by Duke Warren
The anniversary of that famous Canadian battle of World War II takes place on the 19th of this month (August 2007). First it is well known others took part, about 1,000 British troops and a small number of American soldiers. There were also quite a number of Americans flying with the RAF in RAF uniforms and wearing small patches indicating they were Americans. Also Polish, French, Belgian, and Norwegian troops were involved. However the main force was made up of 5000 Canadian Army troops supported by 47 Spitfire fighter squadrons. Another 25 squadrons of different kinds were also involved. This article will apply more about Air Force activity.
For security all aircrew involved were confined to their stations the night before the raid. Air crew were briefed as to the reason this was done as there would be no time to brief the operation in the morning. There was a great deal of excitement as we went to our quarters after the briefing for we (my twin and I) were on an early flight. We became airborne for France just as the sun came over the horizon. We flew in a squadron of 12 aircraft in three flights of four aircraft. Our flight was led by a Scot, his number two was an American in the RAF, my twin was number three and I was “tail end Charlie.” We two had a “vested” interest in the raid for quite a few men we had gone to school with were in the Canadian army.
We arrived over Dieppe to find the army under heavy fire but no enemy a/c to be seen. Our instructions were not to fly below 5000 feet or the navy would shoot at us so we patrolled above. We returned to our base at Eastchurch. Our second sortie was much different. By this time the German fighter squadrons had “woke up” and there was a lot of fighter activity. Our flight shot down a German light bomber. There were so many aircraft from both sides a mid-air collision was a serious possibility. We did lose two Canadians because of a collision. Imagine 4000 sorties of aircraft over the Comox Valley in about six hours. That is roughly what happened.
Our last flight in the afternoon was very quiet comparatively. We did see one of our light warships on fire and it was abandoned and blown up. We had never seen anything like that on the farm in Alberta. My twin and I were impressed.
At the end of the day almost 1000 Canadian soldiers were dead and 2000 were wounded and prisoners. As a matter of fact, more Canadians were killed on August 19th than on D-Day when some 30,000 Canadian soldiers landed on the beaches.
There has been a lot of “talk” about Dieppe. Was in necessary, who was blame for the idea, did it warrant the loss of some many soldiers? I let the arguments go on because I don’t think it can ever be decided to everyone’s satisfaction.
My own belief is that it was a dreadful loss of life, yet in a certain way it saved a great many lives. Reading books written by men far more clever than I, and talking with senior soldiers of divergent arms, I, and many others, have come to the conclusion that what the Canadian and Allied armies learned on the beach at Dieppe saved the lives of a great many men on D-Day and after.
Bringing the Dieppe battle down to the level of my twin and I, I close with a comment by a soldier a few days after Dieppe. We went to a series of pubs on the south coast of England where the army survivors had returned to. We were looking for an ex-school mate. But we met an army man who had returned to England (I wonder if he survived the war). In any case we talked with him and we said, “At our level flying around it looked like Hell down on the ground.” “Yes,” he said, “It was. You know I was on the beach down beside a wrecked tank, bullets flying everywhere. I looked up and I saw a Spitfire coming down, nobody got out, and I said to myself, thank God I am down here and not up there.” We assured the soldier we were glad we were up there.