Dieppe - Operation Jubilee

Posted on Monday 20th August 2012


the dieppe raid, 2nd canadian division
There are two passages of text that to my mind sum up the whole context of the Dieppe raid. The first is a US newspaper commentary on the heroism of fellow North Americans and the second are the words of an experienced Canadian soldier in the immediate aftermath of Operation Jubilee. The New York Times 19 August 1943 wrote:
‘Someday there will be two spots on the French coast sacred to the British and their Allies. One will be Dunkirk where Britain was saved because a beaten army would not surrender.
‘The other will be Dieppe, where brave men died without hope for the sake of proving that there is a wrong way to invade. They will have their share of glory when the right way is tried.’
The second piece is by Captain Denis Whitaker of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry who recorded how Combined Operation’s Headquarters (COHQ) summoned him after the raid:
‘The debriefing had begun when I finally got to London. I recognized the Dieppe military commander, Major General Roberts – his face bore a gaunt stricken look...
‘General Roberts was finishing his reports. “I am inclined to question whether tactical surprise was achieved... It is evident that the German gun crews were standing by with all defence posts manned when the first wave of troops came in.”
‘Mountbatten shrugged of the comments impatiently. “You have to take into account that a state of alert was normal at dawn, and that the conditions of weather and tide might have increased the state of alert”.
‘I stood up. My mind reeled. So surprise had never been possible! “Sir. I landed on the main beach. When I interrogated a German prisoner, he boasted, we have been waiting for you for a week.’
‘Sit down, Captain Whitaker. I do not believe the enemy was forewarned. I want constructive comments – not excuses.”’
From these two quotes, it can be seen that almost immediately, the scale of the sacrifice, amongst Canadian and British sailors, soldiers and airmen, combined with the painful examination of military failure, led to the Dieppe Raid’s enduring fascination.
The Goebbels battery
'Young soldiers will follow their commanders out of innocence of their hearts.'
(Brigadier Peter Young to generations of Officer Cadets 1941-1975)
Number 3 Commando’s operation had not started well. Naval Group 5 had lost five of the unit’s twenty-three LCPs to breakdown; four were damaged in the encounter with the German convoy; leaving seven craft to press on with a Motor Launch (ML). Another seven were dispersed during the engagement. In addition, the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel JF Durnford-Slatter was marooned on the damaged SGB 5, whose radio had been knocked out during the fighting. It was not until 0630 hours that Commander Wyburd and Durnford Slater managed to find a set working on one of the dispersed LCPs and pass the information to Headquarters on board HMS Calpe that ‘5 Gp dispersed by enemy’.
The plan to assault the Goebbels Battery (Second Batterie 770 Coastal Artillerie Battalion) had been simple. The main force was to land with the Commanding Officer on Yellow 1 Beach; a secondary force, under the Second-in-Command, Major Peter Young, was to head for the smaller Yellow II Beach, where they would make their way up the cliff under cover of darkness via a path in a steep gully. Once on the cliff top, the force would silently infiltrate around both flanks and attack the battery from the rear: they hoped to achieve surprise.
Even though the bulk of the force had been dispersed, and only a fraction of the 450 commandos were aboard the landing craft heading to the coast, they were determined to carry on with the mission, hoping that more craft would appear out of the darkness.
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One of the pre-war postcards of Yellow I Beach used to brief the commandos on their task.

