The Dieppe Raid: A Tragedy In 1942

By Gavin Greenwood | 19 August 2002

In 1942, members of the Canadian army were encamped in the hills and towns of the South Downs around Brighton. They were about to embark on a daring raid on the Nazi held French port of Dieppe. Read our trail to find out what happened to them during the Dieppe Raid.

On August 19, 1942, a largely Canadian force attempted to deal a heavy blow to German forces occupying Dieppe. The raid was a military disaster: on this one day, 907 Canadians were killed.

shows a picture of weary Canadian troops on the beach at Dieppe. In the foreground two troops support each other, in thebackground a British tank smoulders on the shoreline

Canadian prisoners of war - 1,874 were captured in the raid.

On August 18 1942 more than 6,000 Allied soldiers, almost 5,000 of whom were Canadians, sailed from Portsmouth, Southampton, Cowes and the smaller Sussex harbours of Newhaven and Shoreham to attack the French port of Dieppe.

Shows a picture of a beach with a wooden groyne in the background, two soldiers are walking along the beach and there is what appears to be a dead body on the ground

The aftermath of the raid on Dieppe beach.

Code-named Operation Jubilee, the raid was intended to serve a variety of purposes.

These ranged from raising morale at a time when the war was going badly for the Allies in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and in the Atlantic; diverting German resources away from the Russian front and relieving pressure on the Soviet Union; testing concepts and equipment that would be needed for a full-scale amphibious invasion of Europe.

The raid, called a 'reconnaissance in force' by the planners, was a military disaster in terms of casualties and equipment lost.

Shows a photo of a beach with lots of barbed wire and other unidetifiable detritus strewn about it

Debris littered the beachfront.

Before the force reached the beaches, it was spotted by a German naval patrol, and a sharp exchange of fire began. Shore batteries were alerted and the element of suprise was lost. Few units from the landing force moved far beyond the beachhead as German resistance proved to be far stronger than anticipated.

The 'Calgary Tanks' were the first Canadian tank regiment to engage in combat in World War Two. It was also the first occasion the Churchill tank saw action.

What was it like to fight at Dieppe? Click this link to visit the Veteran Affairs Canada website to explore the official Canadian story.

Shows a photo of a tank with two German soldiers looking on, one is wearing an officer's uniform. There is a man in civilian clothes looking on as well, there are buildings in the background

This was the first time the newly designed Churchill tank had seen action; many like this one were knocked out in the fighting and did not make it back.

The cost to the Regiment was two officers (including the commanding officer) and eleven men killed, two officers and thirty-one men wounded and 138 of all ranks captured. The Canadian tank crews weren't able to advance beyond the beach, with many of their machines stuck on beach walls.

Canadians bore the brunt of the casualties at Dieppe, with 907 killed, 2,460 wounded and 1,874 taken prisoner by the Germans. Of the 2,210 who returned to Britain, only 236 were unhurt - and 200 of these were men who had not been landed.

Those who did get inland into the town fought bravely and three Victoria Crosses were won in the course of the day. Lt Col. Charles Merritt of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, John Foote of the Canadian Chaplain's Service and Captain Pat Porteous of No 4 Commando won the highest award for gallantry during the raid.

Around 500 of the defending German forces were killed and a small number of German prisoners were taken back to Britain.

Shows a map of the Dieppe invasion plans, there are two large red arrows pointing at the central beach, one is marked White Branch, the other Red Branch.

Despite careful planning shore batteries were alerted and the element of suprise was lost.

Furthermore, the Allies lost 106 aircraft - including 13 from the Royal Canadian Air Force - the biggest allied air loss in a single day in the entire war. More than 150 aircrew were also killed or captured. Sixty per cent of the ground force became casualties, including almost 100 per cent of those tank crews who landed. The raid's planners had factored in 10 per cent casualties.

In strategic terms, however, the Dieppe raid may in retrospect be seen to have justified its high cost.

Apart from providing invaluable lessons for the D-Day landings, the abortive raid also focussed German military planning on the section of the French channel coast nearest southern England.

This reduced the number and strength of fortifications and units deployed in Normandy, 100 or so miles to the southwest of Dieppe, where the invasion of Europe was launched 22 months later.

