Chapter 10: Tasks and Operations, 1941–1942
(See Map 5 and Sketches 1 2)
The Situation at the Beginning of 1941
The advent of 1941 found the British Commonwealth still confronting Germany and Italy alone. The United States, Russia and Japans remained neutral, though all three of these great powers were to enter the war before the year was over. The only major active land theatre of war was that in North Africa, where in February the Germans began to intervene to support their Italian allies who had been so sorely smitten by General Wavell.
The winter’s respite had enabled the armies in Britain to make good many of the equipment deficiencies that had existed after Dunkirk, and the country was now in far better condition than during the previous summer to resist an invasion. It was clear that a spring offensive by the Germans was to be expected, and it was quite possible that it would take the form of an attempt to cross the Channel. Throughout the winter the German bombing attacks upon the United Kingdom had continued with varying intensity. The Canadians in Britain shared the experience of the British people, and suffered some casualties at the hands of the Luftwaffe. For a time, Canadian Military Headquarters, London, was more directly under attack than any other part of the force: a situation which impressed veterans of the last war as a strange and not wholly unwelcome reversal of the course of nature. The months of April and May 1941 witnessed the heaviest individual attacks on London; but the damaging raid of 10 May proved to be the end of this phase.*
The anticipated German offensive materialized in April in the form of an attack upon Yugoslavia and Greece; both countries were rapidly overrun,
* The Canadian Army’s heaviest losses in any single attack were those in the great raid on the night of 16–17 April, which caused 22 fatal casualties. The RCN had one fatal casualty and the RCAF two in the same raid. It may be noted here that the Army’s total casualties by enemy action in the United Kingdom throughout the war (including those caused by bombs, V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets) amounted to 420 all ranks. Fatal casualties numbered eight officers and 112 other ranks.1 Some additional details will be found in The Canadians in Britain, 1939–1944 (“The Canadian Army at War”, No. 1: 2nd edition, Ottawa, 1946).
and in May the Germans delivered an airborne attack against the small and ill-equipped garrison of Crete, which was shortly forced to give up the island. But the enemy’s great operation of the year had not yet begun. On 18 December 1940 Hitler had issued his first directive2 for an attack on Soviet Russia; on 22 June he launched his forces upon that enterprise, which was to prove a main contributor to his own ruin. The tremendous campaign thus begun altered the aspect of affairs along the Channel. A German invasion of Britain was still possible, but as long as Russia continued to contain great German forces it was much less probable than before. (The British Chiefs of Staff recognized this fact in July and offered to send large reinforcements of tanks to the Middle East.)3 So far the Canadian force in the United Kingdom had had a sense of being engaged in an important mission – securing the citadel of freedom against imminent peril. Now this sense was greatly lessened, and the force’s future employment became a question for discussion, both official and popular. Nevertheless, the Canadian formations still had a very long period of garrison duty before them.
The Corps Moves Into Sussex
Through the greater part of 1941 the Canadian Corps retained its role of GHQ Reserve. In the autumn, however, it relinquished the task of mobile counter-attack and moved into a static position on the Sussex coast.
This move seems to have been first suggested by the C-in-C Home Forces, General Sir Alan Brooke, in a conversation with General McNaughton on 28 March. Brooke remarked that the Canadian force was growing so large that soon it would no longer be sound to keep it in GHQ Reserve. McNaughton said he was prepared to cooperate, but expressed the hope “that in assuming the role of a static Corps, the claims of the Canadian Forces to form the spearhead of any offensive would not be forgotten.”4 The transfer was not carried out until the “invasion season” was over, that is, until the autumn was well advanced. In the meantime, however, the 2nd Canadian Division anticipated the general move by exchanging positions during July and part of August with the 55th British Division, which had been holding the beach defences in East Sussex. During this period the 55th Division was in Aldershot under the operational control of the Canadian Corps; the 2nd Division was under the operational control of the 4th Corps which was responsible for the Sussex coast.5
The movement of the Canadian Corps as a whole began in October, when the 2nd Division returned to the coastal sector; it remained under the 4th Corps until 17 November, when the Canadian Corps opened its headquarters in Sussex and took over the 4th Corps area. The Canadian move
was completed only in December, when the 3rd Canadian Division moved into Sussex from Aldershot and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade also moved over from its former stations in the Hindhead area.6 The new situation brought the Corps into even closer relations than before with the British Army and the British people. It now had under its command the British artillery and other units manning the fixed defences of the Sussex coast.7 It was also brought into intimate and friendly contact with the Sussex Home Guard. A special British element was set up at Corps Headquarters to look after these new responsibilities.
As soon as the Corps moved into Sussex it began a drastic overhaul of the defence arrangements for the area. Its new role brought it under the operational direction of the GOC-in-C South Eastern Command, a new command, organized in February 1941,8 which included the portion of England south of London and the Thames and as far west as the Hampshire border. This command was taken over, shortly after the Corps came under its direction,9 by Lieut. General B. L. Montgomery. This was part of a general change in senior British military appointments, under which Sir Alan Brooke became Chief of the Imperial General Staff in succession to Sir John Dill, and Lieut. General Sir Bernard Paget, formerly at South Eastern Command, succeeded Brooke at GHQ Home Forces. Montgomery’s dynamic touch, felt throughout the Canadian Corps District from the beginning, was reflected in the new defence plans.
Montgomery sought to impress upon all under his command the importance of “offensive mentality”.10 The plans accordingly were labelled, not “Plans for the Defence of Sussex”, but “Canadian Corps Plans to Defeat Invasion”.11 The scheme, developed during the winter under the direction of Lieut. General H. D. G. Crerar, who took command of the Corps on 23 December, provided in detail for the security of the Corps area, which extended from the Hampshire border, just short of Portsmouth, on the right, to Fairlight Church, a couple of miles east of Hastings, on the left. It was assumed that a combined seaborne and airborne invasion was probable, and emphasis was laid upon providing against seizure of the South Downs by enemy airborne forces. This line of noble hills, lying close behind the beach defences held by the Corps, was the chief topographical feature (and one of the greatest charms) of Crerar’s area of responsibility.
The plans so carefully elaborated were never tested in action. Far from attempting invasion, the enemy at no time directed even the smallest seaborne or airborne raid against the coasts of England. It was the Canadians’ fate to spend many months guarding against a menace which, however real, never materialized in action. The Corps held the Sussex coast for a year
and a half without firing any shot in anger except at enemy aircraft.*
* The “blitz” of 1940–41 was over before Canadian anti-aircraft artillery units were organized (above, pages 242 and 290). By the time when enemy attacks were resumed on a limited scale early in 1944, the Canadian A.A. regiments still in the United Kingdom had been withdrawn from the Air Defence of Great Britain and were preparing for their task across the Channel. Since attacks during the interim period were small and sporadic, Canadian units gained official credit for only 16 successful engagements, the enemy aircraft being awarded as destroyed in eight. Some of these successes were shared with British units or between Canadian ones. In three cases, Canadian units other than artillery were given credit. There were probably some additional actual successes not officially recognized; in a few instances it is likely that no formal claim was made. The three cases mentioned on page 290 do not appear in the official list, nor do some others of 1940.
On 3 June 1943, at long last, its operational responsibilities, which of late had been largely limited to precautions against raids, were handed over to a British formation, the Sussex District.12
Sappers at Gibraltar
Only two enterprises took Canadian troops out of the United Kingdom during 1941. One was a task connected with improving the defences of Gibraltar, the other an expedition to the Arctic archipelago of Spitsbergen. Neither brought contact with the enemy.
The entrance of Italy into the war in June 1940 greatly increased the importance of Gibraltar and called attention to the fact that its defences had of late been very largely neglected. Work started at once with a view both to immediate improvement of the defences and to providing on a long-term basis bombproof accommodation which would enable the garrison to withstand a siege of almost any length. On 23 October 1940 the Secretary of State for the Dominions wrote to the Canadian High Commissioner in London asking that part of No. 1 Tunnelling Company RCE, then in England, might be sent to work at Gibraltar.13 Consideration was asked “as a matter of urgency” and the Canadian authorities acted accordingly. On 24 October the Cabinet War Committee in Ottawa gave its approval, subject to General McNaughton’s concurrence. Accordingly, a “Special Detachment” of No. 1 Tunnelling Company, 100 strong and equipped with diamond drills, disembarked at the Rock on 26 November and was soon at work.14 In December the War Office asked for more Canadian tunnellers for Gibraltar. McNaughton took the view that these should be provided by organizing a second tunnelling company, rather than by sending the remainder of No. 1 and thus depriving the Canadian force in England of all such special engineer assistance. This course was followed. No. 2 Tunnelling Company was formed in the United Kingdom and arrived at Gibraltar on 10 March 1941. It absorbed about half of the Special Detachment of No. 1, the remainder returning to England.15
No. 2 Tunnelling Company remained at Gibraltar until December 1942.16 In addition, a second Special Detachment of No. 1 Company was sent out in January 1942.17 This Detachment worked on the new aerodrome which had been created since 1940 on the site of the garrison racecourse on the North Front, its task being to provide “fill” for extending the runway into the Bay of Algeciras. This was done by bringing down the screes on the face of the Rock, first by diamond drilling and blasting, subsequently by hydraulic methods.18 The aerodrome was a vital project; without it, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, launched in November 1942, might not have been practicable.
The major tasks of No. 2 Tunnelling Company itself were the excavation in the heart of the Rock of a bombproof hospital (“Gort’s Hospital”) and a “through east and west tunnel providing direct covered access to the east side of the rock (Harley Street)”.19 This tunnel had side chambers for the hospital laundry, etc. The Canadians also worked on the more southerly of two large new magazines, and carried out a great variety of lesser tasks. During its stay at the fortress the Company “mined and removed approximately 140,000 tons of solid rock”.20 The Canadians shared the work at Gibraltar with three British tunnelling companies. The Rock under wartime conditions, with the greater part of the civilian population evacuated, was a confined and tiresome station. It grew increasingly unpopular with the Canadian sappers, and they were delighted when it became possible to return them to England late in 1942. But they derived great satisfaction from kind words21 spoken on 1 December by the Governor, Lieut. General F. N. Mason-MacFarlane:–
On behalf of all of us I want to wish Godspeed and good luck to our Canadian Tunnellers, who are leaving us very shortly. They are the only Dominion troops we have had on the Rock, and like all our tunnelling units they have carved out a monument for themselves which will stand as long as the Rock remains. They have done a great job of work and we wish them all good fortune and good sound rock wherever they may go.
Financial arrangements covering the Canadian tunnellers’ service at the fortress produced a tiresome controversy. Since the matter was represented as so urgent, a specific Anglo-Canadian agreement was not made before the first detachment was sent. The Canadian authorities later proposed that Canada pay all costs except those of any local medical arrangements and of transportation to Gibraltar; they also assumed that expendable stores and pneumatic equipment would be supplied by and chargeable to the United Kingdom. The War Office, however, was inclined to accept only the responsibility for pneumatic equipment. The cost of transportation was a bane of contention for some time. The Canadians took the view that since the Detachment had been removed from its normal duties, at the request of the United Kingdom Government, to carry out special work under
War Office control, its transportation to Gibraltar was properly a British responsibility. The War Office finally agreed, specifying however that this was not to be a precedent. When the question of sending the second Special Detachment of No. 1 Tunnelling Company arose late in 1941, the Canadian authorities suggested a clear definition of financial arrangements, on the basis of Canada’s taking responsibility for all charges that would normally have been incurred had the Detachment remained with the Canadian forces in the United Kingdom, while the British Government would accept responsibilities for all additional charges, including transportation to and from Gibraltar. The War Office accepted these proposals without demur.22
The Expedition to Spitsbergen
The Spitsbergen expedition undertaken in the summer of 1941 was a minor consequence of Russia’s entrance into the war. This distant archipelago, lying only 600 miles from the North Pole, had been comparatively little affected by the conflict until this took place. Although Spitsbergen is Norwegian territory, Russia had large economic interests there, and about 2000 of the population of some 2800 were Russian miners. Spitsbergen is a coal-producing area, and it seemed desirable to deny its coal to Germany. It also possessed wireless stations which were providing German-controlled stations in Norway with weather information. At the same time, the possibility of German occupation of the islands constituted a threat to the convoy route from Britain over which supplies for Russia were now to pass in such important quantities.
Canadian participation in an expedition to Spitsbergen was first suggested by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in a conversation with General McNaughton on 25 July, during which Sir John Dill “offered” McNaughton the operation, and McNaughton “accepted” it. On 26 July representatives of both the Canadian Corps and CMHQ attended a meeting on the subject at the War Office.23 The enterprise proposed at this time was considerably more ambitious than that finally carried out. It was suggested that Spitsbergen should be occupied by a force sufficient to protect a naval anchorage and refuelling base which it was proposed to establish there. Mr. Churchill had signalled M. Stalin on 20 July, advising him that Britain was sending forthwith “some cruisers and destroyers to Spitzbergen, whence they will be able to raid enemy shipping in concert with your naval forces”.24 The occupying force was to be withdrawn at the end of four months, before the winter freeze-up. The proposed Order of Battle for “111 Force”, as it was called, which was placed before the meeting on 26 July, comprised an infantry
brigade (less one battalion), without transport, plus certain attached units. The suggestion was that the Canadian Corps should furnish the troops, except for some administrative units and a light anti-aircraft battery.25
It was agreed that the Corps would provide the required units, and that they should be the headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Brigade with its signal section; the 3rd Field Company RCE; Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and The Edmonton Regiment;* and in addition two 50-bed field hospitals (to be provided from the 5th Field Ambulance RCAMC) and a detachment of a Field Cash Office, Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps. Subsequently, early in August, the War Office decided to add a field battery (eight 25-pounders) to the force originally proposed, and the one nominated was the 40th Field Battery RCA, a sub-unit of the 11th Army Field Regiment.26 However, by this time doubts had begun to arise as to whether the expedition should take place in the form proposed. On 30 July the British Chiefs of Staff Committee decided that further information was necessary before definite orders were issued. In consequence, a naval force operating in the area was ordered to make a reconnaissance of Spitsbergen.27 In the meantime, the arrangements already made were allowed to stand; the mobilization of the Canadian units proceeded, and was complete by the time specified in the original instructions (midnight 3–4 August).
