone. Some of the force was landed late or in the wrong place, both fatal mistakes. They immediately came under attack from German troops led by General Kurt Zeitzler. Allied air reconnaissance had failed to locate gun positions hidden in the cliffs surrounding the port and it was these that caused such devastation.
The infantry landed as planned but they had poor support and the German defenders were quick to recover. The tanks that got ashore were caught in roadblocks. Roberts ordered two of his reserve units ashore; Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal were pinned down and the Royal Marie 'A' Commando were fortunate to have a commanding officer who turned back some of the landing craft to avoid fatalities.
Within a few hours, 3,367 Canadian men were either killed, wounded or captured. Of the British, 275 died. One destroyer and 33 landing craft were lost, with 550 seamen killed. The air battle was no more successful: 106 aircraft went down. Only one commando (No 4) led by Lord Lovat had success; the Hess Battery on the right flank was destroyed and the commando evacuated to sea with few casualties. Captain Porteous (RA) won the Victoria Cross as a result.
The raid left the British administration red-faced. It was admitted that an air bombardment prior to landing would in future be ordered. A need for improved amphibious capabilities was also recognised. Allied commanders claimed that valuable military information was gained from the Dieppe Raid and Admiral Lord Mountbatten commented that 'for every soldier who died at Dieppe, ten were saved on D-Day'. No written record remains of the Chiefs of Staff approving the raid and it is possible that Mountbatten proceeded without authorisation. There was no denying that the raid was an expensive fiasco at an important juncture in the war.
The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.