Operation 'Rutter' - The Planned Attack on Dieppe 7 July 1942

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Operation Rutter was in fact the forerunner to Operation Jubilee - the Allied attack on Dieppe in August 1942. The United States and the Soviet Union, as well as public opinion, had been urging the UK to open a second front to relieve the Eastern Front and discourage further German expansion in the East. Unfortunately at this point, the UK did not have the means available to conduct and sustain large-scale offensive operations in North West Europe as it was already heavily engaged in North Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. The forces that had been recently mobilised lacked the equipment and expertise to mount a full-scale conventional offensive on the continent, as well as conducting the amphibious operations to get over there in the first place - a great deal of planning, development and training had to be undertaken before that could happen, especially in terms of combined operations between the army, air force and navy. Despite this, Britain could hit back through its programme of raiding, which helped to tie down enemy forces that would otherwise be available for use against the Soviets. However, it is worth remembering that although substantial, these forces would never approach those already committed on the Eastern Front (forty-six divisions as against well in-excess of 200), which was the main focus for Nazi Germany.

Churchill, under pressure from the Allies and public opinion, suggested large-scale landings in Norway or the Cherbourg Peninsula. These were considered by the Chiefs of Staff to be impractical, but they did suggest a large-scale raid against a port somewhere along the Pas de Calais coastline, within the protective umbrella of Fighter Command. Seven such ports were examined and rejected, but the next along the coastline, Dieppe, was accepted, as it was just seventy miles from Newhaven (close enough to allow a surprise attack with the force approaching under the cover of darkness) and still well within range of Fighter Command's aircraft. On 4 April 1942, Mountbatten gave the order for his staff at Combined Operations (the organisation that had the responsibility of planning and executing raids against enemy installations in occupied Europe) to draw up plans.

Two variants were drawn up by Mountbatten's staff and presented to the Chiefs of Staff. These were:

  1. To land tanks and infantry either side of Dieppe and capturing the town with a pincer movement over the two headlands on each flank of the port.
  2. To land tanks and infantry directly on the town's beach in a frontal assault and have supporting landings both east and west of the town. The two heavy gun batteries that commanded the approaches to Dieppe (located at Varengeville and Berneval) would be seized by airborne troops landing ahead of the main attack.
Both variants envisaged a 'reconnaissance in force' rather than just a raid to gain experience of large-scale amphibious landings and to test if the Allies were able to land and maintain forces ashore after an amphibious assault. On 18 April 1942 the Committee decided that further planning should commence on the second variant, with the main frontal assault being preceded by a heavy aerial bombardment. The operation was given the codename 'Rutter' and planned to take place during early July when the tides were right.

The size and scale of the operation made it too large for Army Commandos (the force Combined Operations had at their disposal) to carry out by themselves so regular troops deployed in the UK would be involved, most likely coming from Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery's South Eastern Command. It was decided that Canadian troops, already located in the south-east since the beginning of the war, would be used, although Montgomery later claimed that the final decision to use them came not from him, but from his superior, General Sir Bernard Paget. By 1942 there were over 200,000 of them, organised into three infantry and two armoured divisions, several armoured brigades and artillery formations. The Canadians were an all-volunteer force and so were keen to see action, having spent three years training and performing garrison duties. Their commander, Lt Gen R G L McNaughton (who was to eventually command the Canadian First Army) was asked to provide troops for the operations and selected the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division (commanded at the time by Major General John H Roberts) to supply the necessary manpower. In fact, as the operation was to be larger than anything previously attempted, all three services would be contributing significant forces to it. There would be over 6,000 troops landing with the Royal Navy having the responsibility of transporting the troops to their objective, landing them, then embarking them again to return to the UK, as well as supplying supporting gunfire to neutralise enemy installations. The RAF would protect the operation from the unwelcome attention of the Luftwaffe by fielding the largest fighter screen seen since the Battle of Britain.