On 6 August General McNaughton, accompanied by Brigadier A. E. Potts, commander of the 2nd Brigade, and Brigadier J. C. Murchie, Brigadier General Staff, CMHQ, attended a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee at which the whole question was discussed. The meeting was told that the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet was, “on balance”, opposed to carrying out the original scheme, and that Rear Admiral Vian, the senior naval officer operating in the Spitsbergen area, had recommended that it be abandoned. It was suggested that Vian’s observations indicated that he did not have a full appreciation of the object of the proposed expedition, and that a further opinion should be sought from him. The Chiefs of Staff decided that the expedition should not proceed until the Committee had heard further from Admiral Vian, but that the troops should move to their embarkation port and get some combined operations training pending a final decision.28 During 5 and 6 August, accordingly, the Canadian units moved by rail from their stations in Surrey to Glasgow, where they boarded the transport Empress of Canada, which took them to the Combined Training Centre at Inveraray. Here some limited training (route marches, landings and boat work) was carried out during the next few days.29
On 11 August Brigadier Potts attended a further conference at the War Office; and it was indicated that if the expedition took place it would be on a
* The units which had been disappointed by the cancellation of the Norway project in 1940.
reduced scale. The object would be mainly to disable the coal-mines, and a much smaller force than that first intended would be used.30 The matter was finally settled only on 16 August, when General McNaughton, accompanied by Murchie and Potts, again attended a Chiefs of Staff meeting. It was agreed that the chief object was to ensure “that the Germans get no advantage out of Spitsbergen between now and March, 1942”. The measures to be taken were thus defined:
The operation will include the following:–
(a) The landing of a force for the destruction where necessary (or the removal where applicable) of:–
(i) Coal mining facilities.
Stocks of free coal.
Transit facilities between mines and wharves.
(ii) Wireless Stations.
(iii) Meteorological Stations wherever found.
(b) The repatriation of all Russians to Archangel.
(c) The removal to the United Kingdom of all Norwegians.
Directives for the naval and military commanders were agreed upon. They were informed that “Russian and Norwegian civil representatives of standing”, and a Norwegian officer who had been nominated as Governor Designate of Spitsbergen, would accompany the expedition to assist in dealings with the population31
The greater part of the force at Inveraray had already returned to Surrey, much disappointed. The total strength of the military force now left under Brigadier Potts’ command for the expedition was 46 officers and 599 other ranks. This included a detachment of Norwegian infantry (3 officers and 22 other ranks) under Captain Aubert; 14 officers and 79 other ranks of the British Army, including 57 all ranks of the Royal Engineers; and 29 officers and 498 other ranks of the Canadian Army. The units most strongly represented were The Edmonton Regiment, whose detachment (one company plus one platoon) was commanded by Major W. G. Bury, and the 3rd Field Company RCE, commanded by Major Geoffrey Walsh. Also included now was a detachment of 84 all ranks of The Saskatoon Light Infantry (M.G.), in addition to the brigade headquarters with its Signals personnel and Medical and Pay detachments.32
In the early hours of 19 August Operation GAUNTLET got under way when the Empress of Canada, carrying the reduced force on its adventurous mission, steamed out of the Clyde. That evening she joined Admiral Vian’s Force “A”, consisting of the cruisers Nigeria and Aurora and the destroyers Anthony, Antelope and Icarus. The combined force went into Hvalfjord, Iceland, where it refuelled and Potts was able to confer with Vian. It sailed again on the evening of 21 August, and the following night the Canadian troops were told their destination for the first time.
On the evening of 24 August the squadron made rendezvous west of Spitsbergen with the oiler Oligarch and her escorting trawlers. Next morning it approached Spitsbergen. An aircraft reconnoitred the Isfjord (Ice Sound), the great inlet, leading into the interior of the island of Vest Spitsbergen, on which the most important settlements lie. No enemy activity was seen, and the ships closed in. At 4:30 a.m. Icarus landed a party of signallers at the wireless station at Kap Linne at the mouth of the fjord; they were cordially received by the Norwegian staff. The larger ships now steamed into the Isfjord and at 8:00 a.m. they entered the arm of it called Grönfjord (Green Bay) and anchored off the Russian mining village of Barentsburg. Brigadier Potts went ashore to discuss the proposed evacuation with the local Russian authorities, while military parties occupied the other Russian and Norwegian settlements along the Isfjord33
The expedition’s first great task was removing the Russian inhabitants of Spitsbergen to Archangel. The business of embarking the Russian community in the Empress of Canada gave the Canadian Army one of its very few contacts during this war with its Soviet allies. All evidence indicates that the general relationship between the Canadians and the Russians was thoroughly friendly, and the troops were almost embarrassed by the gifts which were pressed upon them. The official relationship was less uniformly satisfactory. Admiral Vian in his report observes, “The task of the command lay chiefly in the instillation of sweet reason”. He records that the embarkation proceeded “somewhat in accordance with the plan”, but was delayed by the insistence of the Russian Consul at Barentsburg on “heavy communal machinery and other stores” being brought away in addition to the people’s personal belongings. The Admiral remarks, “This situation was met by Brigadier Potts, in his own way, without detriment, I believe, to the relations which should exist between Allies”.34
The embarkation completed, the Empress, carrying the whole Russian population of Spitsbergen and their property, sailed for Archangel at midnight 26–7 August, escorted by the flagship Nigeria and the three destroyers. Aurora remained at Spitsbergen to protect the expedition and assist in the liquidation of the more remote Norwegian settlements. This was carried out during the next few days. While the Empress was away, the sappers undertook extensive demolitions at Spitsbergen. The great piles of coal at the mines were set alight, the estimate being that 450,000 tons were thus destroyed. Large quantities of fuel oil were poured into the sea or burned, and mining machinery at Barentsburg, Longyearby and other settlements was disabled or removed. During the operation the town of Barentsburg was largely destroyed by accidental fire, the cause of which could not be determined.35
On the evening of 1 September the Empress of Canada and her naval escort returned to Green Bay, having completed their mission to Archangel.
The following day the whole Norwegian population of the archipelago was taken on board. At 10:30 p.m. on 3 September, the cruisers and destroyers, with the Empress of Canada, sailed from Green Bay, leaving Spitsbergen empty of humanity.36 The occupation had lasted ten days less a few hours. During that time, thanks to the “midnight sun”, it had never been wholly dark. The troops had had to work very hard at embarking the people and their property, and at the job of demolition. The Signals detachment, with the help of the Norwegian staffs of the Spitsbergen wireless stations, had done especially valuable work. Normal transmissions of meteorological information were kept up to conceal from the Germans the fact that anything unusual was going on. The information sent out, however, was not wholly accurate. Fog was reported throughout the period when the Empress was present at Spitsbergen, the object being to discourage enemy air reconnaissance. The last signal was sent on the evening of 3 September, and the wireless stations were then put out of action.37 The Germans were completely deceived. When Force “A” was well out to sea on its homeward voyage one of their stations was heard calling Spitsbergen “very strongly”. The records of their army command in Norway suggest that it was only on 6 September that they received a report of fires at the Spitsbergen collieries. On 7 September this was confirmed by air reconnaissance.38
The cruisers parted company with the Empress of Canada on 6 September, bound for an enterprise against German naval vessels in Norwegian waters. This was successful, the gunnery training ship Bremse and other vessels being sunk.39 All told, the Spitsbergen enterprise would seem to have been a satisfactory one from the naval point of view; for it had had another useful by-product, in the capture of three laden colliers which had been working for the Germans, one tug, two sealing vessels and a whaling vessel.40
The 800 Norwegians were not the only passengers brought to Britain by the Empress. She had embarked at Archangel 186 French officers and men, prisoners of war who had escaped from Germany to Russia and had been interned there until Russia entered the war.41
They shared the hard work of the final days at Spitsbergen and their spirit greatly impressed the Canadians. The transport with her freight of many nationalities re-entered the Clyde on the night of 7–8 September. The following day most of the Canadians entrained for their stations in southern England.42
It would be easy to exaggerate the importance of Operation GAUNTLET. However, Brigadier Potts’ force had carried out its limited mission with complete success. The enemy had not succeeded in interfering with it or even in discovering that it was in progress; and not a man had been lost from any cause. It had given a few Canadians an adventure and a taste of active employment, very salutary after the weary months of waiting. Sir John Dill wrote a generous note to General McNaughton: “The whole
operation calls for nothing but praise, and I hear from all sides that your men were just grand.”43 In spite of these minor satisfactions, the reflection inevitably obtruded itself that Canada had now been at war for two years, and her troops had yet to meet the enemy.
Some later developments at Spitsbergen may be noted in passing. Both British and German parties visited the archipelago in the autumn of 1941, and the following summer a small Allied force, chiefly Norwegian, was installed there. In September 1943 the establishments were raided by a German naval force, but subsequently the garrison were reinforced and re-supplied, and the islands remained in Allied occupation.44 The Canadian Army had no connection with these events.
General McNaughton’s Authority is Widened
We have described the discussion at the time of the Norwegian project of 1940 concerning General McNaughton’s authority to commit detachments to minor operations without reference to Ottawa. British raiding operations increased during 1941, and there seemed to be a chance of Canadian troops taking part in such affairs. McNaughton spoke of this to Mr. C. G. Power, the Canadian Air Minister, when the latter visited the United Kingdom;* and on 22 July he raised the question again in a discussion with Mr. Ian Mackenzie, Minister of Pensions and National Health. Speaking of the possibility of “operations of limited scope which depend for their success on the strictest secrecy”, the general pointed out that considerations of time and security made it undesirable that special requests should have to be made to Canada every time for authority to take part. Mr. Mackenzie agreed to take the matter up with the Cabinet on his return to Ottawa;45 but before he could do this the Spitsbergen project presented itself.
On 26 July General McNaughton cabled the Chief of the General Staff that the “special question” discussed with Messrs. Mackenzie and Power was now a practical issue; he added that as a result of those conversations he was arranging to cooperate with the War Office unless otherwise instructed. The Cabinet War Committee discussed the matter on 31 July, and McNaughton was informed that, assuming the project had been approved by the “United Kingdom Government War Committee” (i.e., the War Cabinet) the Government was prepared to leave the decision to his judgement. The CGS signalled, “In arriving at decision you will no doubt have regard to question as to whether prospects of success are sufficient to warrant risks involved which include not only personnel but possible encouragement
* Mr. Churchill’s idea of a large raid on the Pas de Calais (see below, page 326) appears to have supplied the occasion for this conversation.
to enemy if results negative or worse”.46 Under this authority McNaughton sent Canadian troops to Spitsbergen.
Shortly afterwards the Corps Commander’s powers were further widened. In October the Minister of National Defence, Colonel Ralston, then in the United Kingdom, cabled Mr. Power (who was administering the Department in his absence) that discussion with McNaughton indicated the need for generalizing the special authority given in the case of Spitsbergen “to cover future minor projects of similar and temporary nature”. Ralston wrote:
Extreme need secrecy argues against prior submission each case of such plan to Governmental authority. Recommend War Committee of Cabinet now forward McNaughton general authority to act in such cases subject to his own judgment. He will notify Minister by most secret means in general terms prior to event where practicable.
The War Committee agreed on 29 October that it was proper that the Corps Commander should receive this authority.47
Raiding Projects and the Raid on Hardelot
By this time the possibility of Canadian troops’ sharing in cross-Channel raids against the Germans on the French coast – a natural development of the move into Sussex – was being actively discussed. Generals Paget and McNaughton had had a conversation on the subject on 6 September.48 Thereafter small Canadian detachments were given combined operations training at Chichester Harbour. It was hoped that some minor raids could be mounted during the coming winter; but although there were specific plans for two such operations which were proposed for three successive suitable periods, they were cancelled each time because no landing craft were to be had.49 On taking command of the Corps at the end of 1941, General Crerar was very anxious for raiding operations for his troops. On 5 February 1942 he wrote General Montgomery of the “great stimulus” the Corps would receive “if, in the near future, it succeeded in making a name for itself for its raiding activities”.50 Next month he pursued the matter with General Brooke and with the Adviser on Combined Operations (Commodore Lord Louis Mountbatten).51 The latter arranged further combined training for Canadian troops; a large detachment from the 2nd Division trained in April, but contrary to the men’s hopes they were not employed in an actual operation.52
One small operation, however, was carried out during April, and although it turned out to be merely another frustration, it deserves some notice here as the first occasion on which Canadian troops took part in such an enterprise, and the first during the Second World War when men of the Canadian Army came under the fire of German ground forces.
On 1 April General Crerar heard from Headquarters South Eastern Command that the Chief of Combined Operations, as Mountbatten was. now called, was “planning a raid about the middle of April” and that a party of about 50 Canadian soldiers could be used in it. General McNaughton had lately returned from his visit to Canada and was in London. Crerar asked and obtained his approval for the project, suggesting that a 1st Division unit should furnish the troops, as several hundred men of this formation had now taken combined operations training. It was decided that the favoured unit would be The Carleton and York Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Brigade.53 Lieutenant J. P. Ensor* of this unit was designated to command the party, whose total strength was eight officers and 61 other ranks. The number actually engaged in the ultimate operation was only 50 all ranks. The proposed raid (Operation ABERCROMBIE) was to be commanded by Major Lord Lovat of No. 4 Commando. Beginning on 8 April Ensor’s party trained under Lovat’s direction on the Solent with the detachment of No. 4 Commando which was to take part in the operation. On 18 April the force moved to Dover.54
The objective of the proposed raid was the area about the village of Hardelot, half a dozen miles south of Boulogne. The object, as defined in Lovat’s operation order, was “To effect a landing on the French Coast under cover of darkness, reconnoitre Military Defences and beaches North and South of Hardelot, attack and destroy Searchlight Post and return with prisoners and all available information.”55 The plan was that two troops of No. 4 Commando would land on a beach north of the village, while the Carleton and York detachment went in on another beach to the south of it. Ensor was to send out fighting patrols to investigate defences and take prisoners, and was subsequently to examine and if necessary attack two large warehouses on the outskirts of the village.
On the night of 19–20 April an attempt was made to carry out the operation, but the weather was bad and although the force set out to cross the Channel it was obliged to turn back, not before one assault landing craft had been swamped and sunk, with the loss of two naval ratings by drowning.56 The next night the weather was still unsuitable, but the attempt was made on the night of 21–22 April, when the sea was completely calm.
Operation ABERCROMBIE was pretty much of a fiasco. Lovat’s party landed, though apparently not at precisely the point intended, and three patrols were sent out. However, the recall rocket had to be fired before the searchlight post could be attacked, and as the enemy in the beach
* This officer had an unusual record. He was a member of the Non-Permanent Active Militia unit of the Carleton and York before the war, and on 1 September 1939 was attested into the CASF unit and appointed pay sergeant. He was commissioned overseas and after passing through all the intermediate ranks was promoted Lieutenant Colonel, took command of The Carleton and York Regiment on 18 December 1944 and commanded it until the end of hostilities. He was awarded the DSO and the MBE
defences had incontinently fled no prisoners were taken.57 For the Canadians the fiasco was still more complete; Ensor’s men never even got ashore. The naval officer in charge of their group of craft fell ill on the morning of the 21st and was replaced by a young officer of less experience. It is also reported that the craft had defective compasses. The two assault craft carrying the Canadian party, and the support craft carrying the naval commander, failed to keep station properly and Ensor’s boat became separated from the others. The craft searched for each other without success, and it appears that the navigators were not certain of their positions.*
* It would seem that one of the lessons of this small affair was the desirability of using more experienced naval personnel in such operations. The Rear Admiral in Charge of Landing Craft and Bases at Combined Operations Headquarters said in a minute on the reports of the raid, “I see no excuse except incompetence for the LCS [Landing Craft Support] missing the beach”.58
In these circumstances landings could only have been made at random and it was out of the question to carry out the plan. While the craft were still searching, Lovat’s recall rocket was seen. Wireless signals indicated that the Commando men had re-embarked, and the Canadians’ craft now returned to Dover independently. It is doubtful whether the Germans had actually seen them, and although machine-gun fire had been directed towards them they suffered no casualties.59
It was one more disappointment to add to the long series. But not many months were to pass before Canadian forces were engaged in a much larger enterprise on the French shore, with Lord Lovat again associated with them.
