The main frontal assault against the mile long beach in front of Dieppe had two designated beaches. Red Beach was the eastern landing zone nearest to the port, while White Beach was overlooked by Dieppe’s western headland and the casino. The Essex Scottish Regiment would land on Red Beach and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry would come ashore on White Beach. The initial tasks of the two battalions was to occupy the buildings and hotels that overlooked the promenade. The initial assault also comprised engineers who would blast ways through the obstacles and into the town. The landings on both beaches were to be supported by the Churchill tanks of the 14th Calgary Tank Regiment.
Stage two would see the Essex Scottish clear the eastern end of Dieppe, including the harbour, link up with the Royal Regiment of Canada and capture the eastern headland, which dominated the port and harbour entrance. Once taking the western part of the town, the Royal Hamiltons were to link up with the South Saskatachewans on the western headland. Once the defensive crust had been penetrated, the tanks would race through the town to the open countryside beyond, rendezvousing with the infantry of the Cameron Highlanders.
The preliminary bombardment would be delivered by the destroyers Garth, Bleasdale, Berkeley and Albrighton with six squadrons of cannon firing aircraft. The destroyers’ 4” (100mm) guns would have been unlikely to destroy the German pillboxes and bunkers. Three other squadrons would lay a smokescreen across the front at the moment of landing.
At 0320 the assault troops clambered down from the troop ships Glengyle, Prince Charles and Prince Leopold into the landing craft. The conditions were perfect, little wind and a gentle swell. As the landing craft moved towards the shore, there was a pyrotechnic display off their port quarter, which was No 3 Commando’s collision with the German convoy. The Canadian troops huddled down to avoid the spray coming off the bows, and probably for mutual reassurance. Some were wearing their gas capes back-to-front to avoid getting wet. Closer to the shore the landing craft moved into line abreast formation for the final run-in. The light was getting better and landmarks could be picked out ahead. The Navy were going to deliver them bang on target. It was an impressive sight to see so many boats, with support craft zig-zagging in front of the first wave. The shore remained deadly silent.
The four destroyers opened fire on the seafront at 05:10. A journalist traveling with the first wave, Drew Middleton of the Associated Press, noted that “It was not nearly so heavy or impressive as I would like to hear.” Then there was a roar over their heads and Hurricanes attacked the buildings with 20mm cannon fire. It all seemed to be over so quickly and as the boats drew closer to the shore, many noted that nothing had changed. The buildings were still standing and seemed unscathed, just like the training model. “Is that all?” Someone asked.
The headlands were now wreathed in smoke and the German guns opened fire along fixed and predetermined lines. As the landing craft emerged from the smoke, the Germans moved to observed fire. The landing craft on the right flank carrying the Hamiltons bore the brunt of the fire coming down from the headland. Two platoons were wiped out and a mortar round landed in a boat, setting off a pile of Bangalore torpedoes. Only one soldier survived. He was permanently blinded by the explosion, struggled ashore and later repatriated. The landing craft just disappeared. The centre boats came under some fire from pillboxes on the promenade, while the Essex Scottish came ashore virtually unscathed.
The troops rushed out of the landing craft, up the steep beach to the first wire obstacle. Coconut matting and even live soldiers went over the wire to enable troops to cross, and it was when they reached the sea wall and the double apron of wire, that the full force of German fire came down on them. The large and solid buildings on the other side of the promenade were largely unscathed by the paltry initial bombardment and reinforced by sailors from the docks, the Germans poured fire down onto the sea wall. Any troops attempting to scale to wall to cut the wire were cut down. A second assault was tried under the cover of smoke, but every time the Canadians stood up out of cover, the snipers were on them.
On White Beach the Hamiltons suffered heavy casualties attempting to capture the casino. Although only defended with snipers, the building was flanked by pillboxes and a gun emplacement was embedded in the building’s north-west corner. Most of the Hamiltons on the right of the casino were wiped out on the run-in and crossing the beach. By now the mortars had their range and a constant fire was coming down on the Canadians from the west headland. Some troops did manage to get inside the casino and there they would remain, pinned down by fire from the headland and sniping and machine gun fire from the hotels on the promenade. The snipers concentrated on the officers and communications troops and smarter officers picked up a rifle. It would seem that the lessons of the First World War had been forgotten.
By incredible acts of bravery, the Canadians managed to neutralise the pillboxes and other defences around the casino, individuals cutting through the wire and attacking the defences with Bangalore torpedoes, but the toll on their officers was horrendous. During the Second World War the Hamiltons lost 37 officers. Ten were killed at Dieppe. Most of their mortars had been lost in the boats destroyed on the run in, or their base plates were dropped in the sea and clearing the casino was proving to be difficult, without support weapons. Additionally, the Sten guns were causing a great deal of trouble, jamming every two or three rounds. Colonel Labatt, still pinned down on the beach, sent an urgent message to the command ship: “Get Johnny forward!” Johnny was the code name for the Calgary tanks.
