Chapter 12: Dieppe: Losses, Comments and Aftermath
Allied Losses at Dieppe
The casualties suffered by the Canadian military force in the Dieppe raid were extremely heavy. In all categories they totalled 3367 all ranks. No fewer than 1946 Canadian officers and men became prisoners of war, at least 568 of them wounded. At Dieppe, from a force of roughly 5000 men engaged for only nine hours, the Canadian Army lost more prisoners than in the whole eleven months of the later campaign in North-West Europe, or the twenty months during which Canadians fought in Italy. Sadder still was the loss in killed. As now computed, the total of fatal casualties was 56 officers and 851 other ranks; these include seven officers and 65 other ranks who died in captivity, chiefly from wounds received in the operation.1 Of the seven major Canadian units engaged, only one (Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal) brought its commanding officer back to England – and he, as we have seen, was badly wounded. Little was left of the 4th Brigade, not much more of the 6th. Months of hard work were required before the 2nd Division became again the fine formation that had assaulted the beaches.
The detailed casualties of the Canadian force are listed in the accompanying table (page 389).
According to figures now available, British Army casualties amounted to 18 officers and 157 other ranks, of whom two officers and 12 other ranks were killed, and 11 officers and 117 other ranks were missing or prisoner’s.* The Royal Marines’ total casualties were seven officers and 93 other ranks. Of these, four officers and 27 other ranks lost their lives, including those listed as “missing, presumed killed” and as died in captivity.2
The Navy too lost heavily. In ships, its chief losses were one destroyer and five tank landing craft; but it also left behind it, on the Dieppe beaches or under the adjacent waters, 28 lesser landing craft, of which 17 were LCAs. In this last category, over 28 per cent of the craft, engaged were lost. This reflects both the desperate conditions under which the assault and the
* These were the best figures the War Office was able to furnish in October 1950. Many of the missing must in fact have been killed.
withdrawal were conducted, and the high courage with which the crews of these little boats did their work. There were 550 casualties to naval personnel, including 75 killed or died of wounds and 269 missing or prisoners.3
The losses in the great air battle were large on both sides. The RAF had to fight the enemy in his own air, close to his own fields, and the initial advantage of surprise was lost long before the battle was over. The gallant and successful fight waged in support of the operation against the highly-organized German air defence cost the Allied squadrons a total of 106 aircraft, of which 98 were fighters or tactical reconnaissance machines: the RAF’s heaviest loss in the air in a single day since the war began, and indeed the heaviest of the whole war. Fatal personnel casualties to the Allied air forces (killed, missing and presumed dead, as known in 1950) numbered 67, including two pilots killed in crashes when returning from the raid.4 The heaviest losses in proportion were those of the tactical reconnaissance squadrons, whose duties required them to make deep penetrations over enemy territory. Of a total of 72 sorties in this category nine resulted in the loss of pilots, and 10 aircraft were lost.5 The two Canadian tactical reconnaissance squadrons, although they made between them a total of 42 sorties, were fortunate enough to lose only two aircraft.6 All told, the RCAF lost 13 planes and ten pilots. It claimed ten enemy aircraft destroyed, four probably destroyed and 22 damaged.7
The communique issued by Combined Operations Headquarters after the raid claimed 91 German aircraft destroyed and “about twice that number” probably destroyed or damaged. These estimates resulted in the air battle’s being regarded as a particularly satisfactory aspect of the operation. (It will be recalled that a major object of the programme of large-scale raids had been to bring the Luftwaffe to action and force it to divert strength from the East.) Post-war examination of German documents, however, indicates that the enemy lost 48 aircraft destroyed and 24 damaged.8 (At the time, he admitted the loss of only 35, and claimed to have shot down 127 of ours.)9 Although the result was thus less satisfactory than was believed at the time, the effectiveness of the RAF’s share in the raid must be judged, not by these statistics, but by the fact that more than 200 ships and craft lay off the enemy’s coast for a day without suffering important losses by air attack.
German Losses and German Critiques
The German Army’s losses at Dieppe, though not inconsiderable, were much smaller than our own. The communiqué issued by the High Command after the action admitted 591 casualties suffered by all three services. Figures
Dieppe Raid Embarkation Strength, Casualties, Disembarkation Strength (Canadian Units)
|Fatal Casualties||Non-Fatal Casualties|
|Number Embarked||Killed in Action||Died of Wounds||Died While PW||Total Fatal Casualties||Wounded||POW Wounded||POW Unwounded||Total Non-Fatal Casualties||Total Fatal and Non-Fatal Casualties||Number Returning UK on completion of Operation|
|Headquarters, Miscellaneous Small Units and Detachments||42||48||5||–||–||–||–||–||5||–||7||7||2||5||2||6||11||18||16||18||33||37|
|Royal Regiment of Canada||26||528||8||199||–||2||2||16||10||217||2||31||8||95||6||155||16||281||26||498||2||63|
|Royal Hamilton Light Infantry||31||551||7||172||1||6||2||9||10||187||5||103||7||71||9||88||21||262||31||449||6||211|
|Essex Scottish Regiment||32||521||5||100||–||2||1||13||6||115||1||26||3||119||20||240||24||385||30||500||3||49|
|Queen’s Own Cameron Highlands of Canada||32||471||5||55||1||7||–||8||6||70||9||94||3||33||6||125||18||252||24||322||18||250|
|South Saskatchewan Regiment||25||498||3||75||–||3||–||3||3||81||7||159||2||22||7||58||16||239||19||320||13||340|
|14 Cdn Army Tk Regt (Calgary R)||32||385||2||10||–||–||–||1||2||11||–||4||2||17||13||125||15||146||17||157||15||232|
|Toronto Scottish Regiment (MG)||5||120||–||1||–||–||–||–||–||1||–||8||–||3||–||1||–||12||–||13||5||115|
|Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada||4||107||1||–||–||–||–||3||1||3||–||6||–||2||2||59||2||67||3||70||1||43|
|RCA Units and Detachments||14||256||2||11||–||–||–||–||2||11||1||3||1||7||3||19||5||29||7||40||8||219|
|RC Sigs Detachments||6||73||–||8||–||1||–||–||–||9||2||7||–||3||1||14||3||24||3||33||5||47|
|Cdns Provost Corps Detachment||2||39||1||–||–||–||–||–||1||–||–||7||–||7||–||11||–||25||1||25||1||21|
|Cdn Int Corps Detachments||2||13||–||3||–||–||–||–||–||3||–||–||–||1||–||4||–||5||–||8||2||5|
NOTE:– The number returning to the UK upon completion of the operation is obtained ny subtracting the figures appearing under “Killed in Action”, “Died while PW”, “Wounded and Unwounded Prisoners of War” from the number that embarked.
in German reports now in our hands vary from this in detail but not in general effect. The 302nd Division reported the Army losses as five officers and 116 other ranks killed, six officers and 195 other ranks wounded, and 11 other ranks missing.10 Although we took many prisoners, most of them had to be left behind; the number actually brought to England was 37, of whom only eight belonged to the Army.11 German losses in material, in addition to the six 5.9-inch guns destroyed by No. 4 Commando, included two of the French beach-defence guns and four 37-mm. anti-tank guns.12 The German Navy lost Submarine-Chaser No. 1404 with her whole crew of 46; one of the merchant vessels forming the convoy involved with Group 5 (the Franz) was also sunk.13
The raid had given the German command a severe temporary shock. Great forces had been set in motion towards Dieppe. In addition to the action of local reserves which we have noted, a battalion of the 302nd Division’s reserve was brought up to the Forét d’Arques, south-east of Dieppe, and held ready to deal with any unfavourable development at Dieppe or a possible parachute drop.14 The movement of the regiment in Corps Reserve towards Pourville has been mentioned. The four battalions of the Army Reserve also moved forward, though so slowly as to arouse the ire of the 81st Corps.15 And shortly before nine in the morning Field Marshal von Rundstedt ordered the 10th Panzer Division from Amiens to be committed under the 81st Corps to clean up the situation at Dieppe. Its advanced guard reached Longueville-sur-Scie, ten miles south of Dieppe, at 1:55 p.m.16 By that time fighting was over; had it lasted longer the division could have been in action against the Pourville bridgehead before evening.
