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Operation JUBILEE, Dieppe 1942 I.

Author : 🕔07.05.2003 📕38.996
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It is three o'clock and thirty minutes in the morning of August 19, 1942. Landing craft, with members of No. 3 British Commandos crowded aboard, are crossing the dark waters of the Atlantic. Ahead of them, the outline of the French coastline looms in the darkness. Somewhere in the darkness, the boat crews sense their destination. For now, the port city of Dieppe sleeps peacefully. Nor do the German crews stationed on the coast have the slightest cause for alarm. The whole operation, after all, is based on absolute secrecy. Already at 01.05, all ships under the supervision of the destroyer Calpe safely passed through the German minefield. Five minutes after three o'clock the first landing craft touched the surface and headed for the coast. It is 03.48 and the hitherto perfect plan is getting serious cracks. The port wing of the landing fleet carrying members of the 3rd British Commandos accidentally hits a small convoy of German boats. It was a group sailing from Boulogne to Dieppe, escorted by three German U-boat fighters. A quick firefight ensues, brightly illuminating the skies over the English Channel. In an instant, the German defences are alerted. The moment of surprise so relied upon by the planners of Operation Jubilee is lost...

Dieppe is located in the Seine-Maritime department in Normandy.
CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Allied situation in mid-1942 was more than grim. German troops were penetrating deep into Russia, and on August 6, tanks of the 4th Panzer Army appeared on the outskirts of Stalingrad. In July 1942, the convoy PQ 17 lost 24 of its 26 ships en route to Murmansk. Thus, the Red Army never received 335 cars, 430 tanks and 210 aircraft. On the same day that German tankers saw the first houses of Stalingrad, another British convoy bound for Malta suffered crushing losses. The British had to write off the aircraft carrier Eagle and remove another carrier, the Indomitable, from service. Of the seventeen ships in the convoy, only five vessels arrived at the Maltese port. In Africa, the British were retreating under pressure from Rommel's troops. The Tobruk fell on 21 June, and the rest of the British force retreated to the interior of Egypt. Against this backdrop, Stalin kept pressing the Allies to invade France at any cost, thus draining some of the German troops from the Eastern Front. For the Allies, however, the landing in North Africa (Operation Torch, 8 November) remained an operation of paramount importance. Nevertheless, at a meeting held in June 1942 in Washington, Churchill agreed with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt that a locally and time-limited operation to the West Coast would be undertaken. The original plan called for a combined operation to test the feasibility of forcible landing of infantry and combat equipment.

The Combined Operations Command, which was in charge of offensive actions against the occupied continent, may have drawn inspiration for the upcoming attack from some of its previous raids on the French coast. On 27 February, for example, the Commandos units carried out a successful action against a German radar station at Bruneval. The complete radar equipment of the station was transported to England for examination. Or on 26 March, when 250 men of the Commandos attacked the dry dock at Saint Nazaire in the Loire estuary. Although the Germans failed to repair this vital dock by the end of the war, the British lost almost half the men they had sent into the operation. In the coming action, however, it was a much more difficult task. The invasion force was to investigate the possibility of attacking one of the French ports, which was essential to supply any major landing. The French port town of Dieppe, located in the Seine-Maritime, was chosen for the operation, code-named Rutter. The town and port of Dieppe had several important military installations such as warehouses, docks, a railway, a radar station at Caude-Cote and the St. Aubin airfield to the west of the town. The town was expected to be defended by a relatively weak force of mostly second-rate troops. Moreover, the port was within the action radius of British fighters, which were to maintain an impenetrable air umbrella over the landing area.

From another angle, however, Dieppe did not appear to be an easy target for a surprise landing. The entire area lay in a belt of chalk cliffs stretching in a northeasterly direction from Cap d Antifer to the town of Ault. In the immediate vicinity of the harbour, the cliffs were high and presented a serious obstacle to the direction of the sea. The only viable landing place was the town at the mouth of the Argues River, which emptied into the Channel here. The beaches were narrow and rocky with occasional protrusions that made landing at low tide impossible. Nevertheless, the landing site was approved, in view of the anticipated effective support of the British Air Force.


