It Was A Combined Operation!

Canadian prisoners being led away through Diep...

One of the most controversial battles in which Canadian troops ever fought was the Dieppe raid on August August 19, 1942.  Books and articles have been written about it; television and radio programs produced, but many missed the purpose and significance of Dieppe.

During the summer of 1942, the Russians were fighting the Germans practically alone, suffering terrible losses with their backs to the wall.  They insisted that the Allies take action in Europe to relive the pressure on them.  The United States had barely entered the war and had few forces in Britain.  It was called “the second front.”  Yet something had to be done.  After lengthy consultations the Allies decided to mount a heavy offensive on Dieppe, as a morale-builder and test of German defences.  It was a rehearsal for the “second front” which actually opened on June 5, 1944, almost two years later.

Nearly all the writers and producers who have dealt with the Dieppe raid have failed to bring out that it was a joint operation, not just an attack by the 2nd Canadian Division.  Dieppe, for the first time, coordinated army, navy, and air force.  The navy did an incredible job, escorting more than 100 troop-carrying ships to harbours along the coast of the south of England and then sweeping them safely through the German minefields in the darkness.  Before and during the assault, the air force tangled overhead with German bombers and fighters, inflicting severe losses on the Luftwaffe at a time when it was trying to conserve its strength.

English: Forces of the Royal Hamilton Light In...
Forces of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, part of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, move towards South Beveland during the Battle of the Scheldt Nederlands:  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The bravery and fighting ability of the six battalions of the 2nd Division and the Calgary Tanks that formed the ground attack cannot be described here.  Two of their members won the Victoria Cross: Lt.-Col. C. C. I. Merritt of the South Saskatchewans, and Reverend J. W. Foote, chaplain of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, who worked as a stretcher-bearer on the centre beach.  Captain P. A. Porteous, a British Commando, also received the Victoria Cross.  There were many other deserved decorations in all ranks.

The cost was heavy.  Of the 5,000 Canadians who took part in the raid, 3,367 were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.  This was more than the entire Canadian Army lost in the first year of fighting in France after D-Day, 1944.  The heavy casualties were due in some measure to bad luck.  ?The element of surprise was lost when a commando unit leading the attack ran into a German convoy moving along the coast in the dark.  The shooting alerted the shore defences.

Valuable lessons were learned from Dieppe which prepared the way for the successful assault on June 5, 1944, which led to the end of the war.  Dieppe, with its strong historic link with Canada, deserves a proud place on Canada’s battle flag.

As I said, the battle is a popular one. I can get you started on your journey to learn more this post. To start, I would send you to About .com‘s article by Susan Munroe; after that I would steer you to Juno Beach.org for its site about Canada in World War II. If you still want to read more, I would say that you really can’t lose by visiting the War Museum.ca – a great site! Lastly, I would recommend reading an article at Sun News, about “Memories of Dieppe difficult for Canadian veteran” by Simon Kent.

16 comments

  1. Most of what I know about World War Two concerns the Pacific Theater, since that’s where my father fought and thus, it has always interested me. Your post on Dieppe has stirred my interest to study more about the European Theater. Also, I once saw a movie starring Lloyd Bridges, who played a Canadian commander training troops to go into battle during World War Two. I forget the movie’s name. but I think it might have been about this raid.

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    • Umm … let’s see if I can find out …. Thank you for dropping by and commenting, by the way. That’s always appreciated. And I love the I’ve “stirred” someone. 🙂

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    • Could it have been: “World War II: G. I. Diary:?

      The synopsis is: “World War II: G. I. Diary is a documentary-drama series narrated by Lloyd Bridges based on the first-hand accounts of soldiers, sailors, and pilots who participated in World War II in Asia and Europe. It includes actual WWII footage of the battles and campaigns held on land, sea, and air. The series is composed of 25 episodes and features famous battles at Pearl Harbor and on Iwo Jima, and the conquest of Saipan in the Marianas. World War II: G.I. Diary was produced by Discovery Channel in 1978.”

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  2. I always got the impression that the Canadians were sacrificed just to show Stalin that the Allies were “doing something.” To try and invade German-occupied France with just 5,000 troops was to practically throw them away, sadly.

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    • Thankfully, for the Canadians, no. However, even if there are varied anecdotes (some even funny), in a war I find it difficult to write at times because it’s so sad — a terrible example of “our” barbarism …

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  3. I really like all of the good bits of info you post daily about our country. Some are good reminders and some are very good at informing.
    And, thanks for the like on my last post. I really get a kick out of seeing that little space cadet and CDN flag at the bottom of my page.

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  4. My uncle was captured at Dieppe and held prisioner until the end of the war. For the majority of the remainder of his life he neither could or would talk about the landing or his time as a POW. He did, however, finally begin to talk about some of the horrors of those experiences. This summer we visited Dieppe in his honor and were amazed at the displays of affections and gratitutde shown by the people of Dieppe for the brave Canadians who fought there.

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