Operation Jubilee

This was an Allied amphibious assault on Dieppe on the north coast of German-occupied France (19 August 1942).

The undertaking involved more than 6,000 infantry, most of them Canadian, supported by substantial British naval and air elements as well as considerably more limited number of US infantry.

The 'Jubilee' operation was undertaken for a number of reasons, principally the chance to exercise some of the large numbers of battle-ready troops now awaiting the launch of the ‘second front’ landings in North-West Europe, the testing of the amphibious warfare tactics and weapons developed for the proposed ‘second front’ operation, the examination of the feasibility of assaulting a defended port, the evaluation of the defensive tactics and weapons used by the Germans against an amphibious assault, and the diversion of German forces (especially air forces) from the Eastern Front.

Dieppe was chosen as the site for the operation for the triple reasons that it was typical of the type of French port on the English Channel which would, it was currently planned, eventually receive the ‘second front’ operation, it lay within the range of fighters operating from the southern part of England, and the destruction of its port facilities would have a significant effect on the movement of German coastal convoys along the English Channel’s southern side.

The object of the operation was to take and hold a major port for a short period, both to prove that such an undertaking was possible and to gather intelligence from prisoners and captured materials while assessing the German responses. The raid was also intended to draw the Luftwaffe’s air units into a large, planned encounter.

In its immediate aftermath, the raid was considered to be a total failure, for major objectives were accomplished and 4,384 of the 6,086 men who made it ashore were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The squadrons of the RAF and RCAF failed to lure large number of German aircraft into open battle and lost 119 aircraft, while the Royal Navy suffered 550 casualties. However catastrophic it was in itself, ‘Jubilee’ did provide a significant number of operational and tactical lessons which the Allies eagerly learned, digested and implemented, with major benefits for the conduct of later amphibious operations such as ‘Torch’ and ‘Overlord’.

The origins of the raid were somewhat unusual, for while a number of raids had been planned, the Dieppe raid became a reality as a result of the thinking of the new Chief of Combined Operations, Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, and one of Mountbatten’s principal assistants, Captain J. Hughes-Hallett, was the naval commander in the operation. It should be noted, however, that the operation was undertaken without the approval of the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff, and many elements in the planning suffered from the unofficial nature of the raid.

Mountbatten’s predecessor, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, had been ordered to organise raids on German-occupied Europe. Keyes was replaced by Mountbatten in 1941 at the insistence of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and there followed a number of raids, most notably ‘Archery’ on Vågsøy, ‘Biting’ on Bruneval and, on a larger scale, ‘Chariot’ on St Nazaire. It has been argued that these raids, undertaken while Mountbatten headed Combined Operations, were in fact planned under the leadership of Keyes.

The operation against Dieppe was initially planned as ‘Rutter’ for implementation late in June or early in July 1942, and was an essentially more simple undertaking whose primary objective was to seize and hold a major port for a short period, firstly to see if this was feasible, secondly to gather intelligence, and thirdly to examine the German responses, as noted above. Secondary objectives were to spur the Luftwaffe into a large-scale air battle with the British and Canadian fighter squadrons of the RAF, and to make use of Canadian troops and so, it was hoped, satisfy the Canadian commanders and government after the long period of inaction for the Canadian forces in the UK.

Keyes planned the operation with the support, authorised by GHQ Home Forces, of Lieutenant General B. L. Montgomery’s South-East Command, and ‘Rutter’ was approved in May 1942. The undertaking was to comprise a main attack onto the Dieppe town beach, two flanking attacks by paratroops, 1,000 sorties by Allied air forces, and a naval bombardment. Major General J. H. Roberts’ Canadian 2nd Division was to spearhead the attack, elements of this formation being entrusted with the task of advancing as far as Arques la Bataille, some 3 miles (4.8 km) inland of Dieppe.

The operation then was scaled down, especially in terms of the RAF’s contribution as the infliction of major damage on the town was not desired, but the troops nonetheless boarded their ships on 5 July. The weather worsened while the ships were still in harbour, however, and on 7 July ‘Rutter’ was cancelled.