Allied Grand Strategy in 1942
June of 1941 saw the entrance of Russia into the war; December brought Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the United States. That same month, Mr. Churchill went to Washington and in a series of conferences (known as ARCADIA) with President Roosevelt and the British and American Chiefs of Staff,60 set up the Anglo-American strategic machinery which was to play a great part in winning the war.
During these conferences, what was perhaps the most vital and fundamental strategic decision of the whole war was re-affirmed. On 27 March 1941 a specific “staff agreement” known as ABC-161 had been signed by British and American officers. Its basic concept was the determination to beat the Germans first. It was recognized that Germany was the predominant member of the Axis and that even in a “global” war the decisive theatre would be Europe and the Atlantic. This tremendous decision, to defeat Germany first, and deal with Japan afterwards, was thus taken long before either the United States or Japan became an actual belligerent. Subsequent events attest its soundness. Nevertheless, when Mr. Churchill
went to Washington in December 1941 he was entertaining some anxiety lest, under the impact of the Japanese attack, the Americans might be disposed to alter this decision. No such tendency appeared. The basic concept of the war remained as it had been established earlier in 1941.62
An important result of the ARCADIA meeting was the institution of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. There had been some previous discussion of the formation of an Allied Supreme War Council to conduct strategic planning on the highest level.63 This now took shape as the Combined Chiefs. This formidable committee was composed of the Chiefs of Staff of the American armed forces (including, it should be noted, the Chief of the Army Air Forces), and “three high officers representing and acting under the general instructions of”64 the British Chiefs of Staff. Field Marshal Sir John Dill, himself a former Chief of the Imperial General Staff, played a vital part in this body on the British side.* The Combined Chiefs had their permanent headquarters in Washington throughout the war. Their most important decisions were taken in a series of conferences, mostly held elsewhere, at which Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt were normally present and exercised decisive influence. It may be noted that neither China nor Russia was represented on the Combined Chiefs of Staff; nor was Canada, nor any other country of the British Commonwealth except the United Kingdom. The Combined Chiefs of Staff was a purely Anglo-American committee.
During the spring and summer of 1942, British and American statesmen and officers were vigorously discussing the strategy of the war against Germany, and after serious controversies further fundamental decisions were made.
The American strategic planners, and particularly the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General George C. Marshall, were certain from the beginning that the decisive measure would be a blow directed across the Channel from the British Isles; and they desired that this should be struck at the earliest possible moment. Churchill came to the ARCADIA conference with a plan for an Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa; and we are told that “The President set great store” by such a scheme.65 But the cross-Channel attack was the project for which leading American soldiers contended most strongly. On 10 March 1942, during his visit to Washington, General McNaughton had a conversation with Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had just been appointed Chief of the Operations Division of the War Department General Staff. Eisenhower told him that “he had
* Dill represented Mr. Churchill as Minister of Defence, and was therefore a fourth British member. Later Admiral William D. Leahy joined in a parallel capacity, as Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt. At the great strategic conferences the British Chiefs of Staff were normally present in person.
racked his mind to discover how we could present Germany with a second front, and that the more he thought it out the more firmly had he been driven to the conclusion that it would be possible to do so only by attacking Western Europe from the British Isles”. McNaughton replied that there was no question but that “the war could only be ended by the defeat of Hitler and the only way of doing so was to attack him from the West”. He had always been convinced, he said, “that an offensive would sooner or later have to be launched from the United Kingdom across the narrow seas”; and this view had been accepted by the Canadian Government the week before.66 “Sooner or later”: here was the immediate crux of the matter.
By 1 April the War Plans Division had a definite plan for the invasion of Northern France; and General Marshall sent the President a memorandum which presented forceful arguments for the selection of Western Europe “as the theatre in which to stage the first great offensive of the United Powers”. This American plan looked forward to attempting the main operation in the spring of 1943, and conceived it as an attack across the Strait of Dover, the initial landing being made on the front from Etretat to Cape Gris Nez. The scheme also comprehended a more limited operation which might be attempted about 15 September 1942. This was a diversionary attack on the French coast, which would be justified only if the situation on the Russian front became desperate, or if the German situation in Western Europe became “critically weakened”. But whether this took place or not, the plan proposed establishing “a preliminary active front this coming summer” by “constant raiding by small task forces at selected points along the entire accessible coastline held by the enemy”.67 On 4 April Marshall, accompanied by Harry Hopkins, then the President’s most trusted civilian adviser, left for London to seek British concurrence in these plans.
Since 15 March, at least, the British themselves had been wrestling with the problem of diversionary operations in the West designed to assist the Russians in 1942. This project they called by the code name SLEDGEHAMMER. The Chiefs of Staff considered the question repeatedly and on 21 March directed the C-in-C Home Forces, the AOC-in-C Fighter Command and the Chief of Combined Operations to plan operations designed to make Germany employ her air forces actively and continuously and to cause protracted air fighting in the West in an area advantageous to the Allies, in order to reduce German air support available for the Eastern Front as early as possible. The subsequent discussions turned on whether this could be achieved by air action alone; whether, if attacks by ground forces were needed, these should take the form of mere raids, or the establishment of a permanent bridgehead; and whether the best area for action was the Pas de Calais (where a much larger scale of air support was possible) or the Cherbourg peninsula (where the enemy defences were less formidable). No
very definite agreed solution was reached; but a report by the C-in-C Home Forces and his two colleagues dated 14 April expressed the opinion that, leaving aside the question of air action alone, “a series of medium-sized raids is the only practical solution”.68 They asked the Chiefs of Staff to endorse this policy and authorize the necessary priorities; and it seems clear that this was done (below, page 314).
During the conferences with Marshall and Hopkins the British representatives betrayed some doubt about the American schemes; the British, indeed, were for the moment in the unusual position of arguing the importance of the Japanese front against the American emphasis on Europe! Nevertheless, agreement was reached on basic principles for a frontal attack on the enemy in Northern France in 1943. There was considerable discussion of the scheme for an emergency landing, but nothing like a final commitment was made. The circumstances which might render it urgent in American eyes had not yet arisen. The whole situation was reviewed on the evening of 14 April, when the Americans met the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, and General Marshall put the American case, incidentally including a strong argument for “repeated Commando-type raids all along the coast” to harass the enemy and give experience to the Allied troops.69 Three days later Churchill cabled to Roosevelt:70
The campaign of 1943 is straightforward, and we are starting joint plans and preparations at once. We may however feel compelled to act this year. Your plan visualised this, but put mid-September as the earliest date. Things may easily come to a head before then... Broadly speaking, our agreed programme is a crescendo of activity on the Continent, starting with an ever-increasing air offensive both by night and day and more frequent and large-scale raids, in which United States troops will take part.
A few weeks later Canada was given an account of the results of the conferences in a communication from Mr. Churchill to Mr. King71 which described the conference and proceeded:
In consequence of these discussions it has been agreed that all preparations should be pushed ahead by the United States and ourselves for action in the following stages–
(a) Conversion of the United Kingdom to an advance base for operations on the Western Front.
(b) Development of preparations on a front from the Shetlands to the Bristol Channel.
(c) Raiding operations to be undertaken in 1942 on the largest scale which equipment will permit on a front from North Norway to the Bay of Biscay.
(d) Active air offensive to be continued and intensified with the object of inflicting the greatest possible wastage on German air force.
(e) Reparation of plans to take advantage of any opportunity arising to capture in 1942 a bridgehead on the continent for an “emergency” offensive if such should become necessary.
(f) Preparation of plans for large scale operations in the spring of 1943 to destroy the German forces in Western Europe.
The British Prime Minister mentioned that the British negotiators had emphasized that while it was important to engage as strong enemy air forces in the West as possible, “our operations in 1942 must be governed by the measure of success achieved by the Germans on the Russian front and we should have to pursue a more cautious policy as regards landing troops if the Germans were successful”. On this point the American attitude was the exact opposite of the British.
On 18 April the British Chiefs of Staff approved a memorandum on “Operations on the Continent”, implementing these Anglo-American decisions. The C-in-C Home Forces, the C-in-C Fighter Command and the Chief of Combined Operations were charged with working out plans for the SLEDGEHAMMER emergency scheme. On raiding, the memorandum contained the following direction:
We have already approved a policy of raids to be undertaken in the summer of 1942 on the largest scale that the available equipment will permit. These raids will be carried out on a front extending from the North of Norway to the Bay of Biscay and will be planned and launched by the CCO in consultation with the C-in-C, Home Forces.
The strategic situation during the summer of 1942 was very largely dominated by events on the Russian front. Although in the summer of 1941 “almost all responsible military opinion” had held that the Russian armies would shortly be smashed by the Germans,72 Soviet resistance had continued and the greater part of the German land forces was tied down in the East. During the winter of 1941–42 the Germans had suffered severe reverses; but in May they again took the offensive and made large gains. The Russians from their first involvement in the war had demanded a “Second Front” (and, indeed, a Third Front – in the Arctic – also).73 They now continued to urge their allies to invade in Western Europe, and there appeared in fact to be a definite danger of Russia’s suffering defeats which would drive her out of the war. This would have been a catastrophe for the western powers; and this must be remembered in assessing the strategic discussions of that summer.*
In May and June M. Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, visited London and Washington. His main object, clearly, was to impel the British and American authorities into attempting an immediate landing in Western Europe. The British refused to commit themselves to such an enterprise. Mr. Churchill on 22 May represented strongly to Molotov the difficulties in the way, but explained that the British hoped to bring on air battles over the Continent which would force the Germans to withdraw air forces from the East.74 In Washington Molotov seems to have received rather more
* It is easy to forget the gigantic burden the Russians were carrying. A German return dated 9 December 1942 shows seven German divisions in Africa; 46 in France and the Low Countries; and 204 on the Eastern front.
encouragement, as was perhaps natural in the circumstances, but he was given no firm promise. On his return to London en route home, Churchill handed him an aide-memoire which stated that preparations were being made for a continental landing “in August or September 1942”. It mentioned the shortage of landing craft, and proceeded:
Clearly, however, it would not further either the Russian cause or that of the Allies as a whole if, for the sake of action at any price, we embarked on some operation which ended in disaster and gave the enemy an opportunity for glorification at our discomfiture. It is impossible to say in advance whether the situation will be such as to make this operation feasible when the time comes. We can therefore give no promise in the matter, but, provided that it appears sound and sensible, we shall not hesitate to put our plans into effect.
On this same day (11 June) the White House in Washington and the Foreign Office in London issued communiques on the conferences with Molotov. Both included the statement that in the course of the conversations full understanding had been reached “with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a second front in Europe in 1942”. It appears that Molotov drafted this himself while in Washington. Both Marshall and Hopkins urged that the date “1942” should be omitted, but the President, with a flash of the gay irresponsibility which he sometimes displayed, insisted that it should go in.75 This considerably embarrassed Mr. Churchill when he visited Moscow later in the summer to inform Stalin that there would be no Second Front that year; but he could and did point to the phrase “We can therefore give no promise” in the British aide-memoire.
Early in this same month of June, Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten visited Washington and discussed the situation with General Marshall and other American officers and officials. He found many of them deeply desirous of an early invasion. On 9 June he dined with President Roosevelt, who mentioned to him the possibility of a “sacrifice” landing in 1942 intended to help the Russians. This is reported to have disturbed the British Prime Minister.76 While Mountbatten was exploring in Washington, Churchill in London was clarifying and crystallizing British strategic thinking. A curious scheme for a large-scale raid which went by the name of IMPERATOR (see below, page 324) was the occasion of his writing as follows on 8 June:
I would ask the Chiefs of Staff to consider the following two principles: (a) No substantial landing in France unless we are going to stay; and (b) No substantial landing in France unless the Germans are demoralised by another failure against Russia. It follows from the above that we should not delay or impede the preparations for SLEDGEHAMMER* for the sake of IMPERATOR; secondly, that we should not attempt SLEDGEHAMMER unless the Germans are demoralised by ill-success against Russia; and, thirdly, that we should recognise
* It seems evident that the code name SLEDGEHAMMER, first used by the British for their own rather vague diversionary projects in March, had now become attached to the scheme for an emergency landing contained in the “Marshall Memorandum”.
that, if Russia is in dire straits, it would not help her for us to come a hasty cropper on our own.
It would seem wise that all preparations should go forward for SLEDGEHAMMER on the largest scale possible at the dates mentioned, but that the launching of SLEDGEHAMMER should be dependent not on a Russian failure, but on a Russian success and consequent German demoralisation in the West.
On 11 June the War Cabinet accepted Mr. Churchill’s “two principles”, which were also heartily supported by the Chiefs of Staff.77
On 18 June Mr. Churchill arrived in the United States, accompanied by General Brooke. The Allied leaders now proceeded to discuss both the long-term and short-term plans for invasion of North-West Europe as well as possible operations in the Mediterranean. A letter presented by Churchill to the President expressed the gravest doubts about the emergency landing project.78 At this point, the British in North Africa suffered serious reverses, Tobruk fell, and thereafter the talks were largely devoted to immediate measures for meeting the crisis in that theatre. When Churchill returned to England, it had apparently been agreed that preparations for a cross-Channel operation in 1943 should continue, along with planning for an emergency operation in 1942 – and an alternative in case such an operation should prove impracticable in France or the Low Countries.79 On 23 June, General Dwight D. Eisenhower flew to England with instructions to begin preparations for United States participation in operations across the Channel.80
At the end of the first week in July what the American Secretary of War called “a new and rather staggering crisis” arose in Washington, in the form of a cable from Churchill to Roosevelt81 taking a strong line against the 1942 cross-Channel attack and reviving, instead, the proposal for invading North Africa. Although the British had never concealed their dislike of the SLEDGEHAMMER scheme, they had perhaps stated it so tactfully as to arouse unfounded expectations; and now that Churchill had decided that “the moment had come to bury SLEDGEHAMMER”, and said so, Secretary Stimson and Marshall were both “very stirred up” and actually recommended threatening the British Government with a revocation of the basic decision to beat Germany before Japan. Marshall and Admiral King made a formal recommendation to this effect to the President. Stimson wrote in his diary, “As the British won’t go through with what they agreed to, we will turn our back on them and take up the war with Japan”. On later reflection, Stimson was “not altogether pleased” with his own part in this scheme; and his sober second thought seems more than justified. He writes, “Mr. Roosevelt was not really persuaded, and the bluff was never tried”.82 This is an understatement. Not only was the President not “persuaded”; he shortly went on record against the Japan scheme in most decided terms. At this crisis he showed cooler and surer strategic judgement than his highest professional advisers.
