Commandos at Dieppe – Smash and Grab

Operation Jubilee, the raid on the German-occupied French port of Dieppe was one of the most controversial and costly operations of the Second World War. 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 Robin Neillands, described it as ‘one of greatest tragedies of the Second World War’. However, the actions by No.3 and No.4 Commandos on either flank were among the best commando operations of the war.

The Dieppe Operation 

Destruction of the Battery

No. 4 Commando’s destruction of six 155mm guns was described as ‘a classic example of the use of well-trained troops and a thoroughness in planning, training and execution.’ Honours awarded included the Victoria Cross to Major Pat Porteous. His citation read:

Pat Porteous VC

Victoria Cross

‘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.’

Smash and Grab

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. Major Peter Young’s craft did make it on to Yellow Beach Two though.

John Durnford-Slater and Peter Young

Young and eighteen men harassed the Battery at Berneval-le-Grand with small-arms and sniper fire 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. The determination of the commandos reduced the capability of the battery and reduced its rate of fire.

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: The Raid – A Butcher & Bolt Novel

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  1. Nice description. I wrote a paper in high school about Dieppe and wondered about the lack of advanced reconnaissance of the beach and hinterland . This tempted me to look for military units in Canada to join of course the Airborne regiment came close, but it was not until I joined the USMC Reconnaissance community I found out different.

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