Shortly before his departure to take command of the 8th Army in North Africa, Montgomery urged that the concept should be wholly abandoned. Almost all concerned believed that a raid on Dieppe was now out of the question, but Mountbatten had other ideas, and from 11 July started to revised ‘Rutter’ into ‘Jubilee’. Despite the fact that he had not received Combined Chiefs-of-Staff authority for the undertaking, and thus suffered a severe shortage of the most recent intelligence information, Mountbatten instructed his staff to proceed late in July. The revised operation was still based on the Canadian 2nd Division as the formation which would attack Dieppe, Puys on its eastern side and Pourville on its western side. However, the airborne component of ‘Rutter’, in which paratroops were to have been used to take the German flanking gun batteries at Berneval le Grand le Grand in the east and Varengeville in the west, was now replaced by an amphibious component in which Nos 3 and 4 Commandos, totalling 1,057 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonels J. Durnford-Slater and the Lord Lovat respectively, were to tackle Berneval le Grand and Belleville sur Mer in the east and Varengeville and Quiberville in the west. Some 50 men of the new US Rangers were interspersed among the commandos, and a small composite special section from the Small Scale Raiding Force, Special Operations Executive, Special Intelligence Service and No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando conducted limited intelligence-gathering activities.

Armoured support was provided by 30 example of the new Churchill infantry tank, these heavyweight machines being delivered onto the beach by another innovation, the LCT tank landing craft.

Dieppe was weakly defended in terms of the quality of the German troops, although in numbers and weapons the defence was up to strength. The core of the defence was Generalleutnant Konrad Haase’s 302nd Division, a static formation for garrison duties, of Generaloberst Curt Haase’s 15th Army within Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe ‘D’ charged with the defence of German-occupied northern France. The 302nd Division comprised the 570th Regiment, 571st Regiment and 572nd Regiment each of two battalions, the 302nd Artillerieregiment, the 302nd Aufklärungsabteilung, the 302nd Panzerjägerabteilung, the 302nd Pionierbataillon and the 302nd Nachrichtenkompanie. These units were deployed along the beaches of Dieppe and neighbouring towns to cover all possible landing places. Konrad Haase was fully aware of his formation’s limitations, and concentrated the 571st Regiment in the town with the heavier guns carefully concealed. So far as heavier weapons (machine guns, mortars and artillery) were concerned, the town and port was adequately protected with a concentration on the main approach (particularly in a large number of cliff caves), and there was a reserve to the rear of the town. Elements of the 571st Regiment also defended the radar station near Pourville, the battery at Varengeville and the ‘Hess’ battery at Quiberville. To the west the 570th Regiment manned the other ‘Goebbels’ flanking battery at Berneval le Grand.

The Luftwaffe contribution to the forthcoming battle forces was provided by 200 fighters, mostly of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 type, of Oberstleutnant Walter Oesau’s Jagdgeschwader 2 and Major Gerhard Schöpfel’s JG26, and by bombers of Oberstleutnant Hans von Koppelow’s Kampfgeschwader 2 and the anti-shipping aircraft of Major Hans Waldforts’s III/KG53, Hauptmann Kowaleski’s II/KG40 and Hauptmann Joachim Pötter’s I/KG77. Most of these 100 bombers were Dornier Do 217 machines.

The massive Allied air support for the operation, under the command of Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, amounted to some 74 squadrons from nine Allied nations, most of these units being provided by Air Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas’s RAF Fighter Command and including 48 equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire fighter in the expectation that the German fighter force in northern France would be drawn up into a major air battle. The Allied air armada was therefore decidedly fighter-heavy, the relative weakness of the bomber element later having a dire effect on the course of events.

In theory, therefore, the Allies had a significant aerial advantage, especially in numbers, but the German air units were all of high quality and the battle would also be fought over German-controlled territory.

