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.
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.