On the evening of the 18 August 1942, No. 4 Commando embarked aboard the LSI (Landing Ship, Infantry) Prince Albert at Southampton. The South Saskatchewans and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) were also leaving from Southampton aboard the Princess Beatrix, Invicta and Glengyle, along with part of the Essex Scottish Regiment on the Prince Leopold. The remainder of the Essex Scottish were coming from Portsmouth on the Prince Charles, along with the Royal Marine A Commando, under Lt Col Joseph Picton-Phillips, on board seven 'Chasseurs' of the Free French Navy and HMS Locust, as well as the Royal Regiment of Canada on the Queen Emma and Princess Astrid. Part of the 14th Tank Battalion (Calgary Tanks) would sail from near Portsmouth, the other half from Newhaven. No. 3 Commando also left Newhaven, as did the Cameron Highlanders while Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal travelled from Shoreham. The latter groups being transported in LCPs (Landing Craft, Personnel) directly to the beaches.
While the passage of the assault force across the Channel was uneventful, on approaching the enemy coast, the extreme left-hand section of the armada ran into an enemy convoy of five small coasters and three escort vessels as it was sailing from Boulogne to Dieppe. A star shell illuminated the sky and the two groups engaged each other with the steam gunboat, SGB5 with flotilla leader Commander Wyburd pressing on resolutely. LCF(L) 1 and ML346 joined in and managed to set one enemy ship on fire and sinking another, but the Allied ships sustained heavy damage and the loss of communications had meant they were unable to call for assistance from two of the destroyers, Slazak and Brocklesby, who were only a few miles away. This action caused the nineteen LCPs that remained (four had suffered mechanical faults and returned to Newhaven) to scatter. The situation was such that Commander Wyburd and Lt Col Dunford-Slater decided to abandon the attack on Yellow Beach and went off to report this to the Naval and Military Force Commanders on HMS Calpe. Unknown to them, seven of the LCPs were still heading for Yellow Beach determined to press on with the attack.
These seven craft were split into a group of six accompanied by ML346 under Lt Alexander Fear and a single LCP commanded by Lt Henry Buckee, with a party of twenty Commandos under Capt Peter Young. This group managed to land on Yellow II Beach at the right time and after surmounting a barbed wire obstacle, made their way into Berneval-le-Grand from the rear after a wide flanking march. As they reached the church they were spotted by a German machinegun post and fired upon. He then tried to approach the Goebbels Battery through the orchard but was again spotted and fired upon. He then settled down to occupy the defenders and wait for the remainder of the force to reach them. At this point the remaining six craft turned up and deposited their Commandos (and a handful of US Rangers) on Yellow I Beach. They faced defensive fire from the start as the Germans were now alert but the majority managed to make it to the shelter of the cliffs where they regrouped and made their way up the cliff to assault the battery. Despite the supporting fire by ML346 they faced fire from one persistent machinegun position and after Captain Wills was wounded, Capt Osmond led a group across the top of the cliff into Petit Berneval where they encountered enemy infantry. Meanwhile, Young's group were steadily running out of ammunition and were in an exposed position. He thus redrew his men to the beach and signalled for Lt Buckee to come and pick them up.
The general alarm went out about 05.30 and the 302nd Infantry Division reacted quickly. Major von Blücher, commander of the 302nd Antitank Battalion was told to organise a counterattack towards Berneval. He organised a squadron of men on bicycles, the 3rd Company of the 570th Infantry Regiment and a company of divisional engineers and moved them to the area. They quickly engaged the Commandos moving inland from Yellow I Beach and forced them to retire. Unfortunately the landing craft had either withdrawn or been sunk under heavy fire and so the Commandos had no choice to surrender. They suffered some thirty-seven killed and eighty-one surrendered, the majority of who had been wounded. Among the killed was Lt Edward Loustalot, one of the American Rangers accompanying 3 Commando, and was the first American soldier to be killed in Europe during World War Two.