While the Germans had been practicing to defend the port the previous year, Port Commander Whan demanded a show of how useless tanks would be on Dieppe’s shale and stone beach. Within a short time transiting the beach, the borrowed tank bogged down, its tracks jammed with stones and shale. “Now we know that the British cannot land here with tanks.”
The wave of LCTs carrying the Calgary Tank Regiment were late. The tanks were supposed to land just behind the first wave of infantry but they landed 15 minutes late at 05:35. Each LCT carried three tanks and a scout car or jeep, which would be landed last, towed by a tank. LCTs 1, 2 and 3 came under heavy fire as they approached the beach. LCT 2 on the extreme left made an almost perfect landing on the beach near the mole. Its three tanks, Cougar, Cat and Cheetah lumbered slowly up the beach, each one stalling on the ramp because the engines had not been warmed up. It took 15 minutes to get them all off. The lead tank Cougar headed for an area of the sea wall where piled stones made it possible to scale the wall and wire barricade. Followed by Cat, it lurched onto the promenade and turned right, making straight for a pillbox. The German defenders fled, but were cut down by machine gun fire from the tanks.
In the 15 minutes it took to unload its tanks, LCT was hammered by mortar fire from the east headland. The gunners traded shots with the German mortar crews, but the LCT was taking heavy casualties and its bow ramp was damaged. The officer of a platoon of sappers and a mortar troop on board decided that the fire was too heavy to disembark. With half of those on board casualties and all but one of the bridge crew dead, the LCT pulled away from the shore, the mortar troops having fired not a single one of the 640 3” rounds they had brought from England. All three of the LCT’s tanks had reached the esplanade, where they remained for the duration of the battle.
LCT 1 landed her three tanks, Company, Calgary and Chief in three minutes. Company managed to cross the sea wall, while Calgary and Chief supported the attack on the casino from the beach. The ship was heavily engaged and virtually all on board were killed by mortar fire. The LCT, its engines disabled, drifted away from the shore and sank.
LCT 3 was carrying three flame thrower tanks and received murderous fire on its run-in, again from the mortars on the western headland. The gun crews were killed, as were those who replaced them, the tank deck running with blood. It lowered its ramp too soon and the first tank bounded forward, straight down into deep water. The bottom of the landing craft scraped across the submerged turret. As the two remaining tanks prepared to disembark, the left hand chocks holding the tank had not been removed and the tank crushed soldiers against the side of the landing craft as it moved forward. With most of its crew dead, LCT 3 was stuck fast by the ebbing tide and those still on board tried to find what shelter they could on the LCT. The two tanks crawled up the beach and became bogged down, the flame throwers uselessly out of range.
LCTs 4, 5 and 6 followed five minutes behind the first three landing craft. LCT 4 was set on fire 200 yards from the beach, but still managed to get its three tanks ashore. The Germans had realised that their weapons were having little effect on the thick armour of the Churchills, so they switched to the tanks’ tracks. Burns had a track blown off while Backer and BoLCTer were both hit in their tracks and all three were stranded on the beach. LCT 4 was hit in the engine room after it unloaded its tanks and severely damaged, the landing craft slowly motored north away room the beach. It came across a group of Eurekas where the wounded and the soldiers who had refused to go ashore transferred. Shortly afterwards the LCT sank.
LCTs 5 and 6 unloaded their tanks, but again about thirty troops refused to leave the shelter of the steel LCTs and go out into the storm of fire sweeping the beach. Those that did suffered cruelly. They were going ashore carrying 70lbs of high explosive and they watched their comrades staggering with incandescently burning packs and being consumed by flames, after being hit by enemy fire. These engineers had been tasked with going into the town to demolish railway infrastructure, but they remained huddled under the sea wall. They had ditched their packs as soon as possible. Some of the wounded struggled back onto the LCTs, those that hadn’t been run over by the tanks. There were appalling casualties amongst the tank support parties and engineers. 169 were landed and 152 were killed or captured. Of the demolition parties, 98 went ashore and 90 were killed.
At 06:05 the second wave of LCTs 7, 8, 9 and 10 came ashore, into by now well-ranged and sustained mortar fire. On LCT 7 as well as three tanks was Brigadier Southam who was supposed to set up Brigade Headquarters in a church near the sea front. After the tanks left the LCT, Southam went ashore with only half of his command team, as the damaged LCT pulled away to safety. With only a handful of the HQ team and no signallers, Brigadier Southam was carrying a copy of the Jubilee Military Plan in a waterproof case tucked under his arm. By nightfall the plan was in German hands and much propaganda value was made of the order that all German prisoners were to be “trussed up” to prevent them destroying any documents they may be carrying. A tank ran over Southam’s communications equipment and the only effective radio link between Brigade Headquarters on the shore and the ships, was from a damaged and immobilised scout car, stalled near the sea wall.