Some 237 warships and landing craft, organised into 13 groups and including eight destroyers which could provide gunfire support during the landings, left five southern English ports between Southampton in the west and Littlehampton in the east during the night of 18/19 August, this total including nine infantry landing ships (Prins Albert, Prinses Beatrix, Invicta, Queen Emma, Prinses Astrid, Glengyle, Prince Charles, Prince Leopold and Duke of Wellington) and 179 landing craft escorted by the eight destroyers and numerous coastal craft. Of the escort type, the destroyers were Albrighton, Berkeley, Bleasdale, Brocklesby, Calpe, Fernie, Garth and Free Polish Slazak, and the other elements comprised the gunboat Locust, minesweepers Alresford, Bangor, Blackpool, Bridlington, Bridgeport, Rhyl, Sidmouth and Tenby of the 9th Minesweeping Flotilla, and Blyth, Clacton, Eastbourne, Felixstowe, Ilfracombe, Polruan and Stornoway of the 13th Minesweeping Flotilla, 12 motor gun boats, four steam gun boats and 20 motor launches.

The assault vessels carried 4,963 Canadian, 1,075 British and 50 US troops. Great emphasis was placed on obtaining tactical surprise to get ashore past the defences of the 302nd Division and the powerful coastal batteries in the area so that a defensive perimeter could be thrown around Dieppe while a special detachment pushed inland to the airfield near St Aubin and destroyed aircraft and facilities before pulling back to the town for the orderly evacuation planned for the evening.

Even as the assault force neared the French coast early in the morning of 18 August, however, things began to go wrong. No. 3 Commando was to make two landings 8 miles (13 km) to the east of Dieppe to silence the coastal battery near Berneval le Grand as this could fire on the landing at Dieppe 4 miles (6.4 km) to the west. The three 6.7-in (170-mm) and four 4.1-in (105-mm) guns of the 2/770th Heeresküstenartillerieabteilung had therefore to be taken out of action by the time the main force approached the main beach. The vessels carrying No. 3 Commando, approaching in the east to land on Yellow 1 and Yellow 2 beaches flanking Berneval le Grand , encountered a German coastal convoy. This latter was on a regular run whose schedule was known to British intelligence, but the non-authorised nature of the operation meant that such information had been neither requested nor provided. Moreover, the convoy had been spotted by the British 'Chain Home' radar network at 21.30, but no warning was transmitted to the 'Jubilee' force.

As it was, the S-boote escorting the convoy broke away to tackle the British vessels, torpedoing some of the landing craft and disabling SGB-5. The motor launch ML-346 and flak landing craft LCF-1 then combined their efforts to drive away the S-boote, but the assault group had been dispersed, with some losses, and the German coast defence organisation had been alerted. Some four-fifths of the force carrying No. 3 Commando were lost, and only a handful of the scattered landing craft reached the beaches to disgorge a mere 18 commandos. These reached the perimeter of the 'Goebbels' battery via Berneval le Grand and engaged their target with small arms fire, but lacked the strength to assault and destroy any of the guns: the commandos were at least able to snipe at the gun crews, distracting the German gunners and so preventing them from firing on the main assault. The commandos were eventually forced to withdraw in the face of superior German numbers.

In the 'Cauldron' sub-operation, No. 4 Commando landed in force on the Orange 1 and Orange 2 beaches some 6 miles (9.7 km) to the west of Dieppe. No. 4 Commando’s task was to neutralise the 'Hess' coastal battery at Blancmesnil Ste Marguerite near Varengeville. While the smaller part of the commando landed on the Orange 2 beach near Quiberville and moved inland before sweeping round to attack the rear of the battery which the larger part of the commando was attacking after coming ashore over the Orange 1 beach at Vasterval sur Mer. Thus this battery of six 5.9-in (150-mm) guns was neutralised.

This was the only unqualified success of 'Jubilee', and after it No. 4 Commando withdrew at 07.30 as planned, most of the men returning safely to England. This portion of 'Jubilee' was deemed a model for future amphibious commando assaults as part of major landing operations.

Between the two commando assaults, the Canadians in the centre were crucified, in part at least as a result of the inexperience of Roberts, who committed his reserve force to the main beaches, and also in part to the poor small unit leadership once the men were ashore.

This main assault was delivered over four beaches: in the west was Blue beach near Puys, in the centre Red and White beaches on the Dieppe waterfront, and in the east Green beach near Pourville.

