Historical Investigation of Canada’s Failure at the Battle of Dieppe

Section One: Identification and Evaluation of Sources

This historical investigation aims to answer the question: why did Canada fail at the Battle of Dieppe? Two sources that I will be evaluating are Tactics and Training in the Fusiliers Mont-Royal and the Dieppe Raid, 1939-1942 by Caroline D’Amours, a case study on the Fusiliers Mont-Royals that examines their military training and doctrine, and Memories and Reflections on the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942 by John S. Edmonson, a war veteran’s account on his experiences at Dieppe. Both an analysis on the strategic and operational failures and a primary account of the tactical failures at Dieppe gives this investigation a holistic overview of why Canada failed at Dieppe.

Tactics and Training in the Fusiliers Mont-Royal and the Dieppe Raid 1929-1942 is valuable, with reference to its origin, because D’Amours’ educational background and experiences are both rooted in World War Two; with her credentials corroborated by a peer-reviewed journal, Canadian Military History. The article was published seventy-three years after Dieppe, meaning there is less bias given the decreased physical and time-based proximity. With respect to its purpose, the article is valuable because it aims to understand the role of military strategy and operations in the tactical failure of Fusiliers Mont-Royals. The article’s content is also valuable because D’Amours uses a variety of primary historical documents and past scholarly articles as a basis for the case study.

In relation to its origin, the article is limited since D’Amours predominately Canadian education confines the article to her Canadian perspective. A major limitation, in terms of purpose, is the use of the Fusiliers Mont-Royals as the case of study.  There is no analysis on the failures of other regiments or the successes of enemy regiments, potentially resulting in overlooked sources of failure given the imbalance of perspectives. The source is also limited in its content because it offers minimal insight into the faults of Canada at Dieppe as a whole, given the scope of D’Amours thesis.

Memories and Reflections on the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942 is valuable, with reference to its origin, because it is a primary document written by a Canadian war veteran who experienced the Dieppe Raid firsthand as a soldier in South Saskatchewan Regiment. With respect to its purpose, the document is valuable because Edmonson reflects on his experiences at Dieppe, as a memoir and to bring justice to Canadians who lost their lives at Dieppe.  This minimizes potential political bias. The document is also valuable in its content as a first-person account that includes many valuable details that are absent in secondary documents.

 In relation to its origin, the document is limited because it is not entirely a raw account since  it was written in 1993 with the assistance of John’s son, then revised in 2003. This time gap from Dieppe means some details may be inaccurate. With reference to its purpose, the document is limited due to Edmonson’s educational background since he is not a historian. The document is also limited in its content due to potential emotional bias against Canadian or British military leadership given Edmonson’s traumatizing experiences as a soldier.

 Section Two: Historical Investigation

The Allied assault on Dieppe, the bloodiest and most controversial Canadian military action of World War Two, was indisputably a disaster. This Canadian-led amphibious raid failed strategically, operationally, and tactically. This nine-hour battle on August 19, 1942 resulted in 3371 casualties, among the 4963 Canadian soldiers involved.[1] This staggering casualty toll has led historians to ask, how did an operation of such scale, wherein Canada played a lead role, fail to such a devastating extent? To answer this question, this paper has undertaken the investigation of multiple sources such as John S. Edmondson’s Memories and Reflections on the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942 and Caroline D’Amours’ Tactics and Training in the Fusiliers Mont-Royal and the Dieppe Raid 1929-1942 to account for Canada’s failure at Dieppe. It is clear that Canada’s involvement in the reckless Dieppe operation was a result of specific strategic failures and limited rehearsal and experience in amphibious operational design. The consequential outcome was Canada’s tactical failure at Dieppe, worsened by superior enemy weaponry.

In addition to domestic and global political pressures, the lack of active Canadian involvement in the formation of a wider strategic policy for Dieppe forced Canada’s participation in a reckless operation. Despite Canada’s constitutional right to act independently, the political ramifications and the breakdown of morale as a result of prolonged inaction pushed the Canadian government and generals to blindly support Dieppe[2]. The original version, Operation Rutter, was cancelled due to German discovery of the plan and poor weather, which removed all planned elements of surprise for the attack.[3] Although changes were made to the plan after the cancellation of the original operation, the target remained the same, resulting in a massive security risk. However, the Chief of Combined Operations, Louis Mountbatten, still pushed forward with the support of Canadian military leadership despite the risk of the German knowledge of the attack. This would explain the heavily fortified beach wall with defensive German concrete barriers and air-tank guns. In fact, as Peter J. Henshaw argues, “the intersection of three protracted bureaucratic struggles left the Canadian Army commanders in Britain with unprecedented powers.”[4] These conflicts gave senior Canadian commanders full operational freedom to commit Canadian forces to the large-scale raid, wherein the Canadian Army would not be under the command of British officers.[5] With this full and final authority, Canadian officials could have removed Canadian involvement from the Dieppe raid if they deemed it necessary on military grounds. However, even with security and preparation concerns proposed by British generals Montgomery and Paget, and the British Intelligence, Canadian military leadership still fully supported Dieppe.[6] Moreover, the Canadian government was partially responsible for the lack of Canadian input on the strategic approach for Dieppe. Canadians played little to no part in formulating a wider strategic policy for Dieppe, but, this would not have been the case had Canada demanded a voice in the higher direction of war, like Australia.  {discuss what Canadian involvement in formulating the strategic policy would have achieved}. Henshaw asserts, “To the Canadian prime minister, shared direction of the war looked too much like a scheme for centralizing power in London”.[7] Mackenzie King refused to relinquish the country’s equivalent constitutional status. This lack of involvement would lead to an operational failure due to lack of insight. It was unfortunate that the political and military leadership used their moment of greatest independence and control to ensure Canadian participation at the tragic Dieppe raid.