Decision in July
General Marshall, Admiral King and Mr. Hopkins now took off for London (16 July) for what were in some respects the most momentous strategic discussions of the war. They carried a very remarkable memorandum of instructions signed by Mr. Roosevelt as Commander-in-Chief.83 It directed them to investigate “carefully” the possibility of executing SLEDGEHAMMER. This operation, the President wrote, was “of such grave importance that every reason calls for accomplishment of it”. He proceeded:
You should strongly urge immediate all-out preparations for it, that it be pushed with utmost vigor, and that it be executed whether or not Russian collapse becomes imminent. In the event Russian collapse becomes probable SLEDGEHAMMER becomes not merely advisable but imperative. The principal objective of SLEDGEHAMMER is the positive diversion of German Air Forces from the Russian Front.
In spite of this, the President was quite prepared for a decision against such an operation in 1942. The one point upon which he absolutely insisted was that United States ground and air forces must be in action against Germany somewhere in that year. Although the War Department had actually included in the draft of these instructions the threat to turn away to the Pacific, Roosevelt struck it out and wrote instead: “It is of the utmost importance that we appreciate that defeat of Japan does not defeat Germany and that American concentration against Japan this year or in 1943 increases the chance of complete German domination of Europe and Africa. On the other hand. ... Defeat of Germany means the defeat of Japan, probably without firing a shot or losing a life.” Failing SLEDGEHAMMER, the substitute theatres to be considered, the President indicated, were North Africa and the Middle East.
The discussions in London lasted for several days. The Americans pressed strongly for the emergency proposal for a Second Front in France in 1942. They are said to have argued that “the Russians’ situation may become so desperate as to make even an unsuccessful attack worth while”!84 The British would have none of it; and since at this time there were still only small American ground and air forces in the British Isles,* and SLEDGEHAMMER if executed would have been largely a British and Canadian operation, their attitude was decisive.
* Two United States divisions had arrived in Northern Ireland. The Combined Commanders estimated at the end of July that three would be available for the “initial stage” of the operation.85
Finally, on 22 July, it was made quite clear that the British Prime Minister and his Chiefs of Staff would not cooperate in anything larger than raids against the Continent that year.86
As Roosevelt had foreseen, the question now became that of a substitute operation to provide a major enterprise against Germany in 1942. In the light of the earlier discussions, it is not surprising that the substitute was found
in an Anglo-American occupation of French North Africa (Operation TORCH). Before Hopkins, Marshall and King returned to America on 27 July, the decision, though still formally dependent on the course of events in Russia, was virtually definite, and further discussion by the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 30 July did not alter it. That evening the President converted the tentative decision into a firm one.87
The fundamental strategic difference of opinion just described was not purely Anglo-American. It was between the British and some Americans; Marshall and Stimson were prominent among the latter group, but President Roosevelt was not a convinced member of it. It appears also that U.S. naval officers were less enthusiastic than the Army about an attack in France in 1942.88 Stimson had recorded that the North African operation was “the President’s great secret baby”;89 and the known Roosevelt predilection for this project had assisted the British negotiators in substituting it for the emergency landing in France, which they regarded as a foolhardy scheme.
It seems curious now that in 1942 some people thought the North African operation more perilous than SLEDGEHAMMER. TORCH was indeed a tremendous undertaking, involving as it did moving a large expeditionary force directly from the United States to conduct an assault landing on the other side of the Atlantic; this would certainly have been considered impracticable a few years before. Yet the opposition to be apprehended from the Vichy forces in Africa was of an altogether different order from that sure to be met from the Germans on the coast of France. In the light of later events, in the discussions of 1942 the advocates of a Mediterranean strategy were clearly right and those who plumped for an immediate enterprise in France were mistaken.
To begin with, there was in 1942 an extreme shortage of amphibious equipment and particularly landing craft. The “lift” for a really large-scale invasion simply did not exist, and the shortage was a major factor in the decision not to try even a more limited assault in Europe.* Nor had we in 1942 established anything like complete control of the air above the Channel. To attempt to maintain a permanent bridgehead on the French coast would have meant committing every existing element of Allied air strength to a continuous battle against the Luftwaffe in which all the odds would have been in favour of the latter. (It may be recalled that we now know that in the Dieppe air battle we lost more than twice as many aircraft as the enemy.) In the summer of 1942, when the United States still had only small forces
* The Combined Commanders estimated that on 15 October there would be available assault shipping and craft sufficient to lift two infantry brigade groups (one of two battalions only), with “a reduced scale of supporting arms”, on assault scales; plus one infantry brigade group and three army tank battalions on light scales, and about three commandos. In addition, enough medium coasters were available to lift the transport of “about five” infantry brigade groups, and enough barges to lift that of half a brigade group – both on light scales.90
deployed in the United Kingdom and ready to take part, an assault might have produced a disaster which would have set our preparations for the full-scale attack back almost to where they were after Dunkirk; at best, it would have been a bottomless pit into which the resources needed for that attack would have been poured without result.
During these discussions in 1942 General Eisenhower fought hard for the idea of an invasion that year, although he fully recognized that it would be a very desperate venture. A member of his staff recorded on 22 July that the General said that that date, on which the decision against it was made, could well go down as “the blackest day in history”. But in 1949 the former Supreme Commander, looking back across seven eventful years, was to write, “Later developments have convinced me that those who held the SLEDGEHAMMER” operation to be unwise at the moment were correct in their evaluation of the problem.”91
SLEDGEHAMMER was discussed in many places, and one of the officers who had a useful word to say about it was Major General M. A. Pope, then serving in Washington as Military Representative of the War Committee of the Canadian Cabinet. One of General Pope’s tasks was to maintain contact with the Combined Chiefs of Staff and attempt to gather information for the War Committee on the course of planning which might affect Canadian forces overseas. On 1 May 1942 he reported to the CGS in Ottawa on a discussion with Major General R. H. Dewing, who has appeared in this narrative in other connections and had lately joined the British Joint Staff Mission in Washington. Pope referred to the SLEDGEHAMMER idea as it had reached him, and remarked that since it seemed to him completely unsound it had puzzled and disturbed him. He asked Dewing if he could tell him how the matter stood. He reported Dewing’s reply as follows:92
6. Dewing began by saying that for some little time our U.S. friends had been advocating an offensive with a good deal of enthusiasm. The British were not less desirous of hitting back but, as 1 well knew, they had no intention of refusing to see the obstacles before them or, as he put it, of waving them aside even before they came to them. The business of going ashore on the other side of the Channel was a difficult one and they had no intention of being slap dash about it... 7. To his mind there were these three courses of action possible this season:
To continue raiding on the St. Nazaire pattern, but on a larger scale, involving operations requiring the troops to hold the raided area up to one or two days
To carry out an operation such as the capture of a beach-head in the event of things going badly in Russia and it being necessary at almost any cost to afford our Allies every possible relief, and
To carry out an invasion should the enemy crumple up.
8. Courses (a) and (c) required no comment. He, however, could see no virtue in course (b). He entirely agreed with me that it would afford little real relief to the Russians and we worked out that it would require an expenditure of the order of 25 per cent. of our actual resources to achieve a diversion of possibly
less than 5 per cent. of the German forces on the Eastern Front. Again, in the circumstance of an impending Russian debacle, Britain would be thinking of her own defence against invasion rather than thinking of invading the continent.
9. Dewing thanked me for having brought the matter up for discussion between us, while I, on my part, thanked him for having reassured me that there was as yet no decision to undertake a hazardous and unprofitable operation.
Subsequently, Pope had a chance to speak his mind about the scheme on a somewhat higher level. On 7 May he “sat in with the British Chiefs of Staff” in Washington, along with Australian and New Zealand representatives, to discuss the British Mission’s draft of a basic paper dealing with Allied strategy which had been under discussion for some time. Sir John Dill had called this meeting to give the Dominion representatives an opportunity to express their views. As Pope knew that the general contents of the paper were familiar and acceptable to his chiefs in Ottawa, he did not trouble to speak at length; but one paragraph of his report93 is of interest:
... I took occasion to say that while I agreed with the paper as a whole, there was one point in it with regard to which it was highly desirable that the Canadian point of view should be made quite clear. This was the inference that in the event of things going badly with Russia this summer, it might be necessary to open a second front across the English Channel. I said that so far as I could see such an operation could only end with a loss of valuable formations and that this would jeopardize our being able to intervene successfully next year. “And also fail to do the slightest good”, added the Field Marshal, who then went on to say that Mr. King had made this very point to him when in Washington some three weeks ago. It would, therefore, appear that if this operation is attempted this year, it will be over the dead bodies of the British COS, and ours too, and that if and when the United States COS get down to details, they will realize not only the futility but the recklessness of the idea. Mr. Wrong has just told me that a very full report of the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Pacific Council has just come down from Ottawa, a passage of which makes this point abundantly clear.
The Canadian Prime Minister had, indeed, made good use of the opportunity presented by the meeting of the Pacific War Council held in Washington on 15 April. This body, the Pacific Dominions had apparently hoped, would be an effective organ for the direction of operations; but the United States Chiefs of Staff did not attend it and its meetings became merely informal chats between heads of governments or their representatives, with little real effect upon the course of the Pacific war. In the present case, President Roosevelt presided and Dr. H. V. Evatt (Australian Minister for External Affairs) and Mr. Walter Nash (New Zealand Minister at Washington) were among those attending. During the discussion the President spoke, most confidentially, of the visit which Marshall and Hopkins were then paying to England; they were there, he said, “to urge the necessity for offensive action which would help to relieve the pressure on the Russians by creating another front”. He spoke of the Canadian and other forces in Britain that were “raring to go”.
Mr. King felt, in his own words,94 that the President “was crowding the position pretty strongly”; and to avoid any possibility of its being assumed that he was “agreeing on Canada’s part to an immediate attack on Germany” [sic], he thought it well to speak on the subject before the meeting broke up. He accordingly emphasized the importance of no attack being made before all factors had been carefully weighed; “there would have to be [the] strongest reasons for believing that the attack would be successful, as if it were not, there would be no saving of Britain thereafter, with the consequences that would flow therefrom”. Mr. King’s memorandum of the meeting proceeds:
The President said that we would have to be perfectly sure that we had superior air power and that he thought we had reached the point where that could be regarded as certain. I stated that what I was emphasizing particularly was the timing ... There would have to be great certainty that no single important aspect could be left to chance.
When I had finished, there was no dissent on the part of anyone from what I had said ...
Since it was intended that, in the event of SLEDGEHAMMER being attempted, Canada would have supplied a considerable part of the force – ”one or two” divisions95 – her political and military representatives had every right to express their views on this question. Mr. King had no military experience and did not often express a direct opinion on a purely military question. In this case his instinct and his common sense led him to a very sound conclusion.
A word may be said at this point about the progress of high-level strategic planning in England, and Canada’s connection, or lack of connection, with it.
On 11 June 1942, during one of the rehearsals for the Dieppe operation, General Paget, the C-in-C Home Forces, discussed with General McNaughton the planning organization for the British “expeditionary force” being set up in the United Kingdom, which was to be under Paget’s direction. It was intended that this force should have a permanent headquarters and a planning staff to plan future operations. Paget said that it was now intended to set up an Expeditionary Force Planning Staff Committee, and that this would be composed of himself as chairman, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay (C-in-C Dover) as Naval representative, Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas (C-in-C Fighter Command) as Air representative, Major General Chaney (Commanding General, United States Forces in the United Kingdom) to represent the United States, and General McNaughton to represent Canada. McNaughton cabled the CGS in Ottawa that he proposed to provide some staff officers for the planning staff, Paget having requested this. He added that as a result of these developments he hoped for the first time to be able to keep the CGS informed of plans for future operations on the Continent.96
The body Paget described duly came into existence under the name of “the Combined Commanders”; it appears, indeed, that it was already in existence at the moment when he had this conversation with General McNaughton, for it seems to have held its first meeting on 15 May.97 In one important respect, its organization differed from that forecast by Paget. McNaughton was never invited to become a member, and Canada had no part in it; it was entirely Anglo-American.* The Combined Commanders, after Eisenhower’s arrival, comprised General Paget, Air Chief Marshal Douglas, Admiral Ramsay and General Eisenhower. Lord Louis Mountbatten was associated with them.
The Combined Commanders worked out in some detail a series of plans for operations on the Continent, including variants of the SLEDGEHAMMER project. At the end of July they submitted to the British Chiefs of Staff specific proposals for an operation (itself designated SLEDGEHAMMER) whose object was defined as follows: “In the event of a break in German morale this year, to seize and hold a bridgehead, which will include the port of Havre and at least 5 aerodromes, with a view to further operations”. At the same time another variant of the SLEDGEHAMMER project was being developed under the name WETBOB. This was a plan for an operation to gain a permanent foothold on the Continent in the Cherbourg area in the autumn of 1942. WETBOB was considered an alternative to the Havre scheme; it was not to be dependent on a crack in the enemy’s morale, and was to be carried out in 1942 in case of urgent political necessity.98 Both these projects were virtually obsolete by the time they were presented in this form; for the decision had already been taken not to attempt a major operation in France that year. During 1942 the Combined Commanders also developed plans for Operation ROUNDUP (the code name by which the full-scale invasion of France was known at this time) on the basis of simultaneous or nearly simultaneous assaults in the Pas de Calais sector and on either side of the Seine Estuary, between Fécamp and Caen.99
Not only was there no Canadian participation in the Combined Commanders’ planning, but it was a long time before General McNaughton received any information of the decision to undertake TORCH. On 3 August General Stuart, the Chief of the Canadian General Staff, who was then in London, went with McNaughton to the War Office and discussed the strategic situation and its implications with the Acting Chief of the Imperial General Staff. During this conversation no mention was made of the decision, then of course very recent, to go into North Africa;100 and it appears that neither McNaughton nor any other Canadian authority got any information of this project, and its probable influence in the postponement
* Its status was not entirely clear. The American association with it was apparently “informal”. Nevertheless, General Eisenhower signed Combined Commanders papers on the same basis as the other members.
of Operation ROUNDUP, until September.* He then pointed out to General Brooke the unsatisfactory state of things concerning the provision of information to the Canadian authorities on strategic planning. The best arrangement he was now able to arrive at was that he would visit the CIGS at intervals of two or three weeks. Brooke considered this the most convenient method for keeping him informed.101
The fact that no Canadian was told of the North African enterprise for so long seems a clear indication that the British Government was well pleased to have the Canadian formations remain in the United Kingdom, and had no desire to see them in action in Africa. No record has been found of the possibility of using the Canadians in Operation TORCH being canvassed. At a much earlier date, in December 1940, a general Strategical Appreciation by the British Chiefs of Staff had stated that if the Germans attempted invasion the Canadian formations in the United Kingdom would play their part in the most important battle of the war, in which they might well “weigh the balance towards success”, and that until the situation as regards invasion should become less threatening it was essential to retain them as part of the United Kingdom garrison.†
By 1942 invasion was no longer a serious threat, but the British authorities evidently had no desire to see the Canadians move. They had, in fact, a very definite reason for not caring to send them to Africa. During 1941 malicious criticism had represented the British as pursuing a policy of fighting the war with Dominion soldiers. “I have long feared the dangerous reactions on Australian and world opinion”, wrote Mr. Churchill, “of our seeming to fight all our battles in the Middle East only with Dominion troops”. He accordingly exerted himself actively to get additional British divisions from the United Kingdom into action in the Desert with a view to “freeing ourselves from the imputation, however unjust, of always using other people’s troops and blood”.102 To have sent Canadian formations to Africa would have played into the hands of the hostile propagandists.
