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‘Canada’s single bloodiest day’ of World War II, 80 years on

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Canada is just one of many overlooked Allied nations that helped turn the tide of World War II from the fall of 1942. Although that year’s Canadian-led Dieppe Raid ultimately failed, the Allies learned important lessons that later helped ensure the success of the D-Day landings in Normandy. FRANCE 24 looks back on the Dieppe Raid, 80 years later.

On August 19, 1942, the Dieppe Raid of Operation Jubilee, as its code name was called, was launched when Stalin believed that the Western allies were not carrying their share of the war burden and so demanded that a second front be opened to draw German troops away from Russia. The US, which had recently joined the war after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, also thought it best to launch and accelerate a direct attack on mainland Europe. The British High Command, notably Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was well aware of this political pressure. The Dieppe Raid took place under the auspices of the Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ), which was responsible for conducting British raiding operations. The objective of the COHQ was to capture a harbor during this raid, hold it for a short period of time and then quickly withdraw.

The main contingent in the raid was soldiers from Canada’s 2nd Infantry Division. Originally, COHQ’s planners had wanted the British Marine Division to carry out the raid, but political pressure from Canadians at home and several senior Canadian officers in Britain (notably Lieutenant General Harry Crerar) led to the job being offered to Canada . This pressure arose from the belief that the Canadian Army, stationed in Britain, played no active role in winning the war, despite the fact that this army was deliberately retained so that it could play a significant role in the eventual Allied war. invasion of France. Canada would eventually play a vital role on D-Day as it was assigned one of five landing beaches.

Canada’s role in World War II is generally not well known in Western Europe and not even among its allies, the British and the Americans. This is despite the fact that Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939, just a week after Britain and much earlier than the US, as an independent nation, rather than a member of the Commonwealth. In addition, not only did it have the third-largest Western Allied army, with more than 150,000 soldiers as part of the First Canadian Army, it was the only army during World War II to serve overseas that was made up entirely of volunteers. It was not until the last days of the war that a handful of soldiers were enlisted and saw the battle. Canada also had the third largest air force and navy by the end of the war.

To get a closer look at the Dieppe Raid, FRANCE 24 spoke to the Canadian military historian Mark Zuehlke, who described it as “Canada’s bloodiest day of the war.” He explains that he wrote the book “Tragedy at Dieppe” to “commemorate and honor the Canadians who fought and died there, who were badly wounded or spent the rest of the war in captivity, and even those who fewer numbers of soldiers who survived the war.” raided and continued to serve their country in other battles of World War II.”

FRANCE 24: Why was Dieppe, a fishing port on the Normandy coast of northern France, chosen as the site for this raid?

Dieppe was selected for its proximity [to the UK and in relation to mainland Europe]. It was the only French port close enough to Britain that the Allied air force could provide uninterrupted cover with sufficient strength for the duration of the raid to disrupt the Luftwaffe’s inevitable attempts to attack the raiding ships. Furthermore, Dieppe had no strategic value. It was a small port of limited use for the German navy.

The planning of the raid was elaborate, but also fatally flawed. The beaches were unsuitable for landing tanks and large troops due to their paved nature. The German defenses were thought to be less than they were and the quality of the German soldiers was underestimated. In the end, the robbers barely made it off the beaches and the victims made it the most tragic and bloodiest day for Canada of World War II – 913 Canadians died, 1,946 were taken prisoner. The robbery yielded nothing of real value.

Can you explain the role the Free French troops played in the raid?

The Free French’s role in the raid was somewhat limited and limited to the involvement of the Free French Commands. Records are a bit confused about their involvement, some reports say 15 French commandos were involved and others say 20. They didn’t land on the beaches off Dieppe but rather on the flanks where the British No. 3 and No. 4 Commandos landed. landed with the mission to take out German gun batteries that could fire on the beach opposite Dieppe. Their primary role was to serve as guides and translators during the raid. If the raid had been more successful, they would also have been ordered to round up some 14 French resistance members with the idea of ​​getting intelligence from them in the UK. These commandos were the first Free French to fight on home soil since the country’s surrender in 1940.

Strangely enough, the planners at the Combined Operations Headquarters did not make much of an effort to make use of the local French knowledge of the German strength, defenses or even the nature of the beaches on which the raiders would land.

What was the significance of the Dieppe Raid in the wider context of World War II? Can you explain why and how it helped the Allies ensure D-Day was a success?

The Dieppe raid did not yield much of real significance to the overall war effort. What we can say is not so much what has been learned that made Normandy a success, but rather what has been learned about what not to repeat. Dieppe proved that an attempt to take a port facility with a frontal assault was doomed to fail. Hence the decision to land on the beaches of Normandy, far from any port facility. Caen was not far away, but its value was relatively limited. Instead, the Allies brought their own floating harbors called Mulberries. The remains of some of these can be found in Arromanches where they were deployed.

The failure to adequately survey the beaches of Dieppe for their suitability for amphibious landing operations had not escaped the Norman planners’ attention. An extensive study of the beaches was undertaken, as well as the study of the German defenses. There were no real surprises for the Allies when they attacked the beaches on June 6, 1944. Dieppe was insufficiently supported by naval and air forces. Sea support was limited to a few small destroyers, and the Allied air force took part in what was the largest air battle on the Western Front. Before Normandy, the naval forces were mighty, consisting of battleships, heavy cruisers, multiple destroyers, and other ships. Well before the invasion, the Allied air force gained almost complete control of the airspace above and far inland to prevent the German army from fortifying or even defending the beaches.

How did Canada help turn the tide of the war from the fall of 1942?

The Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force played a vital role in bringing about the ultimate victory in 1945. The entire country was also economically and socially committed to winning the war. One of the five landing beaches in Normandy (Juno) was donated to Canada. From Juno Beachthe Canadians moved up the left flank of the Allied advance and liberated French towns such as Le Havre, Dieppe (the 2nd Division received this honor), Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne. They also liberated Rouen and many other small towns and cities. Many of these communities have memorials and plaques honoring the Canadian Forces who set their citizens free. From France, they continued the left flank advance through Belgium, up through the Netherlands (where the Canadians are fondly remembered for redeeming the Dutch from the famine during the Hunger Winter 1944-1945), and invaded West Germany when the war ended. ended up. A large Canadian contingent also fought in Italy from July 1943 to February 1945 – advancing from Sicily to just north of Ravenna before being transferred to northwestern Europe to join the First Canadian Army in the liberation of the Netherlands.

In all, 1,086 million Canadians served in World War II, and 42,042 of them died. Most are buried in Commonwealth cemeteries scattered across the fronts where they fought in Europe. There is such a cemetery outside Dieppe. I think the French in the Dieppe area, and to some extent through most of Normandy, where the Canadians fought on the coast up to and including their advance to Belgium, have some idea of ​​the role Canadian forces played in the win their freedom from German tyranny. But collective memory is a fragile thing and requires each generation to ensure that the generation after them is educated about the events of World War II and the role Canada played in that great conflict that has forever haunted our world (especially Europe). changed.

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