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Raid on Dieppe 
The Players and the Stage
by Pete Bublitz 

While the plan that revolved around the Dieppe raid was still in its early organization stages, assembling the ground forces was still being discussed in terms of which units it would consist of. After deliberation among COHQ planners head military officers, it was decided that the attack force taking part in the ground operation would be an made up of volunteers from the Canadian Army, Commando Battalions, and soldiers from select Allied forces, including the 1st U.S. Ranger Battalion, British Secret Service, and No. 10 Inter-Allied Commando. On the other side of the channel, the German troops of the 302nd Division were proceeding to build up their available reserve presence as well as defense fortification throughout the area. At the same time, numerous heavy artillery and anti-aircraft gun emplacements were set up throughout the towns and elevated areas that surrounded Dieppe, as well as Dieppe itself, to support the defense lines that overlooked the beaches along the Channel coast and ports.

The Canadian Involvement

As of late April, when a plan to raid Dieppe was decided upon and authorized, the two main Canadian divisions stationed in England were the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions. Commanding 2nd Division was Major-General John Hamilton Roberts, while Lieutenant-General R.G.L. McNaughton would head 1st Division. Over time, however, McNaughton would be promoted up to Commander of all Canadian forces in England. Originally formed from national volunteer militias and sent to Britain and Iceland for training during 1939-1940, the two divisions’ total manpower would increase due to the passing of the National Resources Mobilization Act in the summer of ’40. The Mobilization Act would affect the Canadian military’s servicemen capacity through the extensive conscription of Canadian men between the ages of 21 and 42. With the whole of 2nd Division brought together in England by April of ’42, it would be stationed at Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery’s South Eastern Command (Villa 212-213).

When it came time for COHQ to consider what forces could be used for the main attack on Dieppe, the final decision was left to Montgomery and General Bernard Paget. After deliberation, the two agreed that Canadian troops from South Eastern Command would be the best bet for this part of the raid. With encouragement from Lt.-Gen. McNaughton, Gen. Paget gave the order to assign Major-Gen. Roberts’ 2nd Division with the assault. Roberts, in turn, selected six infantry regiments from the Division’s 4th and 6th Canadian Brigades. Chosen from Brigadier Sherwood Lett’s 4th Brigade were:

• the Royal Regiment of Canada, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas Catto;
• the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry under Lieut.-Col. Robert Labatt;
• and Lieut.-Col. Fred Jasperson’s Essex Scottish Regiment.

The 6th Brigade, commanded by Brig. William Southam, would provide:

• Lieut.-Col. Dollard Menard’s Fusiliers Mont Royal Regiment;
• the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Alfred Gostling;
• and the South Saskatchewan Regiment under Lieut.-Col. Charles Merrit (Ford 25).

Roberts also selected the 2nd Division’s 14th Canadian Tank Battalion, under the command of Lieut.-Col. John Andrews, for involvement in the main attack. Nicknamed the Calgary Tanks, 14th Battalion was intended mostly to provide heavy armor support for the Canadian infantry troops landing at and around Dieppe. The following regiments and ancillary units from other brigades and divisions, supporting the two Brigades, included:

• selected units from the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada (the Black Watch), from 2nd Division’s 5th Brigade;
• a unit from the Canadian 1st Army Tank Brigade;
• the Toronto Scottish Machine Gun Regiment, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Guy Standish Gostling (Alfred Gostling’s brother);
• units from the three Royal Canadian Artillery Field Regiments of 2nd Division;
• three companies from the Royal Canadian Engineers under Major B. Sucharov;
• the 2nd Provost Corps;
• the 11th Field Ambulance Brigade; and
• the Canadian Corps of Signals (Mellor 14).

With the roster for the Canadian targets in place, on May 8th the Canadian brigades had received orders to begin training for the upcoming operation. During the remainder of May and most of June, the regiments’ units would undergo necessary preparation at the Isle of Wight, located off England’s southern coast, for their objectives during Rutter. In addition to standard military training (weapons training, endurance marches, etc.), some of the units would also receive commando-style training for certain special tasks. These tasks included cliff-climbing, street fighting, deployment from landing craft, and unarmed hand-to-hand combat. Once training was completed, the men were transferred to specific naval ports where they would remain stationed until they were to embark for Operation Rutter (Mellor 16-18).