Major Raiding Projects, 1942
We have seen that raiding operations on an increased scale were an important element in the Anglo-American strategic programme agreed upon
* He told General Brooke on 17 September that he first heard of the change of Plans through a casual and incidental reference in a conversation with the C-in-C Home Forces. The date of this conversation does not appear.
†General Crerar, in his notes of a conversation with Sir John Dill at the War Office on 4 December 1940, records that in answer to a question as to whether there was any desire to use the Canadians in another theatre, such as the Middle East, the CIGS said that there were British divisions available and that there would be opportunities for employing the Canadians “nearer home”. Crerar told him that he knew of no desire on the part of the Canadian Government to discourage the use of its forces “in any operations in which they could usefully play a part, no matter where the theatre might be” (HQS 8809, vol. 1).
in April 1942. During that year’s campaigning season a whole succession of major raids were projected and some were mounted; but only one actually took place.
These projects cannot all be mentioned here; but the first, or one of the first, appears to have been BLAZING, a raid on Alderney in the Channel Islands, which was to have ‘been carried out by some 2150 infantry and commando troops with supporting arms including tanks. The scheme was first discussed at Combined Operations Headquarters in March. The expedition was assembled in the Isle of Wight and some training done; but there were differences of opinion between the RAF and military commanders and on 6 May the Chiefs of Staff decided against attempting the operation.103 At this time the scheme for a raid on Dieppe was well advanced, and the Chief of Combined Operations submitted it to the Chiefs of Staff a week later.
Interest was not exclusively centred on the Dieppe project thereafter until it was finally carried out on 19 August. Another plan, the most bizarre of all the year’s projects, had arisen out of the search conducted in March for a diversionary operation in the West designed to lead to the destruction of large numbers of enemy aircraft. This was IMPERATOR, whose projectors proposed, as Mr. Churchill rather acidly put it, “to land on the Continent a division and armoured units to raid as effectively as possible during two or three days, and then to re-embark as much as possible of the remnants of the force”.104 The inland objectives were never finally settled, but the form in which the operation was most widely discussed was that of an armoured raid on Paris. The raiding force would land at one port, send a detachment against Paris to destroy the German headquarters there, and then, it was hoped, withdraw through a different port. It is not surprising that the plan excited serious doubts on high military levels. On 8 June Mr. Churchill took aim at this extraordinary scheme and shot it down. On 11 June he recorded that IMPERATOR had been cancelled as a result of his intervention, and that the Dieppe raid would take place shortly. On the previous evening he had handed the Soviet ambassador a paper outlining proposals for assisting Russia, which had included a statement that the policy of raids against selected points on the Continent would be continued as a means of preventing the Germans from transferring troops from the west to the east.105
Even after the raid’ on Dieppe had been attempted on 19 August, and had failed, at least one other major raid was projected by Combined Operations Headquarters. This was “Clawhammer”, an attack on radar stations and other installations in the Cap de la Hague area of the Cherbourg peninsula, employing five commandos and parachute troops. It was discussed and elaborated in some detail during September; but it was considered “extremely hazardous and difficult” – the Dieppe experience had
doubtless had a dampening effect – and it appears that the Chiefs of Staff decided in mid-October that it should not be attempted.106
There were doubts in some minds concerning this programme of raids. On 25 July 1942 Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay sent to Lord Louis Mountbatten a draft memorandum which suggested that the Germans probably welcomed our raids as a means of showing up weaknesses in their defences. “If it is our intention at some future date to make an attack in force upon the enemy’s coast”, wrote Ramsay, “we are now doing, or proposing to do, our best to make that attack less likely to achieve success.” Mountbatten replied that the Chiefs of Staff and War Cabinet had instructed him .”to push on hard with large scale raids as part of the general decision come to by the Combined Chiefs”, and added, “There are political reasons why I feel certain that they will not cancel them but I will explain all this at greater length when I come over and see you.”107 The “political reasons”, it is fair to assume, related to the situation in Russia and perhaps also to the agreement with the United States concerning the raiding programme. At the time when this exchange of views took place, Mountbatten was supervising the final preparations for the only major raid that was actually carried out: the enterprise against Dieppe. We must now examine the origins of this raid in greater detail.
Its strategic background has already been made clear. There is no evidence that the Dieppe project itself was ever considered by the Combined Chiefs of Staff; but it formed a part of the tactical programme of Combined Operations Headquarters, which was itself framed in accordance with the Combined Chiefs’ decision to mount a series of large raids. To see the Dieppe operation in proper perspective, it is essential to bear in mind the general strategic situation, and particularly the situation in Russia.
The Origins of the Raid on Dieppe
The plan for a raid on the port of Dieppe originated at Combined Operations Headquarters, London, in April 1942, the month in which General Marshall and Harry Hopkins, elsewhere in London, were discussing strategy with Mr. Churchill.* Lord Louis Mountbatten had been appointed Adviser on Combined Operations in the previous October. In March 1942, by Churchill’s direction, he was given the title of Chief of Combined
* The account of the Dieppe raid which follows has much in common with that in the present writer’s The Canadian Army 1939–1945: An Official Historical Summary, published in 1948. In a few cases, passages from the earlier book which seem suitable have been carried over verbatim. In general, however, more detail is given here than could be given in the one-volume Summary; certain topics for which there was no room in it are now included; and some new information has been incorporated.
Operations and promoted from Commodore to Vice Admiral. Combined Operations Headquarters had already been considerably expanded.108
This headquarters had two main functions: the organization of raiding operations to do immediate limited damage to the enemy, and the development of equipment and technique for amphibious operations generally and for the ultimate large-scale invasion of North-West Europe in particular. For many months it had been organizing “Commando” raids on an ascending scale of importance against the German-held coasts facing Britain. The attack on St. Nazaire on 28 March 1942, which achieved its main object, the destruction of the dry-dock gates, although a great part of the military force employed was lost, had been the largest enterprise yet attempted by COHQ.109 It was hardly over before Mountbatten’s staff were considering a still more ambitious one, the attack on Dieppe. This operation was planned to have an important bearing upon both the main functions of Combined Operations Headquarters.*
Although the Dieppe raid is in general a very well documented operation, the documentation with reference to its origins and objects – points of special importance – is far from complete. In these matters the historian is obliged to rely to a considerable extent upon the memories and the verbal evidence of informed persons. The fact that “security” was of such great importance militated against complete records being kept. Almost the only written description of the larger objects of the Dieppe project which bears a date earlier than that of the raid itself is that included in Lord Louis Mountbatten’s letter of 11/13 May 1942 to the Chiefs of Staff Committee asking approval for the Outline Plan. He wrote:
Apart from the military objective given in the outline plan, this operation will be of great value as training for Operation SLEDGEHAMMER or any other major operation as far as the actual assault is concerned. It will not, however, throw light on the maintenance problem over beaches.
It is clear nevertheless that the Dieppe project had, quite apart from its place in the Anglo-American raiding programme, a far closer relation to the future invasion of the Continent than any raid yet attempted. It would illuminate what was considered in 1942 the primary problem of an invasion operation: that of the immediate acquisition of a major port. It has been suggested that this was one reason for the fateful decision to include in the plan a (the day after the German invasion of Russia) Mr. Churchill suggested to the Chiefs of Staff a large raid on the Pas de Calais – ”something on the scale of twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand men – perhaps the Commandos plus one of the Canadian divisions”.110 In October 1941 the British Chiefs of Staff authorized a general policy of raids. On 7 November they directed that the question of mounting a large-scale raid, with one or two divisions, in the spring of 1942 should be considered. But it was reported that such a raid could not be launched before the autumn. On 13 February 1942, accordingly, they abandoned the project, merely directing that it should continue to be studied and that meanwhile a vigorous policy of small raids should be continued.
by landings on its flanks might produce delays which would give the enemy time to demolish the harbour, whereas if the place could be seized by a blow into the centre the problem would be solved.111
It was also considered important, before launching really large amphibious operations, that there should be a raid on a sufficient scale to afford a test of the new technique and material which had been developed. A fairly considerable assault fleet was being built up, and although Combined Operations Headquarters had had experience of small operations employing infantry landing ships and assault and mechanized landing craft, there were now available also tank landing craft which had not yet been under fire; and there had been no experience of what was involved in handling a fleet of all these types in action. There had in fact been no major assault landing* since those at Gallipoli in 1915.112
The selection of the objective was, it is generally agreed, largely influenced by the question of air cover. Dieppe, some 67 miles from Newhaven in Sussex, was just within effective range of the fighter aircraft of 1942 when based on English aerodromes. The place is a resort town with a good though small harbour. It has historic associations with Canada going back to the days of the early navigators. The coast hereabouts consists mainly of unscalable cliffs. The only really large gap in the barrier is at Dieppe itself, where there is nearly a mile of beach between the commanding headlands east and west of the town; but there is a good beach at Pourville, where the River Scie flows into the Channel about two and a half miles west of Dieppe harbour, and a much narrower gap in the cliffs at Puys (called on the maps used in the operation Puits), a little over a mile east of it. Another possible landing beach was at Quiberville, at the mouth of the River Saane, eight miles west of Dieppe. Topography thus imposed several limitations upon any plan of attack.
The Combined Report on the operation prepared at Combined Operations Headquarters in October 1942 indicates that the question of an attack on Dieppe was first examined by the “Target Committee” of COHQ “early in April, 1942”.113 It is stated that the first meeting to consider a definite plan took place on 3 April. This indicates that the raid was a purely British conception, but that (although the Americans had nothing to do with planning it) it almost immediately became an element in the programme agreed that month with Marshall and Hopkins (above, pages 313, 325). The earliest paper that appears to have been preserved concerning the planning† is the
* The nearest thing to it was the landings in Madagascar on 5 May 1942. Tanks were landed on that occasion, but after the beach was secured, not from tank landing craft in the assault. No LCTs. were present. There was little opposition to the actual landings.
†lt may be noted that the Combined Report gives certain details concerning the planning of the operation not found in the planning documents preserved at COHQ, to which the present writer was kindly given access. These additional details were presumably added from memory after the operation, when the Report was being prepared. While they may well be authentic, it has seemed best to base the present account as far as possible upon the records actually kept during the planning, exiguous and incomplete though these are.
minutes of a meeting at COHQ on 14 April which was attended by a representative of
GHQ Home Forces. At this meeting the Naval Adviser to COHQ, Captain J. Hughes-Hallett, RN, “gave a brief outline of the plan for the operation” (the minutes unfortunately give no detail). Those present agreed “that the project was attractive and was worthwhile”, and that the advisers to COHQ, along with a Home Forces representative, should examine it further.114 The recorded conclusions of another meeting, on 21 April,115 indicate that by this date planning was fairly far advanced. The use of parachutists, gliders, and tanks, and the inclusion of a “direct assault” against the port of Dieppe, had already been agreed upon. Upon the development of the plan in detail, prior to this date, there is no strictly contemporary evidence. An unsigned account dated 14 September 1942 (that is, nearly a month after the operation and five months after the events described) states that two alternative outline plans had been produced.116 One included a frontal attack on Dieppe combined with flank attacks on either side of the town at Puys and Pourville. The other was to rely entirely on flank attacks, putting in two battalions at Puys and two at Pourville, retaining a large floating reserve, and making no assault in front. Under this scheme the tanks would have landed at Quiberville.
The document of 14 September states that about 18 April there was a “verbal discussion (of which there is no written record)” to decide which of these plans should be adopted. Senior representatives of GHO Home Forces were present, and it was generally agreed “that on balance there were advantages in taking the town by a frontal assault”. This was the decision ultimately taken, although it is stated that naval officers (including Hughes-Hallett, who was not at this particular meeting), regarded the frontal attack as unduly hazardous. The reasons recorded in the document as influencing the final decision to attempt the frontal attack include the loss of time involved in distant flank landings, which “would make a surprise attack on the town more difficult to achieve”. and the fact that tanks landed at Quiberville “would have to cross three factually twos rivers” to reach the town. (This meant that the bridges would have to be seized in advance; and there could be no certainty that they would carry a Churchill tank.)
By 25 April an Outline Plan had been completed.117 It provided for a frontal attack on the town of Dieppe, combined with flank attacks and preceded by a heavy air bombardment. Tanks were to be employed, being landed, in the first instance at least, only on the main beach in front of Dieppe. (The conclusions of the planning meeting of 21 April indicate that consideration had been given to landing a squadron at Pourville, but the idea had been abandoned as this beach seemed “to be more difficult than was supposed at first”.) On 25 April a meeting at COHQ discussed this Outline Plan. Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten was in the chair,
and among those present were Major General J. C. Haydon (Vice Chief of Combined Operations), Major General P. G. S. Gregson-Ellis (Deputy Chief of the General Staff,
GHQ Home Forces) and Air Vice Marshal J. M. Robb (Deputy Chief of Combined Operations). Captain Hughes-Hallett explained the draft Outline Plan, “which, with minor amendments, was approved”.118 So far, no Canadian officer had had anything to do with the planning, nor had any Canadian, the record indicates, even known that an attack on Dieppe was contemplated.*
* The story has been widely circulated that the Chief of Combined Operations made a plan based on flank attacks, and that “the Canadians” then altered it and insisted on a frontal attack.119 This tale, it will be observed, is quite without foundation. See also below, page 395.
