A proof of concept, championed by Lord Mountbatten, the plan called for the capture of a port occupied by the enemy, to test delivery of the troops and combat techniques and equipment.
Begun at 5:00 AM on August 19, 1942, the Dieppe Raid lasted just under six hours. During that time, over 60% of the mostly Canadian troops would be killed or captured. It was a tremendous failure. And it was an invaluable lesson.
Common thought is that the British – and by extension, the Americans – learned several things from this operation that would facilitate a successful campaign on D-Day. While this is certainly feasible, one must question if things had to go so badly for these lessons to be learned.
To start with, there were some rather arrogant decisions made leading up to the operation:
- The raid was considered ill-conceived by Bernard Montgomery and Mountbatten's superiors but they made no effort to stop the operation or alter the plans.
- With a gung-ho attitude, the Canadian government, expressed a desire to provide most of the troops in order to give them combat experience.
- BBC radio broadcasts helpfully informed the French that a raid was coming, though not with the exact location. Yes, really.
- Enemy defenses were not bombed before the raid to soften them up even though Dieppe was in range of British air fields.
- Tanks were assigned to the beach landing without extensive reconnaissance of the terrain to check for suitability.
- Initially, paratroopers were to seize artillery positions during the assault. This one smart idea was quashed and British commandos were tasked to take those same positions by coming in just before the the invasion proper.
- The raid was a foolish frontal assault through the surf, onto the beach and surrounding cliffs, and into the town with little preparation of the avenues of approach.
- Planned so close to sunrise, any delay meant losing the advantage of attacking in darkness. And, of course, there were delays.