Due to COHQ’s decision to cancel Operation Rutter, the men of the Canadian 2nd Division were sent back to a South Eastern Command different from the one before they left. General Montgomery left S.E. Command to take control of the British 8th Army in North Africa, though prior to his departure he urged to no avail for COHQ to consider planning new attack at a different location instead of refocusing on Dieppe. With the operation back on, renamed Jubilee, and “Monty” gone, S.E. Command was assigned to Lieutenant-General Harry Crerar, who was Commander of the Canadian I Corps at the time. All the pieces being in place, the regiments would be transferred back to their embarking ports for the operation and shipped out to Dieppe on August 18th (Ford 16).

The Presence of Commandos

As France proceeded to fall under Nazi occupation during the summer of ’40, the major British armies were struggling to recuperate enough to continue the war. Still, Churchill vowed to keep Britain fighting beyond Britain itself. This earnestness would about the creation of the Commandos: British Special Forces assigned with delivering blows to new German fortifications along the West European coasts. On the 23rd-24th of June 1940, at the French town of Boulogne, Commando units would introduce a new method of warfare to the Germans: the amphibious raid. The impact of this Commando raid would influence a long series of raids over the next two years. From the small islands of Spitzbergen (17 Aug.-8 Sept. 1941) and Lofoten (4 March; 26 Dec. 1941) off of northern Norway to the Vichy French town of Bayonne along the southern Biscay Bay coastline (5 Apr. 1942), special Commando forces had managed to achieve tactical success by at least briefly disrupting German resources and defenses if not completely damaging them. Most of all, the raids disrupted the chance of an entirely Phoney War in Western Europe (Ladd 15-29).

By the time plans for Operation Rutter had been approved in May of ‘42, Commandos had become the most frequent source of Allied ground warfare in Western Europe. They would also achieve their greatest acclaim one and a half months prior, when units of the 2nd Commando undertook the St. Nazaire raid on March 27th-28th, 1942. The successful execution performed at St. Nazaire would lead many to call it the greatest amphibious raid of the war in West Europe. Recognizing their success, COHQ planners found it necessary to have Commandos involved in the upcoming raid on Dieppe. Therefore, it was decided that Commandos would be used instead of paratroopers for the flanking attacks. A total of three separate Commando units were to undertake separate tasks during the raid. Selected by COHQ were:

• 3 Commando, commanded by Lieut.-Col. J.F. Durnford-Slater;
• 4 Commando under Lieut.-Col. Lord Lovat; and
• Lieut.-Col. J. Picton-Phillip’s Royal Marine A Commando, aka the Royal Marines.

Two out the three units, 3 and 4 Commando, would undertake flanking attacks while the Royal Marines were to be involved in the main attack at Dieppe’s beaches (Ford 25, 31).

The Commandos would immediately begin their extensive training for the operation once they had been given their assignments. 4 Commando would partake in training at Weymouth, 3 Commando would train for the operation in Sussex, while the Royal Marines trained at the Isle of Wight with the Canadians. During their training, the men would closely analyze Intelligence reports and reconnaissance pictures taken of the area and immediately work on a strategy plan of attack for their assignment. Once organized, the men would undergo daily speed-marches and repetitive assault simulations until they had it down perfectly. These training rehearsals would continue on and off until the time came in mid-August for them to embark on their mission. When it did, they would reach the epitome of their training on the other side of the English Channel (Ford 24).

The Minor American Force

The trip made to England by General Marshall would not only result in the consideration of opening a second front. On April 15, it was proposed that a group of twelve U.S officers, twenty NCOs, and forty privates be selected to train with British Commandos in order to create the blueprint for a larger American commando unit. In addition to this group, it was proposed, another twenty officers and forty NCOs be trained so that they can be sent back to the states to train more men. Lord Mountbatten also proposed that up to eight officers from the U.S. armed forces serve as an American activities staff for COHQ. Upon returning to the U.S., General Marshall selected Colonel Lucian Truscott to work on Mountbatten’s staff with the assignment of selecting American soldiers to train with the Commandos for the operation. When the time came for the raid to be underway, the soldiers would be divided and serve with the separate battalions involved in Dieppe (Black 3-4).

