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Disaster at Dieppe

For the week of Monday August 18, 2003

In the early morning hours of August 19, 1942, Canadian troops formed the majority of those preparing to embark on a raid on the French town of Dieppe. Unfortunately for these men, the raid proved to be a military tragedy.

Convoy of landing craft en route to Dieppe during Operation "Jubilee"
Convoy of landing craft en route to Dieppe during Operation "Jubilee"
© Canada. Dept. of National Defence / LAC / PA-171080
The raid was planned for several reasons. Soviet forces on the Eastern front of the Second World War were severely threatened by the German army, and demanded that Allied forces open up a second front in Western Europe. This would force the Germans to divide their troops, relieving pressure on the Soviets. An attack across the English Channel would also provide training in large-scale amphibious operations. With these needs in mind, Operation “Jubilee” was planned. Originally, the raid was to deploy British troops, but Canadian commanders wanted to get their soldiers into active duty. Military planners agreed, and so the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division prepared for the raid. The plan was to attack at five different points stretched along 16 kilometres of beach near Dieppe. Four of these attacks would take place simultaneously, just before dawn, and would be followed by the main attack on the town itself. The Canadian troops would be making this main attack, and would also be approaching at Pourville and at Puys. British commandos would make the other two attacks on the beach. Success depended on air fighter coverage, the element of surprise, and the cover of darkness.

Bodies of Canadian soldiers lying among damaged landing craft and tanks following Operation Jubilee
Bodies of Canadian soldiers lying among damaged landing craft and tanks following Operation Jubilee
© LAC / C-014160

Unfortunately, very little went according to plan. As the Allied troops approached the eastern stretch of beach, they encountered a German convoy, jeopardizing the element of surprise. The Germans were able to move in to block the main attack on Dieppe. The natural features of the beach caused problems for Allied tanks, and provided German troops with excellent protection. Other sections of the attack suffered due to bad timing and miscommunication.

Of the 5,000 Canadian men who were ashore during the raid, more than 900 were killed, more than 2,000 were injured, and close to 2,000 were taken prisoner. In the air battle, the Royal Canadian Air Force lost nine pilots and 14 aircraft.

The raid on Dieppe is still controversial; some see it as a mistake while others maintain it taught lessons important to the success of D-Day in 1944. Despite the disagreement about the raid’s purpose, the bravery shown by Canadian troops is indisputable.

The Canadian raid on Dieppe was designated an event of national historic significance in 2000.

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