The Germans had taken even more far-reaching precautions. Shortly after nine o’clock their air reconnaissance reported off Selsey Bill a convoy of 26 ships, with “decks closely packed with troops”.17 This report was highly inaccurate. Admiralty records indicate that the only convoy the observer can have seen was “C.W. 116”, which consisted of 14 small merchant vessels en route from the Thames to the Isle of Wight.18 However, when the report reached GHQ West it was taken to indicate that the “Second Front” was in immediate prospect; and at 10:30 a.m. Rundstedt ordered “readiness for instant action” for the whole of the Seventh Army (guarding the coasts of Lower Normandy and Brittany) and the greater part of his Army Group Reserves. This alert was maintained until the morning of 20 August.19
A copy of the greater part of our Detailed Military Plan fell into German hands, as a result of its providing that two copies might be taken ashore by each brigade headquarters. (The Germans state that this copy, No. 37, one of those issued to Headquarters 6th Infantry Brigade, was found on the body of a dead major on the Dieppe beach.)20 In spite of this, responsible officers at GHQ West persisted in believing that the raid had actually been intended as the opening phase of an invasion of France. The fact that the
26-ship convoy had been reported as returning to Portsmouth convinced them that the failure at Dieppe had caused the cancellation of the main operation. Rundstedt’s staff found it particularly hard to believe that we would really sacrifice “29 or 30 of the most modern tanks” for a mere raid. His report, signed by his Chief of Staff, General Zeitzler, suggests that if Dieppe had fallen new orders would have been issued and the full-dress invasion launched.21 For this supposition there was, of course, no basis whatever; as we have seen, the Allied strategic planners had finally turned their backs on France (as far as 1942 was concerned) about 22 July.*
* All German officers were not in agreement with the Zeitzler-Rundstedt interpretation. The war diary of the Naval Operations Staff, 19–21 August, indicates that the sailors were dubious about it from the beginning, and that Naval Group West reported on the 21st that the famous 26-ship convoy was possibly “a scheduled westbound Channel convoy previously located by radio intelligence and radar service”. And on 25 September Colonel Ulrich Liss, head of the Western Intelligence Branch of the Army High Command, wrote a letter22 to an unidentified general asking advice. He had prepared a detailed report which left no doubt that the Dieppe enterprise was a raid and nothing more. But Zeitzler had just become Chief of the General Staff in succession to General Halder, and Liss was worried about putting before him a paper which contradicted his own report! What finally happened is not clear; but no copy of the Liss report has been found. It was doubtless suppressed.
The Germans studied our operation carefully, with the aid of the captured order. The Commander-in-Chief West had it translated and circulated. His covering letter23 commented upon it somewhat rudely:
According to German ideas this order is not an order, but an aide-memoire or a scheme worked out for a map exercise. Nevertheless, it does contain many points of value to us.
First, how much the enemy knows about us.
Second, the peculiarities of his method of landing and fighting.
For that reason, this order is to be thoroughly studied by all staffs, to collect lessons for our coastal-defence and for the training and education of our troops.
But it would be an error to believe that the enemy will mount his next operation in the same manner. He will draw his lessons from his mistakes in planning and from his failure and next time he will do things differently. ...
The Germans generally were of the opinion that the British planners had greatly underestimated the strength in weapons required for such an operation. The 302nd Division’s report remarked:24
The strength of air and naval forces was not nearly sufficient to keep the defenders down during the landings and to destroy their signal communications. It is incomprehensible that it should be believed that a single Canadian Division should be able to overrun a German Infantry Regiment reinforced with artillery.
The English command at the middle levels drew up the time-table for the intended withdrawal at “W” hour in a theoretical manner reflecting inexperience of battle (mit einem kampffremden Schematismus).‡
The report of the 81st Corps criticized the order for being too detailed and therefore “difficult to visualize as a whole”. It remarked, “The planning
† Equivalent to a British or Canadian Brigade.
‡ This was true enough. The plan for withdrawal contained in the Detailed Military Plan was expressed in thirteen successive diagrams, each with its appropriate code name, representing successive stages of the gradual retirement and embarkation.
down to the last detail limits the independence of action of the subordinate officers and leaves them no opportunity to make independent decisions in an altered situation.”25 Actually this German criticism is less valid than might appear. Although there was much detail in the order, the action of individual units is not so closely prescribed as a first glance suggests, and the present writer sometimes had difficulty in constructing from it a detailed account of the intended movements. One example of a Commanding Officer making “independent decisions in an altered situation” is Major Law’s deciding to advance inland by the west instead of the east bank of the Scie. This alternative route had in fact been discussed in advance, but there is no reference to it in the Detailed Military Plan.
On the quality of the British and Canadian troops engaged there is some disagreement between the different German reports. That of the 81st Corps26 compares the Canadians unfavourably with the Commandos:
The Second Canadian Division were loaded on to transports and shipped to the French coast without being told either the objective or the mission, so that the ordinary soldiers were completely in the dark.* The Canadians on the whole fought badly and surrendered afterwards in swarms.
On the other hand, the combat efficiency of the Commandos was very high. They were well trained and fought with real spirit. ...
There is one other adverse comment; it is contained in a report of “Personal Impressions from the Battlefield” sent on 20 August by General Zeitzler:27 “English fought well. Canadians and Americans not so well, later quickly surrendered under the influence of the high bloody losses”.
The comments of the 81st Corps are specifically repudiated by Headquarters Fifteenth Army, which reported28 as follows:
The large number of English prisoners might leave the impression that the fighting value of the English and Canadian units employed should not be too highly estimated. This is not the case. The enemy, almost entirely Canadian soldiers, fought – so far as he was able to fight at all – well and bravely. The chief reasons for the large number of prisoners and casualties are probably:
Lack of artillery support. ...
The Englishman had underestimated the strength of the defences, and therefore at most of his landing places – especially at Puys and Dieppe – found himself in a hopeless position as soon as he came ashore.
The effect of our own defensive weapons was superior to that of the weapons employed by the attacker.
The craft provided for re-embarkation were almost all hit and sank.
This obviously makes sense; the reason for the large number of Canadian prisoners was the fact that the Navy simply had no means of taking the troops off the beaches. The proportion of British prisoners was smaller because No. 4 Commando was successfully evacuated, and the greater parts of both No. 3 and the Marine Commando were never landed.
* As we have seen, this was not true, though some individual soldiers may conceivably have escaped briefing and told this story to German interrogators.
The 302nd German Infantry Division, the formation in direct contact with our troops, made comments29 which can be read with satisfaction:
The main attack at Dieppe, Puys and Pourville was launched by the 2nd Canadian Division with great energy. That the enemy gained no ground at all in Puys, and in Dieppe could take only parts of the beach, not including the west mole and the western edge of the beach, and this only for a short time, was not the result of lack of courage, but of the concentrated defensive fire of our Divisional Artillery and infantry heavy weapons. Moreover, his tank crews did not lack spirit. They could not penetrate the antitank walls which barred the way into the town of Dieppe. ... In Puys the efforts made by the enemy, in spite of the heavy German machine-gun fire, to surmount the wire obstacles studded with booby traps on the first beach terrace are signs of a good offensive spirit (Angriffsfreudigkeit). The large number of prisoners at Puys was the result of the hopelessness of the situation for the men who had landed, caught under German machine-gun, rifle and mortar fire between the cliffs and the sea on a beach which offered no cover.
