In 1942, Allied forces attempted a landing on the coast of France to gain a toe hold on the continent.
Thousands of men took part in the landing…and it was a disaster. Over a thousand men were killed, and over 2,000 were captured.
Despite being a massive failure, the lessons learned from that raid paved the way for the massive success of the invasion of Europe almost two years later.
Learn more about the raid on Dieppe and how the lessons from the raid were used to make the invasion of Normandy a success on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
As the second world war ranged on in 1942, there were increasing demands for the western allies to open a second front in the war.
Much of this came from Joseph Stalin, who was dealing with the brunt of the German army in the east. However, the western European governments in exile were also anxious for a second front to open up so they could start the process of liberating their countries.
After the near disaster at Dunkirk in 1941, the British knew that they would eventually have to fight in Europe again and began developing an amphibious force.
By the summer of 1942, the allies began thinking that the Germans might have reduced their defenses in the west to focus on the Soviets in the East, leaving their western flank vulnerable.
There was debate amongst the allies as to where and when they should invade Europe. The Americans wanted to open a European front, but the British were hesitant. Churchill wanted to land in Italy, which he considered to be the “soft underbelly” of Europe.
Eventually, the British decided to attempt a landing in France. This wasn’t intended as the full-blown invasion that would liberate the continent. They simply weren’t ready for that yet in terms of manpower, equipment, or logistics.
The goal was to test the German response to an amphibious landing and gather intelligence. Also, they would, hopefully, take some German attention away from the eastern front to give the Soviets some breathing room.
This was basically to be a dress rehearsal for the eventual main event, which as of 1942, hadn’t been decided where or when it would take place.
The Dieppe Raid would be a quick hit-and-run operation.
They selected the city of Dieppe, located in Normandy, across the English Channel. Dieppe, while being in Normandy, was further north of where the landings on D-Day would eventually take place.
The raid was organized by Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was the uncle of Prince Philip and a cousin of King George. He was assisted in the planning by General Bernard Montgomery.
The gist of the plan was the element of surprise. To that extent, there was to be no bombardment of German positions prior to the landing. The forces would land on the beaches in and around the city, and the large guns which sat on the cliffs on either side of the port would be taken out by commando units.
Initially, the raid was to take place in July, but it was continually delayed due to weather.
The main force was to consist of Canadians. Prior to this point, Canadian forces were assigned to guard Great Britain. This mission would be the first real combat that Candain forces saw.
The decision to use Canadians was primarily at the insistence of Canadian commanders who wanted to see some real action.
The landing force was to consist of approximately 6,000 troops, 4,963 Canadians, 1,075 British, and 50 US Army Rangers. These were to be the first Americans in the war to see combat in Continental Europe.
There were six beaches where the forces would land. Four of which were in the city of Dieppe itself, and the other two were on either side of the city.
There were six destroyers that supported the landing, as well as dozens of landing craft, which would transport tanks and other vehicles.
It was given the codename Operation Jubilee.
The Germans were dug in. By the summer of 1942, they had abandoned plans to invade Britain and were now focused on defending Europe from invasion.
There were about 1,500 Germans in Dieppe with additional forces, including Luftwaffe planes, nearby. Perhaps most importantly, the Germans had intelligence that an attack might be imminent, so they were on high alert.
The landing began on the morning of August 19th before sunrise.
The plans almost immediately went awry.
For starters, British intelligence about the defenses in Dieppe was wrong. The Germans had more dug-in defensive positions that the British were aware of.
Perhaps the worst error in intelligence wasn’t underestimating the Germans, it was not knowing what the beach they would be landing on was like.
The beachs at Dieppe weren’t sand beaches, they were pebble beaches. That might not seem like a big deal, but sand can compact when you drive on it. The loose pebbles on the beach at Dieppe were so loose that the tanks couldn’t get any traction and would sink into the rocks. Most tanks had their treads stripped away.
The tanks that did make it through the beach found themselves stopped by concrete barriers.
Air support for the landing had been scaled back out of fear of causing civilian casualties. The result was the loss of 106 allied aircraft at a cost of only 48 planes for the Luftwaffe.
As the infantry was landing, they were pinned down by the entrenched guns located at the top of the cliffs on either side of the city. These fortified positions were able to fire down on the troops as they disembarked onto the beach, as they were never taken out.