Truscott, seeking to compile men stationed in Ireland for an American Commando unit, would be responsible for the creation of the U.S. 1st Ranger Battalion in June of ’42. They were to be trained at the Commando Basic Training Center in Achnacarry, Scotland. At this location, the Rangers were put through the same training procedures and raid preparations as regular British Commandos. As the deadline for the Dieppe raid grew close, Lord Mountbatten approached Col. Truscott on the subject of whether or not he wanted U.S. Rangers involved in the raid. Giving an affirmative yes, Truscott went ahead and selected up to 50 Rangers (six officers and forty-four lower-ranking men), for the operation (Ford, 24). Over time, the combined Ranger force chosen for the raid would be divided among the main forces taking part in what would become Jubilee. Up to 40 Rangers, four officers and 36 men, would serve with Lieut.-Col. Durnford-Slater’s 3 Commando. Meanwhile, another four Rangers were assigned to Lord Lovat’s 4 Commando. The final six Rangers would serve alongside the separate Canadian battalions. They would receive their assigned forces and continue training well into mid-August, just a few days prior to their departure (Black 29-32).

The German Buildup and the Set Stage

The order of alert issued by Hitler was to be handled under the command of General-feldmarschall (Field Marshal) Gerd von Rundstedt, the Commander in Chief who presided over all army forces in occupied Western Europe. The order would be passed down to Generaloberst (Senior General) Curt Haase’s 15th German Army, which occupied the areas from Holland’s Western Scheldt deltas to Caen, France. He would issue this order further down to the two generals commanding the areas in and around Dieppe. First there was General der Panzertruppen (General of the Cavalries) Adolf Kuntzen, whose LXXXI Corps were in charge of defending the areas all along the Dieppe coastlines. Kuntzen would finally give this order of alert to Generalleutnant (Lieutenant-General) Konrad Haase and his 302nd Infantry Division, which defended the beaches of Dieppe and the surrounding towns (Ford 18).

This order of high alert would also affect the activities of German naval forces off the West European coastlines. It also increased the monitoring of skies over the English Channel and Western Europe, underwent by specific Luftwaffe groups. Two of these groups, Jagdesgeschwaders (JG) 2 & 26, consisted of over 200 Focke Wulf FW 190 and Messerschmitt BF 109 fighters. The groups and their fighters were stationed at six air bases scattered throughout France and southern Belgium. Stationed at bases in Belgium and Holland were five Luftwaffe bomber groups: Kampfgeschwaders (KG) 2, 40, 53, & 77, and Kustenfliegergruppe (Ku) 106. These five groups possessed over 105 Dornier Do 217, Junkers Ju 88, and Heinkel He 111 bombers combined. Along with those at Dieppe, the harbors of numerous towns along the French coasts would also be put on high security alert and therefore double their defenses. After the fall of France the Germans would dedicate the towns’ harbors to serving as naval depots and landing docks. The short distance between these towns would make convoy movement, U-Boat activity, and naval patrols up and down the coastline more frequent (Franks 29, 174; Ford 30, 78).

The 302nd Infantry Division was comprised mainly of the 570th, 571st, and 572nd Infantry Regiments. The 302nd’s Artillery Regiment, Reconnaissance Battalion, Anti-tank Battalion, Engineer Battalion, and Signal Battalion would provide support to the infantry regiments. The 571st Regiment was centered in Dieppe and the areas surrounding it, while the 570th and 572nd would be stationed in the outlying areas. Haase would leave the objective of defending the Dieppe areas to the entire 571st, under the command of Oberstleutnant (Senior Lieutenant) Hermann Bartelt. The battalions that made up the 571st were stationed at separate districts inside and outside of Dieppe. The headquarters of the 571st’s 1st Battalion was located in the village of Ouville, just south of Vasterival. The remainder of the regiment was located in different parts of Dieppe itself. The headquarters of the 571st’s 2nd Battalion, along the main HQ of the 571st itself, were located at the Chateau on top of the western Dieppe headlands. The 3rd Battalion’s HQ rested on the right side of the town’s harbor, where its mouth flowed into the channel. The main HQ for the 302nd Division was suspected to be located southwest of Dieppe, in the town of Arques-la-Bataille. Still, the 302nd Division held a wide enough area to make defense setup a top priority. The manner of which the 302nd would defend its grounds was likely based on the geography and landscape of the area (Ford 31, 37-38).