At Pourville the enemy, immediately after landing, pushed forward into the interior without worrying about flank protection. ...
The operations against the coastal batteries were conducted by the Commandos with great dash and skill. With the aid of technical devices of all sorts they succeeded in clambering up the steep cliffs at points which had seemed inaccessible.
As we have explained, it would have been virtually impossible to mount an operation like that at Dieppe from England in 1942 without giving the Canadians a share in it. Nevertheless, an assault operation of this type is obviously not a suitable introduction to battle for troops who have never fought. Had the 2nd Canadian Division had previous battle experience, its units might perhaps have accomplished more at certain points; but it seems questionable whether it could have carried out the operation successfully under all the conditions which existed on 19 August 1942.
How the Public was Told
From the Canadian point of view the manner in which information concerning this complex and controversial operation reached the public in the Allied countries was an unsatisfactory aspect. Canadians themselves were well served by the able and enterprising Canadian war correspondents who accompanied the raiding force;30 but in other countries the enterprise at first was made to appear in a somewhat peculiar light.
In the early reports in the world press, the parts played by both the small detachment of United States troops and the larger but still secondary component provided by the Commandos were exaggerated at the Canadians’ expense. It was natural that Americans, delighted by the news that their ground troops had fought their first action against the Germans, should “play up” the story in this manner. On the face of it, it was a trifle more surprising that newspapers in the United Kingdom should pay so little attention to the
fact that the landing force – and the casualties – were mainly Canadian.*
* A particularly glaring example was the account presented in an English weekly under the inaccurate title “Dieppe: The Full Story”.31 In eleven pages of text and photographs, devoted chiefly to RAF and Commando aspects, the only mention of Canadian participation was in two obscure sentences on the tenth page. The explanation of this particular article is the fact that the correspondent who wrote it had accompanied one of the Commandos.
It is fair to say that the misunderstanding was cleared up only by Mr. Churchill when, speaking in the House of Commons on 8 September, he said:
It is a mistake to speak or write of this as a Commando raid, although some Commando troops distinguished themselves remarkably in it. The military credit for this most gallant affair goes to the Canadian troops, who formed five-sixths of the assaulting force, and to the Royal Navy, which carried them all there and which carried most of them back.
Some of the misconceptions in the English press can be traced to a definite origin. It is always extremely difficult to strike a nice balance in matters of publicity between the components of an international force, and such questions were an embarrassment to the British Ministry of Information throughout the war. In this particular case the Ministry made an attempt to give guidance to the press. In the early afternoon of the day of the raid the Controller, Press and Censorship, issued a “Private and Confidential Memo to Editors” which contained the following passage:
For your own information, I may say that while Canadian troops comprise the main body of the raiding force, they constitute approximately one-third of the total personnel of all services participating in the raid.
This was well meant, although a more imaginative official might have realized that the first battle of an army which had waited nearly three years for action was not the most suitable moment for issuing such a suggestion. In any case, it had an unfortunate result. At least one newspaper quoted it almost verbatim,32 and it certainly resulted in a general playing-down of the Canadians’ part in the operation. The Controller attempted to undo its effect by issuing a further memorandum on the evening of 20 August, asking the newspapers to “bear in mind that by far the biggest proportion of the troops engaged were Canadian forces”; but the damage had been done.
The interest of the Canadian people in the raid was such that General McNaughton was asked to arrange for the preparation of “some authoritative statement in the form of a White Paper or some similar document” which would afford a detailed picture of the operation. A lengthy account was accordingly drafted and was released by the Minister of National Defence on 18 September.33 Although revision carried out to meet the security requirements of Combined Operations Headquarters had rendered it rather less informative, it did something to satisfy the natural desire of the public for authentic facts.†
†This “white paper” was drafted by the present writer. It contained some errors, partly resulting from the fact that there had not yet been time to digest fully the voluminous records of the operation, partly from the incompleteness at that date of our knowledge of events on shore. Perhaps the worst mistake was the statement that the radar station was destroyed. This was carried over from the original COHQ communiqué. The destruction of the station was, in fact, reported during the raid and recorded in operations logs,34 biut the report was inaccurate.
Some months after Dieppe an American correspondent who had been present in the headquarters ship published a book describing the raid. Although he had of course had no knowledge of the planning, he commented upon it freely, and asserted with particular assurance that the use of Canadian troops was the result of General McNaughton’s insistence.* He implied, moreover, that the Canadians were responsible for altering a more intelligent plan of attack drawn up by Combined Operations Headquarters and inserting in it the frontal assault.35 How inaccurate these statements were the reader of the foregoing pages knows. McNaughton was invited by National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa to contribute to “a corrective statement” refuting them. He declined to do so on the ground that this would prejudice future Canadian relations with the British authorities, particularly the Chief of Combined Operations, would “be interpreted as seeking to shift responsibility from us to them”, and would give valuable information to the enemy.36 It was a sound and patriotic decision, but one which in the end probably did General McNaughton himself considerable harm.
The immediate consequences of the operation within the Canadian Army Overseas, and in Canada, merit examination. There is no doubt whatever that in the Army it produced a new sense of pride. After nearly three years of disappointment and frustration, it had been demonstrated, it seemed, that this Canadian Army could fight in the manner of that of 1914–18, and the bad luck and the losses did not diminish the confidence thus engendered. Those who visited the wounded in hospitals were deeply moved by their spirit. The censors who read the letters written by soldiers directly after the raid were impressed by the “great uplift in morale” which they reflected. A special report on these letters ran in part:
The morale of all appears very good. Regrets are not shown, but just enthusiasm, satisfaction and pride in achievement, and the Canadians’ share in the raid. ... Faith in their officers is freely expressed in many letters ... Generally the raid has had a stimulating effect on the Canadians, in spite of the losses. ...
The censors nevertheless noted, “There is evidence of a more realistic tone, which surmises much heavy fighting in the future, and the probable cost of this is faced soberly”. The experience had led Canadian soldiers to take a more serious view of the question of their own employment. There would be less demand now for immediate assault upon the Germans in the west; the magnitude of such an enterprise was more clearly apparent than before, as shore. Perhaps the worst mistake was the statement that the radar station was destroyed. This was carried over from the original COHQ communiqué. The destruction of the station was, in fact, reported during the raid and recorded in operations logs,34 but the report was inaccurate.
* It seems just possible that this is a garbled second-hand reminiscence of General Crerar’s discussion with Admiral Mountbatten early in the spring (above, page 308).
was the need for the most detailed preparation, the most careful training, the most exacting discipline.
In Canada the effects were different. Soldiers and civilians look at such things from widely separated points of view. Canadian civilians, particularly those who had lost relatives, saw only the casualty lists and the failure. It was quite impossible, without helping the enemy, to make any announcement of the actual lessons learned; and as the raid was followed by another long period of inactivity by the Canadian forces, the public mind continued to dwell upon it for months, and comment, frequently very ill-informed, continued in the press and elsewhere. Although, as has been made apparent, the responsibility for the tactical plan was widely distributed, and the Canadian share was limited, it was declared in at least one respectable publication37 that the project of a raid on Dieppe and the plan for it were almost exclusively the work of Canadian officers and proved the bankruptcy of Canadian generalship; and there can be little doubt that such criticism did something to undermine the hitherto unassailable prestige of General McNaughton with the public.
The Shackling of Prisoners
The raid had one particularly unpleasant aftermath: the shackling of prisoners on both sides.
