Landing craft of No 4 Commando running in to land at Vasterival on the right flank of the main assault at Dieppe. The unit achieved its objective, the destruction of the ‘Hess’ Battery in a copybook action, the only success of the raid.

On the 19th August 1942 the British Combined Operations launched a cross channel raid on the French port of Dieppe. The main force of Canadian troops sought to capture the port facilities. It was allegedly an exercise in discovering how difficult such an operation would be, and a means of developing inter service co-operation for amphibious operations.

The raid is generally considered to have been an unmitigated disaster, with no major objectives accomplished and 4,384 of the 6,086 men who made it ashore killed, wounded, or captured, whilst the Royal Navy suffered 555 casualties.

For the men involved there was some desperate fighting, some indication of which can be gained from the citations of the three Victoria Crosses that were awarded for action that day:

Captain Patrick Anthony Porteous VC RA

At Dieppe on the 19th August 1942, Major Porteous was detailed to act as Liaison Officer between the two detachments whose task was to assault the heavy coast defence guns.

In the initial assault Major Porteous, working with the smaller of the two detachments, was shot at close range through the hand, the bullet passing through his palm and entering his upper arm. Undaunted, Major Porteous closed with his assailant, succeeded in disarming him and killed him with his own bayonet thereby saving the life of a British Sergeant on whom the German had turned his aim.

In the meantime the larger detachment was held up, and the officer leading this detachment was killed and the Troop Sergeant-Major fell seriously wounded. Almost immediately afterwards the only other officer of the detachment was also killed. Major Porteous, without hesitation and in the face of a withering fire, dashed across the open ground to take over the command of this detachment.

Rallying them, he led them in a charge which carried the German position at the point of the bayonet, and was severely wounded for the second time. Though shot through the thigh he continued to the final objective where he eventually collapsed from loss of blood after the last of the guns had been destroyed.

Major Porteous’s most gallant conduct, his brilliant leadership and tenacious devotion to a duty which was supplementary to the role originally assigned to him, was an inspiration to the whole detachment.

Charles Merritt VC

For matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership whilst commanding his battalion during the Dieppe raid on the 19th August 1942. From the point of landing his unit’s advance had to be made across a bridge in Pouville which was swept by very heavy machine-gun, motar and artillery fire, the first parties were mostly destroyed and the bridge thickly covered by their bodies. A daring lead was required: waving his helmet, Lieutenant Colonel Merritt rushed forward shouting “Come on over! There’s nothing to worry about here”. He thus personally led the survivors of at least four parties in turn across the bridge.

Quickly organizing these, he led them forward and when held up by enemy pillboxes he again headed rushes which succeeded in clearing them. In one case he himself destroyed the occupants of the post by throwing grenades into it. After several of his runner became casualties, he himself kept contact with his different positions.

Although twice wounded Lieutenant Colonel Merritt continued to direct the unit’s operations with great vigour and determination and while organizing the withdrawal he stalked a sniper with a Bren gun and silenced him. He then coolly gave orders for the departure and announced his intention to hold off and “get even with” the enemy. When last seen he was collecting Bren and Tommy guns and preparing a defensive position which successfully covered the withdrawal from the beach.

Lieutenant Colonel Merritt is now reported to be a Prisoner of War. To this Commanding Officer’s personal daring, the success of his unit’s operations and the safe re-embarkation of a large portion of it were chiefly due.

Captain John Foote, Canadian Chaplain Services, was Regimental Chaplain with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry

Upon landing on the beach under heavy fire he attached himself to the Regimental Aid Post which had been set up in a slight depression on the beach, but which was only sufficient to give cover to men lying down. During the subsequent period of approximately eight hours, while the action continued, this officer not only assisted the Regimental Medical Officer in ministering to the wounded in the Regimental Aid Post, but time and again left this shelter to inject morphine, give first-aid and carry wounded personnel from the open beach to the Regimental Aid Post. On these occasions, with utter disregard for his personal safety, Honorary Captain Foote exposed himself to an inferno of fire and saved many lives by his gallant efforts.

During the action, as the tide went out, the Regimental Aid Post was moved to the shelter of a stranded landing craft. Honorary Captain Foote continued tirelessly and courageously to carry wounded men from the exposed beach to the cover of the landing craft. He also removed wounded from inside the landing craft when ammunition had been set on fire by enemy shells. When landing craft appeared he carried wounded from the Regimental Aid Post to the landing craft through heavy fire. On several occasions this officer had the opportunity to embark but returned to the beach as his chief concern was the care and evacuation of the wounded. He refused a final opportunity to leave the shore, choosing to suffer the fate of the men he had ministered to for over three years.

Honorary Captain Foote personally saved many lives by his efforts and his example inspired all around him. Those who observed him state that the calmness of this heroic officer as he walked about, collecting the wounded on the fire-swept beach will never be forgotten.

A general view of some of the small naval craft covering the landing during the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe

A destroyer makes a smoke screen to cover the landing during the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe.

HMS BERKELEY settling down in the water after being bombed during the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe. One of the destroyers boats is still alongside, empty but still attached to its davits. BERKELEY was torpedoed shortly afterwards by British forces.

HMS BERKELEY being torpedoed by our own forces after being bombed during the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe. Note how the plume of water caused by the explosion dwarfs the destroyer.

Wounded soldiers being helped on board the destroyer HMS ALBRIGHTON by the RNVR surgeon, Surgeon Lieutenant J Gask during the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe.

