© Yann Pelcat
Operation Jubilee

The Canadian sacrifice

The Dieppe Raid

In August 1942, Dieppe and its neighbouring coastal towns were the stage for one of the most tragic episodes of the Second World War. Rarely included in history books, the Dieppe Raid (officially known as Operation Jubilee) bound the people of Dieppe to their Canadian brothers forever.

A military fiasco

On the night of 18-19 August 1942, some 6,000 soldiers (5,000 Canadians, 1,000 Brits, 50 US Rangers and 15 Free French commandos) were heading for Dieppe aboard 150 ships. Their mission? To destroy the Germans’ coastal defences and select strategic infrastructure. The plan? To attack at night.

Only, they lost the element of surprise when one of the groups bumped into a small German convoy coming down from the North Sea. Not only that, but the offensive was running late and so it was in the light of dawn that the troops landed on a front of five beaches stretching 20 kilometres in length: Berneval, Dieppe, Pourville, Puys and Varengeville.

Heavy losses

The German soldiers were ready for them, strategically perched atop the cliffs to defend their positions. The episode which followed was extremely violent and chaotic. The Germans launched continuous salvos and were supported by an air raid by their forces. The net was tightening around the Allies. Churchill’s tanks were not much use to the Allied soldiers, as most of them got stuck in the sand. They would not make it past the beach.

The Allies fought bravely but eventually had to surrender a few hours later. Only a few survivors managed to return to the United Kingdom, compared to the 2,000 Allied soldiers who were taken prisoner. 1,200 men lost their lives. 46 civilians also perished in the attack.

A promise kept

On 1 September, as the Canadian soldiers had sworn to do, they returned to liberate Dieppe to the cheers of the local population. It was the 2nd Canadian Division, that suffered the most losses on that August morning in 1942, which would be given the honour of entering the town first, symbolically taking their revenge.

Multiple decades later, in 2001, the small Italian-made theatre which had witnessed the combat and in which some of the Canadian soldiers had sought sanctuary, would become the site of the memorial to the Dieppe Raid.

Duty of remembrance

The Cemetery of Virtue was created by the Germans, as the Allies were forced to leave behind the bodies of the soldiers fallen in combat on the beaches. The tombstones are placed back to back, in double rows, in the German style. It is the only Allied cemetery with this unique feature.

Nowadays, the Commonwealth is responsible for the War Cemetery’s upkeep. Each year, at the time of commemoration of the raid, Dieppe and the neighbouring towns remember and honour the men who died fighting for their freedom.