At about the same time 3 Commando was closing on Yellow Beach, the troops of 4 Commando were on the run in to Orange Beach to begin their assault on Hess Battery. They were carried in LCAs (Landing Craft, Assault) that were larger than the LCPs and could carry forty fully armed troops. At 04.30 the LCAs split into two groups, the larger group of four craft under Lord Lovat heading for Orange II (Quiberville) and the three remaining craft under Major Mills-Roberts heading for Orange I (Vasterival). The group under Mills-Roberts would then advance directly inland and occupy the attention of the German defenders while while being supported by Spitfires, during which Lovat would advance and attack the battery from the rear. On the run in, Lovat's force was spotted at the last minute by the defenders and the boats were fired upon by two pillboxes. Fortunately the landing craft afforded some protection and the Commandos quickly landed and made their way up the beach to the seawall where volunteers with leather jerkins flung themselves on the barbed wire while others laid a thick coconut matting as they climbed. Some were hit but others came forward to take their place and in this way the commandos quickly made it onto the road behind the beach where Lt Vesey and a section from A Troop silenced the pillboxes and made their way to the crossroads just beyond St Marguerite to set up a blocking position. Lovat then reorganised the remainder of his men (B, F and HQ Troops) and set off to attack the battery, moving up the right bank of the River Saâne for about a mile and then turning east, heading for a small wood just to the west of the battery.
The force under Mills-Roberts landed completely unobserved on Orange I Beach at 04.50 and made their way up the right-hand gully of two leading away from the beach after blowing a hole in the barbed wire obstacle with a Bangalore torpedo. The main body of C Troop then advanced inland while Lt Carr led a patrol that moved to cut the communications between the lighthouse (that housed the battery's fire observation post) and the Hess Battery itself. Behind C Troop came A Troop under Captain Boucher-Myers that was to hold the crossroads to the east of St Marguerite and provide flank protection. By 05.40, Mills-Roberts had established himself in a wood close to the battery and intended to wait another thirty-five minutes but at that moment the guns opened fire on the main convoy. Mills-Roberts decided he had to act as he could not allow the guns to engage the main force. He opened fire picking off the German gunners despite being engaged by one of the flak towers. One of those shooting was Corporal Franklin Coons of the US Rangers who is credited as the first American to kill a German soldier in World War Two. Troop Sergeant-Major Jimmy Dunning then set up his 2in mortar team close to the edge of the wood and after his first bomb fell short, the second went right into a pile of cordite and the resulting explosion silenced the fire coming from the battery. Lovat's men, cheered by this, moved to assault it with F Troop under Captain Pettiward moving through the woods to the southwest corner of the battery while Lovat and B Troop under Captain Gordon Webb moved to close on the battery from the south, engaging enemy snipers on the way. The aerial support arrived right on time at 06.30 and the commandos rushed the battery which was overcome after some bitter fighting, and Captain Pat Porteous (having taken over from Pettiward after he was killed) earning a Victoria Cross while leading the charge. The guns were then destroyed and the dead and seriously wounded commandos brought together in front of the battery with a big Union Jack to indicate to the RAF that the battery had fallen. The commandos then performed a textbook withdrawal and were evacuated safely.
At Puys, just to the east of Dieppe lay Blue Beach, separated from the port by the eastern headland. The beach was relatively short at just 275 yards long, backed by a seawall and defended by a number of pillboxes with interlocking fields of fire. The Royal Regiment of Canada was to land, make their way through Puys and meet up with the Essex Scottish (landing on Red Beach) near to the entrance to the port. Lt Col Douglas Cato had decided to land his force in three waves, the first having three of the four infantry companies, the second having the remaining infantry company and the Battalion HQ and the third having a force of special troops including men from the Royal Canadian Artillery who were tasked with taking over the guns of Rommel Battery and a company of the Black Watch who were to cover the eastern flank of the lodgement. Success depended on surprise and speed. Unfortunately, there was a slight delay in forming up and as a result the defenders had been alerted by actions happening elsewhere along the coast. The Canadians were met with a hail of fire from which there was very little shelter except behind the seawall after a perilous run up the beach. The attack quickly broke down and despite numerous acts of heroism and small groups of Canadians blowing holes in the wire and moving into buildings just beyond the seawall or onto the cliff, their was no way the troops could effectively deal with the defences, despite the landing of the second and third waves. The fire proved too intense for the landing craft, those that survived the assault moving away as quickly as possible, leaving the Royals to their fate.
