Saturday, December 31, 2022

Passages: 'DIEPPE: August 19' by Eric Maguire (2)

1941 - 42: First Came Commandos, Then Combined Operations H.Q.

Then Came Raids at St. Nazaire, Dieppe, and the Invasion of N. Africa

Some of the raids and invasions related to Combined Operations
are marked in red. Allies invaded North Africa on Nov. 8, 1942


Before Eric Maguire in DIEPPE: August 19 shares many of the tragic details related to the Dieppe raid he writes about the background of the organization responsible for it's planning, i.e., the Combined Operations organization. Though much is written and known concerning the fate of Canadian Army regiments during their first trials in battle, I will share but briefly that members of the RCNVR who had volunteered for Combined Operations (and chiefly the manning of landing crafts) beginning in November, 1941, also suffered their first trials during the raid upon the well-defended French port.

Most members of the Effingham Division from HMCS Stadacona, Halifax, Canada
volunteered for Combined Operations in Nov. - Dec., 1941. Their first action was
the Dieppe raid after specific training in the U.K. Photo is from the collection
of my father Doug Harrison (X) of Norwich, Ontario. His memoirs, click here
Below I share some of the informative and poignant passages from Maguire's book related to Combined Operations and the day of the raid:

Pressing for an Immediate Large-scale Landing in France

        After the ignominious ejection of the British Army
    from France in June 1940, Britain found herself forced on
    to the strategic defensive and in mortal danger of invasion.
    However, this unhappy position did not deter active minds
    - of which Winston Churchill's was the most active - from planning how
    best to resume an offensive spirit and find ways and means of harassing
    the enemy, now committed to the defence of an enormous coastline,
    extending from the far north of Norway to the Franco-Spanish frontier...

        Here lay the answer to the present problem
    - amphibious raids on the enemy shores, mere pinpricks perhaps,
    but enough to compel the Germans to tie up large forces to guard
    their vulnerable coast. The psychological value of such attacks
    would be very great, although the amount of actual damage
    might be negligible. It was appreciated that a special force
    would be required to carry out these raids, and as a result...
    the Commandos came into existence.

        Theirs was the task of carrying the war
    into enemy territory... To control and direct the new force,
    Combined Operations Head Quarters (COHQ) was formed...
    The embryo group staged its first operation on June 24 1940...
    In November 1941 Lord Louis Mountbatten became Chief of
    Combined Operations. Under (his) dynamic direction, COHQ
    stepped up the pace, their most important operation being
    the attack on St. Nazaire in March 1942.

        The over-all political and strategic situation
    at this time was difficult. In May the Germans had renewed
    their offensive on the eastern front, and everywhere the Russians
    were being driven back. There was the ever-present fear that
    Russia would be forced out of the war altogether, something
    which would be a disaster of the first magnitude to the Allies.
    Stalin had never ceased to call for a second front
    in Europe, and now his demands became insistent.

        The Americans... were pressing 
    for an immediate large-scale landing in western France.
    Winston Churchill... his plan called for an attack on North Africa,
    where the resistance to be encountered... would be negligible.

        As we know, the North African venture
    was eventually agreed to, but this did not prevent
    the Americans from continuing to advocate an emergency landing
    in France; indeed, President Roosevelt went so far as to suggest
    what he called 'a sacrifice landing'.

    DIEPPE: August 19, pages 43 - 45
Maguire writes about some early training exercises re the Dieppe Raid and a few factors related to these events are shared here:

Final Approval Was Given

        The original intention had been to stage the raid
    on June 21st, but a large-scale combined exercise
    held on the night of June 11 - 12th went off badly.
    Units were landed on the wrong beaches, and some
    landing-craft were over an hour late in touching down.
    It was obvious that more training was urgently required.
    Another rehearsal was carried out on June 22nd - 23rd*,
    which went better, but there were still defects, particularly 
    on the naval side, where difficulty was experienced
    in locating the correct beaches.

        Arrangements were now made to provide three special
    radar vessels equipped with special direction-finding apparatus,
    to lead some of the flotillas in to the French beaches.
    Once they were satisfied that the navigational weaknesses
    had been eliminated, final approval was given by the Canadian
    generals and it was decided to mount the operation
    at the first suitable opportunity early in July.

    DIEPPE: August 19, pages 49

*re June 22nd - 23rd: The dates are mentioned in my father's memoirs and reveal "terrific activity" associated with the training exercises.

