The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles), by Robin Neillands
A must read under the heading: “Lest we forget.”
Story blurb: The Dieppe Raid is one of World War II’s most controversial hours. In 1942, a full two years before D-Day, thousands of men, mostly Canadian troops eager for their first taste of battle, were sent across the English Channel in a raid on the French port town of Dieppe. Air supremacy was not secured; the topography—a town hemmed in by tall cliffs and reached by steep beaches—meant any invasion was improbably difficult. The result was carnage: the beaches were turned into killing grounds even as the men came ashore, and whole battalions were cut to pieces.
In this book, Robin Neillands has traced numerous surviving veterans of the Raid, in the United Kingdom and Canada, to tell the harrowing story of what actually took place, hour by hour, as disaster unfolded. He has also exhaustively explored all the archival evidence to establish as far as possible the paper trail of command, of who knew—or should have known—what was happening, and whether the whole debacle could have been prevented. The result is the definitive account of one of the Allies’ darkest hours.
Available in hardcover and paperback only – 292 pages
About the author: Robin Neillands is “one of our most readable military historians” (Birmingham Post [UK]) and author of several acclaimed books on World War II and military history, including The Bomber War; The Conquest of the Reich; The Desert Rats; Eighth Army; The Old Contemptibles; and Battle of Normandy 1944. He lectures on military history worldwide, and is a member of the British Commission for Military History.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Today, August 19, 2012, marks the 70th anniversary of the storming of Puys beach, a small seaside village two kilometres east of Dieppe. The landing parties, including 4,963 men and officers from the 2nd Canadian Division, 1,005 British commandos, 50 US rangers and 15 Frenchmen, were already late as the sun rose, giving the Germans plenty of advance notice. The shore batteries opened up while the landing craft were still 10 metres from shore, and at 5:07 AM the first of the Canadian soldiers dashed forward in the noise of machine-gun and mortar fire that targeted them. They fell, mowed down by bullets and hit by mortar shells. Some tried to reach the seawall bordering the beach, hoping to find shelter. They were to be made prisoner after a few hours of useless resistance.
A few kilometres away, to the left near Berneval and to the right near Dieppe, Pourville and Varengeville, other battalions landed, more men were killed by machine-gun fire and struck by mortar shells. Several platoons managed to break through enemy defence lines and closed in on their targets. Their determination was no match for the formidable might of the German army. Order was given to pull back at 1100; Navy personnel did the utmost to retrieve as many assault troops as possible. The raid was over. As the tide rose, the wounded who remained on the beach were carried away by the waves with the dead.
The objectives of this ill-fated venture weren’t particularly significant. These included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove it was possible and to gather intelligence from prisoners and captured materials while assessing the German responses. The Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. “Dieppe raid was also a “pinch” raid for the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) overseen by Ian Fleming. A group of No. 30 Commandos were sent into Dieppe to steal code books, setting sheets and a German-made Enigma code machine for encryption and decryption of secret messages.” Wikipedia
The cost, however, was significant. A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force lost 96 aircraft (at least 32 to flak or accidents). The Royal Navy lost 33 landing craft and one destroyer.
So what went wrong? Almost everything says Robin Neillands in his meticulously researched treatise, “The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles)” [Indiana University Press, 2005], from the earliest planning stages, to the lack of combat experience by the British and Allied officers to make a proper assessment of the risks of such an operation.
As one reviewer has summarized it:
“In seven bloody, smoke-filled chapters, the author tells the waterlogged tale of men struggling in the ocean and along the seawall — the assault boats of No. 3 Commando blundering into a German convoy — bullet-ridden landing craft loaded with dead and wounded — virtually every radio set destroyed right from the beginning — heroic soldiers charging gun pits with fixed bayonets — Churchill tanks hopelessly stranded on the promenade — bodies rolling about in the waves — hundreds of men cowering behind knocked out tanks and landing craft along the shingle — eventually, abandoned men on the beach swimming for miles to reach withdrawing ships. Mr. Neillands’ remarkable reconstruction of the battle from east to west makes clear the troops had little chance of success.” Michael L. Shakespeare
When it is all said and done, Robin Neillands’ book may be the best thing that came out of the aftermath; that and the lessons learned when it came to the amphibious raids that ultimately led to VE Day, May 8, 1945.
A must read under the heading “Lest we forget.” Five bees.
Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 31,651
Notice to all those who have requested a book review
Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.
Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page: In Praise of Canadian History.
It is a collection of little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post: Barbara Ann Scott: “Canada’s Sweetheart”.
If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.
Thanks for dropping by. I’d love to hear from you so I can express my thanks personally. It’s easy to do. Just send a note to email@example.com, or add a comment. See you next week.
No comments yet.