Yellow I Beach
Colonel Stacey, the Canadian official historian wrote of No. 3 Commando’s main landing:
‘Certain of the landing craft of Group 5, however, had pushed-on on their own responsibility and made a gallant attempt to complete their task. Five of these landing craft, and subsequently a sixth, reached Yellow I Beach and landed their troops under covering fire from ML 346, five craft touching down at 0510 hrs, 20 mins late.’
The enemy were by now fully alert, however, and to make matters worse, it was virtually full light. Sergeant Dungate recalled after his release from captivity that,
‘When we were going in you could actually see the defenders standing on the cliffs. The amazing part about it was that they never blew us out of the water but waited until we got right into the beach. You could see the Germans through binoculars watching us come in.’
A German infantry section of ten men from III/571 Infanterie Regiment, armed with rifles and a machine gun, were manning their defences, covering the four hundred yards of Yellow I Beach. They opened fire, and both the crafts’ crew and commandos suffered casualties as they approached the beach, because the light wooden craft offered virtually no protection from enemy small-arms fire. On board LCP(L) 42, the commandos were given the option to turn back, but they were of one accord: ‘We go in!’ But as the craft approached the coast, ‘The Coxswain had been killed and Lieutenant Commander Corke mortally wounded. A trooper of No. 3 Commando took the helm and the troops were landed from the craft when it was in a sinking condition.’ Lieutenant Commander Corke, having overseen the transfer of the wounded, went down with his craft.
Meanwhile, on the final run-in to Yellow I, ML 346 and Landing Craft Flak No.1 did their best to suppress enemy positions on the cliff top, in order to cover the landing craft. On the cliff top, a large white house and what appeared to be a small chapel, which were providing cover to the enemy machine gunners, were heavily engaged by ML 346, with 3-pounders, Oerlikon and Lewis guns, and set on fire.
The commandos, consisting mainly of Captain Wills’s No.6 Troop, dashed across the beach to the foot of the cliff. Two gullies led up from the beach. The intended route was blocked with coil upon coil of dannert wire, laced with Teller mines on trip wires. Finding a second seemingly less heavily wired gully, Captain Wills set his men to work with wire cutters. Without the sections of tubular ladder, which had been on the craft that did not make it to the beach, it was a slow business, but the commandos forced their way up the cliff. As soon as they reached the top, they came under fire from a Spandau. Captain Wills, originally from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, was badly wounded, having been hit in the neck. However, two men cleared away the immediate opposition. Corporal ‘Banger’ Hall, also of the Duke of Cornwall’s, charged the enemy machine-gun position single-handed in a ‘near-suicidal’ charge, dealt with it using grenades, and finished the opposition off with his commando knife. US Ranger Lieutenant Loustalot attacked the second position, but he was not so lucky, and became the first American soldier to be killed in Europe during the Second World War. Reinforced by twenty men from a sixth LCP, the commandos started to push on inland to their objective, even though other enemy positions were still active on the cliff tops. Sergeant Dungate recalled:
‘We did the best we could with what we had, but we were no longer an organized fighting unit after the attack at sea. We had been trained to a pitch for this, but had no plans in case of anything going as badly wrong as this.’
About fifteen minutes after the initial landing on Yellow I, a sixth LCP landed Lieutenant Dreus and his commandos. It was now full daylight, and enemy machine-gun positions poured bursts of fire into the craft, but ML 346 provided suppressive fire, and a total of thirteen men landed on the beach and scaled the cliff by the route opened earlier by Captain Wills. Lieutenant Dreus and his men provided a welcome reinforcement, bringing the number of men from No. 3 Commando landing on Yellow I to a total of 115. However, with the country offering shorter fields of fire than they had been able to appreciate from maps and photographs, movement towards the battery was slow. Sergeant Dungate continued:
‘We’d been ashore quite a while and hadn’t moved very far. I’ll never forget it and I remember thinking, “This is not very clever, it’s too quiet.” We moved out on to a road and there was a tremendous clatter as they opened fire on us. One man called Easterbrook was hit. When we undid his belt, his stomach was in his trousers’
As the commandos had landed in full daylight, and taken a considerable time to clear the barbed wire and climb the gully, III/571 Infanterie Regiment had time to gather troops to reinforce their ten-to-twelve-man cliff-top section, and to call in close air support. First to arrive on the scene was a Spandau team sent forward to reinforce the German section. Next were eight men from a nearby Luftwaffe post who, lacking infantry training, all fell victim to the skilful commandos. Finally, German fighter-bombers raked the cliff tops with cannon fire.
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Landing Craft Personnel (Large) or R Craft photographed during the raid.

