Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 19, 1942 – Dieppe Raid Canceled

In the midst of the darkest times of the Second World War, Germany and its allies had conquered most of Europe, devastated much of Britain with the Blitz, invaded the Soviet Union, and dug in over most of North Africa. Stalin demanded the rest of the Allies open a new front with Germany, but Americans and Britons disagreed where. FDR wanted to move directly on Europe, while Churchill hoped to check the Axis expansion into Africa and then strike at the “soft underbelly of Europe.”

As an exercise in logistics as well as to prove that Europe was not as wholly invincible as the Axis wanted to believe, Operation Jubilee (earlier known as Operation Rutter) was designed as a combined Canadian and British raid on the French port city of Dieppe. They would seize the major port, though holding it permanently would be out of the question.

Two days before the launch, the Daily Telegraph published a crossword with the answer of the clue “French port (6)” as Dieppe. Suspicious, an investigation was launched under Lord Tweedsmuir and MI5. The report showed that the answer may have been a fluke, but Allied command decided not to risk the chance. Just after midnight, the mission was canceled, and the test of raiding had to be conducted elsewhere.

Churchill suggested moving forward with Operation Torch into North French Africa, but Stalin was furious at having to face Hitler's European armies alone. The cancellation at Dieppe made it seem as if the Allies were not even attempting to support the Soviet Union. Britain needed to strike somewhere to keep face, and finally the exiled King Haakon VII of Norway offered a suggestion. His country had been invaded by Germany two years before and gave fair resistance. With Norway's ports and airfields at Hitler's command, the Battle of the Atlantic continued as Nazi forces could penetrate the North Atlantic around British blockades. Churchill fell to agreement, and the raid was planned for the end of the month.

Using many of the resources already in place for Dieppe and adding much more, an Allied fleet of British, Canadians, and volunteer Americans left Scotland while battleships protected their flank from U-boats. The force landed at Trondheim in the middle of Norway, catching the German forces unawares. After a major struggle, the port was captured. German forces fell back to regroup for counterattack.

Just as Churchill prepared to pull back the assault with his point proven, word of the liberation had spread throughout the country. Rumors said that the raid was the establishment of a beachhead to march in forces for the overthrow of German invaders. The whole country erupted into rebellion, and the Germans were unable to conduct their counterattack. The Allies were left with an accidental foot in the door of Scandinavia.

At the urging of FDR and Stalin, Churchill opened up reserves of troops meant for Africa and poured them into Norway. With only a few real weeks left before winter set in, the Allies seized as much ground as they could. Hitler sent reinforcements wherever they could be spared from the Russian front, but continual assault from Norwegian sabotage and snipers slowed down the German counterattack. By November 1942, when the weather halted large military movements, Norway had been split with the north in the hands of the Allies.

During the winter, Operation Torch moved the main battles south to Africa, but Hitler was furious at the loss of gained ground in Europe. In spring of 1943, Africa fell due to lack reinforcements, all of which Hitler had reassigned to retake Norway. German forces departed from Denmark and began to raze the countryside as nearly continual fighting pressed the defending Allies back. Resources were stretched thin as the Allies pressed with Operation Husky to take Sicily, which succeeded on August 17. Italy fell apart, and Hitler had to shift soldiers to control what of Italy remained, ending the major assaults in Norway. Patton was reassigned to Norway, and the Americans pushed down the peninsula long after the rational fighting season had ended.

In spring of 1944, Operation Checkmate began with the amphibious invasion of Denmark. Smaller raids kept German forces occupied in Italy, Finland, Poland, Vichy, and Normandy in northern France, but the brunt of the attack was focused on piercing Germany. Supported by superior air power from Norwegian airbases, Allies were able to leave behind many of the Nazi satellite countries and strike straight for Berlin. Seeing that the end of the war was coming soon, Germans rebelled against an increasingly frantic Hitler. Upon the overthrow and execution of Hitler on October 12, 1944, the war with Germany was finished. Through the course of the next months, the puppet governments around Europe fell while bloody anarchy reigned over most of the continent.

At the Treaty of Yalta in 1945, Europe was broken up among the Allies for occupation and reconstruction. The Soviet Union became responsible for Eastern Europe, while Britain and America handled most of the West. North and South France were broken into occupied zones until being eventually reunited in 1955. Scholars understand that the real winners of the war was America, as the USA captured nearly all of the German scientists promoted by the Nazi government. Taking something of a generational leap ahead in development over the rest of the world, along with singly controlling atomic bomb technology until successful Soviet tests in 1954, America became the undisputed world leader for the rest of the twentieth century.

In reality, the crossword puzzle was found, to quote Lord Tweedsmuir, to be “just a remarkable coincidence.” Other double agents, however, had notified German authorities about the raid, and Dieppe as well as other ports were on high alert. The attack began at 5 AM, and within six hours the order to retreat had been given. Thousands of Allied troops, primarily Canadians, were killed, wounded, or captured. The experience would teach many lessons about amphibious landings that would be put into use in North Africa and Normandy through the rest of the war.


  1. ” Other double agents, however, had notified German authorities about the raid, and Dieppe as well as other ports were on high alert. ''

    Hi, Please could you tell me/us who those double agents were and send me links to source info if available.

    Thank You!

    1. BBC did a bit on it in 2010, which mentioned the agents,

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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