By 9 May, the main elements of the plan were in place and so the outline was put in front of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and adopted. The intelligence available indicated that Dieppe was not particularly heavily defended and that the beaches in the vicinity were suitable for the landing of infantry and tanks. While there some had misgivings about adopting this variant, most notably Mountbatten, featuring as it did a direct frontal assault on the most heavily defended part of the Dieppe beach, most were optimistic about its chances. The battalions of the Royal Highland Light Infantry and the Essex Scottish would assault the main beach, supported by the Canadian 14th Tank Battalion (Calgary Tanks) and Engineers, along with the 4in guns of four destroyers. The battalions from the South Saskatchewan Regiment and the Royal Regiment of Canada had a critical role to play as they would land a half-hour before the main assault and attack two German gun batteries overlooking the main beach. The battalion from the Cameron Highlanders would follow the South Saskatchewans and with armoured support, attack the airfield behind the town, while the battalion from the Les Fusiliers Mont Royal would be a floating reserve and be committed as and when Roberts saw fit. Towards the end of the operation they would form a defensive perimeter the other battalions could withdraw through. The flank assaults would also see the dropping of the 1st Battalion, 1st Parachute Brigade who would attack the coastal batteries behind Orange Beach at Varengeville (two companies) and Berneval (two companies), near Yellow Beach.

Operation Rutter was planned to take place between the 4 and 8 July. After weeks of training and preparation the troops embarked on their craft but the order to sail was not given as the period of time when the tides were most suitable coincided with a bout of very unsettled weather. On top of this, the Germans spotted the convoy gathered in the Solent and bombed them. While very little damage was done, it was possible that the enemy would now be alerted to the fact that some sort of amphibious operation was about to be undertaken. This, coupled with the weather getting even worse, forced the operation's cancellation.

The main elements of the plan were not wasted however as they were quickly resurrected in the planning for Operation Jubilee that was eventually put into motion and executed on the 18 / 19 August. The objectives and target of the plan remained unchanged; the only major difference being that instead of using airborne troops to capture the large German coastal batteries, they would be seized by seaborne assault using No. 3 Commando to assault the Goebbels Battery at Berneval and No. 4 Commando to attack the Hess Battery at Varengeville.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Campbell, John, Dieppe Revisited , Frank Cass & Co, London, 1993. cover cover cover

Ford, Ken., Dieppe 1942 , Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2003, Campaign No. 127. cover cover cover

Mordal, Jacques., Dieppe – The Dawn of Decision , Panther Books, London, 1969. cover cover cover

Robertson, Terrance, Dieppe: The Shame and the Glory , Hutchinson & Co, London, 1963. cover cover cover

Whitaker, Brig Gen Denis & Whitaker, Shelagh., Dieppe: Tragedy to Triumph , McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Whitby, Ontario, 1992. cover cover cover

Atkin, Ronald, Dieppe 1942 – The Jubilee Disaster , Macmillan, London, 1980 cover cover cover

Garrett, R., The Raiders, , David & Charles, London, 1980. cover cover cover

Thompson, R W., Dieppe at Dawn: The Story of the Dieppe Raid , Hutchinson & Co, London, 1956. cover cover

Villa, Brian L., Unauthorised Action: Mountbatten and the Dieppe Raid 1942 , Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1989. cover cover cover

Amphibious Warfare Headquarters. History of the Combined Operations Organisation 1940 – 1945, C52794, London, November 1956.

Moore, Lt Col W R. What contemporary lessons may be drawn from Operation JUBILEE, the amphibious assault of Dieppe on August 19, 1942, Defence Research Paper, JSCSC, Watchfield, 1999.

Reyburn, Wallace. Rehearsal for Invasion, Harrap & Co, London, 1943.

Scott, Major S J. To what extent was the raid in Dieppe on 19 August, 1942 an operational and tactical failure but a strategic success, No. 4 DTC MA (Military Studies) Dissertation, July 2001, Cranfield University, RMCS Shrivenham.

 

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How to cite this article:Antill, P. (1 February 2004), Operation ‘Rutter’ – The Planned Attack on Dieppe 7 July 1942, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_rutter.html

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