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Raid on Dieppe 
The Preluding Months
by Pete Bublitz 

The Preluding Months  

In the early morning hours of August 19, 1942, a fleet of up to 250 ships supported by over 70 Allied Air Force squadrons was carrying a force of 6,000-plus men across the English Channel towards the areas that surrounded the city of Dieppe, a port town located in the Pays de Caux region of northeastern France. They would be transported to their target beaches with anticipation from their superiors of delivering a series of damaging blows to the German fortifications in and around Dieppe. But as the minutes approached 0400 hours (4 a.m.), a German convoy approaching from the north would be the first blow to unravel the entire operation. Nine hours later, the convoy would return to its homeports in defeat with high casualty counts. In the years after D-Day up to the present, historians and military officials agreed that Jubilee, as the operation was codenamed, was one of the Allies’ greatest military blunders of World War II. The truth is, Jubilee was turning into a blundering operation long before it was executed, due to a series of planning mistakes, miscalculations, and changes made in the weeks and months leading up to August 19th.

With a majority of Western Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Balkans under occupation during the opening three to four months of 1942, the most significant focus of western military action by the Third Reich by early ’42 had been shifted toward the deserts of North Africa through the success of Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps. Aside from ongoing conflict with national resistance and partisan groups throughout the western countries, the only major blows to be inflicted upon Fortress Europe by land-based Allied forces were strategically minor yet effective commando raids up and down the Atlantic coastline.

Only in Eastern Europe did the advance of Nazi Germany’s armed forces meet an influx of military action that would eventually bring them to a complete standstill during that period. Beginning in the early summer and lasting well into the late autumn of 1941, Soviet Russia had become the latest witness to former peacetime ally Germany’s notorious blitzkrieg tactics and strategies when Operation Barbarossa was initiated in June of ’41. The 6th German Army had undergone few to no delays and met light resistance as it moved deeper and deeper into Russia. Upon reaching the outer boundaries of Moscow and Leningrad in the north, however, the Germans would be stopped dead in their tracks by a combination of the unfriendly December weather and immediate Soviet counteroffensives that showed the resilience of Soviet troops. These factors in their halt would cause the Germans to redirect their advance away from the chief northern cities to the industrial centers around the Caucasus regions in southern Russia by the time spring of 1942 began.

The Soviet Outcry

Because the German armies continued to carve out territories deep within the U.S.S.R, Premier Josef Stalin was still struggling against the Nazi war machine pounding outside his gates nearly four months after the Operation Typhoon offensive against Moscow was ended. Despite managing to eliminate the supply resources, bases, and hostels that would have been made available to the Germans through his ‘scorched earth’ policy, the only available area of resources left unscathed was the Caucasus region around the Volga River. And although a Soviet counteroffensive would proceed to push the Germans away from Moscow until the end of April, it would merely redirect them further to the south where the mountains of the Caucasus loomed. In addition, the mass purges that had been ordered by Stalin would limit the availability of his own military staff as well as the manpower of his armies. Still, Allied aid was being sent to the U.S.S.R from the west. While the Russians continued to be pushed back by the Germans, the U.S. and Britain had enacted a military aid programme in October ‘41 that would deliver mobile vehicles, aircraft and other weapons and equipment.

As time passed, however, Premier Stalin became intent on asking for more than additional supplies fro, the Western Allies. What he most sought was relief from the massive German force that spanned the front. Likely believing that Russia was being under looked during its conflict, Stalin would begin to rebuke his western Allies for what he called inaction. His high disdain for them had become so built up that by late February of ’42, he would resort to the level of adding injury to insult by publicly declaring his willingness to take up possible negotiations with Germany. Although it is not fully known why, Stalin probably made this statement to garner an effective response from the Western Allies that would motivate them enough to take action in fulfilling what Stalin wanted. If the statement were for this purpose, then Stalin would be successful in causing responsive actions (Villa 8).

