Soon after the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, Combined Operations Headquarters was set up to harass the all-conquering Germans by any means possible. Combined Ops was taken over by Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1941 and a major success was achieved in March 1942 when a British seaborne assault on St Nazaire put the strategically important dry dock out of action. Thus emboldened, a further attack on the French coast was planned. Operation Rutter would evaluate the possibility of capturing and briefly holding a port, also testing invasion techniques, destroying valuable equipment and gaining useful intelligence from captured Germans. This time the target would be the port of Dieppe.
Unfortunately, on the very day of departure – July 5 1942 – German bombers attacked the assembled fleet and Operation R was aborted. Undeterred, Mountbatten revived and modified the plan as Operation Jubilee. It was an ill-starred initiative, as the Dieppe raid would turn out to be a major military reverse. On August 19 around 6,000 Canadian infantrymen went ashore from landing craft on the town beach, supported by new Churchill tanks, even as flanking British commandos and US army rangers attacked gun batteries on the headlands. Overhead, Allied fighter aircraft waited to pounce when the Luftwaffe was drawn into the fray.
The attack went in at 05.00 and was dogged by bad luck, poor planning and lack of communication. By 09.00 it was all over and Allied forces retreated, confirming the painful World War I adage that it’s easier (and safer) to defend than attack. The Royal Navy’s bombardment had been ineffectual, 119 Allied aircraft were shot down (against 46 Luftwaffe planes), the 58 Churchill tanks couldn’t get off the beach and half were lost. Casualties were heavy and the Dieppe raid went down in history as a disastrous debacle.
When: August 19 1942
Where: Dieppe, Seine-Maritime, France
Death toll: Precise figures are not known, but around 1,000 Allied soldiers were killed (mainly Canadians), plus some 550 Royal Navy personnel. German losses were in the low hundreds.
You should know: The only Allied success during the Dieppe raid was the copybook attack by the British army’s No. 4 Commando under Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat. The well-trained commandos stormed ashore on Orange Beach and destroyed their target – a German coastal battery on the right flank of the main landing – before returning safely to England having suffered only minor casualties.