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The Dieppe Raid – An elaborate cover for an attempted theft

April 2017

The Dieppe Raid, also known by its final official code-name Operation Jubilee, was a Canadian-led raid on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, on the northern coast of France, on 19 August 1942.

For decades afterwards, many viewed the Dieppe Raid as a colossal failure that didn’t achieve any of its objectives and had an unnecessarily high casualty.

Officially, the objectives included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove that it was possible and to gather intelligence.

The raid began at 0500 and by the time the order to withdraw was given at 1030, 3,367 (almost 60%) of the 6,086 men who made it ashore were either killed, wounded or captured, 913 of the dead being Canadians.

The raid was carried out by a 6000 strong force, consisting of 5000 Canadians from various infantry regiments across Canada, 1000 British Commandos and 50 U.S. Army Rangers, with support by The Calgary Tank Regiment, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Planning for the raid was done by Vice-Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten of Combined Operations Headquarters.  Canadian Major-General John Hamilton “Ham” Roberts placed in command of the ground troops on 19 August, overseeing the operation from his command post aboard HMS Calpe.

The Dieppe raid was planned as a five-prong attack, with each landing site given its own code-name:  No. 3 Commando landed on Yellow Beach; the Royal Regiment of Canada, along with three platoons from the Black Watch of Canada, on Blue Beach; the main attack forces, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, the Essex Scottish Regiment, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, “A” Commando, Royal Marines and the 14th Army Tank Regiment (The Calgary Regiment), landed Red and White beaches: the South Saskatchewan Regiment and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders landed on Green beach; No. 40 Royal Marine Commando landed on Orange beach.

Supporting the ground troops were six Hunt-class destroyers to provide pre-landing naval bombardment of the shore and 66 RAF fighter squadrons.

Unfortunately, the Allied forces were no match for the well-armed, well-fortified, 1500-strong German garrison, perched atop the white cliffs that provided a commanding view of the stone-covered beach below.

It has been argued that the lessons learned at Dieppe helped save lives two years later when the Allies invaded the French coast at Normandy.  Lord Mountbatten stated, “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.”

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill added “My Impression of ‘Jubilee’ is that the results fully justified the heavy cost” and that it “was a Canadian contribution of the greatest significance to final victory.”

However, military historian David O’Keefe conducted a 15 year research project into the Dieppe Raid and uncovered around 100, 000 pages of previously classified British military documents.

These documents reveal that a “pinch” raid had been planned and executed that day, overseen by future James Bond author Commander Ian Fleming of the British Naval Intelligence Division.

Intelligence reports indicated that the Germans had a new 4-rotor Enigma code machine at the Hotel Moderne in Dieppe, which British Intelligence suspected to be German Naval Headquarters.  Cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park, the secret code-breaking unit just north of London, had previously cracked the 3-rotor Enigma machine, but with the introduction of the 4-rotor version, Allied intelligence was effectively in the dark.

No. 30 Assault Unit (30 AU), a covert commando unit, was sent to Dieppe to secretly steal parts to the 4-rotor Enigma, plus any code books and rotor setting sheets they could find.  Lead by Royal Marine Lieutenant H.O. Huntington-Whitely, their presence was hidden by including them as a part of No. 40 Royal Marine Command.

Cdr Fleming, who created 30 AU, was off the Dieppe coast aboard HMS Fernie, waiting to take custody of the Enigma machine and immediately transport it to Bletchley Park.

If successful, the Germans wouldn’t have realized what had happened, thus not alerting them to the fact that the British had the ability to crack their codes. The troops landing on the Dieppe beaches was intended to provide support and create a diversion for 30 Assault Unit, thereby providing the necessary cover that was needed for a successful pinch.

Unfortunately, 30 Assault Unit came under heavier resistance than hoped for, thwarting their attempts to make it ashore.  The failure resulted in Bletchley Park not cracking the 4-rotor Enigma until December 1942.

Many Dieppe veterans who documented their experience from that day remarked that the preparedness of the German defences seemed to indicate that they knew the Allies were coming.

The landing craft were immediately shelled with great precision Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Robert Labatt stated he saw markers on the beach used for mortar practice and that they appeared to have been recently placed.

Despite the relative failure of the raid, two Canadian and one British officer were awarded the Victoria Cross for valour:  Honorary Captain The Reverend John Foote, padre with the RHLI, and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Merritt, Commanding Officer of the South Saskatchewan Regiment.

Captain Patrick Porteous of No. 40 Commando was also awarded the Victoria Cross.  Porteous was severely wounded and both Foote and Merritt were taken prisoner.

Reverend Foote’s fellow RHLI Officer, Captain Denis Whitaker, was awarded the first of his two Distinguished Service Orders at Dieppe.  Whitaker, who would finish the war as a Brigadier General, was the only one of the 100 officers who landed on the beach to fight his way into town and return to England unwounded.

Major General “Ham” Roberts was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order, despite the failure of the raid.

While being interrogated by a German officer after the raid, Major Brian McCool, the Principal Military Landing Officer, was asked about the true purpose for the raid:  “This was too big for a raid and too small for an invasion.  What were you trying to do?”  In response, McCool replied, “If you could tell me…..I would be very grateful.”

It would appear that David O’Keefe has uncovered the true purpose, which I can only hope will give some comfort that their sacrifices that day could have significantly shortened the war had it been successful.

Sources:  WWII Top Secret: Dieppe Uncovered (documentary by Northern Star Entertainment), One day in August:  The untold story behind Canada’s tragedy at Dieppe by David O’Keefe, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieppe_Raid, Maguire, 1963, pages 181 & 190, globalnews.ca/…/breaking-german-codes-real-reason-for-1942-dieppe-raid-historian, http://o.canada.com/news/new-research-suggests-world-war-ii-raid-on-dieppe-may-have-been-attempt-to-find-nazi-enigma-machine, Atkin, 1980, page 94, Stacey, 1944, paragraph 43.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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