“We now turn away from the checkered spectacle of so much glory and so much shame.”
Fifty one years ago on August 19, 1942, the Battle of Dieppe, the most tragic single day in Canada’s military history, sparked a controversy which has still not been resolved. On that fateful day, the Allied Force, which included approximately 5,000 Canadians, attacked the occupied French Coast in a raid code-named “Operation Jubilee.”
After nine hours of what has been termed a bloodbath, 3,367 Canadians were dead, wounded or captured. This brings to light words found in Ken Bell’s book, The Way We Were, “…too many Canadians have forgotten Dieppe altogether, but the full horror of the debacle should remain firmly in our memories, or we will have betrayed the men who so tragically perished on its beaches.”
Recently, the daily newspapers and a CBC documentary on Dieppe showed the horrific results of this poorly planned invasion, which left historians debating the few, if any, merits of the raid. Some say it was a necessary lesson, while others contend it was a politically motivated suicide mission. What really happened?
Vancouverite Alan Knight, a special duty pilot with the RAF during World War II, whose missions included retrieving special agents and dropping supplies behind enemy lines, has completed 20 years of extensive research o the subject in his work Dieppe Decoded. Knight contends the Dieppe Raid accomplished three political objectives.
It prevented Russian leader Josef Stalin from making a secret peace deal with Hitler in 1942; it saved the life of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (Chief of German Military Intelligence who was a double agent and under investigation by the Gestapo); and, it convinced the American Generals Marshall and Eisenhower that a second front was impossible in 1942. In anger they had threatened to transfer all American troops from Britain to the Pacific. Instead they sent their forces to North Africa where they were desperately needed.
The first proposed raid for Dieppe code-named “Operation Rutter” was cancelled on July 18, 1942 because it was considered to be suicidal. Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, chief of British Military Intelligence MI6, held secret meetings in Madrid with Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, his German counterpart, who intensely disliked Hitler.
In July 1942 Canaris informed Menzies that his (Canaris’) life was still in danger because of a Gestapo investigation. He then stated that Stalin, faced with the full force of the German war machine on his doorstep, was about to make a secret peace deal with Adolph Hitler. When he arrived back in London, Menzies contacted Colonel Oliver Stanley and requested the Dieppe raid be immediately resurrected.
Colonel Stanley refused to be a party to this suicide mission and resigned from the London Control Centre with the words, “I cannot be a member of an entourage that would sacrifice 5,000 loyal troops to keep the Soviet Union in the war.”
Winston Churchill gave the order to resurrect the Dieppe Raid, now known as “Operation Jubilee.” Admiral Canaris was able to save his job by informing Hitler about the date of the raid and, with German troops diverted to Dieppe, Stalin decided not to make the peace deal with Hitler.
This in turn enabled Canaris to continue his clandestine meetings in Madrid with Stewart Menzies. Knight writes that Canaris’ position enabled him to destroy a cable sent to him by Captain Herbert Wichman, German Abwehr Chief in Hamburg, warning him of an American troopship convoy of 1500 troop ships (Operation Torch) sailing from the United Kingdom to North Africa. Consequently, the American troopship convoy, with 290,000 troops on board, arrived at Casablanca, Morocco on November 8, 1942. Not one American life was lost. Once again, Admiral Canaris justified the Dieppe sacrifice.
What Canadian Major General Hamilton Roberts told his troops would be “a piece of cake” ended in a bloody slaughter and a military disaster. For many what was their first action in nearly three years of war was also their last. For the rest, the nightmare remained.
Last year, hundreds of veterans gathered at the small port in northern France that changed the course of history. Many agree with Jack Kimberley of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry who said, “We were sold out higher up, sold down the river.” Alan Knight concludes: “Under the circumstances no troops could have done better than the Canadians. Every single one of them deserved a medal.”