A naval motor-launch seen with four of the landing craft personnel (large) used during the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe. The landing craft are numbered (left – right) LCP (L) 85, LCP (L) 41, number not visible and R 145.

Commandos returning to Newhaven in their landing craft (LCAs).

Stills from camera gun footage taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark V flown by Sergeant M Liskutin of No. 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF, as he shot down a Dornier Do 217 over the English Channel, while on patrol over a convoy of returning vessels from the Dieppe raid.

A wounded Canadian soldier being disembarked from the Polish Navy destroyer ORP at Portsmouth on return from Dieppe.

Some of the Canadian troops resting on board a destroyer after the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe. The strain of the operation can be seen on their faces.

A German prisoner, Unteroffizier Leo Marsiniak, being escorted at Newhaven. He was captured at the gun battery at Varengeville by No. 4 Commando.

It was later claimed that for every man lost at Dieppe more lives were saved in the eventual invasion of Europe, at Normandy in 1944. As the German Field Marshal von Runstedt observed:

Just as we are going to evaluate these experiences for the future so is the assaulting force … perhaps even more so as it has gained the experience dearly. He will not do it like this a second time!





SS man spends a day at the Gas Chambers

18th August 1942: An SS man spends a day at the Gas Chambers

In fact the first train arrived after some minutes, from the direction of Lemberg. 45 wagons with 6,700 people of whom 1,450 were already dead on arrival. Behind the barred hatches children as well as men and women looked out, terribly pale and nervous, their eyes full of the fear of death. The train comes in: 200 Ukrainians fling open the doors and whip the people out of the wagons with their leather whips.




The USAAF makes its first raid on Occupied Europe

17th August 1942: The USAAF makes its first raid on Occupied Europe

When the last of the three 190’s broke off combat, I moved to the other side of the waist gunners’ station and observed at least a dozen puffs from exploding shells. They were deadly accurate as to altitude but several hundred yards to port. Meanwhile there was fighter activity overhead and to our rear. The RAF wing covering our withdrawal had climbed above us and passed somewhat astern as we left the target area.




British POWs ‘entertained’ by the Germans

16th August 1942: British POWs ‘entertained’ by the Germans

The first film was a short extolling the virtues of the Hitler Youth Organisation. It showed a “troop” in camp in a rock climbing district; a slight story seemed to be woven into the film to give it interest but the effect of the rather good photography was spoiled by “wordiness” of the dialogue and the theatrical scenes of camp life showing much (too much) of the flag and the youths “devotion” to duty, leader and country. What the “big” picture was about only the Lord and the Germans know — it seemed to me to be one long chatter.




Montgomery makes his mark in the desert

15th August 1942: Montgomery makes his mark in the desert

At the same time, Monty made it very clear that all belly-aching was to cease. This was a favourite phrase of his, by which he meant that orders are orders, and not a basis for discussion. Since General Ritchie’s days, the tendency had crept in for subordinates to query their instructions when they thought they knew better; with Monty this was an anathema.




The battle to save the Ohio

14th August 1942: The battle to save the Ohio

The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to Captain Dudley William Mason, Master, SS Ohio. During the passage to Malta of an important convoy Captain Mason’s ship suffered most violent onslaught. She was a focus of attack throughout and was torpedoed early one night. Although gravely damaged, her engines were kept going and the Master made a magnificent passage by hand-steering and without a compass.




Attacks on Pedestal from every quarter

13th August 1942: Attacks on Pedestal from every quarter

We steamed towards one of the crippled ships, the SS Empire Hope and we saw some of her crew struggling in the water and others were in the boats. Lifeless and mutilated objects that had once been men floated past on both sides and our bows struck two corpses as we steamed forward to assist the remaining survivors. Some of our crew shouted to them to hurry up as we all had the jitters by now and we wanted to feel some speed under us.




Pitched battles all around Pedestal convoy

12th August 1942: Pitched battles all around Pedestal convoy

I decide to carry out a second depth-charge attack and the ship is just turning when a roar goes up, ‘There she is.’ It was a successful attack, and the U-boat has come to the surface, but the job is not yet finished. Perhaps she will crash-dive and try to escape. We can take no chances. So, ‘Full ahead both engines; prepare to ram.’ The guns need no orders. They have already opened fire and the U-boat is getting seven bells knocked out of her.




HMS Eagle sunk as Pedestal comes under atttack

11th August 1942: HMS Eagle sunk as Pedestal comes under atttack

Taking a deep breath I blew up my inflatable lifebelt which was a permanent part of our dress when we were afloat. Remembering our survival lectures, I hurriedly kicked off my deck shoes, pushed myself away and before I could think I was upside down 20 feet under the water and frantically holding my breath whist I looked around for a lighter colour in my surroundings that would indicate the surface. The next few seconds seemed like a lifetime and as I broke through to the surface my throat and chest seemed to explode with relief.




Operation Pedestal gets under way

10th August 1942: Operation Pedestal gets under way

Sooner or later the peace would be shattered; jumping at every pipe, at every change in course or revs, screamed out for it to happen and be done with. All morning the ships steamed on in undisturbed calm. Then, suddenly, in the afternoon watch, two Wildcats from Victorious went tearing into the air. We moved nearer the island, hoping for tit-bits of news. The Tannoy crackled. It was the Commander: “Victorious has scrambled two fighters after a suspected shadower. That’s all for the moment.”