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The Dieppe Raid

19 August 1942

The Allied situation in the spring of 1942 was grim. Allied forces were no longer in Western Europe after being forced to retreat from Dunkirk in June of 1940. Germany's forces had also invaded deep into Russia. And, in North Africa, the British Eighth Army had been forced all the way back to Egypt.

The Allied forces now faced a well-entrenched enemy with virtually all of the continent under German occupation. A method had to be found to create a foothold in Europe. The Raid on Dieppe would offer invaluable lessons that ultimately led to the successful D-Day invasion in 1944.

Planning the raid

At this point in the war, the Allied forces were not strong enough to mount "Operation Overlord," the full-scale invasion of Western Europe that ultimately took place in June 1944. Instead, the Allies chose to mount a major raid on just the French port of Dieppe. It was designed to gain experience and test the equipment needed to launch an immense amphibious assault that would one day be necessary to defeat Germany. And, after years of training in Britain, some Canadian politicians and generals were anxious for Canadian troops to experience battle.

Final exercise prior to assault landing at Dieppe. Photo: Library and Archives Canada 4341223

To achieve these goals, plans were made for a large-scale raid to take place in July 1942, called "Operation Rutter." Canadians would provide the main assault force, and, by May 20, troops of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division were on the Isle of Wight, in the English Channel, training intensively in amphibious operations. Poor weather in July, however, prevented them from launching Operation Rutter. Many involved in the planning wanted to abandon the raid. Despite the debate, the operation was revived and given the new code name "Jubilee." The port of Dieppe on the French coast remained the objective.

Aircrew who took part in the raid on Dieppe. Photo: DVA 725

Canadians lead the attack

Canadians made up the great majority of the attackers in the raid. Nearly 5,000 of the 6,100 troops were Canadians. The remaining troops consisted of approximately 1,000 British Commandos and 50 American Rangers. The raid was supported by eight Allied destroyers and 74 Allied air squadrons, eight belonging to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Major-General J.H. Roberts, Commander of the 2nd Canadian Division, was Military Force Commander, with Captain J. Hughes-Hallett, Royal Navy (RN) as Naval Force Commander and Air Vice-Marshal T.L. Leigh-Mallory as Air Force Commander.

Landing craft preparing to hit the beaches at Dieppe. Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-113247

The Raid on Dieppe took place on the morning of August 19, 1942. The forces attacked at five different points on a front roughly 16 kilometres long. Four simultaneous flank attacks were to go in just before dawn, followed half an hour later by the main attack on the town of Dieppe itself. Canadians were the force for the frontal attack on Dieppe, and also went in at gaps in the cliffs at Pourville, four kilometres to the west, and at Puys to the east. British commandos were assigned to destroy the coastal batteries at Berneval on the eastern flank, and at Varengeville in the west.

Losing the element of surprise

As the assault force approached the coast of France in the early hours of August 19, the landing craft of the eastern sector unexpectedly encountered a small German convoy. There was a sharp, violent, sea fight, and that noise alerted the German coastal defences, particularly at Berneval and Puys. With the Germans ready to man their defences, the element of surprise was lost. The crafts carrying No. 3 Commando were scattered, and most of the unit never reached shore. Those who did were quickly overwhelmed. One small party of 20 commandos managed to get within 180 metres of the German battery. Their accurate sniping prevented the German guns from firing on the assault ships for two-and-a-half vital hours before they were safely evacuated.

The Eastern Flank

At Puys, the Royal Regiment of Canada also suffered unexpected difficulties. The beach was extremely narrow and was commanded by lofty cliffs where German soldiers were strategically placed. To be successful, the attackers needed surprise and darkness; they got neither. The naval landing was delayed, and as the Royal Regiment of Canada leapt ashore in the dawning light, they met violent machine-gun fire from the fully-alerted German soldiers.

The concrete barriers, wire fencing, and other obstacles on the beach show how well the Germans fortified the Dieppe beach. Several hundreds of miles of beaches were fortified in the same fashion as the Germans saw their greatest threat of Allied invasion to be from the sea. Credit: L/O 54162 and DVA 734 and 8160

Only a few men were able to get over the heavily-wired seawall at the head of the beach; those who did were unable to get back. The rest of the troops, together with three platoons of reinforcements from the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, were pinned on the beach by mortar and machine-gun fire, and were later forced to surrender. It was impossible to evacuate them because of the German fire.

Of those who landed on the eastern flank, 200 were killed and 20 died later of their wounds; the rest were taken prisoner. It was the heaviest toll suffered by a Canadian battalion in a single day during the entire war. Also, the failure to clear the eastern headland allowed the Germans to defend the Dieppe beaches with firepower from both sides, and nullify the main frontal attack.