Aerial image of Dieppe taken in June 1945
9th Air Force, Public Domain,

In mid-April 1942 the Combined Operations Staff, which had been headed since October 1941 by Lord Louis Mountbatten,[1] devised the following plan: instead of a frontal assault, synchronized sorties were to take place at Quiberville, six miles to the west, and at Oriel-sur-mer, east of the city. Each flank was to be attacked by units at brigade strength, while a third was to remain in reserve and be used to reinforce one of the flanks or to attack the town directly. The German batteries on the coast were to be manned by surprise airborne sorties to their rear. The commander of South East Command, General Bernard Law Montgomery, who oversaw the plans, was a determined opponent of the whole operation. He pointed to the impossibility of reaching the city by troops landing on the flanks, and suggested a direct attack at dawn, to be supported by two smaller landings on the flanks. However, Winston Churchill, supported by Lord Mountbatten, insisted on carrying out the action on a larger scale.

By early June, Operation Rutter's plans had seen some serious changes. Planners abandoned the intended night air attack on the city just before the landing. Bombing at night would not have had the desired effect and would also have alerted the German defenders. The destroyed houses and piles of rubble would in turn have made it impossible to deploy tanks inside the city. The RAF therefore devised an alternative plan, which consisted of a diversionary attack on Boulogne and the airfields of Abeville-Drucat and Crecy. This plan was not adopted either, so the British Air Force settled for jamming German radars combined with an attack on the two airfields the Luftwaffe would use during the operation. At the drop site, British aircraft were to attack beachheads and bomb the divisional headquarters at Arques-la-Bataille. Direct support for the landing thus lay with the eight destroyer escorts. The island of Wight was designated as the training area, and the day of the operation was 7 July. Operation Rutter was to involve both the 310th and 312th Czechoslovak Squadron, which were stationed at Redhill Airfield from 30 June to 7 July. However, persistent bad weather made it impossible to start the operation. German pilots were also opposed, attacking ships at the Yarmouth Roads assembly area on the Isle of Wight early on the morning of 7 July. Each of the four Fw-190s[2] dropped one 500-kilogram bomb on two landing ships ready to sail (H.M.S. Princess Astrid, H.M.S. Princess Josephine Charlotte). The direct consequence of this action, in addition to the serious damage to the Josephine Charlotte, was the abandonment of the Rutter Plan and the final disbanding of the force. For our pilots, this meant returning back to their home sector of Exeter.


In late July, the Operation Rutter plans were revived with some changes. Paratroop drops to neutralise the German batteries at Berneval and Varengeville were replaced by Commando units. General Montgomery's influence on the changes in the plan was therefore obvious. Instead of two major flank attacks in brigade strength, a plan that called for a major attack on the city supported by two smaller ones on the flanks prevailed. There was also a change at the highest levels of command of the operation. General Bernard Law Montgomery, who made no secret of his doubts about the success of the whole plan, left Britain for the Middle East on 10 August, about a week before the attack. His place was taken by the commander of the 1st Canadian Corps, General H. G. D. Crerar, who reported to the commander of the First Canadian Army, General McNaughton. By early August, the plan for the operation, renamed Jubilee, had reached its final stage. A total of nine beaches were marked. Six were to the east of the town and included the beach at the harbour proper, while the remaining three were targets to the west of Dieppe. The peripheral beaches where the Germans had large batteries, i.e. in the east at Berneval and in the west at Varengeville, formed the boundaries of the landing (Beach Yellow 1 and Orange 1).

The Navy, under the command of Captain Hughes-Hallett of the British Navy, deployed 237 vessels. In addition to minesweepers, cargo and landing craft, there were eight destroyers (seven British, one Polish) to support the ground troops during the landing. The moment the defences were overwhelmed and the Allied troops had a firm foothold in the city, a Royal Marine Commando force in boats was to enter the harbour and destroy the facilities and docks. Once the operation was successfully completed and all the stated objectives had been achieved, the Marines were to embark land forces at 1100 and sail back to England. The commander of the naval part of the operation, Hughes-Hallett, was to direct the landing from the flagship destroyer Calpe.

