In 1942 Joseph Stalin began to put pressure on Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt to open a second front in Europe. They were unwilling to carry out a large offensive but it was agreed to carry out an experiment in an amphibious assault on the coast of France.
In April 1942 General Bernard Montgomery and Admiral Louis Mountbatten began to plan the invasion. It was originally due to take place in July but bad weather resulted in it being postponed until August.
On 19th August 1942 a small mixed force of 5,000 Canadian and 1,000 British troops landed at Dieppe. They immediately came under attack from German troops led by General Kurt Zeitzler. Within a few hours 4,000 of the men were either killed, wounded or captured.
Allied commanders later claimed that valuable military information was gained from the Dieppe Raid. This included the need for more sophisticated amphibious equipment and techniques. However, some historians have questioned the purpose of the raid, claiming that this lessons learned from the failed raid could have been predicted and the lives of brave soldiers had been wasted for no good reason.
It was also claimed that the use of Canadian soldiers for the raid suggested that Allied commanders saw Commonwealth troops as more expendable than those in the British Army.
In 1942 the organization of raiding operations on enemy coasts was one of the functions of Combined Operations Headquarters, the head of which was Admiral Mountbatten. In April 1942 the staff of that headquarters began work on a plan to raid Dieppe; I was made responsible for the Army side of the planning since I was then commanding the South-Eastern Army, from which the troops for the raid were to come. It was decided that the 2nd Canadian Division would
carry out the raid, and intensive training was begun. The troops were embarked on the 2nd and 3rd July, and the raid was to take place on the 4th or one of the following days. Once embarked the troops were fully briefed, and were then " sealed " in their ships. The weather was unsuitable for launching the enterprise on the night of the 3rd July,
and remained unsuitable till the 8th July - the last day on which conditions would permit it. The troops were then disembarked and dispersed to their camps and billets. All the troops had been fully informed of the objective of the raid and of the details connected with it; it was reasonable to expect that it was now a common subject of conversation in billets and pubs in the south of England, since nearly 5000 Canadian soldiers were involved as well as considerable numbers of sailors and airmen. Once all this force was " unsealed " and dispersed, I considered the operation was cancelled and I turned my attention to other matters.
But Combined Operations Headquarters thought otherwise; they decided to revive it and got the scheme approved by the British Chiefs of Staff towards the end of July. When I heard of this I was very upset; I considered that it would no longer be possible to maintain secrecy. Accordingly I wrote to General Paget, C.-in-C. Home Forces, telling him of my anxiety, and recommending that the raid on Dieppe should be considered cancelled "for all time." If it was
considered desirable to raid the Continent, then the objective should not be Dieppe. This advice was disregarded. On the 10th August I left England to take command of the Eighth Army in the desert.
The Prime Minister and some of his chief military advisers still looked upon the Overlord plan with scarcely concealed misgivings; their attitude seemed to be that we could avoid the additional and grave risks implicit in a new amphibious operation by merely pouring into the Mediterranean all the air, ground, and naval resources available. They implied that by pushing the Italian campaign, invading Yugoslavia, capturing Crete, the Dodecanese, and Greece, we would deal the Germans a serious blow without encountering the admitted dangers of the full-out effort against northwest Europe. My own staff, including its British members, and I continued to support the conclusions reached a year and a half previously that only in the cross-Channel attack would our full strength be concentrated and decisive results achieved.
Because, later, the landing in Normandy was successfully accomplished without abnormal loss, it is easy to ignore the very real risks and dangers implicit in the plan. Had we encountered there a disastrous reverse, those who now criticize the concern with which some looked forward to the prospect would have been loudest in condemning the others who insisted upon the validity of the plan. One thing that opponents feared was a repetition of the trench warfare of World War I. The British had vivid and bitter memories of Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge. None of us wanted any repetition of those experiences. Moreover, the Dieppe raid of the summer of 1942 did not promise any easy conquest of the beaches themselves. That raid, carried out by a strong force of Canadians, had resulted in a high percentage of losses. From it we learned a number of lessons that we later applied to our advantage, but the price paid by the Canadians still rankled.
At Dieppe, from a force of fewer than 5000 men engaged for only nine hours, the Canadian Army lost more prisoners than in the whole eleven months of the later campaign in North-West Europe, or the twenty months during which Canadians fought in Italy. Sadder still was the loss in killed; the total of fatal casualties was 56 officers and 851 other ranks. Canadian casualties of all categories aggregated 3369.