The Western Flank

The forces in the western sector attacked with some degree of surprise. In contrast to the misfortune encountered by the No. 3 Commandos on the east flank, the No. 4 Commando operation was completely successful. The units landed as planned and successfully destroyed the guns in the battery near Varengeville, and then withdrew safely.

Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada troops readying to go ashore at Dieppe. Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-113245

At Pourville the Canadians surprised the enemy. Initial opposition was light, as the South Saskatchewan Regiment and Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada assaulted the beaches. Resistance intensified as the South Saskatchewans, supported by the Camerons, crossed the River Scie. After heavy fighting, they were stopped well short of the town of Dieppe. The main force of the Camerons, meanwhile, pushed on towards their objective, an inland airfield, and advanced three kilometres before they were forced to halt as well. Both regiments then attempted to withdraw.

Royal Air Force warplane on a mission during the Dieppe Raid. Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-183771

The South Saskatchewan Regiment and Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada suffered heavy losses during the withdrawal. The enemy fired fiercely upon the beach from dominating positions east of Pourville, and also from the high ground to the west. The landing craft, however, came in through the storm of fire with self-sacrificing bravery and, supported by a courageous rearguard, the majority of both units successfully re-embarked, though many of the men were wounded. The rearguard itself could not be evacuated. They surrendered after they ran out of ammunition and further evacuation was impossible.

German soldiers examining a damaged Canadian tank in Dieppe. Photo: Library and Archives Canada C-029878

The main attack

The main attack was made across the pebble beach in front of Dieppe. It was timed to take place a half-hour later than the assault on its flanks. The German troops, concealed in clifftop positions and in buildings overlooking the promenade, were well prepared for the Canadians. As the men of the Essex Scottish Regiment assaulted the open eastern section, the enemy swept the beach with machine-gun fire. All attempts to breach the seawall were beaten back with terrible casualties. When one small platoon managed to infiltrate the town, a message was sent back to Headquarters offshore which misleadingly led General Roberts to believe that the Essex Scottish had established themselves in the town. To support them, the reserve battalion Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal was sent in. Like their comrades who had landed earlier, they found themselves pinned down on the beach and exposed to intense enemy fire.

The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry landed at the west end of the promenade opposite a large isolated casino. They were able to clear this strongly-held building and the nearby pillboxes and enter the town. Some men of the battalion crossed the bullet-swept boulevard and moved into the town, where they engaged in vicious street fighting.

The Calgary Regiment also encountered unexpected obstacles. Although they were supposed to land immediately after an intense air and naval bombardment, they were put ashore ten to fifteen minutes late. This left the infantry without support during the first critical minutes of the attack. Then, as the tanks came ashore, they met an inferno of fire and were brought to a halt.

They were stopped not just by enemy guns, but also by the pebble beach and a seawall. The tanks which managed to overcome the seawall found their way blocked by concrete obstacles that sealed off the narrow streets. Still, the immobilized tanks continued to fight, supporting the infantry and contributing greatly to the withdrawal of many of the soldiers. The tank crews themselves became prisoners of war (POWs) or died in battle.

Wrecked Allied tanks and landing craft in the aftermath of the Dieppe Raid. Photo: Department of National Defence

The last troops to land were part of the Royal Marine "A" Commando, which shared the same fate as the Canadians. They suffered heavy losses without being able to accomplish their mission.

The raid also produced a tremendous air battle. While the Allied air forces were able to provide protection for the ships off Dieppe from the Luftwaffe (the German air force), the cost was high. The Royal Air Force lost 106 aircraft, the highest single-day total of the war. The Royal Canadian Air Force lost 13 aircraft.


By early afternoon, August 19, 1942, Operation Jubilee was over. Debate over the merit of the raid continues to the present day. Some believe that it was a useless slaughter, others maintain that is was necessary for the success of the invasion of the continent two years later on D-Day. Without question, the Raid on Dieppe was studied carefully in planning later attacks against the enemy-held coast of France. There were improvements in the technique, fire support and tactics, which reduced D-Day casualties to an unexpected minimum. The lessons learned at Dieppe were instrumental in saving countless lives on June 6, 1944.

Allied troops arriving back in England after the Dieppe Raid. Photo: Imperial War Museum. H 22585

Heroic efforts

While individual acts of courage occur frequently during war, only a few are seen and recorded. They stand out as examples for all to admire and respect.