Given lack of experience and effective rehearsal, the overly detailed and rigid amphibious operational plan set for Dieppe led to Canada’s tactical failure. With the limitations of time and resources, Canadian soldiers and military leadership did not receive sufficient information nor training to accomplish the strategic objectives. The lack of beach intelligence, which had severely underestimated the geographical obstacles and German defenses[8], further hindered the already limited military expertise and tactical knowledge of the Canadian army. Given the complex nature of the operation, Caroline D’Armous argues: “members of the infantry unit had to master the various technical elements of amphibious operations… the infantrymen needed to become familiar with cooperation with tanks, the RN, and the RAF.”[9] In pre-Dieppe raid drills Yukon I and II, there was limited coordination between different Canadian regiments, despite the great emphasis amphibious operational doctrine had placed on the support of tanks for the infantry troops and pre-aerial bombing.[10] Moreover, there was a lack of systematic defensive tactical training, which would be pivotal given the German fortification at Dieppe.[11] This amplified the faults of Canada’s outdated military doctrine, adopted from the British.  D’Amours explains, “German victory over France in the spring of 1940 highlighted the British Army’s slow tempo in action, due to outdated tactics and lack of initiative at all levels, as well as the German Army’s superior training.”[12] The introduction of machine guns and tanks resulted in a decentralized battlefield, which exposed the flaw of the British autocratic command system at Dieppe, especially given the geographic advantage German troops had at Dieppe. Essentially, when Canadian troops were dispersed, soldiers of all ranks were required to make proper decisions, which demanded initiative, intelligence, and in-depth military knowledge.[13] With inconsistent military training, the pre-Dieppe raid drills especially lacked training on flexibility, initiative, and military instinct for junior leaders, who would be required to take on the role of senior leaders in a decentralized battlefield. However, the essential fault, as Harald Høiback addresses, was that “the operational plan for Jubileewas so detailed that it left no room for improvisation once things began to go wrong.”[14] A small mistake would lead to the failure of a subsequent regiment, leading to a disastrous domino effect. With poor operational design, the tactical execution was doomed to fail at Dieppe. 

The poor execution of the frontal Dieppe assault was further worsened by insufficient naval and aerial support against superior German weaponry and deficient Allied communication lines.  The Allies relied heavily on the element of surprise in the execution of Dieppe; as David O’Keefe explains, “the key to success lay in a multi-faceted approach underscored by three intricate pillars – namely, surprise, shock, and security.” This doctrine was well understood prior to Dieppe, meaning the operational planning fell short of tactical common sense. They lost the element of surprise when the Allies accidentally encountered German naval force before reaching the Dieppe beach, alerting German land forces when they heard the naval fighting. Shock was not achieved by the Allies, with limited aircraft ability to use sudden and suppressive firepower. John S. Edmonson, a war veteran who fought at Dieppe, explains, “… there was to be no heavy bombing of the Dieppe landing areas before disembarking because the Air Force could not guarantee accuracy.” Security was not achieved either, with the previously leaked version of the raid, Operation Rutter. The failed surprise attack, in addition to the late arrival of multiple regiments responsible for tanks such as the 14th Tank Army Regiment, exposed Canadian troops to German gunfire upon landing on shore, immediately killing thousands. Most critically, as Mark Zuehlke reasons, “they were stymied by superior weaponry… the impartial assessment of Gernealleutnat Konrad Haase, who immediately after the raid acknowledged the gallantry and skill of all the troops engaged in the raid while pointing out the hopelessness of their assignment.” The Allies lost one hundred and six aircraft, thirty-three landing craft, HMS Berkeley, and all of the twenty-nine tanks relative to the forty-eight aircraft loss for the Germans, their only significant loss. The failure was worsened by demolished communication lines, which turned the situation hopeless. Officers on Calpe and Fernie never wholly received the messages sent to them, resulting in Major General John Hamilton Roberts’ disastrous assumption that the Allies were succeeding. He sent Fusiliers Mont-Royal to take advantage, only to also be annihilated. With a casualty toll just shy of sixty-eight percent, it was evident that superior enemy firepower not only ensured a German victory at Dieppe but also annihilated Canadian forces.