It was a practice of the British Special Service Brigade to tie prisoners taken during raids,38 and this practice was extended to the larger Dieppe operation. The “Intelligence Plan” included in the Detailed Military Plan contained the following passage: “Wherever possible, prisoners’ hands will be tied to prevent destruction of their documents”. General Roberts states that he argued this point with the Chief of Combined Operations and had opposed including this instruction. On 2 September the Germans, as a result of the capture of it, threatened to place in chains all the prisoners taken at Dieppe. The War Office then announced that if an order for tying prisoners was found to have been issued as stated, it would be “cancelled”. On 3 September the Germans cancelled the proposed reprisals. On 7 October, however, they issued a second order, stated to be the result of further investigation concerning Dieppe and of an incident at Sark on 4 October, when German prisoners taken in a very minor raid were reported to have been tied. British and Canadian prisoners in Germany were tied on 8 October; later, handcuffs replaced the ropes.39
On the same date the British War Cabinet decided to undertake reprisals against an equivalent number of German prisoners and the Canadian Government was asked to agree and cooperate. There had been no consultation with Canada before the decision, and the Canadian Government,
moreover, doubted its wisdom; it nevertheless acquiesced, from a desire to avoid public differences with the United Kingdom. On 10 October, accordingly, a number of German prisoners were handcuffed in the United Kingdom and in Canada.40 There was resistance in certain Canadian camps; in Camp 30, at Bowmanville, Ontario, the guard had to fire a few shots, although nobody was killed.41 This episode was rather exaggerated in some press reports.42
The situation arising out of these mutual reprisals was so unpleasant that the British and Canadian governments decided to end the shackling in their camps in the hope that the Germans would take similar action. The German prisoners were accordingly unshackled on 12 December 1942, but no reciprocal action by the enemy followed. It appeared that he was still demanding guarantees against the issuance of further orders of the type he objected to. After discussion between the United Kingdom and Canada, the former issued an Army Council Instruction and the latter a Canadian Army Routine Order forbidding the binding of prisoners of war except in case of operational necessity on the field of battle.43 The Germans objected to this reservation, and the Canadian and British prisoners remained shackled until 22 November 1943, when, following conversations between Dr. Burckhardt of the International Red Cross Committee and the German authorities, the latter, without formally rescinding the order, stopped all shackling. In the prisoners’ interest, and with a view to giving the Germans no excuse for further reprisals, no publicity was given to this matter in Britain or Canada.44
The shackling brought additional discomfort to our prisoners in German hands, whose lot was unpleasant enough without this. After a period of misery, however, the shackling – perhaps under the influence of Allied victories – fortunately tended to become, in the words of one Canadian officer, largely “a farce”. At one camp at least (Oflag VIIB at Eichstatt, where the majority of Canadian officers captured at Dieppe were confined), the handcuffs came to be worn, in practice, only twice a day, on “check-parades”; and as long as the prisoners observed the conventions at these times the Germans made no further difficulty.45
Some Comments on the Operation
The raid on Dieppe was one of the most hotly-discussed operations of the war. Tactically, it was an almost complete failure, for we suffered extremely heavy losses and attained few of our objectives. After the Normandy landings of 6 June 1944, however, it appeared in a new perspective. Historically, it is in the light of that later day that it must be judged; but before attempting to relate the raid to those events it is proper to attempt some commentary upon the tactical failure.
In this connection, the German critiques quoted above are of much interest. The enemy was astonished that, in spite of our generally accurate knowledge of his defences, we attempted an assault on an area strong both by nature and by art, with weapons which he considered inadequate to the task. His comments chiefly emphasized the insufficiency of the support given the assaulting infantry. (The 81st Corps Combat Report observed, “A few light assault guns would probably have been more use to the British in their attack, than the tanks”.) Surveying the operation over a decade later, this may be bracketed with the frontal attack as the least explicable elements in our planning. It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that from the beginning the planners underrated the influence of topography and of the enemy’s strong defences in the Dieppe area.
Reviewing the successive changes in the plan of attack, one returns again and again to the decision, originally taken at the meeting of 5 June, over which General Montgomery presided, to eliminate the attack by heavy bombers. This decision, recommended in the first instance by the Air Force Commander and concurred in by the Military Force Commander, was supported by arguments of some strength (above, pages 336–7, 344). It must be remembered that General Roberts was told that the RAF night bombers were quite incapable of hitting with accuracy such a small target as the buildings fronting the sea at Dieppe;46 and the United States day bomber force in the United Kingdom was still in its infancy (it made its first small raid two days before the Dieppe operation). But the decision removed from the plan the one element of really heavy support contained in it. The assault as a result was backed by nothing more powerful than 4-inch guns and Boston bombers. Surprise, rather than striking power, was the chief reliance in this operation; yet no surprise could be hoped for in the frontal attack, which was to go in half an hour later than those on the flanks.
The heavy air support having been removed from the plan, the question arises, why was heavy naval support not substituted? After the operation, the Naval Force Commander reported that he was satisfied that a capital ship could have operated in the Dieppe area during the first two or three hours of the operation without undue risk, and would probably have turned the tide ashore in our favour. It may seem strange that the planners never asked for an old battleship to provide fire support, but the fact is that it was so well known that Admiralty policy at this period was opposed to risking capital ships in the narrow waters of the Channel that it was considered useless to make the request.* Sir Frederick Morgan has described “the explosion that
* General Roberts pressed, without success, for a larger vessel than a destroyer as headquarters ship. Capt. Hughes-Hallett put forward the suggestion that a dozen heavy bombers might be kept in the air “on call” somewhere about peachy Head, to provide immediate support if required. The Air Force, however, argued that this was impracticable; the bombers would inevitably be shot down.47
shattered the cloistral calm of the Chiefs of Staff Committee Room” when he suggested employing one or two capital ships in the Channel in August of 1943.48 The opposition presumably would have been even stronger a year earlier.
The plan, then, it would seem was unduly optimistic; and it may be asked how it could happen that in the circumstances action was not taken either to increase the support or (since the higher authorities could not be convinced of the need for this) to recommend cancellation of the operation. The writer ventures to suggest that part of the explanation, at least, is found in the procedure by which the plan was made. The reader will have observed how very diffused was the responsibility for it. This was undoubtedly a bad feature, although some dispersion of responsibility is unavoidable in operations involving all three fighting services. In the present case, Combined Operations Headquarters was itself an additional element; while on the Army side GHQ Home Forces and Headquarters South Eastern Command also exerted influence in the early and most important stages. Subsequently, the headquarters of First Canadian Army and 1st Canadian Corps became factors. The three Force Commanders inherited a plan already made and were concerned mainly with detail, although they shared the responsibility for the basic decision to eliminate the bomber attack. So far as any one individual had general authority over the operation, it was the Chief of Combined Operations, Lord Louis Mountbatten; but obviously even his powers were circumscribed. The fact is that the Dieppe plan was the work of a large and somewhat indefinitely composed committee, whose composition, moreover, changed steadily as the planning proceeded. A simpler organization and a greater concentration of responsibility would have been more likely to result in a sound plan. There were a great many cooks, and this probably had much to do with spoiling the broth. The episode may be said to demonstrate the force of an old maxim of the Staff Colleges: The plan of an operation should be made by the same person who is to execute it. In a large combined operation this is not an easy rule to enforce; but the closer one comes to it, the more likely the plan is to be a good one.
The operation was of course most closely analyzed, and in October 1942 Combined Operations Headquarters produced a bulky report incorporating the official “lessons learned”.49 At least the most important of these should be summarized here.
COHQ used capital letters and italics to emphasize the point considered of paramount significance: “The Lesson of Greatest Importance is the need for overwhelming fire support, including close support, during the initial stages of the attack.” The support should be provided, it was recommended, “by heavy and medium Naval bombardment, by air action, by special vessels or craft working close inshore, and by using the fire power of the assaulting troops while still sea-borne”. It was indicated that “special close-support
craft, which should be gun-boats or some form of mobile fort” did not exist and required to be developed.