It was not long before the well-rehearsed German counter-attack plans swung into action. Major von Blucher, commander of the divisional reconnaissance and anti-tank battalion, had under command a company of his own men mounted on bicycles and a company of lorried infantry from 570 Infanterie Regiment, along with a company of engineers in the infantry role.
Casualties among the commandos mounted, and ammunition was running short. Captain Osmond commented ‘We were the only people in the world who were fighting a war, it seemed. We could see and hear all these lorries heading towards us down the road from Dieppe.’ The commandos started to withdraw the five hundred yards back to the gully, as the German infantry closed in. Private Grove commented:
‘We had to lie in the grass, take our turn and dash across the path. I was lucky. They just knocked the heel off one of my boots as I ran for it. Every one of my party got across, but a couple of US Rangers came directly down the path. They hadn’t a cat in hell’s chance. All we heard was them screaming.’
The wounded Rangers and commandos had to be abandoned and were taken prisoner by the Germans.
Meanwhile, the armed tanker Franz had sailed in towards the beach and was engaging the waiting boats and the cliffs. ML 346 returned the fire and attacked her tormenter, closing to within thirty yards before the ship burst into flames and was driven up the beach. The Franz’s colours were removed by the British sailors and taken as a battle trophy in spite of fire from the cliff top, which was damaging the waiting craft and causing heavy casualties amongst the Royal Navy crewmen.
The commandos continued to fight their way back to the gully, suffering further casualties. Captain Wills was carried down to the beach by Private Lerigo, whose strength came from hours of hard training on ropes and on the assault course at the Commando Training Centre Achnacarry. When they reached the beach, it was soon apparent that with the enemy firing down from the cliff top there was no prospect of the few remaining wooden LCPs closing into the beach to pick up the surviving commandos. Captain Wills ordered the remaining commandos to head west along the beach to meet up with the Canadians at Puys. But with stick grenades being thrown down the cliff, they were driven into a cave, where they were forced to surrender when German infantry came down onto the beach and fired into the cave. Captain Osmond recalled: ‘It was obvious that nobody was coming to collect us, so when the Germans got about twenty yards away, I made everyone pack up.’ In the area of Yellow Beach I, thirty-seven men were killed and eighty-two men captured. Only Lance Corporal Sinclair escaped, by swimming out to the LCPs who were being driven further from the beach by enemy fire.
Sergeant Dungate recounted that ‘there were masses of Germans. There must have been hundreds of them, all with their bicycles stacked up along the road.’ A series of reports confirming the first German success of the day climbed their chain of command, and according to C-in-C West’s war diary, von Rundstedt received the news at 1020 hours. However, it was not until he reached Newhaven at about midnight that Lieutenant Colonel Durnford-Slatter discovered that a party of his men under his Second-in-Command had landed at Yellow II and that they had ‘an altogether more interesting time ashore in France.’
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Yellow II Beach
What was it that made Batterie 2/770 or the Goebbels Battery so special that the commandos would make such determined efforts to continue with their mission? The enemy battery at Berneval le Grand consisted of three 170mm and four 105mm guns, along with anti-aircraft and ground defences manned by more than 120 German gunners and infantry. The 170mm guns were some of the heaviest in this sector of the coast. With a range of almost twenty miles, these guns could cover all the approaches to Dieppe. Even the 105mm guns had a range of almost ten miles and were capable of engaging the stationary Landing Ships Infantry as they disembarked troops into assault craft. If not neutralised, the two types of gun together represented a real and considerable danger to both the Jubilee naval and landing forces.