At Dieppe, the Allied forces’ strategic, operational, and tactical failures resulted in the loss of thousands of men. Firstly, Canada’s limited participation at the strategic level resulted in a significant lack of insight and common sense at the operational and tactical level, wherein senior Canadian commanders had full control of. Secondly, once Canadian troops had fully committed to the Dieppe raid, they were inherently limited in time and resources, as well as their outdated military doctrine, which resulted in ineffective preparation. Finally, the failed surprise attack with grave mistakes committed by multiple regiments, resulted in a domino effect, worsened by faulty communications lines and superior enemy weaponry. While the Allied forces’ failure at Battle of Dieppe cost thousands of lives as the bloodiest battle of World War Two, it taught the Allies many important lessons on amphibious operations, ensuring success for the next raid. Truly, the Dieppe Raid was a prelude to D-Day, the greatest Allied success in World War Two // Truly, the Dieppe Raid was a prelude to D-Day, a military journey from tragedy to triumph.

Section Three: Reflection

Investigating Canada’s failure at Dieppe was a very valuable and rewarding experience. I gained significant insight on the processes used by historians and the challenges they face when conducting a historical investigation. First, my investigation involved a collection of primary and secondary sources. As a completely unbiased interpretation of historical events is impossible, historians must use a variety of primary and secondary sources to piece together inferences to form a well-supported argument or conclusion. I used primary sources, such as a written account by a Dieppe war veteran, to immerse myself in order to gain a deeper understanding of how events unfolded at Dieppe. Combined with several secondary sources such as scholarly articles and books, which provided thorough analysis of Dieppe by historians, I was able to form my own conclusion. 

After collecting sources, I used historians’ methods in my investigation to determine the credibility of each source. I assessed the source’s author and their relationship to the subject, the author’s intent, the intended audience of the source, and the balance of different perspectives in the work. With respect to the origin, purpose, and content of each source, I determined its value and limitations. During this process, I found that a source that I had selected, David O’Keefe’s One Day in August, the Untold Story Behind Canada’s Tragedy at Dieppe, was limited in terms of its purpose and content given its one-sided take on Dieppe, with a focus on the British Intelligence’s attempt to obtain German code for enigma machines. Thus, I used this source minimally in forming my arguments.

Finally, after selecting credible sources, I used other historians’ analysis and conclusions to form a more-informed perspective on Canada’s failure at Dieppe. However, given that history is not based on purely subjective information like mathematics and science, I recognized that regardless of the source used, there is always an inherent bias. Thus, it is important to use as much as a variety of sources as possible – I did so to ensure that my investigation is based off a clear understanding of Dieppe, based on historical records and historical analysis. This experience gave me insight on the dedication required of historians. Overall, in this period where I acted as a historian, I was able to better understand the role of historians in analyzing our past and predicting our future through their understanding of the human race.

[1] “OPERATION JULIBEE: The Raid on Dieppe, 19 Aug 42. Part II: The Execution of the Operation. Section 2: The Attack on the Main Beaches.” Canadian Military Headquarters Report No. 108, Article 296 (December 1943): 75. https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/military-history/history-heritage/official-military-history-lineages/reports/military-headquarters-1940-1948.html. (accessed March 14, 2019)

[2] Peter J. Henshaw, “The Dieppe Raid: A Product of Misplaced Canadian Nationalism?” Canadian Historical Review 77, no. 2 (June 1996): 264. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aqh&AN=9606255452&site=ehost-live (accessed March 14, 2019)

[3] Henshaw, “The Dieppe Raid: A Product of Misplaced Canadian Nationalism?”, 256.

[4] Ibid., 264.

[5] Ibid., 252.

[6] Ibid., 252.

[7] Henshaw, “The Dieppe Raid: A Product of Misplaced Canadian Nationalism?”, 265.

[8] Bill Twatio, “Calgary Tanks at Dieppe.” Esprit de Corps 24 (November 1999): 20-21 http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A30543963/PPWT?u=thor40439&sid=PPWT&xid=7453a30b (accessed March 14, 2019).

[9] Caroline D’Amours, “Training for Operation Jubilee: Tactics and Training in the Fusiliers Mont-Royal and the Dieppe Raid, 1939-1942.” Canadian Military History 22, (2013): 19 http://canadianmilitaryhistory.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/3-DAmours-Training-for-Jubilee.pdf (accessed March 14, 2019)

[10] Ibid., 29-30.

[11] Ibid., 30.

[12] Caroline D’Amours, “Training for Operation Jubilee: Tactics and Training in the Fusiliers Mont-Royal and the Dieppe Raid, 1939-1942”, 23.

[13] Ibid., 31

[14] Harald Høiback. Dieppe All Over Again: The Quandaries of Combined Joint Operations. https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/577513/jfq-73-dieppe-all-over-again-the-quandaries-of-combined-joint-operations/


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