Return to Dieppe
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?
In this special 50th anniversary documentary, the three aging men pick a tranquil spot atop the cliffs to reminisce with CBC's Brian Stewart. Seeing the beach for the first time from this vantage, the veterans can almost see their younger selves in German crosshairs. "These guys don't have a whisker of a chance," one ponders aloud. "Which shall I shoot at first?"
• In Dieppe: Tragedy to Triumph, co-author Brigadier General Denis Whitaker says that Winston Churchill believed an exploratory invasion was a necessary step. He also cites the Chief of Imperial General Staff, Gen. Sir Alan Brooke. "No responsible General will be associated with any planning for invasion until we have an operation at least the size of the Dieppe raid behind us to study and base our plans upon," Brooke told the prime minister in June 1942.
In post-war interviews, Lord Mountbatten repeatedly argued that the lessons of Dieppe were essential to success on D-Day:
• 1961: "I am quite sure that the battle of Normandy was won on the beaches of Dieppe."
• 1972: "Dieppe taught us lessons that had to be learned. Nothing like what we were planning to do had ever happened before. This was the only experience we had to go on."
• 1975: "For every one man who was killed in Dieppe, at least 10 or more had their lives spared on the beaches of Normandy."
• In contrast, Canadian historians including Terence Robertson, Jack Granatstein and Brian Loring Villa claim that the raid taught the Allies little that they didn't already know. • Robertson points out that the British had been carrying out "combined operations" for centuries. Once called "conjunct expeditions", the method was used by Sir Francis Drake against Spain in the 16th century, against France during the Napoleonic wars and in Quebec in 1759, and in Gallipoli in 1915 (with disastrous results).
• Villa says that the specifics lessons of Dieppe, such as the absolute need for heavy bombardments to "soften up" defences before attempting a landing, were known long before the Dieppe raid. And of course, the Germans were likely to learn at least as much from a failed landing attempt as the Allies would.
• The Dieppe landing did afford the Allies an opportunity to test and refine several innovations that really were new. It was the first time they had transported and landed tanks by sea, something that was used extensively on D-Day. There were also improvements in communications, supply lines, intelligence, landing craft, armoured vehicles, and techniques to eliminate anti-tank obstacles.
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: June 18, 1992
Guest(s): Archie Anderson, Ron Beal, Denny Whittaker
Reporter: Brian Stewart
Last updated: July 29, 2013
Page consulted on September 10, 2014
All Clips from this Topic
Canadian veterans recall being decimated on the beaches of Dieppe.
A Canadian veteran discusses his secret mission to spy on German radar...
Atop Dieppe's now peaceful cliffs, three Canadian veterans share tearf...
Canadian author Timothy Findley presents an essay on how the triumph a...
Three Canadian women recall the heartbreak of absent husbands, and the...
A Department of Defence book commemorating Dieppe neglects to mention ...
Peter Mansbridge leads a discussion on the fact and fiction behind a c...
Canada finally gives special recognition to the veterans of Dieppe, 52...
A moving poem pays tribute to a single fallen soldier.