August 19, 1942, Dieppe. Often overlooked or relegated to the rank of costly strategic mistakes, theOperation Jubilee It was nonetheless an important event in the process that was to lead to the landing of the June 6, 1944. It was through the blood spilled abundantly on the pebble beaches of the Seine Maritime that the Anglo-Saxon staffs drew the essential lessons which made Overlord successful.
The necessary response to the triumphs of the Axis
The beginning of 1942 was a particularly difficult phase for the Allies. In the East, the Wehrmacht, recovering from the hardships of the previous winter, launches its mad rush towards the Caucasus, which the Soviet armies hardly seem able to stop. In North Africa, British and Commonwealth troops retreated against the German-Italians, galvanized by the audacity of General (and soon Feldmarshall) Rommel. In Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese wave seems to overwhelm all obstacles, be it Singapore or Corregidor.
In this context, it becomes urgent for Anglo-Saxon leaders to prove that a counter-offensive is possible. The Americans, spurred on by Stalin's calls for the opening of a "second front" in Europe, even considered for a time a massive landing in France. Churchill is much more reserved on the issue, knowing the lack of preparation of American units and the dearth of logistics and air resources necessary for the success of the operation.
From these reflections, the idea of a limited operation, supposed to both test the German coastal defenses and prepare for a future great landing in Western Europe, eventually sprouted. It was about putting into practice the lessons learned from previous major combined operations and sending a signal of goodwill to the Soviets.
From Rutter to Jubilee
From March 1942, the British command of the Combined Operations of Lord Mountbatten (future Viceroy of the Indies and close to the royal family) started a landing operation in Western Europe. Allied planners decide that the landing zone will be centered around the Norman port of Dieppe. This town at the mouth of the Arques, which flows into the English Channel, is a medium-sized port, which has the advantage of being included in the range of RAF fighters.
While in the air, Operation Rutter relies on the wings of the Royal Air Force, the land portion is expected to be provided by Canadian soldiers. They have enjoyed a reputation for competent assault troops since World War I, a legacy of the Vimy fighting. On the other hand, these are fresh formations that the Canadian government wants to see combated. It is also envisaged that some members of the FFL will participate in the maritime and land component of the operation.
Initially Operation Rutter was set for July 8, 1942. However, the particularly appalling atmospheric conditions caused its postponement on several occasions, which was not without consequences. Indeed, many officers believe that the secrecy of the operation is compromised and that the Germans took the opportunity to strengthen their defenses in the region. The commander-in-chief of the British forces in the south of England, Bernard Montgomery, is thus very skeptical about the success of the operation. It was his departure for North Africa (where he would lead the Eighth Army against Rommel) that enabled Mountbatten to execute Rutter, the famous Jubilee (Jubilee).
Jubilee: A doomed operation?
The plan for Operation Jubilee does not stand out for its originality. It foresees a frontal assault on the German positions, mainly led by the soldiers of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. The Canadians were to be able to count on armored support in the form of the 14th Armored Regiment, equipped with Churchill tanks. It was planned that the dismounted forces seize the city, destroy the strategic infrastructures of the zone (depots, radars, heavy DCA, etc ...) then re-embark within twelve hours.
If the allied troops engaged seem sufficient (5000 Canadians, 1000 British, 50 American Rangers, more than 200 ships and some 74 Squadrons of the RAF) the information on which their action is based is insufficient. Some German positions have not been spotted and the pebble beaches in the region are in fact impractical for armored vehicles.
Faced with the Allied device, the Germans line up a well-prepared garrison (and alerted to a possible landing) of around 1,500 men, from 3 regiments of the 302nd Infantry Division. The cliffs in the region are abundantly covered by well-protected bunkers and machine-gun nests, and artillery units are available for support in the hinterland. The Luftwaffe was not to be outdone and lined up nearly 200 fighters (many of them formidable Fw190s) and 100 bombers in the area, guided by a local radar station.
The Jubilee plan provides for a landing on four beaches (from west to east: Green Beach, White Beach, Red Beach and Blue Beach), two of which (White and Red) face directly on Dieppe, where the tanks and the big forces. The initial attacks carried out around 4:45 am, concerned the flanks of this central area, in order to neutralize artillery positions. Bad luck, the raid on the Berneval battery was intercepted at sea by German fast patrol boats. As a result, the landing group was dispersed and had to face a German defense on alert. He cannot therefore neutralize the battery, which will cause some problems for the other landing forces. We find a relatively similar scenario in the sectors of Blue and Green Beach, a Canadian regiment being even annihilated on the shore (in Puys).
At 5.15 am, and despite these disturbing failures, the RAF and Royal Navy bombarded the coast before Canadian troops stormed the central sector. Due to the command’s inexperience in such operations, the infantry who were to support the advance of the armor found themselves on the beaches too soon, alone and with little support. The German machine guns then make a real massacre, and when the Churchill tanks finally reach the area they find themselves entangled in the pebbles, often unable to maneuver ... Supposed to dislodge the German defenders, they are assigned the mission of covering the infantry (initially supposed to cover them ..), and their crews will all be put out of action or taken prisoner by the enemy.
In the air the Luftwaffe and the Flak (DCA) manage to cause significant losses to the RAF, which is therefore not able to offer all the support envisaged to the ground troops. Deceived by the smokescreens deployed by British destroyers and misinformed of the situation on the beaches, Roberts set out to land his reserve troops on the two main beaches. By the time he finally decides to re-embark (around 11:00 a.m.), nearly two-thirds of his forces will have been destroyed.
A failure with heavy lessons
In terms of losses, Jubilee was nothing but a bloody failure. Nearly 3,400 Canadian soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner (German losses amounted to less than 600 men), an armored regiment was wiped out, the RAF lost 106 aircraft against 48 for the Luftwaffe. Despite the courage of the Canadian soldiers and commandos of various nationalities who took part in the operation, it proved impossible to dislodge the German defenses perfectly prepared for their mission.
However, this unflattering assessment should not obscure the invaluable lessons learned that day. It became evident that the success of combined operations would henceforth depend on several principles:
1: Acquire reliable and precise intelligence on the enemy device
2: Ensure absolute secrecy around the operation
3: Obtain air superiority above the target
4: Do not land directly in a port
5: Ensure optimal coordination of air, naval and land resources
6: Manage as close as possible to the situation on the beaches, the landing of forces
Rules that will be followed very rigorously in the preparation and execution of Operation Overlord.
- August 19, 1942, 4:50 a.m, Dieppe jubilee operation: Le Sacrifice des Canadiens by Philippe Chéron. 2004.
- The forgotten heroes: The untold story of the French Canadian soldiers of the Second World War by Pierre Vennat. 1997.
- Larousse from the Second World War by Claude Quétel. Larousse, 2007.