Origins: Dieppe Raid

The reason for the disastrous Dieppe Raid, 19th August 1942, is the subject of much controversy. It is often portrayed as “a reconnaissance in force”, to provide lessons for a future full scale invasion. However no part of the Operational orders for JUBILEE, the code name for the Dieppe Raid, mention this as an objective for the raid. On the other hand, General Brooke is supposed to have stated this as an aim as early as 30th June 1942 in a meeting with Churchill .The operation was probably nothing more than a raid on a much larger scale than previously organized by Combined Operations. It was one of a series of raids on an increasing scale planned in response to political pressure from Russia for the Allies to undertake operations in the West to relieve pressure in the East, and also to satisfy the demands of the Americans who were also pushing for a rapid intervention in the West (with two plans, Operation SLEDGEHAMMER and Operation ROUNDUP).

Above: The Dieppe Raid

But JUBILEE did demonstrate the need to rethink methods of assaulting German fixed defenses in any future landings; the Government was determined that an active study of improved methods should start immediately. Firstly, at Dieppe, the infantry never got off the main landing beaches (RED and WHITE). Secondly, although 15 out of the 29 tanks landed at RED and WHITE beaches actually got off the beach and onto the promenade, they were unable to get any further due to anti-tank blocks; the engineers tasked clear obstacles for the tanks lay wounded, dead or dying on the beach. Two of the main conclusions drawn from the raid were:

  • The strength of German defences had been underestimated
  • No preliminary bombardment from the sea was ever likely to wholly neutralize the enemy’s defences
    • A third conclusion drawn by many was that the raid showed tanks could NOT be landed until the infantry had secured the beach. However Lt Col. Reeves did not agree; he prepared a report “exploring the possibility of developing devices to enable obstacles to be surmounted by a tank or destroyed by a tank crew without being exposed to the enemy”. Later, it was fully realized that the infantry could not hope to survive without direct support from tanks going ashore with the first wave to drench the defenders with fire during the landing.

      Outcomes and Developments following Dieppe

      Engineer Tank

      One of the outcomes of the raid was Lt. J Denovan’s (Royal Canadian Engineers) idea of an “engineer tank” as a means of carrying the men and stores of an engineer support team during an assault. The idea was that engineers could carry out the work of destroying enemy obstacles from either within the tank or outside the tank but protected by the positioning of the vehicle. Somehow Denovan managed to get hold of a Churchill tank unofficially. He had the interior stripped out to a minimum to make room for a crew of six with room for stores such as explosives, tools etc. The War Office sanctioned the idea on October 22nd and a second prototype Churchill was authorized. Denovan suggested mounting a modified Blacker Bombard as the tanks weapon and a prototype was first mounted on a Covenanter tank. This later became known as a Petrad after a French explosive device of the 16th Century.

      Assault Training

      Exercise Kruschen was ordered in December 1942, to be carried out by the 54th Div under the direction of G (Plans) GHQ. The exercise was to consist of trials to investigate methods of land assault against strongly defended positions, and was one of the first full scale exercises of this type. Other trials were also being carried out by GHQ at Kilbride Bay on beach assault and also by 15th Division on assault against inland defences using Canal Defence Light (C.D.L) equipped tanks. Exercise Kruschen, which ran until May 1943, was held at Westleton and Dunwich Heaths. One of the outcomes of the exercise was the difficulty of coordinating such an operation and it lead to the acceptance of Denovan’s idea of mounting engineers in a specialized armoured vehicle.

      79th Armoured Division

      During March 1943 Maj. Gen Hobart was called to London to meet the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Gen. A Brooke. Maj. Gen Hobart was tasked with developing the technique of Assault in Western Europe with “specialized forms of armoured vehicle such as amphibious tanks, searchlight tanks, mine destroying tanks, flame throwers etc”, bringing together assault tanks and engineers “under one senior officer”. Maj. Gen. Hobart was to work alongside I and 12 Corps, tasked with developing assault techniques for beach landings and against prepared inland defences. In particular he was to expand on the Kruschen drill, as it was recognized as being incomplete because it did not involve the use of flail or engineers tanks. The 79th Armoured Division continued to develop the drill and conclusions that arose from Kruschen – e.g. Exercise Hedgehog I, II, III, IV and V held during August 1943 at the Orford Battle Training Area. Denovan’s idea was also fully adopted, leading to the development of the Assault Vehicle Royal Engineer (AVRE) – “Hobart’s Funnies”, again much of the training and development being carried out in Suffolk’s Battle Training Areas.

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