Operation Jubilee was a large scale prelude to the D-Day invasion that would take place in less than two years. The British Commandos had been having great success with hit and run raids especially in Norway. But by 1942, political pressure was being put on Churchill and Roosevelt by Josef Stalin to open a second front.
Churchill knew that eventually, the Allies would have to go across the channel and stay. So they attempted a bold raid that would include over 6000 troops, 160 tanks and 60 squadrons of aircraft, along with destroyers with 4-inch guns for direct support fire from off-shore. The sleepy French resort beach at Dieppe was chosen because that would put the raiding force in easy covering distance for the Spitfires and other fighters. The German defenders were from the 302nd Infantry Division. They had ample artillery and reinforcements close by.
On the night of the 18th of August, the flotilla of 252 ships under the command of Vice-Admiral Lord Mountbatten sailed from four south coast ports. They sailed to just 8 miles off the coast of Dieppe undetected, arriving at 0300 hrs (3 a.m.) on the 19th. The 2nd Canadian Division was to seize Dieppe and vicinity and hold it until the demolition tasks were complete. Then re-embark and return to England. In supporting, roles were the men of the No. 3 and 4 Royal Marine Commandos, who with 50 officers and men of the US Ranger Battalion.
By 0330, 5000 men were in their assault landing craft and heading towards the beaches behind the small gunboats that would lead the way. All was going according to plan as smoothly as an exercise until 0347 when all hell broke loose. The gunboat leading No. 3 Commando into “Yellow Beach” at Berneval and Belleville-sur-mer ran into five German armed trawlers who fired star shells to illuminate the scene. The gunboat was ripped to shreds, most of the crew wounded on the deck and as a result of pure chance, the 20 landing craft of No. 3 Commando were dispersed. Only one landing craft with 3 officers and 17 Commandos hit the beach at Belleville-sur-mer. Armed with personal weapons and one two-inch mortar, they harassed the German “Goebbels” battery to the extent that their fire was ineffective for much of the crucial parts of the battle.
Six other landing craft of No. 3 Commando hit the beach at Berneval and came under devastating machine gun fire. Barely a handful survived to reach the beach and once there, were pinned down under murderous fire.
On the far right flank, No. 4 Commando hit the beach in a textbook raid. On time and right on target, they completely destroyed the “Hess” battery and by 0730 were off the beaches and on their way back to England. Sadly, this was to be one of the few success stories of the raid.
The German defenses of Pourville had withstood the guns of the destroyers, and fighter bombers and the smoke screen was ineffective. The “Rommel”, “Hitler” and “Goring” batteries gave the Canadians coming ashore hell to pay. The Saskatchewan Regiment and the Queen’s Own Cameroons were under heavy fire.
On Blue Beach, disaster struck the Royal Regiment of Canada. They’d been delayed coming ashore, had been spotted via searchlights and attempted to make the landing in daylight. The Regiment was nearly annihilated. 27 officers and 516 men went ashore. Only 3 officers and 57 men were rescued off the beach.
The attack on Dieppe itself foundered on the beach. The Essex Scottish and Royal Hamiltons landed as the smoke screens lifted and they too were hit with murderous machine gun crossfire. The Essex Scottish couldn’t reach the sea wall, the town itself was out of the question. The Germans poured direct 75mm and 88mm artillery fire right at the men on the beaches. Coupled with highly accurate mortar and machine gun fire which enfiladed the beach, success was impossible.
The Essex Scottish men as individuals fought back fiercely, men were using their bodies as bridges over the barbed wire. A small group of 12 men made it to the Esplanade where they hurled grenades into gun positions, and fighting house to house harassed German patrols for over an hour before being forced back to the beach.
White Beach on the right fared equally poorly. The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry was coming under direct fire from 47mm and 37mm anti-tank guns coming ashore. Machine gun and mortar fire raked the beach into a death trap. Nearly all of the officers and senior NCOs were killed or wounded. One small group attacked the Casino and held a small foothold for a short time. Another group coming off the beach tried to storm up a cliff and the entire group was killed on the slope.
The tank landing craft, so crucial to the success of the operation were battered as soon as they emerged from the smoke screen. The assault groups of Sappers coming off of the tank landing craft were annihilated. One group of 71 had just nine left in less than ten minutes upon hitting the beach and four of them were wounded. Of the total of 314 Royal Engineers, nine officers and 180 men were killed upon landing.
Despite the fire, 17 tanks in the first wave made it to shore. Six reached the Esplanade. One climbed the steps of the Casino and they fired everything they had at the enemy until their ammunition was spent.
Only 28 tanks made it to shore, all of which were destroyed by the Germans. Because of the extremely heavy casualties including the Signalmen and beach groups, the commanders on ship were completely in the dark. At 0600, the commanders committed his reserve blindly, the Fusiliers Mont-Royal right into the center of the beach and they were immediately forced to dig in on the beach to stay alive. Of this group, 288 officers and men were eventually forced to surrender.
The Royal Marines were thrown back into the breach at 0830 but as soon as they came out of the smoke screen, the murderous fire began raking the landing craft. Their commander, Lt. Colonel J.T. Phillips signaled for the craft to turn around.
By 0900 the decision was made to start a withdrawal of the troops. There could be no orderly withdrawal as units had ceased to exist and it became an exercise in grabbing whoever they could off the beaches. At 1022, the destroyers lined up and to follow the rescue ships in as closely as possible firing with everything they had. The fighting on the beaches took another three bloody hours to get the remaining men off the beaches. The raid had been a colossal, bloody failure.
The Canadians had lost 215 officers and 3164 men. Total losses for the raid were 494 officers and 3890 men. Canadian casualty rates were about 68 percent. Of the 1000 Commandos, 247 were lost. All of the vehicles that made it to the beaches were lost. The Royal Navy lost 81 officers and 469 men including a destroyer (HMS Berkeley) and 33 landing craft. The Royal and Canadian Air Forces lost a total of 111 planes shot down. Of the 50 American Rangers, six were killed, four were wounded and six were taken prisoner. German casualties totaled 591 with the Luftwaffe losing just 48 aircraft.
The bloody lessons learned at Dieppe would serve the Allies well when they came ashore in France to stay in 1944. It would provide the Allied planners a blueprint on what was needed to successfully conduct amphibious operations. They included:
- Proper preliminary artillery support, including aerial, naval bombardment;
- Sustained element of surprize;
- Better intelligence concerning enemy fortifications;
- The avoidance of a direct frontal attack on a defended port city; and,
- Better re-embarkation craft
- Specialized Armored vehicles for the engineers to clear the beaches
Another lesson learned was that the Allies learned that taking a port city would render the harbor and piers useless through the action of taking them. Therefore they would construct prefabricated harbors, “Mulberries” that would be towed to the beaches. They wouldn’t make the same mistakes in Normandy.
Photos Courtesy: Wikipedia, the Canadian Forces, Dieppe Raiders Association