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'Grand show, you Canadians!'

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
"It's been a wonderful day," says CBC Radio's H. Rooney Pelletier from London, England. The streets are abuzz with excited rumours that after nearly three years of garrison duty, Canadian soldiers are finally battling in Europe. Official confirmation arrives as Pelletier is on the air, though there are few details. Until more information becomes available, Pelletier says, there is "every reason to believe this is a noble occasion, a day of high honour." 
• The Second World War began on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later and Canada declared war on Sept. 10.
• After war was declared, Canada readied its coastal defences and mobilized its armed forces, including thousands of volunteers; almost 60,000 men and women enlisted in September alone. The first Canadian volunteer troops sailed for Britain on Dec. 10, 1939.

• The Canadians remained in Britain for two and a half years. The Canadian government under Prime Minister Mackenzie King initially agreed that defending British soil from assault was the most important task at hand. But by 1941, King faced mounting political and military pressure to get the troops involved in the fighting.

• Terence Robertson, author of The Shame and the Glory: Dieppe notes that for Canadian troops in England, "confinement was so prolonged that it seemed to the men they were the Cinderellas of the Commonwealth, ordered to stay at home" while other armies did the fighting.

• According to Mackenzie King's diaries, in May 1941 discussion began about getting Canadian troops involved in raids in either the Middle East or in France. In September 1941, King is said to have told British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, "I don't know how long I can go on leading my country while our troops remain inactive."

• The Canadians weren't the only ones pushing for some sort of major raid on occupied France. Russia, besieged by German forces, demanded a second front be opened up to relieve the pressure. American President Franklin Roosevelt also believed that a western front in continental Europe should be opened. As a compromise, Churchill promised diversionary raids along the English Channel to divide German attention.

• The first planned attack was to be a July 1942 raid on Dieppe called Operation Rutter. The plan was to quickly seize the port, capture prisoners, and see how the Germans responded. Troops were boarded on July 5, but the weather deteriorated and the operation was cancelled two days later.

• Most Allied leaders, including Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, wanted the raid cancelled. But Chief of Combined Operations Louis Mountbatten pushed ahead, remounting the raid as Operation Jubilee. On the night of Aug. 18, 1942, more than 200 ships set sail for Dieppe.
• It took more than a day before the results of the raid became widely known. Initial reports from England were sketchy, patriotic and overly optimistic.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: Aug. 19, 1942
Reporter: H. Rooney Pelletier
Duration: 11:53
Homepage image: Library and Archives Canada / C-014160

Last updated: August 23, 2013

Page consulted on August 5, 2014

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