The Responses of April

The statements, as it turned out, would bring about declared actions and responses on both sides of the war. In Nazi Germany, Fuhrer Adolf Hitler had suspected what Stalin had intended for his speech and declared late in March that the statements would sway the Western Allies to immediately act in aiding Russia by refocusing and committing their troops and strategies to the execution of more raids and other operations along the coasts of Western Europe. Therefore, he would send out an order for all German troops stationed along the occupied coasts to be put and remain in an indefinite state of high alert and readiness (Villa 8).

What Hitler had suspected, unbeknownst to him, was proceeding to be verified across the English Channel as well as the Atlantic. In Great Britain, the Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ) under Lord Louis Mountbatten and its planning staff were busy trying to figure out what actions could possibly be taken to aid the Soviet Union, an issue that was continually pressured on them by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the British War Cabinet. Its work pace would increase when, on April 18, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov called for opening up a second front in the West during his visit to London. Sensing that a higher demand for more raids would be recommended, Captain John Hughes-Hallet, a planner for COHQ’s Naval wing, took to compiling a list of chief occupied locations along the coasts; locations which would serve as possible targets for an upcoming series of raids. The first of these of raids would have been scheduled to take place during the final weeks of May. Although understanding that more raids needed to be carried out in the upcoming months, Hughes-Hallet knew early that a number of minor raids would not be enough to relieve the Soviet Union. Only an action much larger than a single set of raids would be impacting enough to bring about this relief (Villa 9).

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the United States, the staff leaders of the American Armed Forces were also directing concern towards taking action to remove some of the pressure off of Russia. Despite being dedicated to fighting the war on at least two fronts in two theaters, a group of top U.S. military officials who viewed Hitler’s Third Reich to be a greater threat than Imperial Japan and that coming to the assistance of the U.S.S.R was to be the first and top priority of the war in Europe. Chief among them was General George Marshall, who agreed that opening up a Western front was the best and only means of meeting this sole objective. Yet Marshall also believed that this front could be opened up through one strategy effective enough to do this: a cross-Channel invasion undertaken by Allied forces by early 1943. It was estimated, and intended, that a major invasion would deter German focus away from the Russia via this new front. It would not, as planners decided in the upcoming months, be the main invasion but instead a preliminary mass raid to test out the factors and obstacles of a major invasion, including new military technologies and enemy defense capabilities. It would serve as what planners called a “reconnaissance-in-force” that would precede the actual invasion of Western Europe.

Thus, General Marshall traveled to Great Britain to discuss this possible strategy with Mountbatten and Combined Operations. By the time he arrived, COHQ had run low on acceptable targets for Allied raids. During his stay in England from April 4 to April 19, Marshall would manage to convince Mountbatten to refocus planning for a combined-force raid that would be much larger in scale as well as manpower than an average raid. Lord Mountbatten expressed eagerness over this possibility and immediately put the COHQ planning staff to work on possible invasion strategies (Black 2-4). Hughes-Hallet’s list was again consulted, and it had been decided during the last days of April, by the COHQ staff, that a combined-force invasion would be undertaken at the small port town of Dieppe. The decision to attack Dieppe originated from two proposed plans. The first plan centered on landing flank attack troops at the neighboring towns of Puits, one and a half miles east of Dieppe; Pourville, two and a half miles west of the town; and Varengeville, three miles west of Pourville. The second plan called for paratroopers to be dropped on Varengeville and Berneval, a town four miles east of Puits; it also involved flanking attack forces that would be landed at Puits and Pourville. On the 25th of April, members of COHQ’s Planning Staff decided that the second plan would be chosen for consideration. (Buckley 230).

The Haste of May

After being analyzed, plan number two of the pair was chosen for a number of reasons the planners believed were accurate. Chief among these was the matter of Dieppe being held by what COHQ officials believed to be a weak German division with a scarce number of men; German reinforcements would be too slow to reach the defense positions in time; and that having men from the flanking positions advance towards Dieppe would take up too much time. These observed factors confirm the planners’ belief that a full frontal assault on Dieppe coupled with flank attacks at neighboring areas on both its sides would overrun and knock out the main defense forces stationed there and withdraw before German reinforcements arrived.