On the naval side, what was considered the most important lesson was stated as follows: “The necessity for the formation of permanent naval assault forces with a coherence comparable to that of any other first line fighting formations. Army formations intended for amphibious assaults must without question be trained in close cooperation with such naval assault forces.” Developing this, the report remarked, “The need for discipline, morale, tactical integration and flexibility and professional competence are not disputed in the case of troops, war vessels and air formations. Precisely the same applies to assault ships and craft.” (The Naval Force Commander had reported that while the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve crews by whom the light naval forces engaged were “almost entirely” manned had “acquitted themselves well”, nevertheless “the small leavening of experienced officers of the Royal Navy who were employed in positions of control was an important factor in the results achieved”.)50
Another basic lesson was “The necessity for flexibility in the military plan and its execution”. This was essential, “in order to enable the Commander to apply force where force has already succeeded”; and it was further stated as desirable that only the minimum force required for success should be put into the assault, and the maximum force possible retained as a reserve to exploit success where achieved. General Roberts had emphasized this in his own report. But the COHQ report added, “It must be recorded, however, that with the state of training of the landing craft crews which prevailed at the time of the Dieppe operation, a flexible military plan could not have been put into execution.”
The narrative presented above has made it amply evident that the Force Commanders were never armed with the information concerning the progress of the operation which alone could enable them to exercise proper direction and commit the available reserves in an effective manner. It was natural, therefore, that it was noted as one of the lessons that “the control and communication arrangements should be of the highest standard”. The need for improvement in this respect was certainly fundamental.
One other basic lesson was thus stated: “Unless means for the provision of overwhelming close support are available, assaults should be planned to develop round the flanks of a strongly defended locality rather than frontally against it.”
In addition to these major lessons, other more specialized and technical ones were listed. Among these were the. following: Tanks should not be landed until the anti-tank defences have been destroyed or cleared; a far higher standard of aircraft recognition is essential, in the Navy and the Army alike; the importance and necessity of using smoke cannot be over-emphasized; and “some form of light or self-propelled artillery” must be provided once
an assault has got across the landing place and is making progress inland.
Such, in summary, were the official lessons. Two others, not specifically stated in the official document, decidedly affected our later planning.51 First, it had been made pretty clear that the classical plan of securing a beach by landing infantry at dawn was not practicable in the face of well-organized defences. A new technique of landing and support was required, and largely on the basis of the Dieppe experience it was developed before the Normandy assault of 1944. Secondly, it had been shown that the military plan in such operations must not depend upon precise timing of the landings. Although a high general standard of precision was attained at Dieppe, we have seen that in at least two cases relatively slight inaccuracies in timing had most serious results. This possibility was avoided in planning the 1944 assault.
The report stated frankly that not all the lessons enumerated in it were new. This was obvious, for instance, with respect to attacking strong positions from the flanks rather than frontally. We have seen (above, page 352) that the Germans had assumed that frontal attack was unlikely to be attempted. Nevertheless, as we have also seen (above, page 328), the decision to make the frontal attack at Dieppe had not been taken without thought, and reasons of some force were adduced in support of it.
Some of the other lessons were new, and yet it had not been necessary to attack Dieppe in order to learn them. This was notably the case with the most important naval lesson, the necessity for forming permanent assault forces. This had in fact been deduced by Captain Hughes-Hallett from the training for Operation RUTTER and had been reported by him before the raid actually took place.52 It is nevertheless the case that such recommendations acquire greatly increased force from the experience of action. Had it not been reinforced by the events of 19 August, Hughes-Hallett’s recommendation might well have been lost sight of.
The conclusions outlined above certainly do not exhaust the effects of the Dieppe operation on the later course of the war. Account should also be taken of its influence on Allied leaders’ thinking upon the problem of assault on German-held Europe. In the nature of things this cannot be precisely measured. Yet it is evident that an optimistic appreciation of the problem which was certainly not justified by the facts was current before Dieppe. We have noted (above, page 319) that American officers were ready, and even anxious to make a major cross-Channel attack in 1942; and although the British strategists resisted this idea, the history of the Dieppe planning would indicate that British officers also under-rated the difficulties. In 1944 General Crerar said:53
Until the evidence of Dieppe proved otherwise, it had been the opinion in highest command and staff circles in this country that an assault against a heavily defended coast could be carried out on the basis of securing tactical surprise, and without dependence on overwhelming fire support, in the critical phases of closing
the beaches and overrunning the beach defences... Although at the time the heavy cost to Canada, and the non-success of the Dieppe operation seemed hard to bear, I believe that when this war is examined in proper perspective, it will be seen that the sobering influence of that operation on existing Allied strategical conceptions, with the enforced realization by the Allied Governments of the lengthy and tremendous preparations necessary before invasion could be attempted, was a Canadian contribution of the greatest significance to final victory.
The Dieppe plan represented in fact a very fair sample of the ideas on the tactics of major assault operations that were held on high Allied military levels in England in the days before 19 August 1942. The Combined Commanders’ plan of 31 July for Operation SLEDGEHAMMER, the assault intended to seize and hold a bridgehead including Le Havre, in the event of a break in German morale (above, page 322), lays great emphasis on the importance of surprise and none at all upon naval or air bombardment in support of the assault.54 No capital ships or other large naval vessels were scheduled as “required in Portsmouth Command” for the operation; the only major units so listed were two antiaircraft cruisers, 16 “Hunt” destroyers, six Fleet destroyers, and four “V” Class destroyers. It is not clear how many of these were to be used in the actual assault. It was clearly not intended to use heavy bombers in preparation for the assault, although it was hoped to deliver powerful raids on objectives selected to interfere with enemy activity on D Day. This plan was signed by General Paget, Air Chief Marshal Douglas, General Eisenhower and Admiral Ramsay.
The Combined Commanders’ draft plan for WETBOB (the operation intended to provide a permanent foothold in the Cherbourg peninsula in the autumn of 1942, above, page 322) is very similar;55 but it notes specifically that direct naval covering fire during the assault can only be provided by medium support landing craft “of which not more than 12 will be available”, motor gunboats, and such “older destroyers, Locust type gunboats or similar vessels as the Admiralty may be able to make available”. Bombardment of coastal batteries by Fleet destroyers and modern cruisers was mentioned as a possibility “if no other means were available”; and again there was no indication of an intention of using heavy air support in connection with the actual assault. The main bomber effort was to be used against aerodromes and suitable “focal points for delaying the movement of reinforcements”. The schedule of naval forces “required in Portsmouth Command” was the same as for SLEDGEHAMMER.
These papers serve to document General Crerar’s statement. It is quite clear that the senior British and United States commanders concerned with planning the cross-Channel attack in 1942 were prepared to attempt a major assault on the Continent on the basis of the hope of tactical surprise acid without providing heavy naval and air bombardment to help overcome the defences. It is equally clear that these optimistic tactical conceptions were
dissipated with the gun-smoke of Operation JUBILEE; no more was heard of them after that day on the Dieppe beaches.
Dieppe was the first major amphibious assault attempted by the Allies in the European theatre during this war,* and the only such assault directed against the fortified coast of North-West Europe before the invasion in June 1944. Between Dieppe and the Normandy D Day many amphibious operations took place in other theatres, and all contributed lessons. It is doubtful, however, whether any other operation had as much influence as Dieppe upon the Normandy planning. A full analysis of that influence would require a chapter to itself, but a comparison of the Dieppe and Normandy assault plans, combined with reference to the Dieppe “lessons” which have been enumerated, should prove enlightening.
