University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections (Winnipeg Tribune Collection, PC 18, 2587-2588, 18-1961-2).

Cameron Highlanders Head for Beaches, Dieppe, France, 19 August 1942.

Intending to establish a beachhead at Dieppe, soldiers board invasion craft. They are as yet unaware of the horrors that await them.
Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 12276).

Dieppe Raid, by Dr. Charles Fraser Comfort.

Canadian troops of the 2nd Division land at Dieppe. The Allied command had given the Canadians the almost impossible task of establishing a beachhead against a well-fortified enemy. In the foreground, Churchill tanks are disembarking from landing craft and soldiers are running up a hill, heading for cover. Exploding bombs dominate the middle ground. The background shows the outline of a cathedral against light grey cliffs.

After the defeat at Hong Kong, the Canadians were next engaged in the European theatre at Dieppe, France. In the summer of 1942, the USSR was suffering enormous losses. It pressured its Allies to open a second front in the hope of forcing the Germans to divide their forces. Canadian soldiers and officers, overseas for as long as two years without seeing action in battle, were tired of the incessant training and drills in England and were eager to engage the enemy. Canadians at home also wondered at their kin idle overseas for so long. The time was now opportune, and Canadian military leaders and some Canadian politicians pressed the Allied command to include Canadians troops in a major action. As a result, in August 1942, the 2nd Canadian Division led the Allies in an amphibious raid against the French port of Dieppe. The Allied commanders felt that surprise would be sufficient to ensure the success of the operation, which was not supported with air strikes and naval bombardment. They had also chosen the target unwisely. Dieppe was ideally suited for defence. It was dominated by high cliffs, from which the German forces could easily spot and counter-attack invaders landing on the beaches below. What is more, the Wehrmacht had heavily fortified Dieppe.

The 2nd Canadian Division attacked in the early morning of 19 August 1942. Landing craft were lowered into the water, and the four preliminary assault forces advanced towards the beach. The Germans waited in concrete machine gun nests backed up by heavy artillery, all situated on a cliff overlooking the narrow beach. Perfectly co-ordinated timing and the element of surprise were essential to the success of the operation, but neither of these conditions prevailed. Of the almost 6,000 men (5,000 of them, Canadians) who set out on this mission, only 2,200 soldiers would return. Many soldiers met their death trying to charge from their landing craft. Others reached the beaches, only to be slaughtered by German guns. Canadian tanks foundered on the slippery shale beach. The carnage was so great that many troops could not even disembark from their landing craft. Dieppe was the worst Canadian disaster of the war

  • 907 Canadians were killed;
  • another 586 were wounded; and
  • 1,946 men were captured and became prisoners of war.
National Archives of Canada (PA-113242).

Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps Treating "Casualties" during Rehearsal for Dieppe Raid, England, ca. August 1942.

The actual attack on the French seaport came on 19 August and was a debacle. Only about one third of the predominantly Canadian force (5,000 of the 6,000 troops were Canadians) would return unscathed to England. The majority were captured, maimed, or killed.

The Allies intended the Dieppe landing as a test of the strength of "Fortress Europe." The attack demonstrated that Hitler's troops were as skilful at defending strongholds as they had been at conquering new territories. After the disaster at Dieppe, the war appeared to be far from over. The degree to which the carnage of the Dieppe raid should have been anticipated and prevented has been the subject of heated debate. What is indisputable, however, is that the engagement was one of the bloodiest of the entire war. Dieppe was not completely futile. Allied strategists learned many valuable lessons that would determine strategic planning for later amphibious assaults in Sicily and Normandy.

DocumentDocument
Bill McNeil, Voices of a War Remembered (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1991), pp. 268-269.

John Kellar Recalls the Horror of Dieppe.

 

Another positive outcome from the Dieppe raid was a greater understanding of the new German radar technology, codenamed Freya. In 1940, the R.A.F. became aware that the Germans had put Freya into operation but did not know what its effective range was or how to jam its frequencies -. During the Dieppe raid, radar technician Flight Sergeant Jack Nissenthal was assigned to a top-secret mission to learn about Freya. Members of the South Saskatchewan Regiment escorted Nissenthal on the raid. Because his extensive knowledge of radar systems could be a significant asset to the enemy, the Regiment was ordered to kill him rather than allow him to be captured. Nissenthal and his escorts landed near the town of Pourville and made their way to their intended target, the radar station at Caude-Côté. Unable to penetrate the heavily fortified station, Nissenthal did the next best thing and cut its phone lines to the German forces. The German personnel at the radar station were forced to use radio communication during the battle. R.A.F. listeners in England monitored this radio traffic and learned a great deal about Freya's capabilities. The Allied armies thus gained a vital tactical advantage, the ability to jam German radar. Countless allied airmen owe their lives to the Dieppe raid. Nissenthal and at least some of the South Saskatchewan Regiment returned safely to England. Others were not so fortunate and were among the many killed or captured at Dieppe.

 

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