Informative article, written for the Department of National Defence in 2017.
It was the summer of 1942. The situation was grim for the Allies in Europe. Not yet strong enough to mount Operation OVERLORD, the eventual full-scale invasion that would be required to liberate Western Europe, the Allies instead authorized Operation JUBILEE—a major raid on a French port town, designed to test new equipment, gain experience in amphibious assault, and put the Canadian forces in battle for the first time in the Second World War.
The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division prepared for the assault on August 19, 1942, supported by three British Commando units and a complement of U.S. Army Rangers. But by the end of the day, over half the Canadian forces had been captured or killed: of the 4,963 Canadian troops who participated in Operation JUBILEE, only 2,210 returned to England.
This was the Raid on Dieppe.
Operation JUBILEE was to hit five points along a roughly 16 kilometre front, with the town of Dieppe as its main target. The British Commandos and U.S. Rangers were to take the two outermost points—Varengeville in the west and Berneval in the east—while the Canadian troops were to attack Pourville and Puys and then, half an hour later, Dieppe itself.
Trouble started before the attacks even began. While still en route, landing craft on the eastern flank encountered a German convoy, and noise of the battle alerted the nearby defences. With the element of surprise lost, most of the No. 3 Commando never reached the Berneval shore, and those who did were quickly overwhelmed. The Canadian attack at Puys was met with machine gun fire; those few men who made it over the seawall were unable to make it back, and the rest of the troops were pinned down on the beach.
The western flank still had some degree of surprise, and the No. 4 Commando successfully destroyed the guns at Varengenville. But light opposition at Pourville intensified as the Canadians pushed across the River Scie until they were forced into retreat. Their withdrawal was marked with heavy losses, and the rearguard that enabled the retreat could not be evacuated and was taken prisoner.
In the main attack, Canadian troops were swept with machine gun fire from concealed German forces. All attempts to breach the seawall were beaten back with terrible casualties, and the units sent in as support were also pinned down and exposed to fire on the beach. While some troops were able to push into town, they were engaged in vicious street fighting and eventually had to retreat. Tanks were brought to a halt by both gunfire and difficult terrain; they nevertheless continued to fight, supporting the withdrawal of their comrades while their crews died in battle or were taken prisoner. By afternoon, Operation JUBILEE was over.
Today, 944 members of the British and Allied Armed Forces, including 707 Canadians, are buried in the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery. A park in Dieppe—the Square du Canada—serves as a testimony to the long association between Canada and Normandy, and a plaque there commemorates the Raid on Dieppe.