As the two GHQ Phantom signallers and their HF set were aboard one of the LCPs dispersed by the action at sea, there was no one to pass messages back to RAF Uxbridge, where Air Marshal Leigh-Mallory and Lord Mountbatten waited for information. They had to assume that the raid had failed; and it was only later that Durnford-Slater’s message ‘Force dispersed’ was relayed to them via HMS Calpe, confirming the worst. However, they had not counted on the determination of the commandos.
At the same time that the five craft were heading for Yellow Beach I, a lone LCP was heading for the coast under the command of Lieutenant Buckee of the Royal Navy Reserve and Major Peter Young. They
‘...conferred together after the encounter with the convoy, and decided, in spite of this misfortune, to persevere and do their utmost to carry out their task. Accordingly, LCP(L) 15 went into Yellow II Beach, and the party landed without opposition…’
This single landing craft carried just eighteen commandos - three officers and fifteen men – and landed.
Having decided to continue with the mission, Lieutenant Buckee piloted LCP 15 into the beach five minutes before zero hour. In almost full darkness, with a feat of navigation, he landed Major Young and his seventeen men, undetected by the enemy, within fifty yards of the exit from the narrow Yellow Beach II. The exit via a steep path up a gully was predictably blocked with coils of dannert wire piled ten feet high, and the gully beyond was laced with some particularly vicious-looking barbed wire, pinned to the cliff by stout stakes. Without any means of blowing their way through or cutting the wire, it was going to be a case of forcing and picking their way through. From their small collection of weapons, the group were forced to leave their 3-inch mortar and its four bombs at the base of the cliff. This left them armed with ‘one Garand rifle, nine Service rifles [Mark III .303-inch Lee-Enfields], one Bren, six Tommy guns, three pistols [and] one 2-inch mortar with six bombs...’
The COHQ report records that:
‘The gully was climbed by making use of the German wire as a rope and the iron stakes which secured it as a ladder. A rope made by driver J. Cunningham Royal Army Service Corps, out of joined toggle ropes, proved useful at one difficult point.’
Major Young, who admitted he was not a good climber, commented that scaling the cliff was ‘rather an ordeal,’ and that if faced with attempting it a second time he would have ‘reconsidered.’ But after some twenty minutes, the small force assembled on the cliff top, cut and bleeding, with uniforms torn. While waiting for the last man to scale the cliff, with the benefit of daylight, Major Young scanned the sea with his binoculars, and was reassured to spot ML 346 and its small gaggle of craft heading for Yellow I. Confident that the original plan was still viable, he later remarked:
‘Some of the soldiers did not look particularly pleased at the turn of events, so I gave them a pep talk... telling them that it would be something to tell their children about.’
Confidence restored by Peter Young’s inspiring personality, they moved inland to the commando rendezvous (RV). The COHQ report recorded:
‘... on reaching the cliffs, the party moved inland a short distance and took cover in a wood. There, Major Young divided them into three groups, and himself went forward with his runners to reconnoitre. It was decided to make for the village of Berneval in an effort to join with the rest of the Commandos.’
However, before Young and his group had gone far, the massive guns of Batterie 2/770 opened fire on the vulnerable ships lying off Dieppe.
When the commandos reached the Berneval-Dieppe Road, they grabbed a petrified French boy from his bicycle. The frightened lad was on his way to find a doctor to treat his mother, who had been wounded by an RAF bomb that missed its target on the battery, and he confirmed its location and over-estimated its garrison at 200 men. Moving along the road to Berneval, the commandos took the precaution of scaling a telegraph pole and cutting the telephone wires to Dieppe.
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One of the three French 170mm guns pressed into German service at the Goebbels Battery.