When the Klaxon Went Everybody Hit the Deck

[In June 1942, members of RCNVR/Combined Operations, after training aboard landing crafts near Irvine, Scotland, were transported to southern England, for Operation Rutter (cancelled) and Operation Jubilee, i.e., the Dieppe Raid.]

        During the trip down the west coast of England
    it seems we pulled into an Irish seaport one night;
    however, farther down the coast of England we headed south
    past Milford Haven, Wales, and all was serene.

        We usually had a single or maybe two Spitfires for company.
    There were eight ships in the convoy; we were the largest (Ennerdale),
    the rest were trawlers. Of course, the Spitfires only stayed until
    early dusk, then waggled their wings and headed home.
    On June 22, 1942, my mother’s birthday, O/D Seaman Jack Rimmer
    of Montreal and I were reminiscing on deck. We must remember
    there was daylight saving time and war time, and to go
    by the sun setting one never knew what time it was.
    Jack and I were feeling just a little homesick - not like at first -
    and it was a terribly hard feeling to describe then.

        Our Spitfire waggled his wings and kissed us goodnight
    though it was still quite light, and no sooner had he left
    when action stations was blared out on the Klaxon horn.
    Eight German JU 88s came from the east, took position
    in the sun and attacked us from the stern. It was perhaps
    between eight and nine o’clock because I had undressed
    and climbed into my hammock next to Stoker Fred Alston.
    When the Klaxon went everybody hit the deck and tried to dress,
    and being the largest ship, we knew we were in for it.

        I got my socks on, put my sweater on backwards and
    got the suspenders on my pants caught on the oil valves.
    I was hurrying like hell and nearly strangled myself - scared to death.
    They needed extra gunners so Lloyd Campbell of London, Ontario
    (later to die of wounds suffered at Dieppe) said, “Let me at him.”
    The bombs came - and close. They really bounced us around.
    The gun crew on the foc’sle of the ship was knocked clear off
    the gun by the concussion and fell but were only bruised.
    The attack was short and sweet but it seemed an eternity.
    A near miss had buckled our plates and we lost all our drinking water.
    I ventured out on deck immediately and picked up bomb shrapnel
    as big as your fist. I noticed the deck was covered with mud
    from the sea bottom. I kept the shrapnel as a souvenir along with
    many other items I had but, alas, they were all lost in Egypt.

        We arrived at Cowe (Isle of Wight) the next day with everyone
    happy to be alive and still shaking. It indeed had been a basinful.
    Incidentally, two German 88s were shot down. Norm Mitchinson
    of Niagara Falls was credited with two planes shot down
    during the course of the war; one at Dieppe and one at Sicily.
    Both were low flying bombers. His weapon was a strip Lewis 303.

        The next evening, June 23, 1942 there was terrific activity.
    Motor launches by the dozen headed out to see what was going on,
    and it turned out to be the aborted attempt on Dieppe*.
    The next one on August 19, 1942 should have been aborted too.

    "Dad, Well Done" Pages 19 - 20

*the aborted attempt on Dieppe: If my father has his dates right, instead of seeing an aborted operation (i.e., Operation Rutter, cancelled on July 7, two weeks later) he saw "another rehearsal" mentioned in the Eric Maguire passage above my father's memoir.

Mr. Maguire shares details in his book regarding General Montgomery's opinion of the cancelled raid. A few more excerpts are provide below:

The Expedition Was Finally Cancelled (Then Revived)

        By the end of June all was ready,
    and a suitable date early in July was selected for the raid.
    The troops were assembled and embarked, only for the weather to
    change, and they were kept cooped up in their ships for several days.
    July 8th was the last possible date in the month with
    a suitable combination of time and tide, and on the 7th
    the weather still remained unsettled and seemed likely
    to be so for several days. Then a new factor arose.

        Enemy planes spotted the assemblage of ships
    in the Solent and attacked it with bombs and machine guns,
    fortunately causing only four minor injuries but damaging
    two of the troop-carriers. It is said that the attack would not
    have caused the abandoning of the operation, but the weather
    deteriorated even more and the expedition was finally cancelled.
    The disgusted and disappointed troops were disembarked
    and dispersed, many of them being given leave, and
    as all had been thoroughly briefed as to the nature
    of the affair a security problem immediately arose.