Miscommunication with the ships resulted in reserve forces being sent in because the commander thought that the units on the beach had made it into town. The reserve units were cut to pieces on the beach as well.
Because the tanks and infantry were stuck on the beach, it gave the Germans plenty of time to bring in reserve units from outside the city, which only made matters worse.
Eventually, the entire affair was such a disaster that it was called off, and it was over by noon.
The cost of the attempted raid was staggering. There were 1,100 dead, the vast majority of which were Canadian. Over 2,000 were captured, again, mostly Canadian, with another 2,400 wounded.
It would be the single worst day of the war for the Canadian military, and there wouldn’t be as many Canadian soldiers taken prisoner for the rest of the war.
The operation, by any measure, was a complete failure, not having achieved a single one of its objectives.
After the raid, there was a lot of finger-pointing, mostly at Lord Mountbatten, who had planned the attack. However, Mountbatten was never sacked, despite the disaster and the fact that many in Churchill’s war council didn’t particularly like him.
While the raid didn’t achieve any of its objectives, it sort of did in a backhanded way.
It actually gave the allies a great deal of information about what they should ‘not’ do when attempting an amphibious landing.
The lessons of Dieppe were taken to heart when planning the invasion of Normandy, which would take place less than two years later.
One lesson was the need for air superiority. Not just air superiority but overwhelming air superiority. If you allowed the enemy to control the skies, they could rip apart the forces as they landed.
Another lesson was the need for overwhelming support from naval guns. The British didn’t use any battleships for support because they didn’t want to risk losing them as they would be so close to the shore.
On D-Day, they pulled out all the stops and brought seven battleships to the fight out of a total of 200 warships, not including landing craft.
Another big lesson was selecting the right terrain. Dieppe had two things working against the allies. The beach and the cliffs on either side of the city.
The beaches of D-Day were selected with painstaking research, including sending covert forces to Normandy before the landing to collect samples of sand. While there were some cliffs that had to be overcome on D-Day, they weren’t positioned such that they could shoot at all the landing forces in a crossfire.
Another thing they learned was about radar. The Germans had a radar outpost just outside of Dieppe. That gave them an advance warning of approaching aircraft and allowed them to scramble their fighters.
On D-Day, the allies conducted radar jamming and spoofing operations, allowing them to protect their aircraft.
Dieppe was a well-fortified port city filled with defenders. On D-Day, forces mostly landed in areas that weren’t heavily populated and heavily garrisoned.
Intelligence was also improved. On the Dieppe Raid, the British tried to rely mostly on surprise, which failed because the Germans had intelligence that something was going to happen.
For D-Day, the allies used deception, creating an enormous ruse to convince the Germans that the main invasion was going to be led by General George Patton in Calais. In fact, over a week after D-Day, Hitler still thought it was a feint and that the main invasion route was going to be in Calais.
The allies learned that using tanks to spearhead an amphibious landing probably wasn’t a good idea. Despite the enthusiasm for tanks in the early years of the war, on D-Day they didn’t rely as heavily on tanks as they did in Dieppe.
The tanks they did use were often modified specialty tanks such as the Churchill Bobbin, which laid a carpet down over the sand to allow vehicles behind it to more easily cross, or the Sherman Crab was a modified American Sherman tank that had spinning chains at the front which would detonate land mines.
Canadian forces later returned to Normandy and were the main assault force on Juno beach on D-Day, where they performed valiantly. Despite having one of the hardest landings, they ended up advancing farther than any other landing group on day one.
Today, those who died in the Raid on Dieppe are buried at the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, where 948 men are interred.
While the failed raid on Dieppe ultimately resulted in better planning for the invasion of Normandy in 1944, most military historians agree that such a great loss of life wasn’t necessary to learn these lessons.
Everything Everywhere Daily is an Airwave Media Podcast.
The executive producer is Darcy Adams.
The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.
Today’s review comes from listener stormactionsports over at Apple Podcasts in Canada. They write:
It seems that today was the day I finally joined the Canadian branch of the completionist club! I look forward to the secrets held within. I enjoyed every single episode and look forward to my daily dose as I revisit past favorites.
Iona, Ontario, Canada
Thanks, John! I’d like to remind you that we serve Caesars at the bar in our Canadian chapter, along with a poutine buffet. We also have all the TV sets tuned to the CBC for Hockey Night in Canada.
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