On the morning of the 19th August 1942, a joint force of allied combatants supported by the Free French, the RAF and the Royal Navy began operations for an attack on the German occupied French port of Dieppe. Originally to be codenamed as Operation Rutter, Operation Jubilee as it was later known resulted in disastrous attempt at opening a second front to take German military pressure off the Soviets after the lightning attacks following Operation Barbarossa in June of 1941.
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After the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 prior to the Battle of Britain, Allied forces comprised of British and Canadian infantry as well as volunteers from America and the Free French resistance planned for developments of a much more effective raiding force. Working in conjunction with the RAF and Royal Navy, many new techniques were to be employed to try to prevent a repeat of previous experiences. The operation specifically at Dieppe was planned by Vice Admiral Lord Mountbatten and was originally to take place during June of 1942 under the codename of Operation Rutter.
Bad weather amongst other factors pushed the raid back, almost to the point where Field Marshal Montgomery wanted cancellation. Plans were however shifted to August as the raid was re-adjusted and re-named to Operation Jubilee. Under pressure from the Canadian Government that their troops see some action, the primary attacking force consisted largely of Canadians from the 2nd Infantry Division. 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British as well as 50 United States Rangers would comprise of the Infantry elements with around 237 naval ships of all classes also partaking.
he RAF allotted 74 squadrons of aircraft for the Dieppe raid. However this force was ultimately reduced due to fears of French civilian casualties if large scale bombing was to be adopted. As such, a “hit and run” style was adopted to try to neutralize German positions with support of the Royal Navy and allow the land elements to capture the port and nearby town.
At 4:50 AM on the 19th of August the raid began after months of unsatisfactory attempts. The element of surprise was lost almost immediately when some of the landing craft engaged fire with several small German convoys around 3:48 AM, already foreshadowing the disasters to come. The main assault simply fell into chaos as soon as the tanks began to roll off the landing crafts. Shingle on the beach as well as concrete blocks grinded the tanks to a halt and bogged them down on the harsh surface, leaving them prey to German anti-tank defences. Infantry elements proved to be even less successful as machine gun fire crossed from all around in hidden positions. Disarray was made even worse by smoke screens laid by Royal Navy ships that blocked the objectives and landing positions, resulting in misjudged landings and utter mayhem for Allied forces.
Hurricane fighter-bombers and their Spitfire escorts from the RAF could do little to draw Luftwaffe opposition out on their own terms. Insufficient protective fire was provided to the landing forces and the failure to gain aerial superiority on the operation allowed Dornier Do 217’s of KG 2 to commence attacks on the Royal Navy ships, who were also failing to provide sufficient fire on German positions. All of this resulted in the land forces ultimately being largely ineffective and completely trapped in a situation that echoed Dunkirk two years prior to Dieppe.
At 11:00 AM the order to withdraw was given. By this time the Luftwaffe had made its presence more known and infantry forces and tanks were trapped under heavy fire almost at the positions they initially landed on. By 14:00 the evacuation was completed and all assets that could be retrieved pulled back. Many Churchill tanks as well as other military equipment stood exactly where it was left on the beaches, either rendered useless or simply abandoned in action.
The aftermath showed the disastrous effects of the raid with 3,367 of the 5,000 Canadian combatants critically wounded, taken prisoner or killed in action. 275 British Commandos lost their lives and the RAF lost 106 aircraft to AAA fire. The Luftwaffe also suffered losses, losing 48 aircraft. The Royal Navy sustained losses of 550 killed or wounded, losing one Destroyer and 33 Landing craft. German army casualties were around 591.
Lessons learned from this event would consequently affect Operation Neptune, the Allied D-Day landings that would take place 2 years later in Normandy that ultimately proved a success and turned the tide on the Western Front.