        General Montgomery, G.O.C. South Eastern Command,
    advised that the operation be written off for good, but
    Combined Operations were not of the same mind. They
    had already had one other similar operation cancelled 
    by higher authority and were deeply upset at the fate of the
    Dieppe plan, Operation 'Rutter', to give it its code name.
    They worked hard to have it revived and by mid-July it was
    once more approved, this time known as Operation 'Jubilee'.
        When one considers the political and strategic situation
    at the time, it is not difficult to understand why the Dieppe raid
    was reinstated, even though in so doing the authorities were
    breaking their own rule of never returning to a target once a
    previous attempt on it had been cancelled. It is also possible
    that 'Jubilee' was considered a very effective screen for the
    coming invasion of North Africa, scheduled for November -
    which in fact it proved to be. In any event, 'Jubilee' was on,
    in spite of some people's misgivings and despite
    the very real risk that the Germans
    had got wind of the plan.

    DIEPPE: August 19, pages 51 - 52

Eric Maguire's description of some of the successes and many of the tragedies related to the crossings, landings upon various beaches, scaling of fortified cliffs, retreats to waiting landing crafts, attempts to escape while under murderous fire... are thorough and include several rare stories and many poignant passages.

On the evening before the raid my father was in a position to view ships heading out toward Dieppe. He witnessed 'a mishap':

        The next one on August 19, 1942
    should have been aborted too. I wasn’t there because
    I was on leave but came back early (because, though
    I didn’t know where, I knew there was a raid coming)
    and was in position to see the Duke of Wellington
    carrying barges, my oppo and other buddies to Dieppe
    and certain death for the soldiers.

        There was a mishap before they even got to sea,
    i.e., soldiers were readying hand grenades and one
    somehow exploded; four were killed and many injured.
    It was an ill omen.

     "Dad, Well Done" Page 20

Another 'ill omen' occurred in the early morning of the 19th. Canada suffered her first fatality of the Dieppe raid at 0345, about one to two hours before most of the Allied landing crafts landed on foreign beaches:

Keen Eyes Peered Ahead Into the Darkness

        At 3 a.m. the large troop-carriers commenced
    trans-shipping their human cargoes into the assault craft.
    They were now within easy reach of the enemy coast, but
    so far the luck had held and no enemy
    air or surface craft had been detected. 

Lt. L. Pelman, RN official photographer, Admiralty Official Collection, IWM

        As the loaded assault craft manoeuvred
    in the pitch darkness and silence, some confusion arose as
    groups sought to make contact with their escort and guide-ships. 
    The minutes of darkness were slipping by - valuable
    minutes which if lost now could never be regained.
    Gradually the medley of little ships sorted themselves out
    and found their stations, but the group destined to land on
    Blue Beach lost their leading gunboat, and thirty
    valuable minutes passed before it was found.

        On either side of the convoy, invisible in the thick darkness,
    were a motor boat and a flak ship, and farther off to the east
    two destroyers patrolled on the look-out for enemy surface craft.
    The flotilla was on time and on course.
    One more hour and they would be in.
            From the gunboat keen eyes
            peered ahead into the blackness - 
            they were very near the enemy coast now
            and anything could happen.
            And suddenly it did.

        Out of the blackness the silhouette
    of a darkened ship appeared almost dead ahead.
    A star-shell shot up, and there in the ghostly illumination were
    eight enemy vessels, steaming in line ahead towards Dieppe.
            Instantly the silence of the night
            was shattered by the crash of gun-fire*
            as the enemy ships, altering course,
            concentrated their fire upon the gunboat.
            Struggling to reply,
            she was hit repeatedly,
            her forward guns silenced,
            her wireless-room wreaked,
            her engine-room damaged,
            so that she gradually lost speed
            and became a sitting target.

        Just in time, the flak ship,
    coming up at high speed, engaged the enemy
    and crippled two of them with her first salvoes.
    For perhaps twenty minutes a running fight ensued,
    with the German ships making off at speed for the
    safety of the coast, and then all was silent once more.
        The moment the first salvo thundered out,
    it seemed to the officer's on the gunboat's bridge
    that all chance of secrecy was now lost.
            Whatever the result of the engagement,
            the cannonade would surely
            waken the whole coast.
            By the worst of bad luck
            a chance encounter on the
            very threshold of success had put
            the whole mission in grave danger.

        But that was only the beginning of it -
    not only was the gunboat out of action,
    but the convoy of landing-craft had vanished,
    all but five of which had sought the protection
    of the gunboat at the first blast of gun-fire.

