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The Dieppe Raid

David Meakes April 18, 2018

There had been a report in early 1942 that Stalin was attempting to end the war by making peace with Hitler. It is important to grasp the concept that the Allies viewed the loss of the Russian Military as losing the best weapon the Allies had.

The Dieppe Raid was already planned, but in the summer of 1942, with considerable effort and courage, Winston Churchill flew to Moscow to make a personal appraisal and understanding of Joseph Stalin. In the year since June 1941, when the Nazis had invaded the Soviet Union, Russia had lost millions of soldiers, millions of civilians, and millions of war equipment such as tanks, airplanes, artillery, etc. Paranoiac Stalin had long suspected that the Allies were letting the Nazis and the Communists kill each other off.

Bearing an attitude of rectitude, he insulted Churchill and the Allies for being afraid to start a second front. Along with some military authorities, the Americans had also thought that a commando-led Allied invasion of Europe could be mounted successfully. The disastrous Dieppe Raid illustrated that it was still two years too early.

Deeper motives would surface many years later, but those were the psychological motives at that time for the August 19, 1945, Dieppe Raid. The operation was termed a “raid” as the Allies’ intention was to get in, collect intelligence, cause damage, scare the Nazis into keeping divisions on the western front and stop facing the Russians, and get out in eight hours. Churchill later termed it a reconnaissance in force.

Dieppe was the French port across from Newhaven, England, at the narrowest point of the English Channel. The British commandos were to take out major German gun emplacements at each end of a 10-mile invasion beach, and the Canadian Army would directly hit the city beaches. The raid was composed of 8 destroyers; 230 ships, including landing craft; 50 tanks; 850 to 1,000 planes; 4,963 Canadian soldiers; 1,075 British sailors and commandos; 50 American Rangers (their first class graduated three weeks earlier); and 20 Free French commandos.

The Nazi generals knew the raid was probable, and they prepared intensively, including inserting machine guns into caves all along the vertical cliffs that faced the ocean and presighting the landing beaches with mortars. They were also tipped off by a 3:00 a.m. encounter of some German vessels with the advancing invasion flotilla. The result was a slaughter.

As the landing craft opened to pour the Canadian forces onto the beach, they were met with intense, accurate fire from hidden locations. Summarizing the losses, the invading force lost 34 ships, including one destroyer; 29 tanks; and 106 British and Canadian aircraft, including 86 Spitfires (more planes than any other day in WWII). Wikipedia (2008) stated that 6,086 Canadian soldiers landed and 3,623 were killed, wounded, or captured. The British Navy recorded 555 killed. As a member of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, my personal minor involvement was helping to clear the returning ships of the wounded. Hundreds of Canadian families lost members, and the entire country was engulfed in decades of bitter controversy.

The burning question became Why? Churchill and raid commander Admiral Mountbatten stated that the knowledge gained meant that for every life lost at Dieppe, 12 lives were saved on D-Day. Records released in 1972 described an intelligence operation that even Mountbatten didn’t know about. It described brilliant radar specialist Jack Nissenthall, who was protected by an 11-member South Saskatchewan Regiment platoon (10 of whom were killed or captured), who was sent to examine radar on a nearby cliff.

Almost 70 years later, about 2012, more records released described another supersecret intelligence operation that was foiled by the 17 minutes lost at the 3:00 a.m. accidental German boat encounter. The objective of securing the 4-rotor Enigma failed, and the Nazis were free to sink ships and plan operations for another 6 months. Maybe the worthy objective justified the terrible loss by the Canadians.

For more stories of the follies of war, grab a copy of my book, Perspective: The Golden Rule. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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    David Meakes

    David Meakes

    David Meakes is a Canadian-born World War II veteran. He is ninety-five years old and a retired podiatris... read more

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