To the west of Dieppe, on the other side of the western headland lay Green Beach, outside the village of Pourville. This was longer than Blue Beach but still dominated by high ground on both sides, while the River Scie entered the sea on the eastern side of the beach. The South Saskatchewans were to land astride the beach with the right-hand group (B and C Companies) moving into Pourville and clear the cliffs to the west. The left-hand group (A and D Companies) would clear the beach, capture the radar station, attack Quatre Vents Farm (a German strongpoint overlooking the whole valley) and then clear the western headland. The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders were to land behind the Saskatchewans and move inland along the eastern bank of the Scie to meet up with the tanks coming from Dieppe and capture the airfield at St Aubin. They would then clear the Hitler Battery and attack the suspected German divisional HQ at Arques-la-Batille. The attack went in on time (04.50) but the Saskatchewans did not land astride the river as intended, but to the west of it. This didn't pose a problem for the force aiming to clear the village and attack the cliffs to the west, but for the other force it meant they had to move through the village, cross the exposed bridge over the river before attempting to get on the high ground to the east. The delay this imposed meant that the Germans had time to react and deploy. A and D Companies took all their objectives, including a large white house on the western headland that proved to be some kind of officers quarters. The other two companies found that the bridge was swept by fire from a number of German pillboxes on the high ground facing them and the attack stalled as Canadian casualties mounted. Lt Col Charles Merritt, in an individual act of great bravery, restored the attack's momentum by walking back and forth escorting his men over. He then joined his men on the eastern side and led a series of attacks on the concrete emplacements. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. Several enemy positions were taken but he attack stalled once more due to the ferocity of enemy fire.
The Camerons landed at this point, some thirty minutes late, as their commander had not believed that the Saskatchewans would be able to clear the beach and village in the allotted time. As they landed, the CO, Lt Col Alfred Gostling, was killed and command was taken over by Major Tony Law. Again, the majority of the force mistakenly landed to the west of the river and so Law decided to alter the plan. Those that had landed to the east were told to join the Saskatchewans while the majority to the west advanced up the valley with Major Law. They were harassed on their journey by fire from Quatre Vents Farm and decided to seek shelter in the woods through which they reached the high ground above Bas d'Hautot. There they saw that the enemy already held the bridge in some strength – Gen Lt Haase knew that forces wanting to encircle Dieppe from this direction would have to cross the bridge at Petite Appeville and so sent a bicycle platoon from the 1st Battalion, 571st Regiment, supported by an antitank company and infantry gun platoon to hold it. Law's group could not now realistically take the bridge, nor could they bypass it for the road from Ouville was now swarming with enemy reinforcements. Meanwhile, the rest of the Camerons had joined up with the Saskatchewans but despite closing in on Quatre Vents Farm and the radar station they were halted by enemy fire.
The supporting destroyers opened up on the seafront and moved their fire to the headlands while the RAF pounded the headlands with bombs and cannon fire after which a second wave came in to lay smoke, shrouding the heights in a dense fog to cover the landings. The first wave landed just three minutes late at 05.23 and the assault wave made its way quickly up the beach and through the first barbed wire obstacle. It was when they had reached the second barbed wire belt on the seawall that things began to go wrong. The Germans had started to recover and swept the beach with fire, a great deal coming from the headlands on either side, whose positions were very difficult to locate and therefore almost impervious to naval gunfire. There were also snipers and pillboxes along the seafront. Any attempt to clear the barbed wire and move over the wall attracted a storm of fire. Unfortunately, no tanks had arrived with the initial assault and it was only ten minutes after the infantry had landed did the first LCTs begin to arrive with the armour. The first crucial minutes of the operation had begun without the vital support of the tanks.
The first three LCTs arrived just after 05.30 and were immediately targeted by the heavier German guns, as were the second wave who arrived shortly after. Both LCTs 145 and 126 delivered their tanks but were hit and sunk offshore while 127 managed to withdraw after sustaining heavy damage. 159 was hit while approaching the shore but managed to deliver her three tanks but was hit again in the process and disabled, as was 121. 163 tried four times to get into the shore and managed to succeed on the last attempt. The third wave arrive half-an-hour after the first two and met exactly the same reception. LCT 124 landed her tanks and withdrew only to sink later while 125 managed to land one of her tanks but was ordered to withdraw by the Beachmaster. She later returned and managed to beach once again and land a second tank but all her crew were killed or wounded during the attempt and she withdrew out to sea and taken in tow by HMS Alresford. LCT 165 was hit in the steering gear on the way in but managed to beach and land her tanks, after which she withdrew and was repaired. LCT 166 landed her tanks and withdrew without any difficulty. Twenty-eight out of the thirty tanks allocated to the operation managed to land with only two of these being swamped in deep water.
