CBC Digital Archives

'Dieppe,' the miniseries

It has been called the most controversial battle Canadians have ever fought. On Aug. 19, 1942, after nearly three years of waiting in England for a chance to fight, Canadian troops were sent to raid the French coast at Dieppe. But the Germans were ready for them, and the attack became a massacre. Of nearly 5,000 Canadians sent to Dieppe, only 2,000 returned. More than 60 years later, the operation remains divisive: was Dieppe an essential trial run for D-Day, or a shocking waste of lives?

media clip
Time has not diminished the controversy surrounding the assault on Dieppe. Many view the raid as the greatest disaster in Canadian military history, and blame Lord Louis Mountbatten for the sending our troops to be slaughtered. Two men who champion this version of the Dieppe story are Brian Loring Villa, author of the book Unauthorized Action, and John Krizanc, screenwriter for a new miniseries based on Villa's book.

In this clip from Prime Time News the two men join historian Jack Granatstein in a discussion of the controversial miniseries, which has just aired on CBC-TV. Among the subjects they discuss: Was Mountbatten just a "vain blowhard" who unilaterally pushed the raid without consulting the experts? Did the Allies learn lessons that would prove vital in the invasion of Normandy? And why is Dieppe such as a "festering wound" in the Canadian psyche? 
• The 1993 docudrama Dieppe was a two-part mini-series based on Brian Loring Villa's book Unauthorized Action: Mountbatten and the Dieppe Raid. It was produced by Bernie Zuckerman and aired on CBC-TV.
• The film juxtaposed the daily life of Canadian Army soldiers stationed in England with the strategic thinking of the high command who would order them into combat.

• Partly to rebut of the CBC feature, in 2001, The War Amps released a film of its own, entitled Dieppe: Don't Call it a Failure. The one-hour documentary was produced by Cliff Chadderton to "tell the positive side of the story," emphasizing the heroism of the troops and the lessons that were eventually applied on D-Day.

• The War Amps emphasize the fact that the Canadians bravely carried out a monumentally difficult attack on a fortified seaside town. Choosing to view the troops as a "reconnaissance force," the War Amps film champions the view that "the lessons of Dieppe saved thousands of Canadian lives on the D-Day invasion of Normandy nearly two years later." (Source: War Amps website.)

• Though Lord Mountbatten is frequently blamed for the poor planning of the Dieppe raid, some people feel the scapegoat ended up being a Canadian, Maj.-Gen. J.H. Roberts. Roberts served in the First World War and won a Military Cross at the Somme in 1916. He went overseas again in 1939, and was the only Allied commander to withdraw from France with all his guns. In April 1942 he was put in command of the 2nd Canadian Division.

• Though he had no part in the planning of the Dieppe raid, Roberts was in charge of ground troops. From his command post aboard HMS Calpe, Roberts had little idea how badly the assault was going. He discovered the true extent of the debacle only after the troops had retreated. Nonetheless, Roberts was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his participation.

• However, Maj.-Gen. Roberts was soon criticized for displaying tactical weakness during a D-Day practice exercise. He spent the rest of the war supervising reserves in England.
• In his book The Generals, The Canadian Army's Senior Commanders in the Second World War, historian Jack Granatstein argues that Roberts simply was not up to the task of commanding a division.
Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: Jan. 3, 1994
Guests: Jack Granatstein, John Krizanc, Brian Loring Villa
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Duration: 14:16

Last updated: July 29, 2013

Page consulted on January 5, 2015

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Reports from Abroad: Matthew Halton

"This is Matthew Halton of the CBC." So began Halton's war broadcasts. His reports were at tim...

Victory! The End of the War in Europe

May 8, 1945, was a day to celebrate. It was VE-Day, the long-awaited moment when the Allied fo...

Addressing the Nation: Prime Ministers of Can...

Nationally broadcast addresses from Canadian prime ministers are a rare occurrence. They usual...

Countdown to Victory: The Last Days of War in...

Day by day, the news got better as the Second World War wound down in Europe. Sixty years ago,...

1939-1945: A Soldier's War

From 1939 to 1945 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air force personnel lived and died in lands f...

Royal 22nd Regiment: Canada's Fighting 'Van D...

During the First World War, Canada decided to create a military unit that would represent its ...