Dieppe as the Enemy Saw It
You may not like some of the opinions expressed, but here, published for the first time, is the German Army report on Dieppe
L. S. B. SHAPIRO
Maclean’s European Correspondent
Author's note: This article, taken from German intelligence reports on the Dieppe raid of Aug. 19, 1942, reveals hitherto undisclosed facts which underline the raid's function. In these reports the Germans do not deal kindly with the Canadian effort at Dieppe. There may be Canadians whose pride is touched -or who feel their reputations are tarnished—by what the Germans have recorded.
It may be claimed that German information in the war id not attain such a standard of veracity that it should be sed by a Canadian when writing of a Canadian action, hit the writer has not lightly undertaken this article. The ■documents are authentic. They were professional battle reports, intended only for the practiced professional eyes of the German general staff. They were, not subject to propaganda treatment in Berlin between the time they were written and the time they fell into Allied hands.
TO THE men planning the Second Front Dieppe was all but forgotten. The lessons of that reconnaissance in force had already been incorporated in four successful assault landings—North Africa, Sicily, Salerno and Anzio—and the raw technique and outmoded equipment that hurled the Canadians into bloody Dieppe had, in 18 months, been improved and elaborated beyond recognition. For this was early 1944, and the pay-off action—the Normandy assault— was in process of building.
The main plan had already been created and was acceptable to the chief Allied strategists—Eisenhower, Montgomery and Lt.-Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan. These men sat in Shaef’s temporary headquarters at Norfolk House, just off Fall Mall. The reports that came to their desks from units strung across southern England were eyed with the savagely nervous interest of a quarterback who, having given the signals, watches his teammates fall back to execute their intricate moves in preparation for a smash at the opposition.
Suddenly Dieppe came to life again. It happened on Feb. 26, 1944—little more than three months before D-Day. A messenger arrived at Supreme Headquarters with a bundle of documents spirited out of Hitler’s Fortress Europe. When, where and how these secret documents were acquired from the Germans cannot even yet be revealed.
The documents consisted of the following: The Intelligence report of the German 81st Corps on the Dieppe raid, dated Aug. 22, 1942; the operations report of the 81st Corps, dated Aug. 25, 1942; supplement and critique of the action by the German corps commander, dated Sept. 2, 1942; operations report on Dieppe by the German 320th Infantry Division, dated Sept. 5, 1942; orders concerning coast defense measures transmitted to 320th Infantry Division by the 81st Corps, dated Sept. 11, 1942.
Here was exciting and invaluable information, timed with rare luck as the Allies were perfecting the details of their grand assault upon the French coast. The Germans related not only what happened at Dieppe in exact fashion; they also pointed out the errors made by the Canadians and —most importantly —they reviewed their own shortcomings in organization and tactics, and outlined the improvements in their plans to withstand a subsequent assault on their French coast defenses.
Thus the Canadians, nearly two years dead in their Dieppe graves, once more were selling their lives dearly.
For purposes of this article, interest in these documents falls into two categories: (1) what the discovery of the reports meant to Allied assault units preparing for D-Dav; (2) what light the reports shed on the historic action at Dieppe.
The revelations contained in the Dieppe reports did not alter the main plan for D-Day; they did prove of great value to units whose job was to smash local opposition and gain a foothold on the beach, and
to Air Force officers planning close support of our troops.
Let us examine the critique of the 81st Corps:
“If the British (Canadians) attack us again on the same scale, or on a broader front, it is to be expected that they will attempt to penetrate weak spots and try to encircle the harbors. They are not likely to repeat a massed frontal attack against a strongly fortified area, as in the Dieppe attack . . .It is therefore most important that we have mobile reserves ready for a counterattack . . . These reserves must start counterattacking promptly and automatically, and not wait for orders in unclear situations. The quickest way to clarify the situation is to initiate a forceful attack to prevent the enemy from consolidating his position ...
“An illustration of a counterattack which should
have been launched sooner is provided by experiences of the First Battalion, 571st. Infantry Regiment. This battalion was informed at 0710 that the British (Canadian) attack at Quiberville had been repulsed and that the British (Canadians) had succeeded in landing at Fourville. The battalion was ordered by the regiment to prepare to launch an attack from Hautot. However, the situation remained obscure for some time in the close country southwest of Pourville, and everywhere the battalion patrols ran into fire. A prompt and determined attack toward Fourville would probably have cleared up the situation more quickly, and would have helped wipt; out even larger numbers of the enemy near Fourville . . .”