Around the time this plan was agreed upon, the military force that would carry out the attacks was already being put together. The COHQ staff would select three high-ranking men to head the wings of the assault: Capt. John Hughes-Hallet would serve as commander of the naval forces, Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory would command the supporting Air Force squadrons, while Major General John Hamilton Roberts was selected to serve as commander of the combined military force involved in the operation. Making up the ground forces were a combination of British Commandos, Canadian infantry, and U.S. Rangers (Ford 17).

Even though the plan was still in the process of being fully detailed in terms of strategy and tactics, by early May the British War Cabinet was breathing down the necks of Mountbatten and COHQ, mainly because the Soviets were continuing to breathe down the Cabinet’s neck. Rushed by repetitive demands for layouts of the plan, on May 11th Mountbatten presented the plan to the Cabinet’s Chiefs of Staff Committee before it could be thoroughly detailed. Rushing through the plan themselves, the Committee would approve the operation and assign it with the codename Rutter on May 13th. In addition to this, it was decided that Operation Rutter would be carried out some time during the latter weeks of June. (Buckley 230-231).

The Changes and Setbacks of June and July

Long after it was approved, however, the plans for Operation Rutter were still undergoing alterations in terms of military involvement. The idea of paratrooper usage for flanking attacks had been dropped in favor of landing commandos at the outlying areas that surrounded Dieppe. It was also originally intended for a pre-raid naval bombardment to take place during the morning hours before the troops were landed. Due to peer pressure over the claimed possibility that a heavy bombardment would create major setbacks such as alerting the enemy too early and the destruction of key roads and buildings before they could be secured, Mountbatten would relent this strategy. On June 5, during his visit to the United States, Mountbatten made the decision to cancel the originally scheduled bombardment. On the issue of landing times, planners decided that simultaneous landings would become too condensed and decided push the main assault time back half an hour after the flanking attacks began. These required changes convinced the Planning Staff to reschedule Rutter for no earlier than July 4th and no later than July 8th (Villa 10-13).

The days leading up to the first week of July saw the relocation of ground troops from their previous training locations to their departure ports in southern England where they’d embark for the operation. During that first week, however, the Allied forces would be hampered by ongoing weather woes. Well into July 8th and the days that followed, ongoing rainfall and storms would leave the fleet docked. During that week the operation’s secrecy would receive an additional sting much greater than the first. On July 7th, a reconnaissance plane from the Luftwaffe spotted transport ships in the Solent docks and dropped two bombs on the H.M.S. Astrid and H.M.S. Josephine Charlotte. The bomb dropped on the Astrid never went off, but the one dropped on Josephine Charlotte exploded in the crew’s quarters and killed more than fifteen sailors (Mellor 23). Though little damage was done, the attacks convinced COHQ that what the Germans observed would likely hint them to an upcoming invasion and therefore cause them to double their forces and prolong their state of high alert. As a result of this problem, coupled with continuous bad weather, COHQ decided to cancel Rutter indefinitely and send the troops back to their original training posts.

Only one week after its cancellation, Mountbatten and COHQ were already proposing to have the raid revived and rescheduled. Although reviving and carrying out the raid would be more risky at the moment than it was one month prior, the Chiefs of Staff Committee was easily convinced enough to decide, on July 20th, that the raid was back on schedule. They would rename the entire operation Jubilee, which was the codename for Dieppe itself. With the scheduled date, August 19th, a go, Combined Operations would issue a preliminary order for Operation Jubilee on July 31st for all troops to be put on alert until further notice. On the 17th of August, the troops would again be transported to their assigned ports of departure, where they would embark with the naval convoy towards their intended destination in the early evening hours of August 18th (Ford 11).

- - -

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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