The landing at Puys on the eastern flank of the Canadian assault was undertaken by the Royal Regiment of Canada which, with the Essex Scottish Regiment and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, constituted Brigadier S. Lett’s Canadian 4th Brigade. The German defence of the Blue beach area had been alerted by the naval engagement between the small German convoy and the craft carrying No. 3 Commando had alerted the German defenders at Blue beach. Here the landing by the Royal Regiment of Canada supplemented by three platoons of the Black Watch of Canada and an artillery detachment was tasked to neutralise machine gun and artillery batteries protecting the Dieppe beaches. The assault was delayed by 20 minutes and the smoke screens which should have hidden the attack had lifted. This the Canadians had lost the advantage of both surprise and darkness, and approached the beach only after the Germans had fully manned their defensive positions and were wholly prepared to beat off the landings. Firing from well prepared and ideally sited defences, the Germans held the Canadian unit which landed on the beach. As soon as they reached the shore, the Canadians found themselves pinned against the tall wire-topped seawall, enfiladed by German machine gun and unable to advance, and the Royal Regiment of Canada was in effect destroyed, its 556 men suffering 225 men killed and 264 captured, leaving just 33 to return to England. Blue beach was defended by just 60 Germans, who at no time felt the need for reinforcement of their position.

On the other flank of the main assault of 'Jubilee', at Green beach and at the same time as No. 4 Commando’s 'Cauldron' landing, the 1/South Saskatchewan Regiment came ashore at 04.52 without prior detection and therefore without being engaged by the German defence, left its landing craft on the beach and moved toward Pourville. On the approach to Green beach, however, some landing craft had drifted off course and most of the battalion’s men found themselves to the west of the Scie river rather than to the east of it as planned. Because it had been landed in the wrong place, the battalion, whose objective was the hills to the east of the village, had to enter Pourville so that its men could cross the river by the only bridge. Before the Canadians were able to reach this bridge, the Germans had positioned machine guns and anti-tank guns, and these halted the Canadian progress. With the battalion’s dead and wounded accumulating on the bridge and its approaches, Lieutenant Colonel Charles C. I. Merritt, the battalion’s commanding officer, attempted to give the attack renewed impetus by repeatedly and openly crossing the bridge, in order to demonstrate that it was feasible to do so. The assault did start to move once again, but the 1/South Saskatchewan and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, which had landed beside them and, with Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal constituted Brigadier H. A. Young’s 6th Brigade, were unable to reach their target. The Camerons did manage to penetrate farther inland than any other troops that day, but were also soon forced back as German reinforcements rushed to the scene. Both battalions suffered more losses as they withdrew, and courage performance of the landing craft crew members allowed 341 men to embark before increasing pressure meant that the rest had to be left to surrender. Another 141 had died.

One of the objectives of 'Jubilee' was to discover the performance and therefore the significance of the German radar station on the cliff-top to the east of the little town of Pourville. To achieve this, an RAF radar specialist, Flight Sergeant Jack Nissenthall, was attached to 1/South Saskatchewan and was to attempt to enter the radar station and learn its secrets, accompanied by a small unit of 11 Saskatchewans as bodyguards. Nissenthall volunteered for the mission fully aware of the fact that, as a result of the highly sensitive nature of his knowledge of Allied radar technology, his bodyguard unit was under orders to kill him if necessary to prevent him being captured. He also carried a cyanide pill as a last resort. Nissenthall and his bodyguard failed to enter the radar station, which was very strongly defended, but Nissenthall was able to crawl up to the rear of the station under German fire and cut all the telephone wires associated with the installation. This forced the crew inside the site to resort to radio communications to talk to their commander, and these transmissions which were intercepted by listening posts on the south coast of England. The Allies were able to learn a great deal about the location and density of German radar stations along the channel coast thanks to this one simple act, which helped to convince Allied commanders of the importance of developing radar jamming technology. Of this small unit, only Nissenthall and one other returned safely to England.

