On This Day: Allied bloodbath as Dieppe Raid ends in disaster

AUGUST 19, 1942: The disastrous Dieppe Raid – the biggest Allied attack on Nazi-occupied Europe prior to D-Day – ended in a bloodbath and swift withdrawal on this day in 1942.

Out of the 6,000 mostly Canadian troops who landed at the French port, 4,384 – or 73% - were killed, wounded or missing, while the Germans lost 591 soldiers.

The Royal Navy also lost 550 men and 34 ships after coming under heavy attack from the Germans, who had been tipped off about a possible raid by French double agents.

And the RAF, which flew 2,617 sorties in what was the largest single-day air battle of World War II, lost 106 planes, while the Luftwaffe lost 170 aircraft.

Although a contemporary British Pathé newsreel suggested the raid had been a success, it was nevertheless a failure on almost all levels.

While the objective had never been to permanently hold the town – but rather to test tactics and German defences – few of the objectives had been achieved.

Yet the failure did teach those behind it some valuable lessons about amphibious assaults and probably assured the success of the D-Day landings two years later.

Two American airmen in front of an aeroplane before the 'umbrella' air raid over Dieppe (Getty)
Two American airmen in front of an aeroplane before the 'umbrella' air raid over Dieppe (Getty)


The Allies – partly to reassure the Russians that they were doing all they could to divert the Nazis from the Eastern Front - had hoped to hold Dieppe for nine hours.

But by 10.50am – just five hours and 20 minutes after the assault began – the order was given to evacuate the northern French town.

Among the Allies’ objectives was a plan to destroy the Dieppe dock installations and capture documents in a safe in the port office.

The latter break-in was to be carried out by a former burglar who was one of 1,000 Royal Marine Commandos to assault Dieppe.

 

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Yet the only success of the raid was the destruction of the Goebbels artillery battery, which had it not been taken out might killed even more men.

The landing troops, who also included 50 U.S. Rangers, the first Americans to fight in Europe during the war, were badly led down by a lack of bombardment on the town.

Pre-landing naval gunfire support was largely limited to six destroyers with four-inch guns as the British Admiralty did not want to risk too many capital ships.

One of the Canadian Churchill infantry tanks which penetrated Dieppe (Getty)
One of the Canadian Churchill infantry tanks which penetrated Dieppe (Getty)


Air power, which could have provided vital cover for the troops, was also limited due to a deliberate smoke screen on the beaches.

And the planned air bombardment on Dieppe was reduced amid fear of causing casualties among French civilians.

Yet these same residents were later praised by Adolf Hitler for maintaining ‘perfect discipline and calm’ and not helping the Allies during the raid.

The troops had also been failed by the lack of surprise and by several other blunders that took place during the landings and subsequent equipment failures.

 

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The first blunder took place when landing craft for the Royal Regiment of Canada lined up behind the wrong gun-boat.

It took 20 minutes to sort out the problem, by which time the sun was rising and vital cover had been lost.

At the same time, another gun-boat, which was leading in the 20 landing craft of No 3 Commando, unexpectedly came across and was attacked by five German trawlers.

German prisoners of war land in England after the Dieppe Raid (Getty)
German prisoners of war land in England after the Dieppe Raid (Getty)


The gun-fire alerted the coastal defences, which then unleashed hell on the rest of the troops, with men ripped apart by machinegun fire before they’d even landed.

So many officers were killed that very little intelligence could be sent to the ground forces commander, Canadian General John Hamilton Roberts.

Furthermore, the Churchill tanks that were landed proved to be useless, with many unable to move across the shingle beaches.

The re-embarkation craft also proved woefully inadequate, which hampered the withdrawal and meant that the retreat was not completed until 2pm.

 

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Nevertheless, vital lessons were learned from the raid, including the need to heavily attack coastal gun emplacements before the landings took place.

The Allies also ditched their belief that a port had to be captured after realising defences were too robust and their docks would not survive any attack.

Instead, when D-Day came, forces landed on seized beaches and then constructed temporary ‘Mulberry’ harbours in order to land more men and supplies.

Two German prisoners brought back from the Combined Operations Raid on Dieppe (Getty)
Two German prisoners brought back from the Combined Operations Raid on Dieppe (Getty)


Vice-Admiral Louis Mountbatten, who led the naval effort in the raid, later said: ‘I have no doubt that the Battle of Normandy was won on the beaches of Dieppe.

‘For every man who died in Dieppe, at least 10 more must have been spared in Normandy in 1944.’

 

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And British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who might also have been blamed for the catastrophe, insisted ‘the results fully justified the heavy cost’.

‘It was a Canadian contribution of the greatest significance to final victory,’ he later remarked.

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