The French Channel

On 19 August 1941 Allied forces launched a disastrous attack against the French Channel port of Dieppe. Losses were awful. Read why was this raid was launched then question whether it was worth it.

The attack began at 5:00AM on a summer morning. It was short and bloody. By 9:00 AM the allies were in retreat. No major objectives were achieved. The allies scarcely left the beaches. When the toll was counted some 3,623 men, or 60% of the landing force never came home and were left killed, wounded or captured in France. The toll was greatest among the Canadians who contributed most to the raid.

The raid on Dieppe was a political requirement. From June 1940, when Britain stood alone, Churchill toyed with the idea of 25,000 strong raids on the continent to harry the enemy and raise moral. General Montgomery who had responsibility for the defence of parts of South East England talks in his memoirs of the need for an offensive form of defence. Diplomatically the Russians pressed for the need for a Second front to relieve pressure on the war in the east. The Soviets felt that the west was not pulling its weight. At home in 1942 Churchill needed a victory to offset a lack of progress in the North African campaign. While Britain was not yet prepared, and did not have the resources to launch a full scale assault in the west it could launch a token raid.

From outset this raid was an experiment. It was escalation of European operations that took place at Breneval and St Nazaire in the spring. It was intended to give the Allies sufficient experience of amphibious operations to support operations in North Africa, Italy and Northern Europe. These operations were difficult and needed to be rehearsed practice. When Churchill instructed a landing in Turkey to force the Dardanelles during the First World War the attack had stalled and Churchill received much criticism for the venture. Another stall and blood bath could not happen again. An invasion of Europe would take place against a fortified coast. Hitler reacted to the raid at St Nazaire by instructing that an Atlantic Wall be built to protect Europe against invasion.

The task of developing offensive operations in Europe fell to Churchill's new appointee as Chief of Combined Operations, Louis Mountbatten. In late 1941 Combined Operations came up with a proposal to use twelve division to seize and hold the port at Le Havre. A trial run was needed. In May 1942 work began on Operation Rutter which was a plan to take Dieppe. Strangely the plan never received the approval of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. It suffered from planning and organisational failures as a result. Montgomery had responsibility for training the troops. He said afterwards that too many people had too many view. The objectives were simple: to seive and occupy a major port for a short duration, to gather intelligence, to test out combined air, sea and land operations and to destroy key coastal defenses and port installations.

On 5th July 1942 troops boarded ship for the launch of Operation Rutter. They were fully briefed and told of their destination. Ominously a German air raid swept down on the invasion fleet. For five days the fleet waited for a break in the bad weather. Then, the project was cancelled and the troops returned to barracks. Talk of the raid became common knowledge in the pubs and billets of southern England. Montgomerry was so concerned with the lack of security and loss of surprise that he called for the plan to be abandoned. Mountbatten thought otherwise and pushed on with a modifed plan called Operation Jubilee.

On 10th August 1942 Montgomery was posted to command the Eight Army in Egypt and prepare for the grreat victory at Alemain.

The ill fated Operation Jubilee took place nine days later. Painful lessons were learned.

The use of special forces

The modified plan replaced the use of paratroopers with commando units. The commandos were asked to seize the flank baterries. Paratroops could not be used in bad weather and transports were unavailable for the delayed operaiton.On D-Day paratroops were used at Pegasus Bridge and the western flank.

At Dieppe there was one success. No 4 Commando who succesfully destroyed their objective. Their action was latter held up as a model way to conduct commando operations.

The use of aerial bombardment

The modified plan did not soften up the defences. An extensive aerial bombardment took place in the run up to D-Day. It severed road and rail commications in depth. iN Normandy the allies enjoyed air superiority. At Dieppe they failed to engage the Luftwaffe.

Security and intelligence.

The Dieppe raid suffered from security breaches. An elaborate system of deception was developed prior to D-Day. It deceived the Germans who thought that the major attack would take place in the Pays de Calais.

The Dieppe raid also suffered from an intelligence failure. Because it was not authorised by the Combined Chief of Staff it did not benefit from the latest intelligence. The raid was planned on out of date information. The intelligence service was much better integrated into the D-Day campaign.

The importance of training and rehearsal.

The main assault by the Canadians was held back by inexperience. The commander of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, Major General J.H.Roberts lacked experience. The troops did not coordinate well at the squad level. The solution was to train and exercise relentlessly in realistic battle conditions.

The use of supporting naval bombardments

Battleship and heavy cruiser support was not provided at Deippe. The threat of damage to the capital ships was considered too great. The naval bombardment was provided by six Hunt class destroyers. The destroyers did not have the range or firepower to destroy the German strongpoints without placing themselves at risk. These ships lacked good fire control systems. After the event Mountbatten was criticed for not providing naval support. On D-Day large capital ships bombarded the shore froma safe range under an umbrella of good air cover.

The development of specialist tanks.

The Dieppe raid used 58 new Churchi tanks. These tanks were equiped with a Landing Craft shroud which allowed them to be amphibious. Three other tanks were equiped with flamethrower equipment. The tanks performed badly at Dieppe. They arrived late and had a difficult lesson. Some 29 disembarked, all were lost, two were drowned at sea, just 15 crossed the anti-tank ditch and left the beach. Despite this, the tanks provided useful fire support during the evacuation. The experience was suffience to justify the development of a wide range of specialist tanks, the so-called Hobart's Funnies that were used on D-Day.

The development of electronic warfare

During the Dieppe raid RAF Flight Sergeant Jack Nissenthall, a radar expert and a team of Saskatchewan bodygards took on a special mission. Their brief was to penetrate the German radar station at Pourville. Although the group did not gain entry to the radar station Nissenthall cut the telephone lines. This forced the radar crew to talk to their superiors using radio transmissions. When these signals were picked up in England sufficient intelligence was gained to justify the development of radar jamming techniques.

After the raid Mountbatten said that "the Battle of Normandy was won on the beaches of Dieppe. For every man who died in Dieppe at least ten more must have been spared in Normandy in 1944". After Dieppe the invasion of Europe was approached much more diligently. It had to be well prepared and launched at the right time to avoid a blood bath. This delay might have frustrated the Russians who advocated a second front but was correct in the light of military experience.

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