On LCT 8 the lead tank bogged down just off the ramp and the ship had to back away and make a second landing to get the tanks off. As the LCT came in again, a shell blew off its bow and the second tank went into deep water, although the crew managed to bail out. The third tank went nowhere, and LCT 8 drifted lazily out to sea, full of the wounded, dead and dying. The end of LCT 8 also marked the end of getting the Calgary tanks ashore. The effort of the crews of the LCTs had been, to use an overworked term, truly heroic. They had put ashore 29 of their 30 Churchill tanks. Five LCTs were sunk and three more badly damaged. Over half of their crews were dead and the survivors must have felt bitterness of so much sacrifice for such little gain.
Of the 29 tanks put ashore, two were drowned due to premature disembarkation, 15 actually managed to get onto the esplanade and 12 never got off the beach. Those 15 tanks on the esplanade could have made so much difference, but without demolition parties to open the narrow streets into the town, they cruised ineffectively up and down until knocked out or immobilised. If only tanks had gone ashore with the South Saskatchewans on Green Beach, they could have made a huge difference probing inland and flanking Dieppe’s defences. The crews sat inside the immobilised tanks, quite safe and listening to the bullets hitting the armour, like hail on the roof, but they were going nowhere and were eventually forced to surrender.
A tank crew received a briefing prior to the raid, that a certain object was worthy of special attention. Photographic reconnaissance pictures showed a steel structure near the casino that had to be neutralised. The crew in their disabled tank pumped thousands of rounds into the structure, until they surrendered. As they were marched past this building into captivity, they realised they realised that they had expended their efforts on a public urinal that now resembled a cheese grater.
With the arrival of the tanks, the casino was eventually cleared and large numbers of German prisoners were taken. Additionally, a two-storey concrete gun emplacement was knocked out by the Hamiltons, the stunned occupants being put in the bag. Now under covering fire from the casino, small groups of Canadians made tentative probes into the town. Breaking into a cinema and moving through to the rear doors, a group edged into Dieppe, but were forced to halt by intense sniper fire. The men in the cinema managed to find some demolition charges to blow a way for the tanks into the town, but there were no detonators. They soon ran short of ammunition and withdrew to the casino.
On Red Beach the Essex Scottish had no cover like the casino and they remained pinned down under the sea wall, by fire coming from the eastern headland and the hotels overlooking the esplanade. Out at sea, General Roberts on the Calpe was receiving very little information from the shore and the information he did receive was confusing and incomplete. When he heard that the casino had been captured, Roberts decided to send his floating reserve, the Fusiliers Mont-Royal into battle. From that point on, total disaster was inevitable.
Although designated as Royal Marine Commandos, the group that was tasked with capturing the invasion barges in the port may have had another mission. According to some accounts, the unit that was to become No 30 Commando was reportedly deployed for the first time during the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, in an unsuccessful attempt to capture an Enigma machine and related materiel.
In September 1942, its formation was officially authorised, under the auspices of the Director of Naval Intelligence. Known initially as the Special Intelligence Unit, it comprised 33 (Royal Marines) Troop, 34 (Army) Troop, 35 (Royal Air Force) Troop and 36 (Royal Navy) Troop. One of the key figures involved in its organisation was Commander Ian Fleming (later author of the James Bond novels). It was tasked to move ahead of advancing Allied forces, or to undertake covert infiltrations into enemy territory by land, sea or air, to capture much needed intelligence, in the form of codes, documents, equipment or personnel. They often worked closely with the Intelligence Corps’ Field Security sections. Individual troops were present in all operational theatres and usually operated independently, gathering information from captured facilities.
As there were no invasion barges in the port of Dieppe, this cover story is perhaps not unlikely and given the huge losses of ship tonnage, the codebreakers were desperate for as much information on Enigma as possible. The Germans had recently moved from a three to a four rotor system in their Enigma machines, hence the imperative to get their hands on one of the upgraded machines.
On Fleming’s suggestion, a small “commando” unit, AU 30 (assault unit 30), comprising a few select commandos dedicated to looting any secret material found on raids, was formed in April 1942. A surviving member of this unit recalled that their orders were to attack the German Naval HQ in Dieppe and, in his words, to “kill Germans”. The lieutenant in charge on the day had the street address of the German Naval HQ with orders to remove any secret material and to deliver it to Commander Ian Fleming who would be waiting offshore during the raid.
AU30 was temporarily attached to the Royal Marine Commandos on board HMS Locust as they attempted to enter the harbour. However, they were driven off by heavy defensive fire so transferred to small boats for a second attempt to land on a nearby beach. Once again they were beaten back.
It has been suggested that the Dieppe raid was mounted as cover for AU 30 to raid the German Naval HQ, but the sheer scale of the landings makes this theory implausible. It would however, seem likely that the raid could provide an opportunity for a small force to slip ashore during the general mayhem, with a narrow mission to “pinch” codes and hopefully an Enigma machine itself. The building that housed the Naval Headquarters is still there on the corner of the Rue Saint-Jean, overlooking the port and Dieppe’s Tourist Information Office. It is now a restaurant.
© Blown Periphery 2018