The coastal edges along Dieppe were mostly steep cliffs, some of which were high enough to make climbing difficult. They would stoop down into river valleys in the areas where local rivers flowed into the sea. The three chief rivers in the Dieppe area were:

• the Saane River, which flowed between the towns of Quiberville and St. Marguerite just west of Vasterival;
• the Scie River, which was surrounded on both sides by the town of Pourville; and
• the Arques River, which flowed into the mouth of Dieppe’s port.

The towns along the coastline would be marked by mile-long beaches met by sea walls up to 150 yards in depth. Surrounding Dieppe were two more headlands that happened to spread landward. The headlands east of Dieppe looked down on the town’s main port and docks, while the western headlands rose up behind the town’s Casino. The large Casino, built for its original obvious purpose, was left abandoned when Germany invaded France during 1940. By 1942, it would be converted by German forces into a garrisoned structure for defense purposes. The Casino stood alongside numerous other buildings (including a large tobacco factory), on a beachfront called the Boulevard de Verdun. Located south of Dieppe were the Luftwaffe-occupied airfields of St. Aubin. The layout of Dieppe and the other towns would most influence how the Germans would put together their defenses (Buckley 231).

The 571st Regiment, however, had a diminished amount of manpower. Spread out thinly along the beaches of Dieppe and the neighboring towns, were the 571st’s mere total of 1500 soldiers. They were stationed not only in the towns themselves, but also in the open areas and highlands between the towns that overlooking the beaches. A garrison of only 150 men, for example, defended the beaches at Dieppe, while a smaller garrison of 50 men defended the beaches at Puits. Lacking in terms of infantry capacity, the Germans would focus on setting up extensive defense perimeters throughout the area. Around the outer borders of Dieppe, the 571st had developed an ongoing barrier made up of thick barbed wire, machine-gun pillboxes, and concrete walls. Along the town’s beaches and headlands that loomed over them were scattered additional machine gun emplacements and barbed wire entanglements. The Germans further fortified the beachfronts by barricading all roads and entries into the towns with concrete walls and converting numerous buildings along the front into defense structures (Ford 37-38).

The German command, in the months prior to August, also found it necessary to set up heavy weapon emplacements throughout the Dieppe area in order to support the infantry defense garrisons. By the time August rolled around, Dieppe was secured by just as many, if not more, heavy weapons emplacements as regimental defenses. Dieppe’s headlands held a total of seven or eight 75mm artillery guns and a maximum of ten 37mm-47mm anti-tank guns. Outside of western Dieppe and at Les Vertus (south of Dieppe), the Luftwaffe contributed two anti-aircraft batteries (one at each location). The 302nd’s Artillery Regiment would also emplace a number of heavy weapons batteries around Dieppe. South of Vasterival stood six 150mm guns, known as the Hess Battery. The Hitler Battery, which consisted of four 150mm guns, was located just west of Arques-la-Bataille. A total of sixteen 100mm howitzers would be divided among the 1st Mobile (N.E. of Appeville), 2nd Mobile (S.E. of Puits), Goering (N.E. of Les Vertus), and Rommel Batteries (S.W. of Greges). Finally, there was the Goebbels Battery, an emplacement that included three 170mm guns and four 105mm guns. With all fortifications in place, the 302nd’s troops would remain on alert for a possible Allied attack well into mid-August (Ford 31).

- - -

Copyright © 2005 Pete Bublitz.

Written by Pete Bublitz.  If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Pete Bublitz at: as4893@wayne.edu.

About the author: Pete Bublitz, whose first and middle names are Jonathan Peter, is an undergraduate student enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. His main school-based interest, in terms of courses, is to take up a history major among others. His personal interests include, but are not limited to, getting lost, music, comedy, and last but not least history.

Published online: 07/23/2005.
 
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