    DIEPPE: August 19, pages 56 - 58

*"the crash of gun-fire" resulted in the death of Canadian Sub. Lt. Clifford Wallace. Please go to the online book St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War Volume 1 pages 60 - 61, to read about Canada's first casualty - at 03.45 hours - linked to the Dieppe Raid.

If readers visit the above link, more about Sub. Lt. Wallace's death among other fatalities and casualties can be uncovered on page 57. For example:

The SGB 's (Steam Gun Boats) thin armour was riddled and the shells exploding inside filled her boiler-room with steam. One of the bursts struck Landing Craft, Personnel, Large (LCP (L)) 42. Sub. Lieutenant C.D.Wallace, of Montreal and he was killed instantly. A shot through the wind screen killed the coxswain, Leading Seaman Sutherland. Lieutenant Commander L. Corke, RNVR, the Flotilla Officer, though himself badly wounded, put a Commando soldier at the wheel and carried on. He was later killed and the boat sank after successfully landing troops.

Ill omen fell upon ill omen even before the approx. 6,000 soldiers and sailors approached the heavily fortified beaches on the coast of France. A magnitude of skilfully written and very rare stories about personal bravery during the tragic raid fill Eric Maguire's book:

Page 3 of 4 'scribble notes' re Maguire's book. Page after page of
significant details and poignant ("poign.") passages. Photo GH

More notes about and passages from well-written books related to the operations familiar to Canadians in Combined Operations (and other aspects of World War II) will follow in 2023.

Unattributed Photos GH 

Monday, December 19, 2022

Passages: DIEPPE, August 19 (1) by Eric Maguire

 Sometimes it is His Turn of Phrase or the Particular Words

Many Poignant Passages Surface in DIEPPE: August 19

C5886. ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. Vertical aerial
photograph taken during a daylight raid on shipping in Dieppe, France, by 12
Lockheed Venturas of No. 487 Squadron RNZAF. One group of bombs is
straddling the Quai du Hable and the entrance channel to the docks, while another
group explodes on the cliff top above the Avant Port. Photo - No. 487 Squadron
RAF. Air Ministry Official Collection WWII, Imperial War Museum (IWM)

[For more information and photographs related to the Dieppe Raid please visit the following (lengthy) series - Photographs: Dieppe Raid 1942 - Operations RUTTER/JUBILEE (Parts 1 - 10)]


In the previous post I review briefly some aspects of Eric Maguire's book DIEPPE: August 19. I concluded by recommending Maguire's book highly and now hope interested readers live close to a good used book store. (If you can get one 'near mint' (VM) as I did for $10 I think you will be very happy).

Maguire's writing style is excellent and poignant passages appear in every chapter - sometimes it is his way of turning a phrase, other times it's his use of particular words. He also shares information related to the German and Dieppe citizens' point of view, as interested readers will soon read.

Below I share a few excerpts to highlight the quality of Maguire's writing as well as encourage interested readers to search out the book, add it to their library and by so doing learn more about the planning, results and many challenges related to the Dieppe Raid.

August 18: Tomorrow - In the Morning - They Would Die 

        In the defence posts and look-outs
    covering the shoreline there was no relaxation of tension,
    all positions were manned as usual and keen eyes peered seawards
    scanning the dark water for a sign of movement. A quarter moon
    was dropping towards the horizon, its intermittent, wan light
    seeming to accentuate the darkness below.
    The beach and sea verge, a faint glimmer in the dimness,
    were silent but for the sough and swash of the surf.
    As each sentry was relieved
    the invariable report
    was 'All quiet'.

        Away across the Channel in England,
    August 18th had a very special significance for many men...
    All that day, these men were assembling in various South of England ports and
    embarking on the large troop-carriers and R. boats which would take them to sea.
    Further inland, at many airfields, young pilots and air crews were being briefed
    for the major effort that lay ahead of them on the morrow.

        By early evening every ship was loaded and ready for sea,
    and without fuss they slipped their moorings and set off. Once at sea
    the men were served a hot meal, and settled down as well as they could.
    They had been through this performance many times before, making
    practice landings on different beaches, and about six weeks before*
    had been at sea and briefed as to their objectives when they were
    returned to port and disembarked. 