The lesson of “the need for overwhelming fire support” had been very fully learned. For the puny bombardment by four destroyers which covered the Dieppe frontal attack, the 1944 plan substituted the fire of a tremendous naval force including five battleships, two monitors and 19 cruisers; this was the “heavy and medium Naval bombardment” recommended after Dieppe. The “special vessels or craft working close inshore” were also in evidence. New support craft of many types had been developed since Dieppe in accordance with the recommendations then made; notable among them were the LCG (gun landing craft) and the LCT(R), or rocket bombardment ship.
The preparatory “air action” was also strikingly different from that at Dieppe. In place of the brief attack by cannon-firing Hurricanes, we have the combined efforts of the British and American heavy bomber forces, dropping more than 11,000 tons of bombs in twenty-four hours; and this was supplemented by great blows by the tactical air forces. For the Normandy assault, means were duly found also of “using the fire power of the assaulting troops while still seaborne”. We see the Army helping to clear the way for its own landing with self-propelled artillery firing from tank landing craft; and these guns were available to assist on shore in the early phases of the attack, likewise in accordance with the Dieppe recommendations.
New assault devices were available in June 1944 which had not existed in August 1942; and many of them were products, in part at least, of the Dieppe experience. Notable among these was the AVRE (Assault Vehicle, Royal Engineers), designed to provide armoured cover for men engaged in engineer demolition tasks such as had been frustrated by German fire at
* United States Marines had landed on Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands on 7 August, twelve days before Dieppe. British troops had landed on Madagascar on 5 May The Narvik landings in May 1940 were relatively minor affairs.
Dieppe.* The amphibious tank was another specialized device, not however stemming quite so directly from the experience of the raid.
The recommendation for the formation of “permanent naval assault forces”, and for training Army assault formations in close cooperation with them, was carried out and had the happiest results in the Normandy assault. In fact, the Dieppe assault force was itself kept in existence as Force “J” (JUBILEE), and became an experimental laboratory for the development of combined operations technique. This force, which had landed the 2nd Canadian Division at Dieppe, subsequently landed the 3rd Canadian Division on the Normandy D Day; and the long and intimate association of Force “J” with the Division during training paid a great dividend.
Finally, Dieppe killed the always more than dubious idea of frontal attack on a major fortified port, and at least produced grave doubts as to the possibility of the immediate acquisition of such a port by an assaulting force. British amphibious planners accordingly were forced to a more detailed examination of the possibilities of supporting a great invasion operation by maintenance over open beaches. One of the answers to this problem was the conception of the prefabricated harbour or “Mulberry”.
The application of the Dieppe lessons will be further studied in the volume of this History dealing with the North-West Europe campaign. Enough has been said, however, to establish the relationship of the two operations. The casualties sustained in the Dieppe raid were part of the price paid for the knowledge that enabled the great enterprise of 1944 to be carried out at a cost in blood smaller than its planners ventured to hope for.
The Influence of Dieppe on German Thinking
We have made it clear that the Germans studied the Dieppe operation with scarcely less care than ourselves. It is worthwhile to attempt to evaluate the lessons which they drew and their influence upon their subsequent thought and action.
The events of 19 August 1942 tended to confirm the Germans in the belief that any attempt at invasion could be destroyed on or near the beaches. Their efforts, they decided, should be concentrated upon preventing landings
* Lt. Col. G. C. Reeves, head of the Special Devices Branch of the Tank Design Department of the British Ministry of Supply, accompanied the Calgary Regiment on the raid. On returning to London he posed to his staff the problem of “developing devices to enable obstacles to be surmounted by a tank or be destroyed by a tank crew without them being exposed to enemy fire”. A Canadian officer attached to the Tank Design Department, Lieut., later Major, J. J. Denovan, RCE, produced by 27 August (eight days after the raid) drawings of an engineer tank. Although the Special Devices Branch was not allowed to foster the project directly, some facilities were given to Denovan to continue it “unofficially”; he borrowed others, including a Churchill tank.56 On 12 May 1953 the United Kingdom Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors recommended an award of £1500 to Major Denovan in connection with the development of the Assault Vehicle Royal Engineers.
and particularly those of armour, and upon destroying any force that might succeed in landing before it could make progress inland. These typically Hitlerian ideas had appeared to some extent in the Führer’s directive of 23 March (above, page 349). They were repeated by Field Marshal von Rundstedt in a communication to his Armies dated 25 August, six days after Dieppe:
It must be the aim of our operations to destroy the enemy on the very day of his landing.
To that effect, and further to the measures that have been taken by the Army and Corps Commanders in respect of their own reserves, I have disposed my motorized Army Group Reserves in such a manner that, on most of the coastal front, one motorized formation at least will be able to intervene on the first day.
Eleven months later Hitler stated the same view very specifically during his conference with Mussolini at Feltre: “... at Dieppe ... the attack was broken up by the most advanced regiment. That regiment accomplished more than could have been accomplished later by three entire divisions. We must break up similar attempts before the enemy can set foot on land.”57
We have shown that Hitler ordered the creation of an Atlantic wall a few days before the raid. It cannot therefore be said that the latter was responsible for this concept, which continued to dominate German policy down to the invasion of 1944. It appears, however, that Dieppe strengthened Hitler’s resolution and confirmed him in the belief that the Atlantic Wall idea was sound: On this same 25 August the Commander-in-Chief West issued an order58 on development of Channel and Atlantic defences. This ran in part:
The Führer has ordered: During the winter half-year 1942–43 the coastal defences in the area of C-in-C West are to be strengthened by using all forces and means for the construction of permanent fortifications according to the principles employed in the West Wall. This is to be done in such a manner as to make any attack from the air, sea or land seem hopeless, and to create a fortress which cannot be taken either frontally or from the rear. Towards this end 15,000 fortifications of a permanent nature are to be built in the area of C-in-C West during the winter half-year 1942–43.
Hitler’s own views on the Atlantic Wall and Dieppe are well documented. On 29 September 1942 he delivered a three-hour oration on these subjects at the Reichschancellery in the presence of Goring and Rundstedt.59 He emphasized that France was the Allies’ most likely choice for a landing. He said, “Above all I am grateful to the British for having confirmed my views by their various landing operations, and for saving me from appearing as a visionary before those who are forever saying: ‘Where then are the British going to appear? Here on the coast there is definitely nothing wrong; we go swimming every day and we have never seen one yet.’ “ His specific comments on Dieppe are worth quoting:
The Führer describes the Dieppe operation as highly instructive (äusserst lehrreich) for both sides. In particular he stresses the point that, regarding the failure of the operation, this time both sides should avoid wrong conclusions
contrary too it previous occasion in military history. The British should not label such operations as hopeless, and we should not underestimate the danger. As a parallel in military history, the Führer examined the tank battle at Cambrai in the [First] World War in some detail. ... After the failure of this operation wrong conclusions were drawn by both sides. The British threw all blame on the shortcomings in technical and fighting qualities of the recently invented tanks. ... The erroneous conclusion reached in Germany ... was: “The tank is nothing but a bogey to frighten children with. ...”
In this war, a novelty analogous to the use of tanks at Cambrai in the [First] World War is the first large-scale and unsuccessful landing operation at Dieppe. As it should never be assumed that the enemy will draw wrong conclusions therefrom, so we too should avoid the mistake of thinking that the British have realized that even now they can do nothing against our coastal defence. The enemy will not give up the idea of forming a Second Front, for he knows that it is definitely his only remaining chance of achieving victory. And so I regard it as my task to begin immediately doing everything humanly possible (alles nur menschenmögliche) to increase the defence potential of the coastal area.
The great lesson drawn by Hitler from the Dieppe raid was evidently the desirability of developing a belt of fortifications along the French coast. Such was, in part at least, the origin of the elaborate and yet ineffective system of defence which we encountered in Lower Normandy in 1944: a thin fortified line along the shore, entirely lacking in “depth”, incapable of defeating a really powerfully-supported attack, and offering no means of resistance once the attack had penetrated beyond the beaches.
