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Archive for August 19th, 2008

Today marks the anniversary of Operation Jubilee, the Allied raid against Dieppe, France.  The operation was designed not as an occupation of territory, but as a “blast and dash” where troops would assault the German forces in a surprise attack, complete some key objectives and depart…all in the space of a few hours.

So in the early morning hours of August 19, 1942, six thousand Canadian and British forces (with some U.S. Rangers sprinkled in) entered their landing craft and embarked on what would be one of the most botched operations in all of World War II.  First off, the element of surprise was completely lost when armed German trawlers in the area opened fire on the landing craft, alerting German forces to the Allied approach.

Next, landing craft got mixed up and headed for the wrong beaches, which meant the soldiers faced an almost impossible mission of untangling themselves and relocating their objectives.  Gunfire from the Allied ships and aircraft wasn’t adequate to knock out the enemy artillery positions, which proceeded to decimate the troops as they landed.  Also, poor ship-to-shore communications meant that the commanders didn’t have a good picture of what was happening on the beaches.  As a result, the reserve forces were committed to the action and, again, ripped up before the extent of the situation could be learned.

At 9:40am, the decision to withdraw was given and the few troops that actually made it inland had to retrace their steps through brutal German gunfire to reach the extraction points.  All in all, it was a terrible day for the Allies.  Overall losses were limited only by the fact that just 6,000 men took part.  But casualties among those few were staggering, as nearly 4,000 men were killed, wounded, or captured.  Even worse was the knowledge that German opposition, while strong in the air, amounted to only about 1,500 soldiers on the ground.

If there was good news from the debacle, it’s that the Allied commanders studied the Dieppe Raid intensely, and learned much about better intelligence, better communications, and improved “softening up” procedures.  These lessons would be used to good result in the upcoming landings in North Africa and, later on, just down the coast at Normandy.

Recommended Reading:  Dieppe 1942: A Prelude to D-Day

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