        Now they were off again, and any doubts about this particular mission
    were quickly dispelled when they were told where they were bound for.
    The men were incredulous - Dieppe again, and so soon after the last time?
    It seemed impossible that the top brass could be so stupid
    as to think the Germans hadn't got wind of the first attempt...
    (Surely) the enemy would be sitting waiting for them.
    The briefing said it was believed there were not many troops in the area.
    'Get off the beach quickly and it will be a push-over.'

        For many of these men, this day,
        now drawing to its close,
        had a very special significance.
        They could not know it, but
        for more than a thousand of them
        this was their last day. 
        Tomorrow - in the morning -
        they would die.

    Pages 20 - 21

Click here to read about a Canadian sailor (manning a landing craft)
Click here to link to the sailor's full 25-page memoir, incl. Dieppe

This Was Something Big

        In the early morning of August 19th, 1942,
    the inhabitants of Dieppe were awakened
    by the noise of gun-fire coming from seawards.
    Those whose houses commanded a sea view to
    the north-east and who took the trouble to get out of bed saw
    gun-flashes on the horizon about ten miles out from the coast.
    The time was just past a quarter to four, and by 4.15
    the firing has ceased and all was quiet once more.

(Please go to the online book St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War Volume 1 pages 60 - 61, to read about Canada's first casualty - at 03.45 hours - linked to the Dieppe Raid)

        Although they did not know it, the people of Dieppe
    had just heard the opening bars in a symphony of death
    which was to rage about their ears for the next nine hours.
    Most of them returned to their beds to snatch a few more hours
    of sleep before they had to face another day of the occupation,
    with its problems and perplexities, all unaware that fast approaching
    their coast was an armada of 237 ships carrying a force of more than
    6,000 men, about to engage in one of the
    most desperate ventures of the war.

        Dieppe settled back to sleep and
    even the German guards in their concrete emplacements
    relaxed somewhat. No general alarm had been given, so
    the cannonade was none of their concern. They noticed that
    the harbour lighthouse had begun to flash its subdued beam,
    obviously to guide in some shore-hugging vessels - a further
    sign that all was well. The time was 4.30 a.m.

        Fifteen minutes later
    the sound of air-raid sirens and the far-off hum of aero-engines
    was heard coming from Pourville way, and almost at once the 
    distant thudding of ack-ack guns caused doors and windows to
    rattle in their frames. Many people got up and started to dress
    - early as it was it seemed likely that they would have to go to the
    shelters at any moment. Looking from their windows they could see
    the western sky lit by flickering patterns of light from the guns,
    and as they watched, vicious stabs of flame tore the darkness
    to the east, in the direction of Puys, accompanied by
    a growing thunder of gunfire. 

        Inured as they were to the sounds of war after two years in
    the front line, they were quick to detect a different note in the noise,
    a growling, crackling undertone that seemed fraught with menace.
    This was no ordinary air raid such as they were used to
    - this was something big and they were in the middle of it. 

Dieppe. A low-level photograph showing (top centre) a German soldier guarding
the bridge over the Pollet channel at the entrance to the Inner Harbour. Note (top
left) four workmen running for cover, while on the right two women stroll 
unconcernedly across the road. Photo from DIEPPE: August 19, page 32

        Outside in the dark streets
    German soldiers could be heard running
    to their posts, calling excitedly to each other,
    and while the citizens waited wonderingly,
    the Dieppe sirens suddenly wailed out.
    It was nine minutes past five o'clock,
    and as the last notes of the sirens died away
    the low growl of distant aircraft was heard,
    rapidly swelling to a roar and then to an ear-splitting bellow
    as a multitude of planes came diving out of the north
    on to the town.

        At once the dark sky
    was split and torn by flashes and criss-crossed by innumerable
    ribbons of tracer as the anti-aircraft guns roared out, adding their
    staccato bark to the crash of bombs exploding on the sea front.
    The noise was terrifying - a stunning cacophony of sound
    which struck horror into the hearts
    of all but the boldest.

    DIEPPE: August 19Pages 22 - 23

I have read several books concerning the Dieppe Raid and I found Maguire's second chapter, with much information from the 'Dieppois' (inhabitants of Dieppe) side of things very interesting:

Some Citizens Posted Themselves at Upper Windows

        Still dazed by their rude awakening,
    many people ran for the shelters, while others went to their cellars
    where they crouched white-faced and trembling at the violence of
    the storm raging over their heads.