Before the Storm: From Peace To War

Shows a large group of soldiers with kit bags disembarking down a gangway from a ship

Units of the 1st Canadian Division arriving in Scotland, December 1939. Pic Gote House Publishing.

Canada's contribution to the 1939-45 war in Britain has faded over the past half century. This may reflect the general Canadian preference for the low-key and laconic and the fact that Canada's service personnel were barely distinguishable from their British military counterparts in their khaki battledress, blue air force uniforms and naval rig.

Only the shoulder 'flash' bearing the single word CANADA and the maple leaf on their aircraft and vehicles set these men and women apart for their British counterparts.

Canadian units were stationed all along the South coast after their arrival in the very earliest months of the war.

More than 1.1m Canadians (including 50,000 women), from a total population of 16m, served in their country's and Britain's armed forces. Most of those who served overseas were either based in or passed through Britain to other fighting 'fronts'. In addition, Canadian factories, farms, fisheries, forests and mines produced vast amounts of arms, equipment, food and minerals needed to supply the Allied war effort.

Shows a vast row of soldiers and tanks on a gently sloping grassy hill.

1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade parade for the King on the South Downs near Rottingdean, February 1943. Pic. Gote House Publishing.

Canada formally entered the war on 10 September, 1939, one week after hostilities began between Britain and Germany.

At the outbreak of war the combined strength of the regular Canadian army, navy and air force was just 11,000, with some 100,000 part-time milita forming a military reserve.

By end-September 1939, however, more than 58,000 men and women had enlisted in the three services and on 10 December 7,400 troops comprising the lead units of 1st Canadian Infantry Division (1 CID) sailed for Britain from Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving at the Scottish port of Greenock on 25 December.

A day later the first Canadian soldiers had arrived in the Hampshire garrison town of Aldershot, which would remain the main base of the Canadian army during the Second War. By September 1942 six Canadian divisions, grouped under the 1st Canadian Army, were based in southern England between Aldershot and the Channel.

In June 1940, following Germany's victory in France and the British retreat from Dunkirk, the First Canadian Division represented the strongest single combat formation in Britain. This was reflected in its deployment to the Sussex coast in mid-1940 as a key element in efforts to defeat a widely anticipated German invasion.

shows a black and white wartime photograph of troops in armoured vehicles moving down a leafy lane in rural Engalnd.

In the build up to the raid, Canadian units were on the move throughout Sussex.

Almost all those who served overseas were volunteers - only 3,500 conscripts among the 158,000 drafted for 'home service only' were sent to Europe in late 1944 as infantry casualties mounted in hard fighting in northern France and the Low Countries.

In addition, 670 Canadian officers volunteered to serve with the British Army; 75 per cent of these officers were either killed (128), wounded (310) or taken prisoner (27).

After Dieppe, the army was engaged in preparing for the invasion of Europe, including operations in Italy. The 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade left Britain in late June 1943 for the invasion of Sicily on July 10.

Some 76,000 Canadian troops served in the Italian campaign, of whom 5,900 were killed and 19,364 wounded. But the bulk of the Canadian land forces remained in Britain to prepare for the D-Day invasion.

Remembering: Dieppe, August 19, 1942

Shows a photo of a group of soldiers and a sailor

Commandos returning to dry land at Newhaven. NLMM collection.

Since most of the Dieppe casualties occured on the beachhead, most commemorations are sited in France. Regular memorial services are held by delegations of Canadian Ex-Services Associations at the cemetaries in and around Dieppe.

In Britain, there are suprisingly few relics of the raid, and military and naval museums tend to concentrate on D-Day exhibitions.

At Newhaven Local and Maritime Museum there is a small but very interesting collection of photographs and mementos of the raid. The museum, run completely by volunteers, is a stone's throw from the site of HMS Forward, a wartime top secret underground naval command centre.

Shows a photo of a group of naval landing craft in a calm harbour with a hill in the background. The boat in the foreground has the insignia LCP 127

Landing craft assembling in Newhaven harbour before the raid. NLMM collection.

Across the harbour from the Maritime Museum, on Beach Road, is the point from which a Canadian Engineer Regiment embarked on the raid. On the spot there is now a memorial to 27 of the men who were killed.