The main attack was in the centre of the 2nd Division’s front and right on the beach of Dieppe town over two points (Red and White beaches). As the landing craft approached their designated beaches, four escort destroyers shelled the coast, and at 05.15, this gunfire bombardment was supplemented by the attacks of five RAF squadrons of Hawker Hurricane fighter-bombers, which bombed the coastal defences and created a smoke screen to protect the assault troops. Between 05.20 and 05.23, some 30 minutes after the initial landings, the main frontal assault was made by the Essex Scottish Regiment and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Regiment. The eastern assault by the latter was held at the beach. The western assault by the former gained a hold in a shore-front casino, but few soldiers made it across the road and they were soon held.

The infantry of these two battalions was to be supported by Churchill tanks of the Canadian 14th Army Tank Regiment (The Calgary Regiment) landing at the same time, but the armour was late to arrive on the beach. As a result the infantry had to deliver their attack without armour support. The infantrymen were met by heavy machine gun fire from emplacements dug into the overlooking cliffs, were able to clear the obstacles and scale the sea wall, and suffered heavy losses right on the beach. When they did arrive, only 29 of the tanks were landed. Two of these sank in deep water, and 12 more became bogged on the soft shingle beach. So only 15 tanks reached and crossed the seawall, whereupon they were faced by a series of tank obstacles which prevented their entry into the town. Blocked from going farther forward, the tanks were compelled to return to the beach, where they provided fire support for the now retreating infantry. None of the tanks managed to return to England, and all the crews which landed were either killed or captured.

The engineers whose task it was to clear such obstacles were unable to do so because of heavy fire which the tanks could not suppress. Back on the beach, the tanks provided fire support as they could and covered the retreat. The supporting naval gunfire bombardment was provided by destroyers, whose guns lacked the weight of fire and range to destroy the German strongpoints without themselves coming under heavy fire. Moreover, the destroyers were unable to communicate directly with the those on shore to make their bombardment effective.

Not knowing the situation on the beaches because of the smoke screen laid by the supporting destroyers, and also the victim of only garbled communication with his forces ashore, at about 07.00 Roberts committed his two reserve units: the 584 men of the Fusiliers Mont-Royal, of whom only 125 returned to England, and the 369 Royal Marines of No. 40 (RM) Commando, at the time known as 'A' Commando. The Fusiliers Mont-Royal, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dollard Ménard approached the beach in 26 landing craft. The landing craft were heavily engaged by the Germans, who hit them with heavy machine gun, mortar and grenade fire, and destroyed them; only a few men managed to reach the town. These men were then sent in toward the centre of Dieppe and became pinned down under the cliffs, and Roberts ordered the Royal Marines to land in order to support them.

The role of the marines had not originally been to support the landed infantry, and therefore had to transfer from their gunboats and motor boat transports onto landing craft. The Royal Marine landing craft were heavily engaged on their way to the beach, many being destroyed or disabled, and the Royal Marines who did reach the shore were either killed or captured. As he became aware of the situation, the Royal Marine commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Phillipps, donned white gloves to give semaphore signals to warn off the following craft, and was hit and killed in the process. All but one of the landing craft saw the signal and complied, though several craft were already hit.

The situation was hopeless, and at 10.50 the order was given for a general withdrawal from the main landing beaches. This had been completed by 13.00.

The Allied air operation in support of 'Jubilee' resulted in some of the fiercest air combat since 1940. The RAF’s main objectives were to create and maintain a protective umbrella over the amphibious force and beach-heads, and also to force the Luftwaffe into a battle of attrition on the Allies' own terms. Some 48 squadrons of Supermarine Spitfire fighters were committed, with eight squadrons of Hurricane fighter-bombers, four squadrons of North American Mustang reconnaissance fighters and seven squadrons of No. 2 Group’s light bombers.

Although initially slow to respond to the raid, the German fighters soon began to make their presence felt. While the Allied fighters were moderately successful in protecting the ground and sea forces from bombing, they were hampered by operating far from their home bases. The Spitfires in particular were at the edge of their ranges, with some only being able to spend five minutes over the combat area.