        For the space of five minutes
    the aircraft bombed and machine-gunned the sea front
    and the hotels lining it, and as the last plane roared away
    over the roof-tops the dark horizon to seawards was lit with
    wicked flashes of gun-fire as invisible warships opened fire on the town.
    The booming of their guns and the crash of the shells exploding
    on the sea front continued for about five minutes, and then was
    almost drowned in a deafening uproar of gun-fire close at hand,
    the thunder of heavy artillery mingling with the mad chatter of
    machine-guns and the incessant thump of mortars.

        What was happening nobody could tell,
    but some of the more courageous or foolhardy posted themselves
    at upper windows in an endeavour to see what was taking place.
    Those whose vantage points commanded a sea view could see little
    because the whole of the mile-long beach was obscured by thick fog
    or smoke, but overhead in the grey light of dawn, illuminated by flares
    and shell bursts, could be seen myriads of aircraft flying just above
    the chimney-pots. The sky seemed full of them, and the continuous roar
    of their motors formed a background of noise which was to last for hours... 

        The shelters were now full of people 
in various stages of undress,
    among them many German soldiers, some without their helmets.
    Old men, veterans of the 1914-18 war, were positive that the German
    guns commanding the beach were in action, and that
    could mean only one thing - the British were landing.
    Outside, the gun-fire seemed louder than before.

        Monsieur G. Guibon, like everybody else in the town,
    had been awakened by the naval engagement in the small hours
    of the morning, and later, disturbed by the gun-fire coming first
    from the west and then from the east... sought to follow the course of events
    from a top window. Nothing could be seen to seawards, but overhead there
    seemed to be hundreds of aircraft flying low and skimming the rooftops
    in a terrifying manner. They were directing their attack on the waterfront,
    and soon clouds of smoke, black against the grey of dawn, were
    billowing up from the burning houses on the Boulevard Verdun.

        M. Guibon's house in the centre of the town
    did not command a sea view, but it was obvious,
    from the terrible din coming from the beach, that fighting
    was taking place there, and that could only mean one thing
    - the British were landing, it was the Invasion.

    DIEPPE: August 19, pages 23 - 26
"You Don't Have to be a Brass Hat"

        A few people (Dieppois) had got through
    from the Rue de Sygogne and streets near the sea front,
    where it seemed most of the houses were wrecked and on fire.
    Some of these people had met and spoken to small groups
    of British soldiers, who had given them cigarettes
    and in some cases money. The British were searching
    for snipers and shooting them off roof-tops
    whenever they were located...

        As the morning wore on, the pattern of events
    appeared unchanged - the heaviest fighting was still
    concentrated on the beach and the noise of gun-fire
    seemed to be growing louder and nearer.
    Aircraft continued to fly over the town in large numbers
    and the crump of bomb-bursts mingled with the incessant bark
    of anti-aircraft guns, while over and above these noises
    swelled the roar of battle from the waterfront,
    rolling in great waves of sound and fury over the town,
    booming, crashing, crackling, as the various instruments
    in the great orchestra of death took up their parts...

        Many made their way in and out of their neighbours' houses,
    picking up news and rumours of the battle raging so close at hand.
    By nine o'clock it was becoming all too clear to the knowledgeable
    that things were not going well for the invaders. The steadily growing
    volume of gun-fire, the sight of artillery pieces proceeding at speed
    towards the beach instead of away from it, brought no reassurance
    to the populace. There was no sign of any large-scale infiltration
    of British troops into the town. Indeed, there were more German
    soldiers than ever in all the streets leading to the beach,
    many with machine guns, and in some places large
    field-guns were firing from the roads out to sea...

        By eleven o'clock people had become accustomed
    to the infernal racket, and in the safer quarters of the town
    many housewives endeavoured to prepare lunch for their families...
    About this time a changing tempo was noticeable in the sound of the guns.
    The incessant hammering of machine-guns had died away, except
    for occasional bursts, but there was much more artillery fire,
    the heavy detonations merging into a rolling, vibrating thunder
    that beat upon the brain and kept doors and windows rattling...
    New stories were circulating among the people
    - the Casino had been captured by the British,
    the gas-works and the tobacco factory had been destroyed,
    many prisoners had been seen wearing Canada flashes on their shoulders,
    all the houses near the sea front were burning...