Major Young’s group reached the edge of the village, just as six Hurribombers from 175 Squadron pitched their 250-pound bombs into the battery. The doubling commandos were greeted by ‘about twenty inhabitants, who showed great friendliness, particularly the boys and young men, one of whom pointed out the exact position of the Battery.’ Moving more slowly north up the main Berneval-le-Grand street, the commandos passed the local Sappers-Pompier putting out a fire caused by Allied bombing in a house, while the French boy’s wounded mother was evacuated in a wheel-barrow. In spite of this, the French people were not resentful. However, Major Young and his group came under Spandau fire from the church tower, which sending flakes of stone, whining around their ears, as wildly-aimed enemy fire struck the buildings above them. With covering fire from Private Anderson’s only weapon, a pistol, the group went to ground. Two officers armed with Thompson sub-machine guns returned fire. Neither of these weapons had a realistic chance of hitting the enemy at the range in question, but return fire kept the heads of the Wehrmacht coastal infantry down until the 2-inch mortar and its six rounds of high explosive could be brought into action against the church tower. As an area weapon, a light mortar would not normally be the weapon of choice for such a target, but it was all they had available. With skill or luck the commandos, having fired several rounds, knocked-out the Spandau with a direct hit by an HE bomb. The COHQ report states:
‘An attempt was then made to climb the belfry, from the top of which it would have been possible to snipe the Battery effectively with the Bren gun. There were no stairs, however, or other means of climbing to the top, and this plan was perforce abandoned. Major Young then made his way through an orchard, passing a dummy AA gun, into cornfields; here desultory sniping fire was opened on our men.’
All this time, the battery, probably with only a single gun in action, was engaging the landing ships off Dieppe ‘at a very slow rate’ of fire. It is estimated that ‘the number of rounds got off was not more than twenty.’ The reason that only a single gun was firing is not known, but we can speculate that the RAF bombing had knocked out or damaged the guns or otherwise neutralised some of the gun crews. Whatever the reason, it could surely only be a matter of time before more guns came into action. Although the remainder of No 3 Commando, who had been seen heading for Yellow I, had failed to arrive, Major Young recalls that his group’s rapid advance into the village, and a ‘dose of enemy fire’, had restored his men’s morale:
‘They had now got their blood up and quite recovered their spirits. They were beginning to enjoy themselves... There seemed to me to be no future in advancing against a hidden enemy, and it occurred to me that we might be better off in the cornfields... In the Army, you are told that two bricks will stop a bullet. I announced that nine feet of corn would stop a bullet. Fortunately, my soldiers believed this, or appeared to. We ran into the cornfield and opened a fairly heavy fire on the battery, but not rapid because I hadn’t got much ammunition.’
Reconciled to the fact that they were on their own, the commandos worked their way forward to within two hundred yards of the battery and, at nearly 0630 hours, they opened fire on the German gunners. Deliberately dispersed, Major Young’s small command did their best to simulate a larger force, by firing and crawling back out of sight before dashing to a new fire position. As a result of their small-arms fire, the German gunners were prevented from serving their guns, as they would have had to stand up in their open concrete gun positions.
At this stage, commandos were thwarted in their attempt to close right up to the battery when ML 346, waiting off Yellow Beach, opened fire on Goebbels Battery with her diminutive 3-pounder gun. Although the high-explosive content was relatively small, the friendly shell splinters also kept the commandos back at a respectful distance.
Eventually the German gunners traversed one of the 170mm guns inland, and the commandos saw the gun being depressed to engage them. When the gun fired, it was apparent that it could not depress sufficiently to engage Major Young’s commandos, and the shell passed overhead to explode about a mile inland. Fire was returned by shooting into the gun’s ‘black and yellow fumes,’ which drove the gunners to cover; thereafter, until 0730 hours, they kept the enemy gunners’ heads down. However, with little ammunition, with German reinforcements no doubt on the way, and with such a small force under his command, Major Young sent Captain Selwyn ‘back to form a bridge-head on the beach, with orders to fire three white Verey lights if an LCP was available for evacuation. These were presently seen to burst in the sky.’
It was not to be a headlong dash to the beach: that would be an invitation to be overwhelmed by the Germans, who had to be keep at a respectful distance, while the commandos ‘leap-frogged’ back to the beach from fire position to fire position. As they approached the cliff, Lieutenant Ruxton, Trooper About and Major Young gave covering fire with the Bren gun, while the remainder made their way through the wire. On reaching the gully down to the beach, Lance Corporal White, a commando volunteer from the Devon Regiment, stepped on a mine; but despite his terrible wound, he recovered the 3-inch mortar that had been abandoned on the beach, and successfully fired all four available rounds at the battery. This, in the finest traditions of his regiment and the commando spirit, he did under his own initiative.
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R Craft heading north back to England.
At 0737 hours, Lieutenant Bukee very bravely ordered his coxswain to take LCP(L) 15 into Yellow I Beach, under the heavy covering fire provided by ML 346, who kept the Germans on the cliff top at bay.
Major Young and the eighteen commandos on this single craft were the only ones among No. 3 Commando who landed on Yellow Beach I and II who reached the UK, less Lance Corporal Sinclair. They rejoined the remainder of Lieutenant Colonel Durnford-Slater’s No. 3 Commando at Newhaven. The men left at Yellow Beach I, mostly wounded, became prisoners of war.
The COHQ report summarized the operations at Yellow Beach:
‘So much for the attempt to capture and destroy the “Goebbels” Battery to the east of Dieppe. It was not crowned with success, but there is no doubt that the sniping tactics employed by Major Young and his men greatly interfered with the handling of the battery for upwards of an hour and a half, during the critical period of the landing.’
To the success of the commandos must be added a reminder that the six Hurribombers of 175 Squadron probably also played a significant part in neutralizing the Goebbels or Batterie 2/770 on the morning of 19 August 1942.
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Soldiers of 3 Commando pose for photographs on the quay side at Newhaven on the morning of 20 August 1942.

