At dawn on August 19, 1942 the training and planning for Operation Jubilee became a bloody reality.
The operation was an Anglo-Canadian attack against the German held French coastal town of Dieppe. In the attack the bulk of the force, some 4,963 men of the 2nd Canadian Division, was committed to frontal assaults on the town and adjoining coast. The head of Combined Operations, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, who had overall command of the operation, would emphasise that Jubilee was not a raid but a “reconnaissance in force.” The landings, supported by 28 Churchill tanks of the Calgary Regiment, took place on eight beaches and the troops were tasked with destroying batteries and other installations in the town before making their withdrawal.
In addition to the 2nd Canadian Division, about 1,000 British Commandos from Nos 3 and 4 Commandos and the newly formed A Commando Royal Marines (later to become 40 Cdo, RM) were involved in supporting the main attack. Along with the Commandos, 4 US Rangers landed at Dieppe, the first American land action of the war.
Despite awesome bravery the landing on the shingle beaches in front of Dieppe was stopped almost before the Canadian soldiers had left their landing craft. On that one grim day the 2nd Canadian Division lost 3,164 men and 215 officers as well as all its tanks and other vehicles. These were losses as bad as, or worse than, the bloodbaths of the Western Front in World War I.
The Royal Navy suffered 550 casualties, lost 33 landing craft, and the destroyer HMS Berkley, torpedoed after she had been severely bomb damaged. The RAF lost 106 aircraft, while the Luftwaffe, who were initially caught off guard but quickly committed 945 aircraft to attacking the Allied beachhead, lost only 48.
With some justification the Germans could claim Dieppe as a victory, their casualties on land totalled only 591.
It is a measure of the courage and commitment of Canadians to the fight for freedom that when the news of these losses reached home there was a flood of volunteers for the armed forces. Canadian soldiers would later fight in Sicily, Italy, and across Europe. Following the landings at Juno Beach on D-Day on June 6, 1944, it was appropriate that it was the men of the 8th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment (14th Canadian Hussars), the reconnaissance arm of the 2nd Canadian Division, who liberated Dieppe on September 1, 1944.
During the research for my book I contacted Alex Szima, one of the two surviving US Rangers who had been attached to No 4 Commando during the raid. Szima proved a lively and knowledgeable correspondent who had never succumbed to the temptation or demand to “throw out all that old stuff from the war.” His archive of cuttings, letters, and reports was informative not only about the establishment and history of the US Rangers, but also about US domestic reaction to Dieppe. Alex is the tall US soldier on the cover of Allies at Dieppe: 4 Commando and the US Rangers getting a light for his cigarette from a British Commando at the close of the Dieppe operation.
On my first visit to the site of Operation Cauldron – the No 4 Commando part of the wider Dieppe action – I was without question blessed with two ideal companions. One was James Dunning who as a 22-year-old was the Troop Sergeant Major of C Troop 4 Commando, the other was Emyr Jones. Emyr had amassed an invaluable archive of material about No 4 Commando while “Jimmy” could give that unique insight into the operation from the eyes of one was
there. Jimmy put me in touch with other 4 Commando veterans including Bren Gunner George Jones and demolition expert John Skerry. John provided details of the charges used to destroy the guns and recollections of the operation and
will be the 70th anniversary of the raid and perhaps for the dwindling number of veterans their last Jubilee. With this in mind, as a broadcaster, historian, and author I will be taking a tour to Dieppe with the unique battlefield tour company “Spirit of Remembrance” on the anniversary of Operation Jubilee.
Read Allies at Dieppe: 4 Commando and the US Rangers, come with me on this pilgrimage and be part of Canada's military heritage; remember the courage and sacrifice of the Allied servicemen, who in Operation Jubilee brought hope to France and Occupied Europe at one the lowest points of World War II.