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1942 - JUBILEE - Dieppe

Operation JUBILEE, as the Dieppe attack was named, remains one of the most controversial operations of World War II. It included areinforced Canadian infantry division, a large proportion of the Royal Air Force fighterforce, and a significant naval armada. In the early hours of 19 August 1942 an amphibious force of approximately 6000 troops, primarily Canadians of the 2nd Infantry Division, approached the coast of France. About one thousand British troops and fifty US Rangers also took part. Their destination was the small port of Dieppe.

On 02 April 1942 General Marshall gave President Roosevelt the War Department's outline plan for a cross-Channel attack in 1943. During the summer of 1942 small task forces would raid along the entire accessible enemy coast line. General Marshall attached great value to these preparatory raiding operations which he defined as the "establishment of a preliminary active front." He thought they might serve to draw German troops from the east and so "be of some help to Russia." They might also be useful for deception either in persuading the Germans that no all-out offensive would be attempted or else in keeping them on tenterhooks for fear that any one of the raids might develop into a full-scale invasion. Thinking of national morale, a consideration always important to both the President and the Prime Minister, he noted that raiding together with air operations would be "of immediate satisfaction to the public." But, he added, "what is most important" is that the raids would "make experienced veterans of the air and ground units, and . . . offset the tendency toward deterioration in morale which threatens the latter due to prolonged inactivity."

The most ambitious attack on the French coast up to that time had been the raid on St. Nazaire in March 1942. But St. Nazaire was still only a hit-and-run commando foray. Dieppe was planned as a miniature invasion, involving the full use of combined arms and mass landings of infantry and armor with the object of seizing a beachhead. Except that there was no intention of holding the beachhead, Dieppe was drawn as closely as possible to the pattern of a full-scale amphibious attack. Specifically it was designed to test the newly developed LCT in landing tanks across the beaches and to find out whether it would be possible to take a port by direct frontal assault. It would also test naval organization in managing a considerable landing fleet (253 ships and craft), and air organization in gaining air supremacy over the landing area and providing support for the ground troops.

Their mission was to foster German fear of an attack in the West and compel them to strengthen their Channel defenses at the expense of other operational areas. The raid is often largely (and wrongly) attributed to a British effort to deflect Russian and American pressure for an early, and primarily British, cross-Channel invasion. Their secondary purpose was to learn as much as possible about new techniques and equipment and gain experience and knowledge necessary for a future great amphibious assault. As Dieppe was considered a typical point of the German defensive wall, it was hoped that an accurate picture would be obtained as to how they intended to repel any invasion threat. It was determined to test the landing of tanks from amphibious craft, to test the changes made in joint communications, and to obtain information concerning the results of naval gunfire and air support.

The plan called for a raid-in-force by a closely coordinated joint attack of air, sea, and land forces. Planners anticipated that the joint operation would take only 15 hours for successful execution and withdrawal. The raid was originally conceived by Mountbatten and his Combined Operations Staff, and that they visualized it as a British undertaking. The troops to be used would be Commandos and other British who had been given special amphibious training. It was the Canadian Commander, General McNaughton, who felt that his troops were beginning to get stale after two years of nothing but continuous training and so insisted successfully that Canadians form the major part of the assault troops.

Denied heavy fire support with heavy bombers and battleships, the plan nevertheless agreed to substitute "surprise" for "firepower." In an attempt to land on a hostile shore, fronted by cliffs 100 feet high, the landing force became tied up on the beaches and vulnerable to inevitable counterattack by the Germans in and about the city. The German wire on the beach was more difficult to negotiate than the British had anticipated. In addition to long coils of wire, there was a wire of a heavier gauge with long spikes laid in a double-apron pattern behind the concertina coiled type. German 88's and French 75's opened fire from concealed positions in caves carved out of the cliff face as soon as the smoke screen lifted. This enfilade fire made the capture and retention of the beaches an impossibility and was the main cause of the failure to press on through Dieppe.

By early afternoon, 807 Canadians lay dead in and around Dieppe. Another 100 would die of wounds, and in captivity, and about 1900 more would sit out the rest of the war in POW camps. In addition, 106 of 650 aircraft were destroyed; 33 of 179 landing craft were lost at sea or on the beaches; and one of eight destroyers was sunk. After initially calling the attack a raid, the Allied High Command back-tracked, calling it a reconnaissance in force. The Germans could scarcely believe how easy it allwas or-in their after-action critique-howmany mistakes the "raiders" had made.

The assault force was too big to achieve real surprise and too small to be able to sustain an assault. The raid on Dieppe was conceived as a coordinated joint plan of air, sea, and land battles. However, as planning progressed, it devolved into a complex and inflexible script in which synchronization was used to make up for operational shortfalls. Inevitably, Clausewitzian friction affected the battle, and the inability to achieve operational objectives within carefully prescribed timelines meant that the pre-conditions for successive steps were not met. The Dieppe Raid was carried out on a perfectly clear morning. Allied troops, lacking protection from fog or low cloud cover, were cut down on the beachhead by German shore batteries.

The British experiences with amphibious warfare during the Great War had been little better. Their forces had endured a bloodletting at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles, where landings championed by Churchill had failed. They had also lost an entire generation of young men to trench warfare on the stalemated Western Front in France. Britain's leaders thus had visions of catastrophe whenever the Americans raised the issue of a cross-Channel attack. If haste prevailed over reason, Churchill warned, the beaches of France might well be "choked with the bodies of the flower of American and British manhood."

Though the British had agreed in principle at the Arcadia Conference to an early attack across the Channel, by the end of 1942 they had nevertheless succeeded in shifting many of the resources marked for Bolero to TORCH, an Allied invasion of North Africa much more in accord with their own point of view.

Though casualties were high, valuable lessons were learned for the later D-Day landing in Normandy. If the German response at Dieppe was any indication, an invasion of the Continent would require more meticulous preparation and more strength than a 1943 attack could possibly allow. Indeed, Allied planners and logisticians would have to create, field, and supply an organization that could meet and defeat the worst counterattack the enemy was capable of devising.

Dieppe seems in general to have impressed planners with the hardness of the enemy's fortified shell and the consequent need for concentrating the greatest possible weight in the initial assault in order to crack it. Whether as a direct result of Dieppe or not, ROUNDUP planning in the winter of 1942-43 took a new turn. It had hitherto been assumed that attacks against the French coast should be widely dispersed in order to prevent the enemy from concentrating on the destruction of any one beachhead. In November 1942, General Barker and Maj. Gen. J.A. Sinclair, chief British planner, started on another tack. In examining the requirements for a suitable assault area for a major operation, they premised their study on the principle of concentration. Abandoning the ROUNDUP idea of many separate regimental and commando assaults, they assumed one main landing in an area capable of development into a lodgment for the whole Allied invasion force.

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Page last modified: 04-06-2014 13:28:06 ZULU