Canada at Dieppe
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
Sidney Allinson is a Victoria-based communications consultant, Canadian
news correspondent for Britain’s The Army Quarterly and Defence, and
author of The Bantams: The Untold Story of World War I.
Because the 5000 Canadian troops who made the Dieppe raid in 1942 suffered over 3000 casualties, a bitter myth has steadily built up since then. Folklore now often would have it that the operation was a complete failure, entirely the result of bungling by Lord Louis Mountbatten’s planners. The hideously high butchers’ bill paid that day by our soldiers has in particular helped support the impression of fresh-faced Dominion lads sacrificed in a hopeless exercise laid on by an inept and devious British General Staff. Consequently, such a theory of betrayal and useless slaughter is now widely accepted as gospel by our media and much of the public.
Lt. Col. Murray T. Hunter’s new book, Canada at Dieppe, helps dispel some of this myth, and concentrates more on a lucid explanation of the raid itself. He points out that by Spring 1942 the Canadian Corps had been in England for almost two years, honed to a peak of readiness by endless training and fairly itching to prove themselves against the enemy. It was Lt. Gen. H.D.G. Crerar himself who urged that the Canadians under his command be given a more aggressive role in raiding. Lt. Col. Hunter clarifies much about the origins of “Operation Jubilee”; it was a raid planned earlier, aborted, then subsequently revived. It was these circumstances which probably caused a serious lapse in security, with the result that the Germans were forewarned of the possibility of a raid against Dieppe. Evidence is revealed that General Montgomery, since much maligned for his involvement in the raid, was in fact strongly against its revival and had left for Egypt before the operation was launched.
Less confusion surrounds memory of the bravery and skill with which the green Canadian troops stormed ashore at Dieppe. The author’s personal combat experience in northwest Europe shines clearly through his account of the raid itself, which takes up the bulk of this slim volume. Supporting his narrative with maps, diagrams, and photographs, he leads us through a tense but thorough description of the battle, hour by hour. A notable feature of Canada at Dieppe is the dozen full-colour illustrations from paintings by Charles Comfort, Lawren Harris, and six German war artists. The paintings manage to provide remarkable immediacy to the tale, more so even than do the dozens of excellent black-and-white photographs that are also included. Clear headed and well written as the book is, one is left wishing that the author had expanded it to greater length to further help put the record straight about one of the most controversial enterprises in Canadian arms.