19 août 1942 - 2015

Abstract of the speech delivered by Sébastien Jumel, Mayor of Dieppe, on 19th August 2015

Everyday hundreds of people cross the Channel by ferry. They head across this stretch of water, without thinking about what happened on the night of 19th August 1942, when 6,000 young men, for the most part Canadian and British, embarked on Operation “Jubilee”. The traces of blood left on Dieppe and Puys pebble beaches by the end of the morning of 19thAugust 1942 have long since been washed away by the tide.

As the sea, pebbles and cliffs cannot tell us about that day, it is our responsibility to keep the memory of these men and their sacrifice alive, in order to relentlessly continue the battle to preserve peace. This commemoration, which brings us all together today, serves that very purpose. Everyone feels in their hearts the imperious need in our society for mankind to nurture what links jumanity from yesterday to humanity today and unite the present to the past. To quote Shakespeare, Memory (is) the warder of the brain.

In the night of 18th – 19thAugust 1942, an impressive wing formed off the coast of southern England. There were 250 vessels, split into sixteen groups, including nine personnel carriers, followed by a cohort of landing craft and barges. 4,963 men from the 2ndCanadian Division, 1,005 British commandos, 50 American rangers and 15 fusiliers from the French Free Forces waited in the bellies of these ships.  74 air squadrons were placed on high alert. Czechs, Belgians, Polish, Australians and New Zealanders also participated in this land, sea and air operation.

Operation “Jubilee3 was part of the “pinprick raid” strategy used on the German defences along the French coast since the end of June 1940 and the evacuation of Dunkirk. Two raids carried out in February and March 1942 were crowned with success in Bruneval station, north of Le Havre, as well as Saint-Nazaire.

However “Jubilee” marked a change in the scale and nature of operations. This time, it was no longer just a few hundred commandos. Thousands of regular soldiers were involved. Operation “Jubilee” stretched over 9 miles between the east and west flank attacks and the attack on the port of Dieppe. Its success relied on surprise and the perfect synchronization between landings. Unfortunately, shortly after 4 am, the landing barges transporting n° 3 commando and heading towards Berneval were intercepted 8 miles offshore by German ships. The alert was given; The lack of surprise had a notably dramatic impact in Puys. The narrow beach The Royal Regiment and Royal Highland Regiment embarked on turned into a trap.  The was no maritime artillery cover against the German soldiers, who had an overwhelming advantage from the cliffs. Two hundred men were killed. In the west a certain element of surprise still played in their favour and a commando managed to destroy the Varengeville battery. In Pourville a break-through was successful but was later brought to a halt on the River Scie, in spite of reinforcements from the South Saskatchewan Regiment and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada. The assault on Dieppe failed rapidly. The attack on Pourville beach under German fire from the higher ground was also short lived. The Royal Air Force lost approximately one hundred air craft, whilst the Canadian Royal Air Force lost a dozen in the skies.

Shortly before 2 pm, the sound of cannons was replaced with silence : the outcome of Operation “Jubilee” proved to be catastrophic. Out of 4,963 enlisted Canadians, only 2,210, many of whom were wounded, returned to England. 3,367 Canadians were killed, wounded or captured whereas Germany registered 600 losses. 907 soldiers were killed in combat or as a result of their injuries and 1,946 were taken prisoner. The Fusiliers lost 88,4 % of their operatives, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry 82,7 %, The Royal Regiment of Canada 87,3 % and The Essex Scottish Regiment 96,3 %.

What lessons should be learnt from this raid ? At the time, it was thought that lessons learnt from “Jubilee” paved the way to the 6tj June 1944 Landing. However studies carried out in the 1980s, tended to demonstrate the importance of landings in North Africa, Sicily and Italy as preparation for Operation Overlord on 6th June 1944. With the passing of time, even more critical works were produced. Historians questioned the men’s lack of training before the operation and the contact the decision was taken in. They demonstrated the damaging effects of deciding to reduce air and maritime support and replacing airborne troops with commandos. This work also contributes to democratic debate and nurtures the common values of all those who fought against Nazism.

Remembrance follows its own courses, alongside scientific work. Sometimes, historians’ theories can turn even the most commonly accepted perceptions upside down. But deep down, we have to be assured that knowledge does not challenge acknowledgement, and we are demonstrating just that, as we pay tribute to the fallen soldiers on the beaches of Dieppe. On the contrary, knowledge is the best ally for acknowledgment and history does not hinder remembrance.

Dieppe’s identity is deeply marked by the events of 19th August 1942. By commemorating them, we salute tue sacrifice of these men, who came and fought on these beaches and mourn the deaths of civilians. We pay tribute to the Nations’ capacity to unite in the battle against tyranny based on common human values. Today, we come together as friends from France, England, Canada and other countries which took part in this battle, to honour their memory. Lastly, we would like to remind you of the significance of mankind’s battle for peace and the necessity to transmit this commitment to our children.

Many thanks to all of you here today.

And a special thank you to those who crossed the Channel 73 years ago.