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Let's Go... Canada!

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The German view of the Dieppe Raid.

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One of the pre-war postcards of Yellow I Beach used to brief the commandos on their task.

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Lieutenant Colonel Durnford-Slater (left) and Major Young photographed in Normandy in 1944.

'The commandos, consisting mainly of Captain Wills's No.6 Troop, dashed across the beach to the foot of the cliff. Two gullies led up from the beach. The intended route was blocked with coil upon coil of dannert wire, laced with Teller mines on trip wires. Finding a second seemingly less heavily wired gully, Captain Wills set his men to work with wire cutters. Without the sections of tubular ladder, which had been on a craft that did not make it to the beach, it was a slow business, but the commandos forced their way up the cliff. As soon as they reached the top, they came under fire from a Spandau.'

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An extract of the intelligence overprint map prepared before the raid, showing German defences in the Berneval area.

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A modern picture showing the two exits from Yellow I.

'We had to lie in the grass, take our turn and dash across the path. I was lucky. They just knocked the heel off one of my boots as I ran for it. Every one of my party got across, but a couple of US Rangers came directly down the path. They hadn't a cat in hell's chance. All we heard was them screaming.'
(Private Grove)

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German infantry on the cliffs above Berneval taken during an exercise prior to the raid.

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Royal Navy sailors of Motor Launch 346 photographed with the tanker Franz's ensign.

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A sketch map taken from the Combined Operations HQ report showing No.3 Commando's operations from Yellow Beach II.

'Some of the soldiers did not look particularly pleased at the turn of events, so I gave them a pep talk... telling them that it would be something to tell their children about.'
(Major Young)

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The view across the valley from Yellow II Beach towards Berneval-le-Grande showing the route taken by the commandos up to the Dieppe-Berneval Road.

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Plumes of water amongst the Allied ships, thrown up by heavy shell fire shortly after dawn on 19 August 1944.

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The rebuilt church at Berneval and the area where the commandos come under fire.

'They had now got their blood up and quite recovered their spirits. They were beginning to enjoy themselves... There seemed to me to be no future in advancing against a hidden enemy, and it occurred to me that we might be better off in the cornfields... In the Army you are told that two bricks will stop a bullet. I announced that nine feet of corn would stop a bullet. Fortunately, my soldiers believed this, or appeared to. We ran into the cornfield and opened a fairly heavy fire on the battery, but not rapid because I hadn't got much ammunition.'

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Air photograph of the Yellow Beaches and Berneval areas dated 17 August 1942.

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Air photography and the resulting intelligence overprints had a long way to go before they reached the standards of those issued to D-Day troops.

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Major Peter Young (centre) and some of his men celebrate their success with navy rum during the passage home.

Further Reading


Dieppe
(Paperback - 224 pages)
ISBN: 9781844152452

by Tim Saunders
Only £12.99

In 1942, with the outcome of the war very much in the balance, there was a pressing need for military success on mainland Europe. Churchill ordered Admiral Lord Mountbatten's Combined Operations HQ to take the war to the Germans. The Canadians were selected for the Dieppe raid, which, while a morale raiser, was a disaster. Over 3,000 men were lost. This authoritative account looks at the planning, execution and analyses the reasons for failure.
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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