This information, extended at great length by the
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Dieppe as the Enemy Saw It
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provided us with the key to our beach tactics in Normandy. We knew what to expect, and therefore we knew how to counter the immediate German reaction to our landings. We bolted inland from our landing places and thereby completely confused German mobile reserves who rushed down expecting us to mass for defense.
Here is another excerpt from the 81st Corps critique. Jts value to our tacticians becomes immediately apparent:
“On the whole the transmission of orders and reports functioned satisfactorily. . . It must be borne in mind, however, that the British (Canadians) did not attempt to destroy command posts and message centres of divisional and lower headquarters. This calls for the establishment, of message centres along a line running parallel to the coast at a distance of about 10 kilometers. These message centres must be at junctions of main roads leading to the shore and should be on a single telephone network with Division and Corps headquarters. . .”
How our close fighter support used this information during the Normandy beach assault is best told by the results. German confusion on D-Day was a consequence of the bombing and strafing of Hun communications centres just back of the beaches. We knew where they would be located, thanks to Dieppe.
Here, by courtesy of the German 81st Corps, was more tactical information of the highest value: “Aerial at-
tacks, which were carried out with bombs and guns in continuous waves, did not produce the expected effect on our batteries and AA positions. The reason probably was that the British (Canadians) themselves, in order to blind the defenses, had laid such a heavy smoke screen that the accuracy of their own weapons and target recognition was considerably reduced . . .”
The critique contained additional thousands of words which revealed German technical developments in preparation for an attack. Such matters as the movement of sector and corps reserves, defense against tanks from the sea, the positioning of coastal artillery, the locations of mine fields, ammunition dumps and prisoner-of-war cages were discussed in fullest detail.
Thus, through the agency of Allied Intelligence efforts on the Continent, the men of Dieppe fought again an experimental battle which doubtless saved the lives of thousands.
We turn now to what the reporta say of the historic action at Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942. This is the story of Dieppe in the actual words of the German 81st Corps Intelligence officers. Huge tracts of the lengthy report are here deleted for purposes of brevity, but the sentences and conclusions of the Germans are unchanged:
“Mission: (a) To land at 0610 in Dieppe itself and on lx>th sides of the city under the protection of the Air Force and the Navy; (b) to occupy the city and fortified area of Dieppe; (c) to push through with infantry and armored units to Arques-La-Bataille, where it was assumed that a division command post was located . . . After completing their mission, they were to re-embark by 1530 hours.
“Commanders: Commander - in -
Chief, presumably Ix>rd Mountbatten: commander of ground forces, MajorGeneral Roberts; commander of 4th Brigade, Brigadier Lett; commander of 6th Brigade, Brigadier Southam. Fifty-eight tanks of the Calgary Regiment were used. In addition to the Canadian units, British marines were
used (strength unknown), Third Commando (approximately 360 men), Fourth Commando (approximately 225 men).
“Preparation: The undertaking was prepared most conscientiously. The operation order is very detailed (121 typewritten pages) and therefore difficult to visualize as a whole. The planning, down to the last detail, limits the independence of action of the subordinate officer and leaves him no opportunity to make independent decisions in an altered situation.
“The enemy had very good maps dated Aug. 1, 1942, with fortifications clearly inserted, presumably the results of the evaluation of aerial photographs . . . Corroboration by secret agents was evidently not carried out (e.g. The strength of the tank barriers in Dieppe was not known). It was assumed that the 110th Infantry Division was in the sector and that division headquarters was located in Arques-La-Bataille. There was a general lack of knowledge as to the location of regimental and battalion command posts.”
The report continues:
“The combat efficiency of the enemy: The Second Canadian Division had lain for quite some time in the south of England, most of the time in camps . . . The Canadians on the whole fought badly and surrendered afterward in swarms. On the other hand the combat efficiency of the Commandos was very high. They were well trained and fought with real spirit. It is reported that they showed great skill in climbing the steep coastal cliffs.