The arrival of the tanks should have meant that the Canadians were able to break the deadlock and advance into the town. Unfortunately, many of the tanks found it difficult to traverse the beach with its shingle and large pebbles, the tracks churning trenches in the shingle that forced stones between the tracks and the drive wheels causing them to fail. Those that did manage to escape the beach had to run the gauntlet of enemy antitank guns but once on the promenade were less vulnerable to this shelling but could not make it pass the concrete roadblocks as the engineers that were supposed to support them were, in the main, stuck on the beach with their equipment. The tanks therefore resorted to becoming mobile pillboxes until their ammunition ran out. A number of small groups from the Essex Scottish had however managed to break through the barbed wire on the seawall and make it across the promenade but were outnumbered by the enemy and could do little to swing the battle in the Allies' favour. The RHLI on White Beach had a little more success with a number of groups managing the breach the seawall and make it into the town. One group knocked out the pillboxes beside the casino and cleared it of Germans. These then supported another group led by Lt Hill, moving across the Boulevard du Verdun and into the town. They tried to advance around an antitank barrier but German fire forced them back through a seafront house and German reinforcements caused them to retire back into a cinema where they were joined by another group led by Major Lazier. They were forced back to the Casino by a German counterattack. Another group, led by Sergeant George Hickson managed to make it to the Casino and into the town where they intended to try and make it to their objective, the Telephone Exchange, but were forced back by snipers and a lack of ammunition.
The commander of 6th Brigade, Brigadier Southam, had set up his HQ under the protection of the seawall. Brigadier Lett, commander of the 4th Brigade, never made onto the beach, the LCT he was in being badly damaged by shellfire and he was badly wounded. While things looked bad, Southam could gain some comfort from the fact a beachhead had been gained at the Casino and if it could be exploited, the troops might still be able to get up onto the western headland. Meanwhile Major General Roberts was receiving conflicting and sketchy reports as to the situation ashore. The landings were indeed in trouble, but to what extent was unclear. They indicated that most of the enemy fire was coming from the eastern headland and so he decided to commit his floating reserve, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, in order to break the deadlock. The Mont-Royals landed at 07.04 on Red Beach but the enemy fire that greeted them had in no way diminished in the ninety minutes since the assault had begun and so they were thrown into disarray. It did not help that a number of landing craft were swept too far to the right and landed on a small, constricted beach where they were effectively cut off from the battle. The remainder suffered heavy losses as they landed on Red Beach, the survivors joining up the men from the other two units. As the morning progressed, the situation on the beach grew worse and worse with ever-mounting casualties and the ability to tend to them eroding as medical personnel fell victim to enemy fire. In the main, the Germans respected the Red Cross symbols of the medics, but shells and mortar bombs kill indiscriminately. However, the medical teams continued to work wonders with the RHLI padre, Capt J W Foote toiling constantly through the carnage, receiving the Victoria cross for his efforts.
While the Mont-Royals were making their attack, Maj Gen Roberts was trying to decide what to do with the Royal Marine Commando, who had been brought along to attack shipping in the harbour, including German landing barges that were sheltering there. Given that the harbour remained in enemy hands, this plan was abandoned and the Commando was left at the disposal of the Military Force Commander. Roberts decided to use them to reinforce White Beach and so the troops disembarked from the Locust and the ‘Chasseurs’ into eight landing craft and escorted by the ‘Chasseurs’, made for the beach. As the landing craft left the protection of the smoke screen made by the ‘Chasseurs’ at the start of their final run into the beach, Lt Col Phillips noticed that the situation on the beach was chaotic and the shoreline was littered with the burned out wrecks of landing craft and the bodies of the Canadians. No useful purpose would be had in landing there, so at great risk, Phillips stood up in his boat and signalled to the following landing craft to make for the safety of the smoke screen. The Colonel was then hit and killed but the majority of the boats swerved away. Two didn’t see the signal and landed their troops on the beach, all of whom were killed or captured. Seeing the demise of the Royal Marine Commando, Roberts decided that defeat was inevitable.
