When the Dieppe Raid is discussed, much is usually made about its contribution to the D-Day landing two years later. Typically, the raid is credited with leading to strategic and tactical innovations that saved lives when the Allies landed on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944.
That is true, but it’s little consolation to the few remaining Dieppe veterans who saw their comrades fall to German bullets and artillery shells.
The raid, which resulted in 3,300 Canadian casualties, including 913 who lost their lives, and another 1,946 taken prisoner, did demonstrate in blood to Allied strategists the futility of attacking a heavily-fortified and well-defended port.
But for Canadian veterans who took part in the August 19, 1942, debacle, there has always been a feeling that they were needlessly sacrificed with no real understanding about why they were taking part in what was then code-named Operation Jubilee. Even as the dead and wounded piled up on the beaches, and it became increasingly clear that objectives would not be met, yet more troops were sent in to add to the carnage. The raid had unravelled well before any troops landed, as the convoy was spotted by a German coastal patrol in the early morning and the firing of weapons alerted the defenders at Dieppe.
Caught in the fusillade, Gunner Joseph Dessurealt had his fingers blown off. He asked a friend to take his false teeth out of his pocket and put them in his mouth for him (A Nation Forged in Fire: Canadians and the Second World War 1939-1945, by J.L. Granatstein and Desmond Morton (Lester & Open Dennys, Toronto). “He said he didn’t want to die without his teeth being in,” a friend remembered.
Granatstein and Morton called Dieppe, a “charnel-house.”
One veteran of Dieppe, waiting aboard a ship to take his turn in the attack, told me that he was “extremely lucky” that the raid was called off before his company was ordered to hit the beach. From the vantage point of the ship, the veteran, who has long since passed away as have so many of his comrades, could see that the raid was going terribly wrong.
On Sunday, August 19, a new documentary, Dieppe Uncovered, will air on History Television at 8 p.m., which will give the remaining veterans of the raid an explanation of why so many of their comrades had died.
After 15 years of research, military historian David O’Keefe, using once-classified and top-secret files, has uncovered that the true objective of the raid was to capture code technology from the German headquarters at the Hotel Moderne in Dieppe.
Knopf Random House is also releasing the book, Dieppe Decoded, in 2013, by O’Keefe, which Louise Dennys, the executive publisher, in a press release said “will fundamentally change our understanding of this pivotal chapter in Canadian history and help bring closure to one of the most tragic events in our recent past.”
According to the press release: “For decades, the reason for the Dieppe raid — the darkest day in Canadian military history — has been one of the most perplexing mysteries of the Second World War ... (The) catastrophic losses — for Canada above all (about 1,000 British troops and 50 Americans also took part in the raid) — coupled with the mystery surrounding the reasons for the operation itself, left a legacy of bitterness, recrimination, and controversy for seventy years. In the absence of concrete reasons for the raid, a myriad of theories ranging from incompetency to conspiracy developed.”
When told by O’Keefe about the reason he uncovered behind the raid, Dieppe veteran, Private Ron Beal, said, “Now I can die in peace; now I know what my friends died for ...”
Unfortunately, it is too late for the Canadians who have passed away in recent years and remained haunted by images of their comrades falling, wounded or dead, beside them as they stormed the beaches surrounding the French seaside resort.
O’Keefe’s painstaking research found that the raid was actually the cover for a secret mission, organized by British Naval Intelligence in connection with the Joint Intelligence Committee and Lord Louis Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Headquarters, to steal German code and cipher books and an Enigma machine, which were to be captured by a top-secret commando unit — the 30th A.U. — which was transported to Dieppe aboard the HMS Locust.
Offshore from Dieppe that day aboard the naval command ship, HMS Fernie, was Ian Fleming, who would afterward become famous as the creator of fictional spy, James Bond. Fleming was responsible for the founding of the top-secret commando unit, which was commanded by Lieutenant Herbert Oliver Huntington-Whiteley of the Royal Marines during the Dieppe Raid. Once the code books and Enigma machine were captured by the commandos, they were to be delivered to Fleming who would speed back to the nearest British port and deliver the valuable cargo to Bletchley Park, where the Allied code-breakers were stationed.
The code-breakers at Bletchley Park had been successful in decoding German Enigma communications in the early part of the war. Their efforts had been greatly aided by the Poles who just before their country was invaded on September 1, 1939, starting the Second World War, presented their Enigma-decryption techniques and equipment to French and British military intelligence officers. But the Germans in February 1942 changed the Enigma machines (glorified typewriters) from a three-rotor to a four-rotor system, so the Allies could not longer access the movements of U-boats on the North Atlantic, which once again began to decimate convoys bringing valuable supplies to England.
This dire situation led to Dieppe, with the 30th A.U. commando unit ordered to bring back a new Enigma machine and its code books — the core reason for the “pinch raid.”
After the first wave failed to make any progress, a second and a third wave of troops was sent ashore, which O’Keefe explains was necessary for the “maintenance of the objective;” that is, the top secret mission undertaken by Huntington-Whiteley’s commando unit.
But no matter how many waves of troops were put ashore, it soon became too obvious that the raid was a failure and Bletchley Park would not receive its Enigma machine.
What O’Keefe has uncovered changes all that had been earlier believed about the Dieppe raid and will necessitate a rewrite of history books. And most importantly, there is at last a concrete reason behind the Dieppe Raid for the surviving veterans of the debacle.