A little known element of 'Jubilee' was a British attempt, orchestrated by the Naval Intelligence Division, to locate and seize a German Enigma four-rotor enciphering machine and its associated code books and rotor setting sheets to assist the 'Ultra' decryption work of Bletchley Park. The task was entrusted to a small party of No. 30 Commando, a Royal Navy unit created specifically for the intelligence-gathering role, which was to exploit the presence of other troops landing at Dieppe as a distraction to ease its task of reaching the local headquarters of the German navy and capturing the Enigma machine.

The comparatively recent introduction of the four-rotor machine was preventing cryptanalysis of Enigma transmissions, so the Allies were eager to get their hands on one to discover any weaknesses in the new system. But the raid was a failure and no machine was obtained.

The Germans had remained in total control of the situation and lost some 591 men killed and wounded, together with 48 aircraft. On the Allied side the Canadians had lost some 3,367 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner out of their initial complement of almost 5,000 men, the commandos 247 of their 1,000 men, the Royal Navy 550 men killed and wounded plus the escort destroyer Berkeley and 33 landing craft, and the RAF 109 men killed, wounded and captured, and 106 aircraft including 64 Spitfire, 20 Hurricane, 10 Mustang and six Douglas Boston machines, and the USAAF 13 aircraft. A particular discouraging feature of the air fighting was the poor showing of the RAF’s latest Spitfire fighters, which revealed themselves no real match for the Luftwaffe’s Fw 190 fighters.

It should be added, though, that the casualty figures vary. According to one source, of the 6,090 men involved, 1,027 were killed and 2,340 captured. The Official History of the Canadian Army gives the figures of 907 Canadians killed (including some in captivity) while about 2,210 Canadians out of the 4,963 sent made it back to England (it must be noted that nearly 1,000 of these never landed).

The capture of a copy of the Dieppe plan, wholly wrongly brought ashore by Brigadier W. W. Southam, commander of the Canadian 6th Brigade and one of the Canadians who were taken prisoner, made it possible for the Germans to carry out a thorough analysis of the operation. Senior German officers were not impressed: Konrad Haase, for example, considered it incomprehensible that the Allies believed it feasible for one division to be able to overrun a German regiment supported by artillery. He added that the strength of naval and air forces was wholly insufficient to suppress the defenders during the landings. General Adolf-Friedrich Kuntzen, commander of the LXXXI Corps in the 15th Army, believed it inconceivable that the Pourville landings were not supported by armour.

The Germans were also unimpressed by the Churchill tanks abandoned in the withdrawal. One report assessed that in its current form the Churchill was easy to defeat: its 2-pdr gun was described as poor and obsolete, and the armour was compared unfavourably with that of current German and Soviet tanks.

However, the Germans recognised that the Allies were certain to learn some lessons from the operation, and with von Rundstedt observed that 'Just as we will evaluate these experiences for the future, so will the assaulting force…perhaps even more so as it has gained the experience dearly. He will not do it like this a second time!'

So far as the Allies were concerned, the lessons learned at Dieppe were essentially what not to do in future amphibious assaults, and thereby laid the foundations for the tactical and operational concepts which characterised the 'Overlord' landings in Normandy two years later. Most notably, 'Jubilee' emphasised the need for preliminary artillery and air support; the need for a sustained element of surprise; the need for full intelligence about German fortifications; the avoidance of a direct frontal attack on a defended port city; and the need for proper re-embarkation craft.

A direct result of the lessons learned at Dieppe was the British development of a whole range of specialist armoured vehicles which allowed their engineers to perform many of their tasks protected by armour. The operation showed major deficiencies in RAF ground support techniques, and this led to the creation of a fully integrated tactical air force to support major ground offensives.

Another effect of the raid was change in the Allies' previous belief that seizure of a major port would be a prerequisite for success in the creation of a second front. The revised appreciation was that the amount of damage that would be done to a port by the bombardment required to take it would almost certainly render it useless as a port, at least in the short term. As a result, the decision was taken to construct prefabricated 'Mulberry' harbours to be towed in sections to lightly defended beaches and there assembled as part of a large-scale invasion.