At the time when Dieppe was raided, we have seen, the Allies were preparing for a large-scale invasion of French North Africa, which was actually carried out on 8 November 1942. This operation took the enemy entirely by surprise, and it is interesting to speculate on how far Dieppe may have contributed to focussing German attention upon the French coast during the late summer and autumn of 1942, and thereby to the success of the North African enterprise.
That Hitler’s own eyes were fixed upon France after Dieppe is suggested by the conference of 29 September just described. This impression is further strengthened by an examination of German measures in France during the period between the raid and the launching of Operation TORCH in November. As we have seen, the area of the Commander-in-Chief West had been reinforced during the weeks before Dieppe, some of the most formidable troops in the German Army being collected there. After the raid, as mentioned above, the dispositions of the troops in the area were somewhat altered, the C-in-C’s mobile reserves being moved closer to the coast.
As D Day for the Allied operation in Africa drew nearer, the Germans became more, not less, interested in the Channel coast. About the end of August Hitler decided to move seven reserve divisions from Germany to the West.60 Early in September information concerning British concentrations in the Isle of Wight and the south of England led him to believe that an Allied landing in the Caen–Cherbourg area was probable, and he ordered one of his
best formations, the 7th Flieger Division, to move forward from its station south-west of Falaise to the area east of St. Lo, “to be available on shortest notice for commitment between Caen and Cherbourg”. The matter was treated as most urgent; the order,61 issued on 4 September, directed that “strong combat elements must be in the new area” by the following morning. When, late in September, this division was moved to Russia, it was replaced in the St. Lo region by portions of the two crack S.S. divisions “Adolf Hitler” and “Das Reich”.62 On 9 October further urgent orders were issued as the result of more reports about imminent landings. Hitler now ordered the whole of the two S.S. divisions to be concentrated in the areas of St. Lo and Mezidon, and this move was very rapidly carried out. At the same time the 165th Reserve Infantry Division was set up as a special operational reserve in the Cherbourg area “to defend the land front of the harbour strongpoints”, and the C-in-C West’s artillery reserve was ordered to move “as soon as possible to an area permitting quickest commitment on Norman as well as Breton peninsulas”.63 Simultaneously a heavy “build-up” took place on the Demarcation Line separating Occupied from Unoccupied France,*
* The force in the area of the C-in-C West, from the Dutch-German border to the Pyrenees, and including this interior region along the Demarcation Line, increased from 33 regular and 3 reserve divisions on 15 August (four days before Dieppe) to 40 regular and 12 reserve divisions on 4 November (four days before the North African landings). On 16 June there had been only 26 regular and 3 reserve divisions.64 It might be dangerous, however, to take these statistics at quite their full face value in terms merely of the menace to the West. At this period France was a rest and training area for German formations exhausted in Russia or being prepared for service there, and frequently movements to or from France were connected with developments in that distant theatre. The Eastern Front was Germany’s main concern, the great bulk of her army was concentrated there, and Rundstedt clearly considered the forces at his disposal in the West inadequate to their prospective tasks. His weekly appreciation dated 28 September, for instance, remarks pointedly that the defence potential of Normandy after the withdrawal of the 7th Flieger Division “is being maintained to a limited degree by stop-gap measures”.65
a number of the newly-arrived reserve divisions being used here.66
It seems clear that during the autumn the German High Command – or, at any rate, Hitler – became increasingly convinced that a major Allied invasion enterprise was imminent in Lower Normandy, and that a considerable force of elite troops was concentrated in this area to meet it. It seems clear too that the Germans intended to invade Unoccupied France as soon as any landing on the Channel coast took place, and made preparations accordingly. Their concentration remained in the Caen area until after 8 November, when the Allied offensive duly materialized, not in Normandy but in North Africa. Although completely deceived as to our intentions, the Germans were of course ready to occupy Southern France, and this operation (ANTON) was put in train at once.
It is interesting and rather amusing to note that in the autumn of 1942, while the Allies were preparing to land in North Africa, the Germans were watching fixedly those beaches in Lower Normandy where we actually landed
in June 1944;* but when we did deliver our great blow in Normandy the Germans’ main attention was focussed not upon that area but upon the Pas de Calais.
* They had however received some reports suggesting action in Africa. Rundstedt’s weekly appreciation dated 5 October remarks, “agents’ reports deal increasingly with forthcoming Allied operations against West Africa, the groups of islands in the Atlantic and Morocco. Intentions for a large scale operation in the area of C-in-C West can be read only from one agent’s report, but that one is rather detailed.”67
Speaking in the British House of Commons on 11 November 1942, Mr. Churchill observed that the Allied planners had decided in July “to hold the enemy on the French shore, and to strike at his Southern flank in the Mediterranean through North Africa”. We have seen that the record affords no reason for believing that the revived enterprise against Dieppe was designed by the Anglo-American staffs as cover for Operation TORCH. Nevertheless, there does seem some reason to believe that in practice it helped to fix the enemy’s attention on “the French shore” and divert it from the area which was, for the moment, our real objective. In this as in some other respects, Operation JUBILEE paid the Allies a dividend which was no part of the calculations of those who planned it.
Problems of Strategic Employment, 1942–1943
Dieppe was followed by another long period of inaction for the Canadian troops in the United Kingdom. During this period, however, there was constant examination of strategic tasks in which they might be engaged, and some account of these matters is relevant here.
One of these large projects was going forward concurrently with preparations for the Dieppe enterprise. It was Operation JUPITER, a plan for the seizure of the aerodromes in Northern Norway from which crippling attacks were being delivered upon the Anglo-American convoys carrying supplies to Russia. Mr. Churchill believed that about 70 German bombers and 100 fighters, based on two airfields guarded by 10,000 to 12,000 enemy troops, were the whole menace to this vital supply route and all that prevented Allied entry into Norway. He considered that a successful invasion of this area might initiate a gradual southward advance, “unrolling the Nazi map of Europe from the top”, and was very anxious indeed to see this operation undertaken. He has explained that his own strategic programme for the year 1942 was the invasion of French North Africa combined with this invasion of Northern Norway.68
The British Chiefs of Staff rejected the Prime Minister’s JUPITER plan as being “impracticable at the present time”. Mr. Churchill, unwilling to accept this refusal, asked that the project be reviewed by a new and unprejudiced mind. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, suggested General
McNaughton; and on 9 July 1942 the Canadian general was invited to meet the Chiefs of Staff, who told him that the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet wished him to review Operation JUPITER. Subsequently he had an interview with Mr. Churchill. After informing his own government, McNaughton set up a special staff, headed by Brigadier G. G. Simonds, to assist him in examining the project, and during the rest of July it was studied intensively.69
On 4 August McNaughton sent his review to the British Chiefs of Staff.70 It did not paint a hopeful picture. It pointed out that there was little possibility of surprise, and that success would depend on a combination of weather conditions against which the odds would be about six to one in December, the month proposed for the attack. The general conclusion was:
The operation is an extremely hazardous one. With good fortune quick and decisive successes might be gained – on the contrary, the result might be a military disaster of the first magnitude. In view of the size of the forces involved it is considered that the risks would only be acceptable if politically the results to he achieved were judged to be of the highest importance.