The memorial is regularly visited by Canadian veterans and British ex-services organisations, most recently over the weekend of August 10/11, 2002 for a service of remembrance.

Shows a photo of a rhombus shaped memorial in a park, it has a furled Canadian flag on the top of it and there are several wreaths of poppies laid at its foot

The Canadian War Memorial at Newhaven. © 24 Hour Museum

Newhaven Fort was built to repel invaders from across the channel in the 19th century. Now it is the site of a fascinating military museum, with commanding views across the channel, and also over the harbour where parts of the raiding force assembled. A sizable Dieppe exhibition can be seen here, as well as many D-Day relics.

Shows a photo of a harbour with a passenger ferry and lots of small boats in it. In the foreground there is a building with seven arched entrances along it and a courtyard which has an artillery piece in it

Newhaven Fort was built to defend the port against invasion and was used as a base in World War Two. © 24 Hour Museum.

Forces left for the French coast on the night of August 18, 1942 from Portsmouth as well as Southampton and the Isle of Wight. In Portsmouth the Royal Marines Museum at Southsea has some displays about the Dieppe Raid. Members of No. 3 and No. 4 Commando, Royal Marines, landed on the flanks of the Canadian formations at Dieppe.

The Royal Marine units were tasked to neutralise shore batteries some distance from the town. Though tenaciously defended by German forces, these were successfully knocked out by the Marines, who took heavy casualties.

Shows a black and white photo of a young man in dress military uniform

Capt. Pat Porteous who won the Victoria Cross while attached to No. 4 Commando of the Royal Marines at Dieppe.

Above the battle of the beaches another struggle was being played out - many squadrons of Allied fighters and bombers flew round-the-clock sorties to support ground forces. RAF Tangmere near Chichester was in the front line of the effort.

Now a museum, this historic site was also a key airfield during the Battle of Britain, and the home of several Canadian fighter squadrons.

In fact, squadrons from airfields all along the South Coast met stiff resistance. A new German fighter, the Focke-Wulf 190, was found to be more than a match for the RAF's Spitfires and Hurricanes.

Shows a photo of a Spitfire fighter plane on a stand in a hager, there is another World War Two fighter aircraft in the background

The Supermarine Spitfire displayed at RAF Tangmere - one of the most successful fighter planes of WWII.

The brave men of the Calgary Tanks fought valiantly but in vain in Churchill tanks. Visit the Tank Museum at Bovington in Dorset to see armoured machines of the period - including German Panzers such as the mighty Tiger.

And finally, in Hailsham, Sussex, there is a poignant reminder of how nature takes over. A tree stills stands upon which Canadian soldiers carved their initials in happier days before battle. After sixty years of growth, the names are becoming indistinct, as the passage of the seasons obscures them.

Shows a photo of the trunk of a large tree with many initials carved into its bark

Carved in time, Canadian servicemen marked their names in Hailsham. Photo by Peter Longstaff Tyrrell

In memory of my uncle, Capt Gerald Sherrard Bradshaw, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, who chose to leave the peace and security of Vancouver island, BC, for the uncertainty of the European war. Like many veterans, Gerry left it to others to tell their story. Gavin Greenwood

Author of this trail, Gavin Greenwood, served in the British Army before becoming a journalist. His connection with Canada is through his uncle, and it was '...strengthened by fond memories of the care packages from British Columbia that lightened the austerity of post-war Aldershot.'

What do you think? Leave a comment below:


The official Canadian Veteran Affairs website. This includes the definitive Dieppe website including sound files of testimonies from men who were there.

Aldershot Military Museum has an extensive section on the Canadian Army in World War Two - click here to see an online taste of the exhibit

Ash Vale and Aldershot: museum pages about WW2 and the Canadian 1st Division.

The Canadian War Museum

Virtual Museum of Canada: excellent online resources about the Canadians in WW2

A reference table showing all Canadian Army units in WW2

Massive list of links on Veteran Affairs Canada website

Official Naval Report on the Dieppe Raid

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial - Second World War Memorials in Europe.

Many thanks to Peter Longstaff Tyrrell and Gote House Publishing

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God bless them all and may the lost soldiers and the survivors of this battle be remembered for their sacrifice.
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