        Quite suddenly the cannonade ceased and the crackling
    of small-arms was heard from the western end of the Promenade...
    For about five minutes the guns fired, then fell silent once more.
    Now there was nothing but occasional rifle shots from the
    beach and the ever-present aeroplanes roaring overhead. 
    Spasmodic bursts of anti-aircraft fire came from inland and
    the faint sound of cannon-fire could be heard from Pourville.
    Dieppe itself was quiet with a strange, uncanny quietness.
    People gathered about their doorways in little groups, talking excitedly,
    relating their experiences and asking about friends and relatives.

Photo of text from DIEPPE: August 19, page 30

Photo from DIEPPE: August 19, page 96

        Some people who had brought injured relatives
    to the hospital said conditions there were ghastly.
    The corridors were filled with wounded soldiers lying on the floors,
    awaiting attention, and more were being brought in every minute.
    British, German and civilian wounded were mixed up
    in a frightful pattern of torn flesh and shattered limbs...
    Here was the dreadful aftermath
    of the battle in all its horror...

        Regarding their battered town
    and reflecting on the events of that tragic day,
    the Dieppois were of the opinion that the
    whole enterprise was ill-judged and crazy.
        As one Frenchman put it, 
    'You don't have to be a brass hat to know
    that to land on a beach like Dieppe, where
    the natural features so favour the defences,
    is asking for trouble.'

    DIEPPE: August 19, pages 26 - 42

Part 2, with poignant passages or tragic details concerning some of the Canadian landings, will soon follow.

Please click here to read Passages: Combined Operations - The Official Story of the Commandos (2)

Unattributed Photos GH

Friday, December 9, 2022

Books: DIEPPE: August 19 by Eric Maguire

Anticipation. Realization. Gestation. Frustration. Devastation...

A Book from 1963 Hits the Nail on the Head, in my Opinion

British prisoners of war taken at Dieppe marching through the country-
side en route to a prison camp. (Keystone Press Agency LTD, London)


First, I admit whole-heartedly that I am biased concerning my own POV related to the Dieppe Raid, August 19, 1942. I have my father's Navy memoirs (he was Leading Seaman, Coxswain RCNVR and an early member of Combined Operations, 1941 - 45), I've read them several times over, and they affect my views. He lost his first mates at Dieppe, and was present when the first battered and bloodied landing crafts returned from the coast of France. (A scheduled leave kept him from participating in the raid - he returned to Southampton while still on leave because he knew by then his mates were involved in 'the real thing' - and he suffered 'survival guilt' forever after).

In memoirs my father writes the following:

Much has been written about Dieppe so I will not enlarge upon it too much. My opinion is - it was a senseless waste of blood.

The Germans were ready because we (i.e., the Allies) ran into a German convoy in the channel. The element of surprise was lost. The times of arrival at beaches were to be during the night, but some turned out to land in full daylight up against cliffs unable in any way to be scaled. No softening up of defences by bombing was ever carried out.

I will make it short and say I will remember it as a complete, useless waste of good Canadian blood and no one - even those who say we learned a valuable lesson there - will ever change my mind. No mock raids were held, as for St. Nazaire against home defences. It was simply a mess.

I lost my first comrades at Dieppe. Others were wounded. O/S (Ordinary Seaman) Cavanaugh - killed. O/S Jack McKenna - killed. A/B (Able Bodied) Lloyd Campbell, London, Ontario died of wounds after his legs were nearly cut off by machine gun fire. Imagine Higgins boats made of 3/4 inch plywood going in on a beach like that.

Lt. McRae became a POW at Dieppe, 1942.
Photo credit - St. Nazaire to Singapore: Volume 1

Lieutenant McRae, our commander, Stoker Brown, and others I can’t recall were taken prisoner. And lots of people don’t even know Canada’s navy was represented at Dieppe*. The only other comrade I lost was Coxswain Owens, the man who left me stranded that night in Irvine. He was killed in North Africa, our next safari.

[*most of the "British POWs" in photo at top of page were, in fact, Canadians]

I was on leave at Calshot Camp in Southampton at the time, but was asked to go and clean up ALCs as they struggled back from Dieppe. I absolutely refused. I was so incensed I also refused to go to church there. I went to the door but never went in.

Nothing became of my refusals. In fact, I went through the war without one mark against my record.