On the morning of 30 April, however, General Montgomery visited General McNaughton at Headquarters First Canadian Army and broached the project to him. The troops required, he explained, were one infantry division to be selected from South Eastern Command. He had been “pressed to agree to” a composite British and Canadian force, but had replied that it was essential to maintain unity of command and that in his opinion the Canadian troops “were those best suited”. GHQ Home Forces had accepted this view, and General Crerar (GOC 1st Canadian Corps, which was under Montgomery’s operational command) had already been approached and had nominated the 2nd Canadian Division for the operation.120
These arrangements McNaughton confirmed, “subject to details of plans being satisfactory and receiving his approval”. It was agreed that Montgomery should proceed with the preparation of plans and advise Major General J. H. Roberts, GOC 2nd Division, so that he might start work on planning with the Chief of Combined Operations.121 On this same date, Headquarters 1st Canadian Corps issued “Training Instruction No. 9”, which laid down a programme of combined operations training beginning with the 2nd Division and continuing with the 1st and 3rd in that order. This was simply security cover to prevent dangerous speculation about the training which the 2nd Division was now to undertake for Operation RUTTER, the name by which the Dieppe project was known at this stage.
There had been a feeling that the relationship between Home Forces and the Chief of Combined Operations in connection with raids required clarification; and on 5 May a new directive122 was issued. This provided that if, after consultation with the CCO, the Commander-in-Chief Home Forces agreed that a raiding project should be given further study, he would decide upon the Command from which the troops were to be found, and would delegate responsibility for the operation to the GOC-in-C that Command. The latter could retain the responsibility himself or delegate it “not below a Divisional Commander”. An outline plan would then be prepared by the combined planning staffs of Home Forces and COHQ,
with participation by the Army, Corps or Divisional Commander nominated and his staff. Once the outline plan was approved by the Chiefs of Staff, Force Commanders for the three services would be appointed, and these with their staffs would work out the detailed plan.
Planning and Training for the Raid
The opening paragraphs of the Dieppe Outline Plan, as approved on 25 April, ran as follows:–123
1. Intelligence reports indicate that DIEPPE is not heavily defended and that the beaches in the vicinity are suitable for landing infantry, and AFVs [Armoured Fighting Vehicles] at some. It is also reported that there are 40 invasion barges in the harbour. 2. It is therefore proposed to carry out a raid with the following objectives:–
destroying enemy defences in the vicinity of DIEPPE
destroying the aerodrome installations at ST. AUBIN
destroying RDF stations, power stations, dock and rail facilities and petrol dumps in the vicinity.
removing invasion barges for our own use.
removal of secret documents from the Divisional Headquarters at ARQUES.
to capture prisoners.
3. A force of infantry, airborne troops and AFVs will land in the area of DIEPPE to seize the town and vicinity. This area will be held during daylight while the tasks are carried out. The force will then re-embark.
4. The operation will be supported by fighter aircraft and bomber action.
The naval force employed was to comprise some six small destroyers of the “Hunt” class, a shallow-draught gunboat, seven infantry landing ships, and numerous small craft. The military forces were to be two infantry brigades with engineers, and “up to a battalion of Army tanks”. The air forces assigned in the Outline Plan were “5 squadrons of support fighters, one squadron of fighter bombers and sufficient bombers to produce extensive bombardments on selected areas and targets”; the bomber requirement was calculated in more detail as “approximately 150 bomber sorties and 2 squadrons of low level bombers, excluding aircraft for airborne forces”. Fighter cover would be provided from “one hour after the beginning of nautical twilight” throughout the daylight hours of the operation. The suggested provision of fighter squadrons is ludicrously small when compared with the number actually employed in the operation; either the planners made a curious miscalculation, or the figures stated are intended to indicate, not the total number of squadrons required, but the number required to be in action at any one time.
The plan provided for two infantry flank attacks, at Puys and Pourville, the force landing at the latter being the stronger and having the special task
of capturing the aerodrome. Simultaneously with these attacks, parachute troops would be dropped to attack the German divisional headquarters believed to exist at Arques and the coastal and anti-aircraft batteries in the area. The possible use of glider-borne troops was also envisaged. Half an hour after the flank attacks, the frontal attack would be put in at Dieppe itself by “up to 2 infantry battalions and up to 30 or their equivalent load Army tanks”. One infantry battalion would be in “floating reserve”, and the balance of the tank unit would be available, when required, to land either at Dieppe or “to the west” of it.
As for air preparation, the plan included a heavy bomber attack against “the town and the aerodrome” during the night preceding the raid, commencing at a time “most suitable to Bomber Command” and ceasing “not later than one hour before the beginning of nautical twilight”. Between 30 and 50 minutes after the beginning of nautical twilight, there would be “low level bombing by Blenheims followed by Hurricane bombers”, directed against the beach area and other selected areas in the vicinity. Amendments to the Outline Plan circulated on 15 May changed the objective of the heavy bomber attack to read simply “the dock area”, and eliminated both the low-level bombing by Blenheims and the two squadrons of aircraft which had been intended for this task.124
The first task of the 2nd Canadian Division’s General Staff was to make an “appreciation” of the Outline Plan as presented to it. This appreciation,125 which was signed by the Division’s GSO1 (Lt. Col. C. C. Mann) and is not dated, remarks, “The question of the right point at which to land AFV in this operation is the outstanding feature of the Plan”, and the paper is largely concerned with this matter. Mann discussed the possibility of landing tanks at Quiberville, but decided that the effect of the river obstacles was to limit tank landings to the area between the rivers Scie and Arques. With reference to the Pourville beach, which was known to have “one exit (a one way track)” and might have another, the appreciation concluded that this might be useful as a landing place for later flights of tanks, but not for an initial landing. Of the plan for landing tanks on the main beach in front of Dieppe, it said in part:
Such a plan, on the face of it, is almost a fantastic conception of the place most suited to land a strong force of AFV. It is however, well worth evaluating with an unbiassed mind.
It, if successful, puts the AFV in easy striking distance of the most appropriate objectives for their employment.
Could have a terrific moral effect on both Germans and French.
Would be most easily supported by infantry and R.E.
Control and information will be from front to rear, and difficulties of coordination to surmount obstacles, and deal with resistance would be the more easily met.
It was further argued that landing on the main beach would simplify the supply of ammunition for tanks and of engineer stores for the support of tanks and for demolition tasks; while the navy considered it best to re-embark the force at one place only. The proposed plan had “the advantage of simplicity”, and it was the best choice in connection with withdrawal, as a rearguard action to cover re-embarkation would almost certainly be necessary.
It was recognized that it had disadvantages. It involved “attacking the enemy frontally”, and “where penetration is obstructed and where engineer effort is required”; and the danger of failure to penetrate through Dieppe after the heavy air bombardment and its attendant damage was also noted. However, the appreciation observed that the known strength of the garrison at Dieppe was low (it mentioned two companies of infantry). The final section ran as follows:
In spite of an initial adverse reaction to the proposal to land AFV on DIEPPE front, it seems to have a reasonable prospect of success, and offers the best opportunity to exploit the characteristics of
AFV in this operation. If AFV were omitted from the operation it could be still very useful, but the likelihood of success in regard to the destruction of the aerodrome would be greatly reduced. In regard to the withdrawal phase, a proportion of AFV as part of the Rear-guard will materially strengthen the rear-guard at a time when enemy reinforcements may be deploying for counter-attack with the object of preventing our withdrawal.
I am in favour of adopting the outline plan.
The Canadian military authorities could, if they chose, have rejected the Outline Plan and allowed some British formation to undertake the operation. Those who have followed the story thus far, however, will realize how loath any Canadian officer, in 1942, would have been to reject any plan, proposed by competent authority, which promised action; they will realize, too, how violently resentful the ordinary Canadian soldier would have been had an enterprise like the Dieppe raid been carried out at this time without the participation of the Canadian force which had waited so long for battle. Such an event might have had most serious consequences for morale.
Lord Louis Mountbatten submitted the Outline Plan to the Chiefs of Staff Committee on, apparently, 13 May. The same day he advised the Military and Air Force Commanders that the Committee had approved their appointments and directives, and had accepted the Outline Plan as a basis for detailed planning.126 General Roberts was to be Military Force Commander and Air Vice Marshal T. L. Leigh-Mallory (Air Officer Commanding No. 11 Fighter Group) Air Force Commander. The Naval Force Commander, appointed subsequently, was Rear Admiral H. T. Baillie-Grohman.
On the same day on which General Montgomery told him of the projected operation, General McNaughton cabled to the Chief of the
General Staff in Ottawa, referring to the permission given in October 1941 to commit Canadian troops to “minor” operations without special authority.* This “Most Secret” personal cable said in part, “Plans are now being made which involve operations of type indicated but on a scale which cannot properly be classed as ‘minor’ “, and asked that McNaughton’s authority be widened by deleting the word “minor” from the phrase “minor projects of a temporary nature”. The War Committee of the Cabinet considered this on 1 May, and the Army Commander was informed that it had approved his proposal, subject to the same considerations (as to approval by the United Kingdom Government, and as to his being satisfied with the plans) which had been laid down when the Spitsbergen operation was in contemplation.127 In the interest of secrecy, no information as to the time or place of the raid was requested by or sent to Canada; Brigadier J. E. Genet, Chief Signal Officer, First Canadian Army, made a trip to Ottawa at this time and carried a verbal message from General McNaughton to the CGS, but even this did not give these details.128 On 15 May McNaughton sent a cable129 giving a general indication of the size of the force involved and added:
Outline Plan has been approved by Chiefs of Staff Committee. I am satisfied (a) objective is worthwhile (b) land forces detailed are sufficient (c) sea and air forces adequate (d) arrangements for cooperation satisfactory. I have therefore accepted this outline plan and authorized detail planning to proceed.
On this same date McNaughton had sent to Lieutenant General J. G. des R. Swayne, CGS at GHQ Home Forces, a “Most Secret and Personal” letter130 confirming his acceptance of the arrangements for Canadian participation in the operation, but suggesting a somewhat different procedure in future:
1. I confirm that I accept the outline plan for Operation RUTTER as approved by the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
2. I confirm that I authorize the Canadian Commander to proceed with detail planning.
3. It would be appreciated if you would obtain for me a copy of paper giving outline plan of this operation as approved by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, this paper to be held by you to my order, for reference as I may require, and in any event to be handed to me on completion of operation, for transmission by me to my Government.
4. I suggest that in future Combined operations involving Canadian troops, the outline plan should be placed before me before submission to the Chiefs of Staff Committee and that the Chiefs of Staff Paper should show that in giving their approval they take note of my acceptance; also that I should be included in the distribution list.
Canadian officers had already joined in the work of developing the Outline Plan into detailed orders; and instructions had been issued for
* Above, page 308.
specialized training for the troops in the Isle of Wight. Headquarters 2nd Division arrived on 18 May, and the whole Canadian force was in the island by the 20th.131 It consisted of the 4th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Sherwood Lett and consisting of The Royal Regiment of Canada, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and The Essex Scottish Regiment; the 6th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier W. W. Southam and consisting of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada and The South Saskatchewan Regiment; the 14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment (The Calgary Regiment), a unit of the 1st Army Tank Brigade; light anti-aircraft and field artillery detachments (to man captured guns); and considerable numbers of engineers, plus the necessary administrative units.
The units immediately began an intensive programme designed to harden the men and otherwise prepare them for the arduous work ahead. It included not only boat work but also assault courses, unarmed combat, speed marches, etc. Training on a battalion basis having gone as far as it could be carried in the time available, a large-scale combined exercise known by the code name YUKON, which was in fact a dress rehearsal for the raid, was held on 11–12 June near Bridport, Dorset, on a stretch of coast resembling the Dieppe area. Generals Paget, McNaughton and Crerar watched the troops landing at dawn on 12 June.132
YUKON did not go well. Units were landed miles from the proper beaches, and the tank landing craft arrived over an hour late. Lord Louis Mountbatten was in the United States at the time; but on his return he decided that further rehearsal was essential and that no attempt should be made to carry out the operation during the favourable moon and tide period beginning 21 June, as had been intended.133 The force remained in the Isle of Wight, and on 22–23 June another rehearsal (“YUKON II”) was carried out at the same place as before, both Mountbatten and General Montgomery being present this time.
The results were much more satisfactory, but certain defects were still evident, particularly on the naval side. General McNaughton asked General Montgomery to take these matters up with the naval authorities, and General Paget wrote to him to the same effect.134 Montgomery reported to Paget on 1 July that he had explored the question with the Chief of Combined Operations and the three Force Commanders and was satisfied that arrangements which had now been made* would ensure better results on the points mentioned, which related particularly to lack of precision in time and place
* These included the provision of three special radar vessels, and the presence of two officers with special knowledge of the Dieppe area of the French coast, who would “lead the flank parties in”.
in landings, and to use of covering smoke. In the same letter Montgomery expressed his general views on the prospect, as follows:
I went over to the Isle of Wight yesterday and spent the whole day there. checking over the whole operation with Roberts, and with the Naval and RAF Force Commanders. I am satisfied that the operation as planned is a possible one and has good prospects of success, given:
That the Navy put us ashore roughly in the right places, and at the right times...
In an operation of this sort I regard “confidence” as an essential ingredient for success. I am now satisfied that, throughout the Force, Commanders. Staffs. and Regimental Officers have confidence in the combined plan and in the successful outcome of the operation. I say “now”, because there was a moment when certain senior officers began to waver about lack of confidence on the part of the troops – which statements were quite untrue. They really lacked confidence in themselves. You may be interested to see certain notes I gave to Roberts regarding training. I considered it necessary to add an extra para 9 to these notes. The matter has been firmly handled. The notes are attached.
Mountbatten, myself, and Leigh-Mallory will be together at 11 Fighter Group HQ, during the whole operation. The Battle once begun can be influenced only by the use of air power, and that is therefore the best place for us... P.S. The Canadians are 1st Class chaps; if anyone can pull it off, they will.
The “extra para 9”, to which General Montgomery referred, developed the theme of “confidence in success”, and the essentiality of “an infectious optimism which will permeate right down through the Force, down to the rank and file”. The present writer has seen no other evidence on this question of “confidence” except General Crerar’s letter, quoted in the succeeding paragraph, which indicates that the reason for the momentary doubts was the naval errors during the exercises.
The best possible assurances having been received that the weaknesses appearing in the rehearsals had been corrected, the senior Canadian officers gave their final approval. On 3 July General Crerar, having seen General Montgomery’s letter quoted above, wrote General McNaughton, in part as follows:
2. I spent yesterday with Roberts. He and his Brigadiers expressed full confidence in being able to carry out their tasks – given a break in luck. There was previously some doubt as to the ability of the Navy to touch them down on the right beaches. That has now pretty well disappeared, although I told Roberts that 100% accuracy should never be expected in any human endeavour, and that some error might be expected, and should be then solved by rapid thinking and decision.
3. I agree that the plan is sound, and most carefully worked out. I should have no hesitation in tackling it, if in Roberts’ place. ... On the same day, McNaughton wrote to Paget, “I now have the reports of Comd 1 Cdn Corps and I am satisfied that all arrangements for Operation [RUTTER] are in order and that this operation may now proceed.”135
Although McNaughton and Crerar thus endorsed the RUTTER plan, the reader will have noted that they had had nothing to do with making it. Montgomery had not delegated the responsibility for the military planning, but had kept it in his own hands. Neither McNaughton nor Crerar had a place in the “chain of command” for the operation, though they could and would certainly have intervened as representatives of Canadian authority had they thought the plan unsound.
