Dieppe 1942: Prelude to D-Day: Combined Operations Catastrophe (Campaign) Paperback – 20 Jun 2003
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This book is a must own for anyone interested in Canadian military history or in seaborne landings. "Paul Seabrook, Armorama (August 2004)""
About the Author
Ken Ford was born in Hampshire in 1943. He trained as an engineer and spent almost thirty years in the telecommunications industry. He now spends his time as an author and a bookseller specialising in books in military history. He has written a number of books on various Second World War subjects. Ken now lives in Southampton. Howard Gerrard studied at the Wallasey School of Art and has been a freelance designer and illustrator for over 20 years. He has won both the Society of British Aerospace Companies Award and the Wilkinson Sword Trophy and has illustrated a number of books for Osprey including Campaign 69: Nagashino 1575 and Campaign 72: Jutland 1916. Howard lives and works in Kent.
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Dieppe 1942: Prelude to D-Day follows the standard Osprey campaign series format, with short sections on the origins of the battle, a minute-by-minute chronology (very helpful), opposing commanders, opposing armies and opposing plans. The author also provides an Allied order of battle which is good, but fails to mention unit strengths. Given the heavy casualties in the Dieppe landing, the author should have provided an initial strength for each battalion-size unit and its subsequent casualties. The author's sections on the Germans are also rather skimpy. The maps are excellent and include five 2-D maps (sea routes to Dieppe, the British landing plan, German defenses in Dieppe, Yellow Beach, the air battle) and three 3-D Birds Eye View maps (4 Commando's destruction of Hess Battery, Green Beach and Assault on Dieppe). The three color battle scenes are decent: the destruction of Hess Battery, the Attack on Red and White Beaches and Dogfight over Dieppe. The author provides a short bibliography but fails to note that key documents - such as the Jubilee operations order and captured German after-action reports - are now available on the Internet.
Ford's battle narrative is excellent and his methodology is perfect: he starts on the flanking landings (Yellow, Orange, Blue and Green beaches), moves to the main landings in the center (Red and White), covers the air-sea battles around Dieppe, then finishes with the withdrawal. In particular, Ford's coverage of the actions of 3 and 4 Commando is quite good. Readers should have no difficulty in following Ford's narrative, which is clear and succinct.
Some standard military lessons are hammered home in this volume, such as the essential fact that obstacles must be covered by fire in order to be effective. Ford notes that the German defenders were initially caught by surprise by the initial landings and had only limited troops watching the coast on Dieppe's flanks. On Yellow beaches, small groups of 3 Commando were able to infiltrate up a cliff face covered with barbed wire in 20 minutes - without special equipment! Subsequently, both the German Hess and Goebbels batteries were surprised when they came under attack by Allied commandos. A few German snipers could have prevented such nasty surprises. Another important lesson is the importance of terrain analysis in operational planning; the Anglo-Canadian planners failed to grasp the impassable nature of the beachfront obstacles around Dieppe or the loose pebble surface which effectively neutralized most of their tanks.
Ford contends that the Dieppe landings had many objectives, such as a political demonstration of a "quasi-Second Front," to give the Canadian troops battle experience, to test the German defenses, to cripple the Luftwaffe in the France, and to validate combined operations doctrine. The landings are described both as a "raid" and as a "reconnaissance-in-force." Most of these justifications appear rather specious, particularly the idea that the Soviets would see a temporary raid as a "Second Front." Rather, it appears that Operation Jubilee's main objective was to achieve a propaganda victory - to temporarily seize a port city in France, run up the Union Jack, take some photographs, and leave before the 10th Panzer Division arrived. Had the landings actually seized Dieppe, this would have been a tremendous boost to British morale following soon after disasters in Singapore and Tobruk. Churchill needed a large-scale success and something more than just small-scale commando raids. Indeed, the actual military objectives of beach reconnaissance and destruction of German coastal batteries could have been achieved by 3 and 4 Commando alone - why add the 2nd Canadian Division? Indeed, the Dieppe planning bears some of the same false assumptions and unwarranted optimism that marked Churchill's earlier effort at Gallipoli in 1915. Yet a faulty plan, probably driven by political imperatives, handed the propaganda victory to the enemy instead. The virtual annihilation of the Canadians on the beach added credibility to Hitler's Atlantic Wall and probably bucked up morale in Germany.
The manner in which Ford handles the fact that the Dieppe landings were a conspicuous disaster that achieved few objectives and resulted in 60% casualties further highlights the Twilight Zone that surrounds Operation Jubilee. Ford's subtitle for this volume, "prelude to D-Day" highlights the post-war British conviction that the Dieppe landings were a necessary precursor to the D-Day landings and that many invaluable lessons were learned. Taken in this light, of experience gained that saved lives in future landings, Dieppe's losses appear more acceptable. Unfortunately, Dieppe appears less of a "prelude to D-Day" than a "successor to Gallipoli," the infamous British landings in 1915 that also failed to achieve their objectives and cost thousands of lives. Furthermore, the idea that Dieppe was an essential prerequisite to D-Day conveniently ignores the fact that the Anglo-Americans would conduct four major opposed amphibious landings before D-Day (Torch, Sicily, Salerno and Anzio) that were much larger and that were not designed as raids. Actually, the idea that Dieppe was necessary in order to ensure the success of D-Day has become a historical palliative to dampen Canadian outrage and to soothe the consciences of leaders who recklessly threw 6,000 troops into the frying pan for dubious objectives. Yet is has been abundantly clear since 0506 hours on 19 August 1942, when the German machineguns began the slaughter on Blue Beach, that Operation Jubilee was a dumb plan executed by brave soldiers.
Like all books in the series it starts off providing a perspective, both strategic and tactical, on the military situation and hence the motivations and goals (from both sides) of the battle. The book then goes about discussing Allied training, the military forces of both sides, military commanders, tactics and how the battle played out. On the last point the book goes into a little too much detail even discussing some squad level assaults. As a result of all this detail one can lose the bigger picture.
The book concludes by discussing the results of the battle and, much more importantly, the repurcussions of the battle. The important lesson for the allies (correctly learned) was that they should not assault near heavily fortified ports and should make arrangements to bring their own ports with them. At Normandy this paid off handsomely. Ther Germans, on the other hand, "learned" that heavy fortifications should be the basis of their defense. Or so the author claims. The fact was with the poor quality troops they had to defend Normandy there was really no other choice. Like it or not, they were stuck with this strategy.
The book is also well illustrated with photographs showing various hardware, events and end results. The one area where it is weak, from an illustration point of view, is a lack of plates showing what the typical Canadian, English Cammando and German infantry man (of the 302nd division) looked like. One plate with these three illustrations would have sufficed.
Operation Jubilee was a disaster. Three-quarters of the 5,000 mostly Canadian troops sent ashore were killed, wounded, or captured. Only the attack by 4th Commando under Lord Lovat on an overlooking artillery battery went according to plan. The details are in the clear and concise narrative by Ken Ford, supported by some nice supporting maps, battle diagrams, period photographs and modern illustrations. Ford avoids the controversy about the mounting of the operation in favor of the details of its execution. There is a half-hearted attempt in the conclusion to support the conventional wisdon that Allied lessons learned paid off in Normandy in 1994, but this assertion rather ignores Allied experience in amphibious assaults conducted elsewhere prior to June 1944. This is a very readable introduction to a difficult and painful topic. Recommended.