‘Smash and Grab’ – The Commandos at Dieppe

Operation Jubilee, the raid on the German-occupied French port of Dieppe was carried out on 19 August 1942 and proved to be one of the most controversial and costly operations of the Second World War.

Commandos who went on the Dieppe raid

On that day a combined force of nearly six thousand Canadian, British and other Allied troops took part in the six-hour raid.
The outcome was a catastrophe with over four thousand men killed, wounded or captured. Historian and author of ‘The Dieppe Raid’ Robin Neillands, described it as ‘one of greatest tragedies of the Second World War’.

The Dieppe Operation 

However, and largely overshadowed by the disastrous events on the main assault, the actions by No.3 and No.4 Commandos on either flank were among the best commando operations of the war.

The destruction of six 155mm guns of No. 813 Battery close to Varengeville-sur-Mer by Lieutenant Colonel, The Lord Lovat’s No.4 Commando was later described as ‘a classic example of the use of well-trained troops and a thoroughness in planning, training and execution.’ Testament to this was the number of honours bestowed on the unit including the Victoria Cross awarded to Major Pat Porteous, whose citation read:

Pat Porteous VC

‘At Dieppe on the 19th August 1942, Major Porteous was detailed to act as Liaison Officer between the two detachments whose task it was to assault the heavy coast defence guns.

In the initial assault Major Porteous, working with the smaller of the two detachments, was shot at close range through the hand, the bullet passing through his palm and entering his upper arm. Undaunted, Major Porteous closed with his assailant, succeeded in disarming him and killed him with his own bayonet thereby saving the life of a British Sergeant on whom the German had turned his aim.

In the meantime, the larger detachment was held up, and the officer leading this detachment was killed and the Troop Sergeant-Major fell seriously wounded. Almost immediately afterwards the other officer of the detachment was also killed.

Major Porteous, without hesitation and in the face of withering fire, dashed across the open ground to take over command of the detachment. Rallying them, he led them on a charge which carried the German position at the point of the bayonet and was severely wounded for the second time. Though shot through the thigh he continued to the final objective where he eventually collapsed from loss of blood after the last of the guns had been destroyed.

Major Porteous’s most gallant conduct, his brilliant leadership and tenacious devotion to a duty which was supplementary to the role originally assigned to him, was an inspiration to the whole of the detachment.’

Lord Lovat succinctly summed up the success of the raid, ‘My task was fundamental: in and out – smash and grab.’

Lord Lovat briefing his men.

On the eastern flank the raid by Lieutenant Colonel John Durnford-Slaters No.3 Commando was besieged with bad luck before it even started. The Commando’s flotilla of twenty vessels was attacked by a German convoy with only Major Peter Young’s craft making it ashore on Yellow Beach Two.

John Durnford-Slater and Peter Young

However, Young, and the eighteen men that landed with him, harassed the Battery at Berneval-le-Grand with small-arms and sniper fire from a cornfield for nearly three hours. Remarkably they all managed to re-embark on their landing-craft and return safely to Britain.

Considering the small party of men that landed their action was testament to the fighting spirit of the commandos. For his leadership Major Young was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Although the Battery wasn’t destroyed or stopped from firing altogether, the tenacity and determination of the commandos, did lessen its capability to the point that its rate of fire was significantly reduced.

The actions by the men of No.3 and No.4 Commandos at Dieppe, highlighted how small groups of highly trained men, using only the weapons and ammunition they could carry, could successfully carry out raids on the German occupied coast. Inspirational leadership, courage and determination in adversity were exactly the qualities that Winston Churchill called for in his demand for ‘men of the hunter class’.

For more commando action on the French coast read Ian’s new book: The Raid – A Butcher and Bolt Novel, available on 12 July 2018.

Pre-order the Kindle edition here

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