Changes in the Plan
While the Canadians were assembling and beginning their training in the Isle of Wight, detailed planning was proceeding in London, under the direction of Lord Louis Mountbatten, the three Force Commanders, and General Montgomery, who himself attended some of the planning meetings. During this phase the original Outline Plan was materially altered. The most important change was the elimination of the heavy air bombardment. This decision was taken by a meeting, presided over by General Montgomery, on 5 June. The portion of the minutes of this meeting136 relating to the air plan runs as follows:
5. Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory proposed and the meeting agreed that air bombing of the port itself during the night of the assault would not be the most profitable way of using the bombers, as a raid which was not overpowering. might only result in putting everyone on the alert. As an alternative he proposed bombing BOULOGNE with 70 aircraft with a view of creating a diversion there, and he proposed also the bombing of CRECY and ABBEVILLE aerodromes between 0230 and 0400 hours.* It was emphasised that the movement of our aircraft in the vicinity of ABBEVILLE and CRECY would tend to occupy the RDF organisation at DIEPPE and might put out of action, at least for some hours, two aerodromes which the enemy would wish to use during the day of the operation.
6. It was agreed that cannon fighters should attack the beach defences and the high ground on either side of DIEPPE, as the first flight of landing craft were coming in to land. it was also agreed that air action would be taken against German Headquarters in ARQUES at 0440.
One factor in the discussion of bombing had been the inevitable casualties to the French population. This was not, however, a major element in the cancellation of the bombardment. It was the normal rule that targets in Occupied France could be bombed only when weather permitted a very high degree of accuracy (and this had prevented bombing in support of the St. Nazaire raid). The Chiefs of Staff had recommended to the Prime Minister on 19 May that this rule should be relaxed “so far as Combined Operations are concerned”; and on 30 May Mr. Churchill agreed to this limited relaxation.137
* These proposed diversionary operations were not carried out on 18–19 August, although Abbeville aerodrome was bombed in the course of the raid.
The minutes of the meeting of 5 June make no reference to General Roberts’ views on the air bombardment, but he has confirmed138 that an important element in his acceptance of the Air Force Commander’s recommendation for the elimination of it was his fear that this attack would so block the streets of Dieppe as to prevent the tanks landed on the beach from getting through to deliver their attack upon the aerodrome to the south. It will be recalled that this danger had been noticed in Lt. Col. Mann’s original appreciation of the Outline Plan.
The Detailed Military Plan for Operation RUTTER, a very long document, bore the date 20 June. A considerable number of amendments were subsequently issued.
Just at the time when Operation RUTTER was in the final stages of preparation, its desirability was re-examined at a high level. Mr. Churchill, as we have seen, visited the United States for a few days in June. He returned home on the 26th, seriously concerned over the reverses in North Africa and particularly the loss of Tobruk.139 On 30 June* he held a small private conference at No. 10 Downing Street to seek opinions on the Dieppe project. The only persons present, according to the recollection of one of them, were the Prime Minister himself, General Brooke, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Captain Hughes-Hallett, and two officers of the staff of the Ministry of Defence, General Ismay and Brigadier Hollis. During the discussion Mr. Churchill showed some anxiety, and asked Mountbatten whether he could “guarantee success”, to which Mountbatten naturally replied that he could not. Captain Hughes-Hallett had just spent some time training with The Cameron Highlanders of Canada in the guise of a private soldier (“Private Charles Hallett”), his object being to find out what combined training looked like to the soldiers. He was asked his opinion of the troops, and assured the Prime Minister that the men he had lately been with would “fight like hell”.
The Chief of the Imperial General Staff is reported to have now intervened and stated in decided terms the view that the Dieppe operation was indispensable to the Allied offensive programme. He told Mr. Churchill that if it was ever intended to invade France it was essential to launch a preliminary operation on a divisional scale.140 This opinion from the highest military authority presumably carried the day, and it was doubtless of this conference that Mr. Churchill was thinking when on 8 September 1942 he told the British House of Commons, “I, personally, regarded the Dieppe assault, to which I gave my sanction, as an indispensable preliminary to full-scale operations”. The Dieppe plan might perhaps have been considered to contravene the principle agreed upon a few weeks earlier,
* Sir Winston Churchill’s memoirs might suggest that this happened at a later stage. Admiral Hughes-Hallett’s diary, however, establishes the date. It is probably the only written record of the date of the meeting.
“No substantial landing in France unless we are going to stay” (above, page 315). However, the force involved was somewhat smaller than that proposed for IMPERATOR, the scheme which led to the enunciation of that principle.
We have noted above General Montgomery’s intention of “watching” the operation, with Lord Louis Mountbatten and Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory, from Headquarters No. 11 Fighter Group at Uxbridge. No Canadian was to be present, and when this came to his attention General McNaughton wrote to General Paget suggesting that “having regard to the particular Canadian responsibility in this matter and to maintain the proper channel of command to the Canadian units involved”, General Crerar should be with the group of senior officers at Uxbridge. GHQ Home Forces did not sympathize with this point of view, pointing out that Montgomery had retained direction of the operation himself and that Crerar accordingly would not be exercising active command.141 The British military authorities, in other words, proposed to treat the question precisely as though the 2nd Division had been one of their own formations.
On 4 July General Crerar discussed the matter at length with General Montgomery, pointing out that it was a mistake to “treat the problem of command of Canadian troops as a simple military issue, capable of solution along strictly British channels of command”. The fact that Crerar’s troops had been placed under Montgomery’s operational command did not imply, he argued, “that I could be divested of my responsibility through Lieut. General McNaughton to the Canadian Government in respect to the manner in which those troops were committed to actual operations”. He left no doubt in Montgomery’s mind that the Canadian force in England could not be regarded merely as part of the British Army; it was in a special constitutional position:
In order to illustrate this point in a general way I suggested that the position of C-in-C, Home Forces, in respect to Lieut. General McNaughton, and the Canadian Army in the U.K. was very similar to that occupied by Field Marshal Foch in relation to Field Marshal Haig and the BEF in the last war.
These explanations convinced Montgomery of the importance of having some senior representation of the Canadian Army at the headquarters from which the operation was to be directed; he thanked Crerar for his frankness, and proceeded to invite both McNaughton and Crerar to join him at Uxbridge on the day of the operation.142
The Cancellation of Operation RUTTER
Amphibious raids, as we have noted, are governed by the moon and the tide, and there are only a few days in each month when conditions are
suitable. Following the comparatively satisfactory results of Exercise “YUKON II”, it was decided that Operation RUTTER should take place, on 4 July or one of the days following. On 27 June General Roberts called a conference of all the officers of his raiding force and for the first time outlined the plan fully. Even now, however, the actual objective was not mentioned; and officers were warned that “other ranks are not to be informed until on board ship”.143 On 2 and 3 July the troops were embarked on the infantry landing ships which were to carry them across the Channel, and thereafter remained “sealed” on board. They were now told that what had hitherto been referred to as Exercise “KLONDIKE I” was in fact to be an actual operation. General Roberts and Admiral Mountbatten visited the ships and spoke to the men. Every soldier was fully “briefed” on his detailed task.144
On 3 July the weather was unsuitable for launching the enterprise, and it was accordingly postponed for twenty-four hours. The next morning, conditions still being unfavourable, it was again put off. On the 5th, since the weather was too unsettled to permit the expedition to sail that night, and seemed likely to remain unsettled for the next 48 hours, a conference was held and the plan for the operation was considerably altered. It appeared that 8 July was the only possible date remaining; under the existing conditions, the raid, if carried out that day, would have lasted for two tides, and withdrawal would not have begun until five in the afternoon. A new element in the situation was a report that the German 10th Panzer Division, an important factor in our calculations, had moved closer to the coast and was now at Amiens, only about eight hours from Dieppe.*
* This report was accurate. The German situation map of 28 May shows this Division’s headquarters at Soissons; that of 9 June shows it as having moved up to Amiens.145
The plan was accordingly revised, placing it on a one-tide basis, with the whole force re-embarking by 11:00 a.m.146
The concentration of shipping about the Isle of Wight had not escaped the enemy’s notice. At 6:15 a.m. on 7 July four of his aircraft struck at vessels of the force lying in Yarmouth Roads near the west end of the Solent. Bombs hit two landing ships, Princess Astrid and Princess Josephine Charlotte, both carrying mainly men of The Royal Regiment of Canada. Fortunately “the bombs passed completely through the ships before exploding”, and the regiment suffered only four minor casualties. This attack in itself was not enough to cause cancellation of the operation. The Royals were hastily landed and marched to another anchorage for embarkation in another vessel.147 The naval experts, however, decided that the weather was still too bad to permit of attempting the operation on 8 July. It was accordingly cancelled. The bitterly disappointed soldiers left their ships and the force which had spent so long in the Isle of Wight was returned to the mainland and dispersed.
As many thousands of men now knew that it had been intended to raid Dieppe, and once they left the ships it would no longer be possible to maintain complete secrecy, General Montgomery “recommended to the powers that be that the operation be off for all time”. As it turned out, it was off for a week. Mountbatten had in fact recommended to the Chiefs of Staff on 6 July that if the raid did not take place on the date then proposed (presumably 8 July) the force should be disbanded and consideration given to mounting the operation again at a later date.148
The Revival of the Operation
On the circumstances in which the project of the raid was revived about 14 July, and on the reasons for the revival, there is comparatively little written evidence. The account which follows is, accordingly, based in great part upon the recollections of officers who were closely concerned in the matter.
The cancellation of the Dieppe project had caused deep chagrin at Combined Operations Headquarters, and there is no doubt that it was the staff of COHQ that was responsible for the revival.* On the evening of the cancellation Capt. Hughes-Hallett spoke most strongly at a meeting of the COHQ “Council and Advisers”, going so far as to suggest an inquiry by some outside authority into the question of whether there was a defect in the method of planning and whether the recent cancellations of operations had been justified. On 10 July another meeting, presided over by Lord Louis Mountbatten, agreed “that an alternative RUTTER should be examined” and discussed with the security authorities.149 The decision to revive the operation followed.
Apart from the fact that the cancellation had seriously disappointed the Canadian troops, there were other factors which made a major operation in the West expedient at this moment. The public in the Allied countries was calling loudly for action, and considerations of morale made it desirable to meet the demand so far as it was practicable to do so. At the same time, continuing German advances in Russia rendered it essential to give any diversionary aid possible to our Soviet allies. The writer has found no evidence that the Russian situation was actually a large direct factor in the decision to revive the Dieppe scheme (it was not likely to weigh particularly
* “... the abandonment of these two raids [Alderney and Dieppe] was rightly felt to be tantamount to a defeat. That was why so much’ importance was attached to re-mounting and carrying out the Dieppe raid after all . not the least remarkable feature of the operation was the fact of its having been carried out at all, and this was due to the united determination of the Chief of Combined Operations and his subordinates to drive on, unless told otherwise by superior authority” (Rear Admiral J. Hughes-Hallett, “The Mounting of Raids”, Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, November 1950).
heavily at Combined Operations Headquarters, which worked mainly on the tactical level), but the news that a big distracting raid in the West was again in prospect was welcomed by the British Prime Minister, who shortly after the decision was taken found himself faced with the formidable task of informing Marshal Stalin that there was to be no immediate “second front”. On 25 July, General McNaughton had a conversation with Lord Louis Mountbatten, during which the latter stated that the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet had approved the revived raid, now known as Operation JUBILEE. (It appears that the reference to the War Cabinet was a misunderstanding.) McNaughton’s memorandum of the conversation150 adds:
It appears that Stalin had cabled the Prime Minister asking what was being done to distract the Germans by raiding. The Prime Minister had been very pleased to be able to reply indicating action was in hand and in consequence he had approved the highest priority in preparation for J[ubilee].
What had actually happened was that on the evening of 23 July Mr. Churchill had received from the hands of the Soviet ambassador a telegram from Stalin, which is published in the Prime Minister’s memoirs, complaining bitterly of the decision which had been taken to suspend Arctic convoys to Russia for the present, and once more demanding a second front in Europe in 1942. In the course of his conversation with M. Maisky the Prime Minister told him that heavy raids on the Continent would be carried out in the near future.
By this time, the reader will have noted, the decision had been taken to abandon Operation SLEDGEHAMMER. However, the revival of the raid was not a result of that abandonment; the decision to revive it seems to have been firm at Combined Operations Headquarters by 14 July (there is a reference to the revival in General McNaughton’s personal war diary under this date), and it was approved by the Chiefs of Staff Committee on 20 July;* whereas the final decision against SLEDGEHAMMER was not taken until 22 July, although the British authorities were undoubtedly certain in their ‘own minds long before that day that the operation would not take place. Nevertheless, it seems clear that after that decision JUBILEE served as at least a partial substitute for SLEDGEHAMMER, and was welcomed in the highest circles accordingly. Whether it was also regarded as useful security cover for the North African enterprise, in that it would help to focus the enemy’s attention on the coast of France during the period of preparation, remains conjectural; no documents bearing on this have been found.
In mid-July the Dieppe scheme was the best possibility for an early considerable operation, such as seemed desirable for so many reasons. It
* The approval is implied in that given to the appointment of Hughes-Hallett as naval commander for “the next large-scale raiding operation”. The absence of more specific approval in the record is probably the result of determination to take extreme security precautions in connection with the revived operation.
offered a ready-made plan and a force already trained. It was now subject, however, to serious objections on security grounds; for the possibility had to be accepted that, so many thousands of men having been fully briefed before the cancellation, the enemy might have got wind of our plan. It could only be revived, therefore, if we could be more than reasonably certain that information of the revival would not reach the Germans. A satisfactory formula was found by Hughes-Hallett.
With the military force trained as it was, he suggested, the raid could be re-mounted in such a way as to make it very difficult of detection in advance; for there was no need to concentrate the force beforehand. Instead, the various units could move direct from their stations to their ports of embarkation, and embark there on the same evening on which they were to sail. Moreover, whereas for RUTTER all the units had been embarked in infantry landing ships, with the intention of transferring them to small craft some ten miles from the French coast, it was now suggested that three of them might make the whole cross-Channel journey in personnel landing craft. This permitted further dispersion; and for the actual operation Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal embarked at the small port of Shoreham in Sussex, and the Cameron Highlanders and No. 3 Commando at Newhaven. This new basis proved acceptable to all parties; and the selection of Hughes-Hallett himself as Naval Force Commander was approved by the Chiefs of Staff on 20 July (above, page 341).151
Although in essentials the actual attack plan was the same as before (it had to be if the operation was to be launched without long delay), there were some modifications. In particular, since the use of paratroops demanded ideal weather conditions and also required considerable time for briefing, it was decided to eliminate this element of the force, substituting Commando units, who would have the task of neutralizing the two formidable coastal batteries, one on either side of Dieppe, which if left alone would make it impossible for our ships to lie off the coast.