HMS Calpe
Calpaeo, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The ground troops committed to Operation Jubilee were composed mostly of Canadian soldiers. Canadian troops had been in the British Isles since 1940 and had completed one exercise after another without taking part in combat action. Their reputation from the First World War also played a part. The special invasion training that the Canadians underwent beginning in the summer of 1942 included a style of combat common to Special Forces. By the end of the training, the Canadian Second Division, consisting of two infantry brigades and one tank, was a truly elite unit. On the British side, two detachments of Army Commandos numbered 3 and 4 and Royal Marine Commando A were attached. Completing the list of special forces were 50 men of the 1st Battalion, U.S. Rangers. Including other attached units (engines, artillerymen, and detachments), the ground force numbered over 6,000 men. Of these, 4,965 were Canadians, 1,200 were British and 50 were Americans. The tank fleet was provided by 28 Churchill tanks incorporated into the 14th Tank Regiment, 1st Tank Brigade of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. These were mostly Churchill Mark I and II tanks, supplemented by three Mark II Oke tanks with flame throwers. The tanks were to be brought ashore by landing craft. The actual plan for Operation Jubilee involved the landing of Commando No. 4 six miles west of Dieppe on Orange 1 and 2 beaches, with the aim of neutralising Battery Hess, and Commando No. 3 east of the town on Yellow 1 and 2 beaches. Its target was the Gobbels artillery battery. At the same time, the South Saskatchewan Regiment was to land on Green Beach west of Dieppe to attack the western periphery of the town and the fortified farm of Quatre Vents. Simultaneously, the Royal Regiment of Canada was to attack Battery Rommel east of Dieppe. The main attack was to be led thirty minutes later by units of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Essex Scottish Regiment and Camerons of Canada. This frontal assault on the town was to be supported by a special unit of Churchill tanks. In Dieppe harbour, the aforementioned Royal Marine Commando was to be deployed to destroy the docks. An elite unit of Mount Royal Fusiliers was designated as backup. After all the tasks had been completed, the withdrawal of troops was to begin at around 1100. Throughout the operation the ground troops were to be protected and supported by RAF fighter and bomber squadrons.

Landing Craft Mechanised Mark 1 on exercise before the Dieppe raid

[1] Louis of Battenberg was born in Windsor on 25 June 1900. He was related to Queen Victoria and King Jerry V His father, Prince Louis of Battenberg, was born in Austria. After World War I, his family changed the German-sounding name Battenberg to Mountbatten. The young Louis was educated at Osborne and at Dartmouth Naval School. He served in the British Navy during the First World War. By the beginning of the Second War he was commanding the destroyer Kelly and taking part in the fighting in Norway. During the fighting in the Mediterranean, his ship was sunk off Crete on 23 May 1940. Churchill appointed Mountbatten head of Combined Operations Command on 27 October 1941. Under his command, British Special Forces conducted countless raids into occupied territory. In October 1943, Churchill made him commander of Southeast Asia Command (SEAC). Working closely with General William Slim, he was involved in the recapture of Burma and Singapore. After the end of the war in 1947, he became the last Viceroy of India and facilitated the peaceful division of the country into two independent states, India and Pakistan. Mountbatten returned to naval service and served successively as Fourth and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1952 to 1959. Between 1959 and 1965 he served as Chief of the General Staff. Loui Mountbatten was assassinated on 27 August 1979 by the IRA at his holiday home in Ireland.

[2] The machines were most likely some of the Jabostaffeln designed to attack the southern English coast. The area in which the ships were attacked corresponds to the operational area of 10 (Jabo)/JG 2. Interceptors over the Channel, p.91


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Author : 🕔07.05.2003 📕38.996