Two Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross, the British Commonwealth's highest military decoration for bravery, for their actions during the Raid on Dieppe:

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt

Following the landing at Pourville, the South Saskatchewan Regiment made their way toward the town of Dieppe. As they struggled to cross the bridge over the River Scie, Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt came forward and took charge himself. Walking calmly into the storm of fire on the bridge, he led party after party across by the sheer force of his example. Other men forded or swam the river. In spite of their valiant efforts, the advance was halted and they were forced to withdraw. Again, Lt.-Col. Merritt displayed outstanding courage. Although twice wounded, he commanded a vigorous rearguard action that permitted the majority of the units to successfully re-embark. The rearguard itself could not be rescued, and Lt.-Col. Merritt and his men became prisoners of war.

John Weir Foote

The Reverend John W. Foote was the first member of the Canadian Chaplain Services to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Calmly, through eight hours of grueling battle, Reverend Foote, Chaplain of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, continually exposed himself to very intense fire to help move the injured to an aid post, saving many lives through his brave efforts. Then, at the end of this ordeal, he jumped from the landing craft that would have taken him to safety. He walked courageously into the German positions to be taken prisoner, so he could minister to his fellow Canadians who were now POWs.

Tremendous sacrifice

Although extremely valuable lessons were learned in the Raid on Dieppe, a steep price was paid. Of the 4,963 Canadians who embarked for the operation, only 2,210 returned to England, and many of these were wounded. There were 3,367 casualties, including 1,946 prisoners of war; 916 Canadians lost their lives.

Devastation on the beaches of Dieppe after the raid. Photo: Library and Archives Canada C-014160

In addition to the 4,963 Canadian troops taking part in the raid, there were 1,075 British troops (52 fatalities), 50 of the 1st U.S. Ranger Battalion (one fatality) and 20 of the No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando.

Air and sea support was provided mainly by British forces. Their casualties were: Royal Navy—75 killed or died of wounds and 269 missing or prisoners, and Royal Air Force—62 fatalities.

We remember

The Canadians who fought in the Raid on Dieppe achieved and sacrificed much in their efforts to help bring peace and freedom to the people of Europe. Their task was a difficult and costly one, but their effort was not in vain. These combatants were among the more than one million men and women who served in Canada's Armed Forces during the Second World War. More than 42,000 Canadians gave their lives in the war. Canada and the world recognize the sacrifices and achievements of all Canadians, like those who fought in the Raid on Dieppe, who accomplished so much and left a lasting legacy of peace.

Canadian soldiers marching through liberated Dieppe in September 1944. Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-131233

Of the 944 members of the Allied forces buried at Dieppe, 707 are Canadian. The Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery is located approximately five kilometres south of Dieppe, in the town of Hautôt-sur-Mer. The hillside cemetery is unique in that its headstones have been placed back-to-back in long double rows. The Germans buried them in the same way they buried their own. After liberation, the Allies chose not to disturb the graves.

Some of the wounded soldiers later died in hospital in Rouen, 58 kilometres away, and 37 of them are buried in that city. Most of the casualties of the raid who died in Britain are buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Canadians "missing in action" in the Dieppe operation are commemorated on two memorials in England: members of the Army on the Brookwood Memorial and members of the RCAF on the Runnymede Memorial.

Regimental memorials erected by the survivors and their comrades stand today at all the landing places. On the beaches of Dieppe, Puys and Pourville, memorials pay tribute to members of the Essex Scottish Regiment, the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, the Calgary Regiment, the South Saskatchewan Regiment and the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, who gave their lives in the raid.

Following the war, the town of Dieppe created a small park at the western end of the esplanade, where it has a memorial of its own. Standing in the centre of Square du Canada (Canada Square), the Dieppe-Canada Monument is a testimony to the long and warm association between Canadians and the people of the region, the Normans, which has existed since Samuel de Champlain sailed to found New France. The names of people and events which have linked Canada and Normandy over the centuries have been recorded on the monument. Mounted on the wall behind it is a plaque that commemorates the Raid on Dieppe:

On the 19th of August 1942
on the beaches of Dieppe
our Canadian cousins
marked with their blood
the road to our final liberation
foretelling thus their victorious return
on September 1, 1944.

Classroom materials

Classroom materials main page

Lesson plan: Grade K – 3

Beachcomber Delivers the News

To increase youth awareness of Canadian efforts in the Dieppe Raid during the Second World War.

Lesson plan: Grade 4 - 6

Sister Cities

To increase youth awareness about the Dieppe Raid during the Second World War and to engage youth in active commemoration by remembering the sacrifices and achivements made by Canadians.

Lesson plan: Grade 7 to 12

Reliving the Experience

To present personal accounts of the events that took place during and following the Dieppe Raid through the real life experiences of Canadian Veterans who participated in Operation Jubilee.

Dieppe Raid memorials

Memorials main page

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