"Dad, Well Done," Pages 20 - 21

A 1989 reunion of two shipmates at Dieppe. (L-R) R.W. Brown (stoker), 
D. Harrison (wearing editor Gord Harrison's Beatles cap), Robert McRae
(back), Art ‘Gash’ Bailey. Photo - St. Nazaire to Singapore: Volume 1

[For more information about Doug Harrison's views re the Dieppe Raid, please click here - LOOKING BACK FROM LATER ON: THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF DIEPPE]

Second, author Eric Maguire offers the German POV - and more - in a very authoritative manner. He acknowledges "the officials of the Bundesarchiv at Coblenz, Germany, for their courtesy in making available a copy of the war diary of the German 302nd Division." As well, Maguire acknowledges "Monsieur Georges Guibon of Dieppe for a copy of his diary," and "Canadian and British veterans of the battle who sent me their personal stories of the day..."

Third, he minces no words. He is - in a detailed manner - critical of the planning and lack of the necessary elements of strategy related to the raid. I think my father would have said he and the author were definitely on the same page.

DIEPPE: August 19 was first published in 1963, is 191 pages long and divided into 14 detailed and informative chapters:

Photographs of the action and results are well catalogued (six more a re offered):

Some Highlights

Just a very few of the passages I highlighted as I read the book appear below. 

For example, even in the Preface we are informed of the book's overall, descriptive approach:

"This is the story of a disaster which later was presented to the world as a contribution of the utmost value to the future conduct of the war - a disaster brought about by an assault plan which was described by the germans as an excellent map exercise, and as such did not allow for enemy interference in its execution."

"Here, too, is the story of the events which were to culminate in seven long and fear-filled hours on the smoke-shrouded beaches, where disciplined formations were, in minutes, reduced to scattered groups of badly shocked individuals, blind and deaf to all but the primeval need of survival. This is the story of men whose world had of a sudden shrunk to a few feet of hard stones - men who found themselves prisoners in a fiendish web of noise and death, from which there seemed no escape." Page 11

In Chapter 1, entitled 'Anticipation'', readers are introduced to one of the various and unique perspectives Eric Maguire shares in order to more-fully inform us of the disaster about to unfold:

"...the troops must grasp the fact that when it happens it will be a very sticky business.

Bombing and strafing from the air, shelling from the sea, commandos and assault boats, parachutists and air-landing troops, hostile civilians, sabotage and murder - all these they will have to face with steady nerves if they are not to go under.

On no account must the troops let themselves get rattled. Fear is not to be thought of. When the muck begins to fly the troops must wipe their eyes and ears, grip their weapons more tightly and fight as they have never fought before.


that must be the watchword for each man.

From the Order of the Day from the Commander of the 15th Army. August 10, 1942

(German) Commander Haase (Page 18)

In Chapter 2, entitled 'Realization', readers may become more aware - as I did - of Maguire's enjoyable (colourful, detailed, gripping?) style of writing:

In the early morning of August 19th, 1942, the inhabitants of Dieppe were awakened by the noise of gun-fire coming from seawards. Those whose houses commanded a sea view to the north-east and who took the trouble to get out of bed saw gun-flashes on the horizon about ten miles out from the coast. The time was just past a quarter to four, and by 4.15 the firing had ceased and all was quiet once more.

Although they did not know it, the people of Dieppe had just heard the opening bars in a symphony of death which was to rage about their ears for the next nine hours. Most of them returned to their beds to snatch a few more hours of sleep before they had to face another day of the occupation, with its problems and perplexities, all unaware that fast approaching their coast was an armada of 237 ships carrying a force of more than 6,000 men, about to engage in one of the most desperate ventures of the war.

Some of No. 4 Commando landing at Vasterival
From the collection of Imperial War Museum

Dieppe settled back to sleep and even the German guards in their concrete emplacements relaxed somewhat. No general alarm had been given, so the cannonade was none of their concern. They noticed that the harbour lighthouse had begun to flash its subdued beam, obviously to guide in some shore-hugging vessels - a further sign that all was well. The time was 4.30 a.m.

Fifteen minutes later the sound of air-raid sirens and the far-off hum of aero-engines was heard coming from Pourville way, and almost at once the distant thudding of ack-ack guns caused doors and windows to rattle in their frames. Many people got up and started to dress...

Pages 22 - 23

Finally, of the dozen or more books I've read about the Dieppe Raid, I would recommend this one very highly, very near or at the top. (I purchased a pristine copy for $10 at Attic Book Store in London, Ontario). Happy hunting, I say!

A few of the most poignant passages will be shared in a (near) future entry.

Please click here to read a brief outline of another book, 'WWII artist' related, ARTIST AT WAR by Charles Fraser Comfort

Unattributed Photos GH