The commander of LXXXI Corps informed 15th Army HQ at 07.15 that he thought the operation was a local one and would be handled by local forces, but C-in-C West, GFM von Rundstedt thought it prudent to alert all army and air force commands in case the landings were a diversion for a greater operation elsewhere. Closer to the action, the 302nd Infantry Division had already started to deploy its reserves and Major Blücher had already been given orders to prepare for a counterattack towards Berneval. At Puys the local units reported that the attack had been contained but there was no news from Quiberville or the gun battery at Varengeville. It was then reported that Dieppe itself was under attack. Things looked bleak for the 302nd with fighting across some 11 miles of coast, Pourville having been taken and enemy forces advancing towards the radar station and Quatre Vents Farm but Hasse refused to commit major reserves until he had a clearer picture of what was going on. By 06.00, the situation in Dieppe had improved as few of the attackers had gotten off the beach but the landings at Pourville were still a threat so Hasse committed the cyclist company as well as antitank and infantry gun platoons to hold the bridge over the River Scie at Petit Appeville. A little later he decided to commit his main reserve, the 1st Battalion, 571st regiment from Ouville towards the landings at Pourville and the 302nd Antitank Company into Dieppe. Meanwhile, General Adolf Kuntzen at LXXXI Coprs was concerned about the wider situation and so despatched two battalions from the neighbouring 336th Infantry Division (out of its 676th Infantry Regiment) to a position around Offranville in order to act as a further reserve.
As the troops landed the RAF went into action but the results of the initial ground attacks were disappointing with few weapon positions on the headlands being knocked out and neither battery seriously affected, although the smoke laid by the bombers did give a measure of protection to the assault forces while it lasted. The early missions encountered no German aircraft a there was light mist over the German airfields but as the day wore on increasing numbers of German Bf109 and Fw190 fighters began to make their presence felt all over the area. The German aircraft had the advantage of the being closer to their bases and could therefore remain in the sky a lot longer than the Spitfires and could also be rearmed and refuelled a great deal quicker. The majority of German fighters consisted of the Focke-Wulf Fw190 that had a superior performance over that of the Spitfire Mk V and VI who equipped the majority of the Spitfire squadrons at Dieppe, although four squadrons had the new Mk IX that performed on nearly equal terms with the Fw190. The result was that once they had arrived in the Dieppe area in strength, Luftwaffe numbers were roughly equal to that of the RAF for the remainder of the battle. By 10.00 German aircraft from all over France, Holland and Belgium had begun to home in on the battle and as a result, no ship was safe from attack and no British fighter was alone in the sky. The RAF had achieved its wish, to draw the Luftwaffe into battle – but to the Allies dismay it was giving a very good account of itself.
The Royal Navy's main role was to transport and land the troops onto the shores of France, and evacuate them once the operation had been completed, although it did have a vital secondary objective of providing fire support to the ground forces. The first shots fired were however at the German coastal convoy that ran into the flotilla carrying No. 3 Commando. These ships were strangely enough not picked up on radar by any ships involved in the operation but shore-based radar in England had picked them up at around 04.00 and warned the Naval Force Commander. Unfortunately the port-side escorts Slazak and Brocklesby took no part in the action as they failed to realise the significance of what they were seeing and assumed the fire was coming from ashore. As the landings progressed, the motor launches navigated and escorted the troop-carrying landing craft, gun boats gave protection on the flanks and the Landing Craft Support (LCS) provided fire support while the Landing Craft Flak (LCF) kept watch for enemy aircraft. Behind these was the force of Hunt class destroyers who provided the initial bombardment and stayed on call to provide fire support. Unfortunately, ship-to-shore communications were mostly non-existent and so the destroyers would attack targets of opportunity, even though it was only rarely that they could effectively silence such targets, as their weapons were just not powerful enough.
So, what lessons were drawn from the failure of the Allied raid on Dieppe and are any applicable to today?
The Raid on Dieppe - Operation Jubilee,active as of 17 November 2003
National Archives of Canada Website Exhibition: 'Through a Lens: Dieppe in Photography and Film', active as of 17 November 2003
Warships1 Website contains a reproduction of a set of reports (Allied and German) regarding Dieppe with notes and annotations by the contributor. The site was active as of 17 November 2003 and the pages were located at: Battle Summary - Naval Operations (Allied)
Allied Summary (continued)
Extracts from German report on the Dieppe Raid
German report (continued)
Operation Jubilee: The Deadly Raid on Dieppe - 19th August 1942 active as of 17 November 2003.
The Raid on Dieppe: August 19, 1942 active as of 17 November 2003
Battle of Dieppe: August 19th, 1942active as of 17 November 2003
Operation Jubilee – Dieppe – Aug 19 1942active as of 17 November 2003
Photos courtesy of 'Battle of Dieppe: August 19th, 1942' Webpage, 'The Raid on Dieppe: August 19, 1942' Webpage and 'WW2 Combined Operations' Website.