Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Prelude To Overlord

"Just as the defending force has gathered valuable experience from... Dieppe, so has the assaulting force. He will not do it like this a second time." ~ Field Marshal von Rundstedt

Before I get to things today, have a look over at Lyn Fuchs' blog Sacred Ground, where I wrote a guest blog about the Three Peaks Challenge in Great Britain. Have a look, and let me know what you think.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, the ninety fourth anniversary of the end of World War One. The guns fell silent in the trenches of Europe on November 11th, 1918, and ever since, the day has become a focal point, across the world, for remembrances of the sacrifices of veterans not only of the First World War, but the wars that were to follow.

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe, a moment that weighs heavily on Canadian history during the Second World War. The raid on the Nazi held port of Dieppe in France on August 19th, 1942 turned out to be a disaster for the invading forces, mostly Canadians, with a number of British soldiers and a handful of American rangers, and the supporting air forces.

After the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940, Allied command set to work for the day when they could push back across the English Channel and start to drive back the Germans. Operation Rutter- later renamed Operation Jubilee as the specifics of planning changed- started to develop out of this, an amphibious landing on the coast, as a way to capture a port- or a series of ports- and test the strength of German defenses in preparation for a full scale invasion. In addition, there was pressure coming from the Soviet Union to relieve some of the pressure of the Nazi invasion into their borders. Dieppe was selected for its relative closeness, an asset for air support across the channel. The port is set along a cliff on the Channel, with two rivers flowing through, and at the time, German artillery batteries and coastal defenses already set up.

The operation, overseen by Lord Mountbatten, was meant to capture the port in an amphibious raid, conducting as much destruction on enemy defenses- particularly the artillery posts- as possible without destroying infrastructure, before withdrawing back across the Channel. It would serve as a test for the coordination of land, sea, and air forces in the eventual main invasion. General Bernard Montgomery, who would go on to take on Rommel in the Sahara the following year and annoy pretty much everyone else in the Allied Command through the rest of the war, selected Canadian troops for the bulk of the raid, to give them combat experience and seasoning. Nearly five thousand of the invaders were Canadians, men of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. They were joined with a thousand British commandos and fifty Rangers. They were supported by naval craft and aircraft from the RAF and RCAF, and were dispatched across the Channel.

The landing started well, though that didn't last. Commandos neutralized one of the artillery batteries on the west flank. Other beach landings in the predawn went the other way. German troops on the ground countered Canadian forces, in some cases driving them back and forcing them to evacuate before attaining their objectives. Other landings were disastrous, the waves of the Channel wrecking havoc with the amphibious craft, delaying their beach landings. Failing to take the eastern headlands allowed German artillery to blast the beach in the main attack area, dooming the raid entirely. Landing craft were destroyed. Men drowned. Others were gunned down as they arrived on the pebble beaches. Tanks were destroyed or disabled in the attack. Troops found themselves cut off from getting back to evacuate as the operation came apart, and found themselves forced to surrender.

By the end of the morning, the raid was called off. 3367 men, of whom 2752 were Canadian, were either dead or taken prisoner on the beaches of Dieppe. The raid was deemed a failure, with the conclusion that Allied command had no appreciation for the risks involved in the operation. Still, lessons were learned, which would come in handy two years later in the Overlord landings in Normandy. Improved communications between field officers and headquarters was essential, as well as between the naval, sea, and land components of an invasion. The importance of a seaport for the focal point of an invasion was dropped out of further plans. The need for air bombing of enemy targets was made perfectly clear for an invasion to have a chance of success. Naval ships had to work much better to support infantry against coastal defences. Landing craft had to be improved. Beach obstacles had to be quickly dealt with and bypassed for infantry to gain a better foothold on landings. Everything had to be planned, down to the finest detail. Canadian General Henry Crerar later said that D-Day would have been a disaster had it not been for the hard lessons learned at Dieppe.

Seventy years on, we now know something that wasn't public knowledge at the time. Recently declassified military documents confirm the long suspicion that part of the true purpose of the raid was to capture German documents and devices such as the Enigma machine to allow Allied command to decode German communications. This aspect of the raid, it turns out, was devised by Ian Fleming, who went on to write about a suave secret agent years after the war ended. The attempted theft, or "pinch", as the English called it, didn't succeed at Dieppe.

The guns are silent now. Seventy years after Dieppe, most of the veterans of the raid are gone. Those who remain are in their late eighties or early nineties, like so many veterans of the Second World War. Each week that passes, more of them die. Across the ocean, the graves of those who fell are tended in perpetuity, sacred ground for the nations who sent their young to fight and die, not only to free Europe, but to save it... and the world itself.

Remember them.


  1. Too many of us forget the real meaning of holidays like Remembrance Day and, in my country, Veterans' Day. We see it as a day to have a barbecue, go out to eat, or even go shopping, as (here, at least) the stores and malls are all open.

    Excellent post, William!

  2. So in agreement with Norma.
    When did Veterans or Memorial Day become a time to go to a big sale and buy a refrigerator, car or a great deal on carpet ?
    We are having a parade on Monday, I am looking up the route and see if there is a spot where I can drive to easily and be able to use my walker.

    Excellent post !

    cheers, parsnip

  3. I love the history lessons I get when I stop by your blog. :)

  4. Let us never forget the atrocities of war. The courage of the brave veterans and the innocent children who were casualties of any and all battles.

  5. I agree with Norma and Evie is right war sucks.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  6. A wonderful tribute William...lest we forget.

  7. Thank you for this! My family is all military, from my grandfather, to father, to husband and to son. :)

    I'm proud they all served.

    RIP, dad and granddaddy! I'm grateful I still have my son and my husband.

  8. We had a very beautiful two minutes silence at 11 am today. Take care

  9. Thank you to all service men and women for your duty and sacrifice. War is Hell.

  10. @Norma: here the crowds really turn out for our services. It seems more every year.

    @Parsnip: you'll have to get there early...

    @Kelly: thanks!

    @Eve: indeed.

    @Shelly: yes, though it's sometimes nessecary.

    @Perth: thank you.

    @Diane: we owe them all a debt we can never repay.

    @Old Kitty: it was very moving at our services today.

    @Deb: thank you.

  11. I know when I was a kid, we used to get the day off from school. But, it was a day to watch TV, to play and do whatever that wasn't about Remembrance Day. I never had any family that had been in any of the wars, so it wasn't enforced that we should spend a little time remembering the soldiers who gave their lives for our freedoms. And, of course, even now we need to remember. Thankfully, now in the schools, they learn a little more about Remembrance Day, and about the soldiers, past, present and future and that we can never forget any of them.

    Great blog.

  12. Thank you for this tribute - we did not have a big ceremony to mark it. This history lesson was very fitting.

  13. What a lovely tribute. It's nice to know all of the details on exactly what Remembrance Day is for.

  14. @Beth: for me, the day is personal. My family was in the occupied Netherlands during the war. If it wasn't for liberation, starvation would have been inevitable, and I wouldn't have been born.

    @LondonLulu: thank you!

    @Krisztina: Thanks!


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