The “chain of command” was also different. We have seen that for RUTTER the responsible military authority had been the GOC-in-C South Eastern Command, who had not delegated his control to any subordinate. The GOC-in-C First Canadian Army had thus held only an undefined watching brief. General McNaughton now arranged that the revived operation would be placed on a different basis. On 16 July he discussed the question with the Chief of Combined Operations and General Roberts. His memorandum of this meeting152 runs in part as follows:
...In reference to the military channel of command I said I would ask General Paget to agree to General Crerar being named as the responsible military officer to coordinate and if this were done I would arm him with appropriate authority as regards the use of Canadian troops.
I told Lord Louis Mountbatten that the detailed proposals for the Operation when prepared would be subject to my approval in the same way as C-in-C Home Forces and Chiefs of Staff Committee had approval for operations of British troops.
The following day General McNaughton had an interview with General Paget “and it was agreed that channel of command would run C-in-C Home Forces – Comd 1 Cdn Army – Comd 1 Cdn Corps – Comd 2 Cdn Div”.153 This placed the military command on an entirely new basis, with the GOC-in-C South Eastern Command (General Montgomery) playing no part.* On 24 July Home Forces formally advised South Eastern Command that the C-in-C had made the Canadian Army Commander “the military officer responsible for the conduct of raiding operations to be carried out by troops under his command”; and on 27 July McNaughton wrote formally to Crerar, delegating to him, in accordance with the Home Forces letter of 5 May, the military responsibility for Operation JUBILEE.154
In the meantime, planning had been resumed. Lt. Col. Mann had been promoted Brigadier and appointed Brigadier General Staff, 1st Canadian Corps, as of 13 July. General Roberts asked General Crerar to lend him so that he might continue the role which he had played in planning for RUTTER. Crerar agreed, and Mann accordingly devoted himself exclusively to JUBILEE during the month that followed.155 The Combined Plan for the operation was issued under date 31 July.
Certain points arising during the planning should be briefly noted. The broad lines of the revised plan were sketched in a well-recorded meeting of Force Commanders as early as 16 July.156 This meeting thought it unlikely that airborne troops could be used “under the conditions of light that will prevail” and it was provisionally decided to abandon the idea of using them. At the same time it was agreed that briefing should be deferred “until the last possible moment, which should not be until the operation is definitely about to take place”. Naval and military commanding officers would, however, “be warned in the strictest confidence that an emergency operation is being planned for August and may be ordered to take place at short notice”. The Commando side of the operation was to be separately planned. The officers directing the two Commando landings were to report to General Roberts at an early date and be “responsible to him for their plans”. The Commandos prepared separate operation orders; there is little reference to them in the Detailed Military Plan; and in the Order of Battle they were shown as “Under Command from Landing” only.
At this meeting on 16 July there was further discussion of the question of aerial bombardment. It was now proposed that the raid should take
* Before the raid actually took place, General Montgomery had in fact left for Egypt to take command of the Eighth Army.
place during one of two periods (18–23 August and 1–7 September), and the minutes contain the following passage:
In neither period is ,the state of the moon satisfactory from the point of view of night bombing and Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory stressed the fact that accurate bombing of the houses on the sea front could not possibly be guaranteed. If bombing is to be carried out at all, it should be timed to take place as late as possible, i.e. as close as possible to the time of landing. Alternatively, it was suggested that it might be better to dispense with the bombing, and to rely entirely on supporting fire from the destroyers. A final and definite decision on this point is still to be made.
As late as 17 August, according to the Combined Report, the question of bombing was reviewed by the Chief of Combined Operations and the Force Commanders. The decision was maintained, General Roberts accepting it because of the apprehension that the destruction caused by such an attack would make the passage of tanks through Dieppe difficult if not impossible. He wrote some months later:157
The original plan for bombing envisaged two or three minor bombing raids on Dieppe, prior to the operation. As these had not been carried out, it was felt that a large scale attack, probably inaccurately placed, would merely serve to place the enemy on the alert. This was a considerable factor.
At all stages it was insisted that bombing could only be carried out by night, and inaccuracy, rather than accuracy, was guaranteed.
The units taking part were informed of the revival of the operation only a few days before it took place, and even then knowledge was restricted to senior officers. By way of “security cover”, orders were issued for exercises and demonstrations that would explain the preparations which were being made. On 10 August, Headquarters 2nd Division ordered a combined operations demonstration by the 14th Army Tank Regiment, which would afford a pretext for the steps being taken by this unit, including waterproofing its tanks. On 13 August Divisional Headquarters issued instructions for three movement exercises (“FORD I”, “FORD II” and “FORD III”), which were to last “for a month commencing 15 Aug 42”.158 Actually, “FORD I” was simply the movement of the JUBILEE units to the embarkation ports.
On 11 August General Crerar reported formally to General McNaughton. His letter concluded:
I have today gone over in detail the plans for the Exercise, as now agreed to by the Naval, Army and Air Force Commanders and am satisfied that the revisions made in respect to the previous exercise plans add rather than detract to the soundness of the plan as a whole. I am, therefore, of the opinion that, given an even break in luck and good navigation, the demonstration should prove successful.
On 14 August McNaughton went over the plans with Crerar and Roberts, and on the same day wrote to Crerar confirming that he was “satisfied with these plans and with the arrangements made in all respects” and finally sanctioning the participation of Canadian troops in the raid.159
The actual movement to the ports began on the evening of 16 August, when six troops of the Calgary Regiment’s tanks began to move to Gosport, near Portsmouth, where they were to embark. The main body of tanks embarked at Newhaven, beginning to move thither on the evening of 17 August.160 The meteorological forecast being satisfactory though not ideal, the final orders for the operation were issued on the morning of 18 August,161 and that afternoon the infantry units moved by motor transport from their stations to the ports. So far, the rank and file had known nothing of what was planned; only after the troops had embarked on the infantry landing ships were they told that there was to be an actual raid. “Maps and air photographs* were distributed to all ranks, and the details of the raid... were explained to all personnel.” The men of the units which were to cross the Channel in small craft were briefed in specially guarded buildings at the ports. The battalions were on “assault scales” – each approximately 500 strong. The transport and other surplus personnel, left behind at the normal stations, were under the impression that the main bodies were on “a two-day exercise”.162
Counting Gosport separately from Portsmouth, the force embarked at five different ports. Six infantry landing ships sailed from Southampton and three from Portsmouth. Some tank landing craft sailed from Portsmouth and some from Newhaven, from which two of the three personnel landing craft (LCP(L)) groups also sailed. The third LCP(L) group sailed from Shoreham. The naval force was organized in thirteen groups,163 sailing at varying speeds, and the Naval Force Commander had a difficult and complicated task. All told, his force amounted to 237 ships and landing craft, not including the 16 vessels of the 9th and 13th Minesweeping Flotillas, which were employed to clear the way through a German minefield which had lately been reported in mid-Channel.164 No vessels larger than “Hunt” class destroyers (1000 tons, four 4-inch guns) were included; there were eight of these (Calpe, Fernie, Brocklesby, Garth, Albrighton, Berkeley, Bleasdale, and the Polish ship Slazak), in addition to the gunboat Locust and the sloop Alresford.
All told, the military force embarked amounted to approximately 6100 all ranks, of whom 4963 were Canadians and about 1075 were British.† There were some 50 all ranks from the 1st U.S. Ranger Battalion – dispersed among various units as observers – and 20 all ranks of No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando. Of these last, 15 were French, and five were anti-Nazi enemy nationals who could expect to be shot if captured.165
* Capt. D. F. MacRae, in a narrative attached to the war diary of the Essex Scottish, states that these were new photographs, taken on 16 August.
†Canadian figures compiled at CMHQ in 1943, on basis of information supplied by Canadian Overseas Records Office and Canadian Section GHQ Second Echelon. No exact figures for British units are available except for the Royal Marine “A” Commando (18 officers and 352 other ranks).
As the infantry landing ships had to sail before dark, they rigged disguises giving them the appearance of merchant vessels. The first ship to clear the gate of the Portsmouth defences was HMS Queen Emma, carrying part of The Royal Regiment of Canada; she passed through at 9:25 p.m. The first tank landing craft left Newhaven harbour a few minutes later.166 As darkness fell, the various groups of Captain Hughes-Hallett’s force drew into formation and shaped their carefully pre-arranged courses towards Dieppe.
The Plan of Operation JUBILEE
At this point the plan for the raid should be described in greater detail than heretofore.167
As already indicated, it involved attacks at five different points on a front of roughly ten miles. At 4:50 a.m. (British Summer Time) four simultaneous surprise flank attacks were to go in.* This hour was calculated as “the beginning of nautical twilight”, the intention being that the craft would touch down while it was still dark enough to make it hard for any enemy gunners who might be on the alert to see their targets.
The flank attacks, from right to left, were as follows: upon the coastal battery near Varengeville (ORANGE I and ORANGE II Beaches) by No. 4 Commando, commanded by Lt. Col. Lord Lovat; at Pourville (GREEN Beach) by The South Saskatchewan Regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. C. C. I. Merritt; at Puys (BLUE Beach) by The Royal Regiment of Canada, commanded by Lt. Col. D. E. Catto; and upon the battery near Berneval (YELLOW I and YELLOW II Beaches) by No. 3 Commando, commanded by Lt. Col. J. F. Durnford-Slater. The main attack was to go in on the long beach fronting the town of Dieppe itself half an hour later, i.e., at 5:20 a.m. The reasons for this delay were naval. Had the frontal and flank assaults been simultaneous, there would not have been sea-room for all the ships and craft involved; as it was, the concentration of assault landing craft on the main beaches was perhaps heavier than in any other amphibious operation of the war. Moreover, an earlier assault on the main beaches would have involved the infantry landing ships’ leaving harbour half an hour earlier, and they would almost certainly have been sighted by the regular German evening air reconnaissance.168
The frontal attack was to be delivered on the right (WHITE Beach) by The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. R. R. Labatt, and on the left (RED Beach) by The Essex Scottish Regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. F. K. Jasperson. The first nine tanks of the 14th Army Tank
* All times in the narrative that follows, except in direct quotations from German documents, are BST (one hour in advance of Greenwich Time). The Germans were operating on the equivalent of British Double Summer Time, two hours in advance of Greenwich.
Regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. J. G. Andrews, were to land simultaneously with the first wave of infantry.169 General Roberts had as “floating reserve” one infantry battalion, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, commanded by Lt: Col. D. Ménard, and the Royal Marine “A” Commando, commanded by Lt. Col. J. P. Phillipps. The Marines had the specific task of operating as a “cutting out party”, which would enter the harbour in the gunboat Locust and six Fighting French “chasseurs”. Its task was to “remove as many barges as possible in the time available, destroying the remainder and any other ships which it is not possible to remove”. If all went well, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal were to land as soon as the town had been captured. They had the special task of occupying an inner perimeter and would act as rearguard to cover the final withdrawal.170
Half an hour after the initial assault at Pourville (i.e., simultaneously with the frontal attack), The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, commanded by Lt. Col. A.
C. Gostling, were to land there, pass through The South Saskatchewan Regiment and advance to join up with the tanks moving inland from Dieppe and “capture and destroy the aerodrome” of St. Aubin. If time permitted, this battalion was to “exploit” to capture the German divisional headquarters which was mistakenly believed to exist at Arques-la-Bataille. Very broadly, the scheme of the operation was to capture Dieppe and establish around it a perimeter within which extensive demolitions would be carried out by the Engineers, who were to destroy “the dry docks, swing bridges, harbour installations, rolling stock, power and gas works and any other suitable objective”.171 Outside the perimeter the Camerons and the tanks would operate against the aerodrome and the supposed divisional headquarters.
A far larger air force was employed than had been envisaged by the officers who made the Outline Plan. The air tasks were described in the Air Force Commander’s later report under four headings: Fighter Cover, Close Support, Reconnaissance, and Strategical Bombing. Fighter Cover involved general protection for the expedition throughout the hours of daylight, but particularly during the two periods when attack from the air was most to be feared – those of the landing and withdrawal. Close Support involved bombing and low-flying fighter attack in direct support of the assault, occupation and withdrawal, as well as the use of smoke-laying aircraft to neutralize enemy defences both as pre-arranged and as requested by the Military Force Commander; while day bomber squadrons were to be employed both against pre-arranged targets and on request. Reconnaissance included tactical reconnaissance over the area of the raid (including enemy reinforcements’ lines of approach) as well as reconnaissance directed against enemy submarines and surface vessels. As for Strategical Bombing, the
only enterprise under this head was an attack against the enemy’s aerodrome of Abbeville–Drucat with a view to interfering with the operation of his fighters during the withdrawal.
All told, the air forces taking part amounted to 74 squadrons. This included 48 fighter squadrons for cover, three which made diversionary sweeps, and six for close support, as well as six squadrons of day bombers, two of Hurricane bombers, four army cooperation squadrons (for tactical reconnaissance), two intruder squadrons and three squadrons for laying smoke. The Royal Canadian Air Force provided six of the fighter squadrons and two army cooperation squadrons.*
* Nos. 400, 401, 402, 403, 411, 412, 414 and 416 Squadrons. In addition, two aircraft of No. 418 Squadron took part.172 This squadron is included in the overall total.
There were also one New Zealand, five Polish, two Norwegian, two Czech, one French and one Belgian squadron.173 The United States Army Air Forces provided three of the fighter squadrons, as well as the four Fortress bomber squadrons that attacked the Abbeville aerodrome.174 All the rest were RAF
The organization of command was as follows. Captain Hughes-Hallett, the Naval Force Commander, was in the headquarters ship, the destroyer Calpe; with him was General Roberts, the Military Force Commander. Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory remained at Headquarters No. 11 Fighter Group, Uxbridge (the best point for controlling his squadrons), but was represented in Calpe by a senior officer, Air Commodore A. T. Cole, RAAF In case Calpe should be destroyed or disabled, a duplicate headquarters was provided in the destroyer Fernie; in this ship the senior army officer was Brigadier Mann.175 The two headquarters ships were provided with greatly augmented wireless facilities. Admiral Mountbatten and General Crerar were at Uxbridge. This, as already noted (above, page 335) was the only place from which the battle could be influenced once it had been joined; but in practice the influence that could be exerted from England was slight. General McNaughton, having delegated the military responsibility for the operation to Crerar, remained at his own headquarters during the day, but received constant reports.176
In each headquarters ship was a Fighter Controller. All outgoing close support fighter sorties called the Controller in Calpe when approaching the enemy, and he was able to redirect these sorties to any target which the situation demanded as the Military or Naval Force Commanders might request. The Air Force Commander reported that this method of control “worked admirably”.177