“Record of events: Twenty kilo-
meters from Dieppe the attacking forces encountered a German convoy at approximately 0500. As a result of the ensuing short naval engagement the entire coast defense system was alerted. While the defensive forces were still in doubt whether the ships in front of Dieppe were friendly or enemy, a series of concentrated air attacks began at dawn. While bombing and strafing attacks were still in progress, swarms of landing craft in waves of 40 to 50 headed for shore out of the protection of the natural morning fogs and artificial smoke screens laid down by the attacking planes.
“The disposition of our own division: The following troops were employed in the strong point area of Dieppe— 571st Infantry Regiment of the 320th Division; headquarters with two infantry battalions; two engineer companies; Third Battalion of the 302nd Artillery Regiment.
“Success of the undertaking: The Third Commando was repulsed at Berne val. Eighty men were taken prisoner . . . Royal Regiment of Canada and the Black Watch were unsuccessful in their attempt to take the strong point at Puits. They were cut down by fire and suffered 150 dead. The remainder, consisting of some 350men, surrendered. The Essex Scottish, the Fusiliers Mont Royal, the Canadian Engineers and the 14th (Calgary) Tank Battalion remained on the beach at Dieppe in front of the antitank wall, and suffered high losses in dead and wounded. The Camerons and South Saskatchewan battalions succeeded in breaking through the strong point (Pourville), but for some unaccountable reasons proceeded no farther, with the exception of a patrol sent to Hautot . . . The Fourth Commando accomplished its mission (seizure of the 813th battery) and re-embarked.
“Conclusions: The operation failed primarily because: In Puits the landing was repulsed, in Dieppe the tanks did not succeed in crossing the antitank
wall, and near Pourville the British (Canadian) battalions did not continue their advance . . .”
“Combat report: What was the cause of the great British (Canadian) failure? The British (Canadians) completely miscalculated the strength of the German defense and tried ‘to grab the bull by the horns’ by landing the main body of their invasion forces, particularly the tanks, right in front of Dieppe. They persisted with this plan, although they were aware of the strength of the Dieppe street defenses, concrete constructions, antitank walls, machine-gun positions and coastal guns. This we know from their maps. It is also inconceivable why they did not support with tanks the battalions which landed near Pourville. An attack with tanks from Pourville against the hill west of Dieppe and against the ‘Four Ventes Farm’ might have been successful, although it would have been most difficult to overcome the antitank walls, the pier and the Scie dam.
“Contrary to all expectations, the British (Canadians) did not employ parachutists and air-borne troops. If they had attacked Puits simultaneously with air-borne troops and from the sea, the initial position of the defenders of Puits would probably have been critical.
“The British (Canadians) must have expected that the massed employment of the Air Force against the coastal defense of Dieppe would shatter the German defense to such an extent as to enable the assault battalions to break through the coastal defense. It is probable that the heavy smoke screen over Dieppe considerably diminished the accuracy of hits and the effect of the British air attacks.
“They did land light and heavy mortars, but their entire combat order mentioned only one light battery and one light anti-aircraft section, which was to be landed near Puits. As this landing failed, this artillery was not actually employed. A few light assault guns would probably have been more use to the British (Canadians) in their first attack than the tanks. Since firecontrol observation on the big ships was poor because of the smoke screen, the landing force had no artillery support whatsoever.
“It is astonishing that the British (Canadians) should have underestimated our defense, as they had details of most of it from air photos; equally striking is the short time in which they expected to carry out the operation.
“The British (Canadian) operational order fixed every detail of the action for each unit. This method of planning made the failure of the whole raid inevitable in the event of unexpected difficulties.
“The British (Canadian) attack at Dieppe failed with heavy enemy losses. Ninety-five officers and 2,122 men were captured. By Aug. 24, 475 dead were buried . . . Total enemy losses amount probably to at least 60 to 70% of the landing force.
“Our losses: 302nd Infantry Division: Five officers, 68 other ranks dead; one NCO, nine other ranks missing; five officers, 27 NCO’s, 124 other ranks wounded. Total losses (Army, Navy, Air Force, Organization Todt): six officers, 144 NCO’s and other ranks dead ; 15 NCO’s and other ran ks missing; five officers, 270 NCO’s and other ranks wounded.”
These, then, are the most pertinent excerpts from the German reports. They may answer some questions hitherto shrouded in mystery. In the main they do not change the general opinion of Dieppe: that the operation was well worth while; that it might have been done with less cost if planning, leadership and luck had been better.