D[avid] A[stor] very damping about the Dieppe raid, which he saw at more or less close quarters and which he says was an almost complete failure except for the very heavy destruction of German fighter planes, which was not part of the plan. He says that the affair was definitely misrepresented in the press [1] and is now being misrepresented in the reports to the P.M., and that the main facts were: – Something over 5000 men were engaged, of whom at least 2000 were killed or prisoners. It was not intended to stay longer on shore than was actually done (ie. till about 4pm), but the idea was to destroy all the defences of Dieppe, and the attempt to do this was an utter failure. In fact only comparatively trivial damage was done, a few batteries of guns knocked out etc., and only one of the three main parties really made its objective. The others did not get far and many were massacred on the beach by artillery fire. The defences were formidable and would have been difficult to deal with even if there had been artillery support, as the guns were sunk in the face of the cliffs or under enormous concrete coverings. More tank-landing craft were sunk then got ashore. About 20 or 30 tanks were landed but none got off again. The newspaper photos which showed tanks apparently being brought back to England were intentionally misleading. The general impression was that the Germans knew of the raid beforehand. [2] Almost as soon as it was begun they had a man broadcasting a spurious “eye-witness” account from somewhere further up the coast, and another man broadcasting false orders in English. On the other hand the Germans were evidently surprised by the strength of the air support. Whereas normally they have kept their fighters on the ground so as to conserve their strength, they sent them into the air as soon as they heard that tanks were landing, and lost a number of planes variously estimated, but considered by some RAF officers to be as high as 270. Owing to the British strength in the air the destroyers were able to lie outside Dieppe all day. One was sunk, by this was by a shore battery. When a request came to attack some objective on shore, the destroyers formed in line and raced inshore firing their guns while the fighter planes supported them overhead.

David Astor considers that this definitely proves that an invasion of Europe is impossible. [Of course we can’t feel sure that he hasn’t been planted to say this, considering who his parents are.] I can’t help feeling that to get ashore at all at such a strongly defended spot, without either bomber support, artillery support except for the guns of the destroyers (4.9 guns I suppose) or airborne troops, was a considerable achievement.

[1] The Dieppe raid proved, at last in the short term, a sad waste except in so far as it brought home to senior servicemen the lessons to be learned for future landings. More than 6,000 men, mainly Canadian, were involved and well over half were killed, wounded, or captured. Churchill states that of 5,000 Canadians, 18% were killed and nearly 2,000 were captured (The Second World War, IV, p. 459). All 27 tanks landed were almost immediately destroyed; the RAF lost 70 planes, and 34 ships were sunk. The Germans admitted losing 297 killed and 294 wounded or captured, and 48 planes. The newspapers claimed in headlines at the time ‘Big Hun Losses’ (Daily Mirror, 20 August 1942), but as The War Papers, 22 (1977) put it, ‘they might have added, “Even Bigger Allied Losses”.’ David Astor served in the Royal Marines, 1940-45, and was decorated with the Croix de Guerre.

[2] It was alleged that the Germans had cracked British codes and so had advance notice of the raid, but it seems that the first warning was given by German trawlers just as the Allied flotilla approached the coast. The failure of the raid was publicly put down to ‘careless talk’ or even to an advertisement for soap flakes which showed a woman pruning a tree dressed in what was headlined as ‘BEACH COAT from DIEPPE.’ A newspaper cutting of this advertisement, which appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 15.8.42, was annotated by Orwell, ‘advert, popularly believed to have given the Germans advance warning of the Dieppe raid.’ (the cutting is in Box 39 of Orwell’s pamphlet collection in the British Library.) the film Next of Kin (1942), made to drive home the lesson that careless talk could endanger such enterprises, began its life as a shorter services training film. Churchill maintains, ‘Our postwar examination of their records shows that the Germans did not receive, through leakages of information, any special warning of our attention to attack’ (The Second World War, IV, p. 458).  

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5 Responses to 22.8.42

  1. Medawar says:

    There’s quite a detailed and informative description of the Dieppe raid from the point of view of the Coastal Forces (torpedo boats and gunboats) supporting the operation, in Peter Scott’s Book: “The Battle of the Narrow Seas”.

    Incidentally, Orwell was on the right track about the Destroyers (they’d have had 4″, 4.7″ or 4.5″ guns, (the latter actually more powerful), depending on what age they were.) The main reason given for the failure of the Gallipoli invasion in WW1, was that Battleships were not committed to support the invasion until after Turkish artillery had wreaked havoc, and in WW2, the successful invasion of Madagascar (started in May 1942) was supported by the Revenge Class Battleship HMS Ramilles from the outset. HMS Ramilles, under repair at the time of Dieppe, went on to set records for sustained gunfire from a Battleship during the Normandy invasion in June 1944, and Warspite and Barham were used to turn the tide when the Salerno landings in Italy were in trouble.

  2. Medawar says:

    Peter Scott’s account (which I’ve re-read) doesn’t confirm the high estimate of 270 German planes destroyed, but he did see almost every German aircraft that turned up, get hacked down. Orwell’s diary observations of this nature do tend to be more accurate than some post-war “histories”. Almost no German aircraft attacked landing craft and beaches during the Normandy landings, so the Luftwaffe learned something from Dieppe.

  3. Gwil says:

    According to Wikipedia they are buried next to each other. The good friends Orwell and Astor that is.

  4. Medawar says:

    Orwell was sometimes to be found tending the (small) country churchyard in Wallington (North east Herts) when he lived there. There’s an account of someone meeting him there: it might even have been David Astor, which would explain things.

  5. I have read that Dieppe was defended by some one thousand Polish soildiers recruited in the Wehrmacht (the bulk of which was in Russia at this time). One Pole who was captured that day claimed that many were disillusioned and poorly motivated leading one observer to remark what then would a thousand motivated Poles have achieved.

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