The Chiefs of Staff fully agreed with these opinions; but Mr. Churchill was still unwilling to admit defeat. He invited McNaughton to Chequers on 19 September, argued strongly for the plan, and suggested that the Canadian might undertake a mission to Moscow to discuss the operation with the Russians. McNaughton reported this to Ottawa.71 On 22 September, after discussions with the Chiefs of Staff, Mr. Churchill cabled Mr. King asking authority to propose McNaughton’s name to Stalin. He observed, “There will be no question of any Canadian commitment.”72 However, it had been clear to the Canadians throughout that if the operation were undertaken they would probably be expected to do it, and in fact Churchill had written to the Chiefs of Staff on 8 July, “Climate proclaims that the Canadian Army should undertake this task, if it is thought feasible.” On 22 September also Mr. Churchill telegraphed to President Roosevelt the text of a telegram which he wished to send to Stalin suggesting the McNaughton mission.73
General McNaughton himself had recommended an affirmative reply to Churchill’s request, but had added the comment that in spite of the statement that no commitment was specified, if a practical plan was evolved, “then we are certain to be asked to participate”.74 In Ottawa the question was discussed by the War Committee of the Cabinet on 23 September, and Mr. King advised Mr. Churchill thereafter that the Canadian Government considered it undesirable that McNaughton should head such a mission. It was thought that it might be embarrassing for him to have to undertake a double responsibility as adviser to both the Canadian Government and the United Kingdom authorities; moreover, his selection for a mission to Moscow might lead the enemy to speculate that precisely some such operation as JUPITER was in prospect. The Canadian Government also suggested that it was important that the United States be consulted about the project. (This,
of course, had already been done). Mr. King remarked that his government’s misgivings would not be so strong if McNaughton were to be a member, though not the head, of a combined mission upon which both the United Kingdom and the United States were represented.75 Following another telegram from Mr. Churchill, the matter was again considered by the Canadian War Committee on 25 September, but the conclusion remained the same. King telegraphed to Churchill that to have McNaughton undertake such a mission “without a realistic plan in which he himself has confidence [and] offering at least a reasonable prospect of success upon which military discussions could be based” would be to risk consequences prejudicial to relations with Russia as well as to McNaughton’s own future usefulness.76
JUPITER was now becoming a lost cause. Sir Winston Churchill has observed that he “did not receive much positive support” for it.77 It is evident that both the British Chiefs of Staff and the Canadian authorities had the gravest doubts about the project; but Sir Winston, writing long after the war, still affirms his allegiance to it.
On 17 October 1942 General Brooke mentioned to General McNaughton another possible operation in which ‘his Army might play a part. It was possible that Spain might be forced into the war as an active partner of Germany, or compelled to allow German forces to use bases on Spanish soil. In that event, the use of Gibraltar would almost certainly be denied to the Royal Navy, and an alternative base would be required. One possible alternative was found in the Canary Islands, and it was desirable to prepare an operation there accordingly. This operation, in the event of its becoming necessary, Brooke now offered the Canadian Army. McNaughton recorded him as saying that this offer grew out of a request for active employment for the Army presented by the Canadian Minister of National Defence to Mr. Churchill and Sir James Grigg (Secretary of State for War) in an interview on 15 October. McNaughton replied* that he would like to study the outline plan; if he considered it a practicable military operation, he would then seek the necessary authority from his Government.78 After examining an appreciation drawn up by the British Joint Planning Staff, he sent to Ottawa on 18 October a telegram79 requesting authority to undertake the operation. The War Committee considered it on 21 October, and on the 22nd the Chief of the General Staff replied giving the required authority, subject to McNaughton’s being satisfied of the operation’s “military feasibility and
* In his memorandum of the interview written the next day, General McNaughton wrote: “I... stated that what we desired, and I was sure this was the view of the Government and people of Canada also, was that Cdn Army should be so used as to make the maximum contribution of which it was capable; we would act in whole or in part and would give most careful consideration to any project; we could not act without the approval of our Government except as regards Home Defence and raids on the Continent of Europe of limited duration. ... We were not particularly concerned with fighting for its own sake or glamour, nor did I think that a prolonged wait for a proper opportunity to strike would have an adverse effect on morale. Our officers and men were far too sensible.”
value compared with risks involved” and of the adequacy of resources and arrangements for transport and support.80 The next day McNaughton advised the CIGS, naming General Crerar as commander of the Canadian land forces involved, which were to comprise the required elements of Headquarters 1st Canadian Corps, the 1st and 3rd Canadian Divisions, and such other detachments and units as might be necessary and available.81
The proposal for an operation against the Canaries was not new. As Sir Winston Churchill has made clear, the British authorities had made preparations to execute it in 1940, and in fact for a long period they kept a considerable expeditionary force with transports ready to move on a few days’ notice.82 The project, known as PILGRIM, had been kept alive throughout 1941.83 It was now to be known as TONIC.
To assist General Crerar a Canadian Planning Staff was set up in a building near the War Office and work began under a formal directive issued to him, by General McNaughton on 4 November.84 However, there were many difficulties. The designated Naval Force Commander, Rear Admiral L. H. K. Hamilton, was constantly absent at sea on other duties (General Crerar and members of his staff flew to Scapa Flow and worked for some days with the Admiral in his flagship); and as a result of the demands of the North African expedition Combined Operations Headquarters was unable to provide all the combined training facilities which the Canadian formations required.85 On 19 December 1942 the British Chiefs of Staff virtually decided to shelve TONIC, as it appeared that a German move into Spain was improbable for the present; and Crerar was instructed merely to round off his paper planning, which he proceeded to do.86 Thus one more project that had seemed to offer the Canadians a prospect of important action had come to nothing.
On the last day of 1942 the CIGS informed General McNaughton of still another projected operation. This was described as an attack against Sardinia or Sicily, which might involve the employment of one Canadian infantry division.87 McNaughton having again expressed his willingness to explore any proposal for the employment of Canadian troops, this possibility was further examined. By 6 January it had been decided that the conquest of Sicily should be brought forward at the forthcoming conference at Casablanca as a joint Allied operation under the code name HUSKY, but the Sardinian project was still under consideration as a British operation entitled BRIMSTONE. The proposal was that this should be carried out by a British corps commanded by Lieut. General F. E. Morgan. General McNaughton nominated the 1st Canadian Division for the task and it was given special combined training in Scotland.88 However, before this training was completed the Casablanca Conference took place and BRIMSTONE was dropped. It thus appeared that the whole of the First Canadian Army would be available for operations based on the United Kingdom.89
The operations in North Africa begun in November 1942 had moved more slowly than had been hoped, and the result was to put, a final end to any lingering hope of mounting a major invasion of North-West Europe in 1943. This was firmly decided by 15 April of the latter year. On that date Mr. Churchill wrote to the Chiefs of Staff, “We should aim at a steady building up of American forces in this country for an overseas campaign in 1944.”90
During the first weeks of 1943, however, General McNaughton and his staff had been giving considerable attention to the possibility of the Canadian Army taking part in limited cross-Channel operations that year – something similar to the SLEDGEHAMMER scheme of 1942. In these discussions the assumption was that if a limited opposed operation was attempted, it would be by a force of three or four divisions, one of which would do the initial assault. The intention of General Paget (C-in-C Home Forces) was that the First Canadian Army would control this operation, a specially-trained British division assaulting under its command. Plans were also being discussed for a large-scale return to the Continent in the event of a German collapse.91 But all this was extremely nebulous.
Elsewhere in this History* the increasing pressure of public opinion in Canada for an active role for the Army will be found described. By March 1943, it seemed clear to the Government and the General Staff in Ottawa that there was very little likelihood of the First Canadian Army’s being required for a cross-Channel operation that year. The result was strong representations from Mr. King to Mr. Churchill in favour of using some Canadian troops in North Africa.92 The subsequent developments lie outside the scope of the present volume. As a result of them, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade ultimately took part in the attack on Sicily in July, and later that year Headquarters 1st Canadian Corps, along with the Corps Troops and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, moved to the Mediterranean for operations on the Italian mainland. Thus, nearly four years after the outbreak of the Second World War, Canadian soldiers were finally committed to a protracted campaign.
* Volume II, The Canadians in Italy.