LEADERSHIP IN ACTION – The Dieppe Raid – 19 August, 1942

Feature photo: “This window was erected August 1957 by surviving Ex-Cadets who participated in the Dieppe Raid in memory of others from the College who lost their lives as a result of the Raid.”

       LEADERSHIP IN ACTION

                              The Dieppe Raid – 19 August, 1942

Article submitted by: 3572 F.J. (Frank) Norman – Class of 1956; Commandant – RMC 1982-85

F.J. (Frank) Norman

This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, when early on the morning of 19 August, 1942, an Allied Force, principally made up of about 5,000 Canadians but including over 1,000 Royal Marines and U.S. Rangers, with Naval and Air support, landed at Dieppe, on the coast of Normandy, in France. By the end of a long nine-hour day, about 2,200 members of the raiding force (including many wounded and a number who had never landed) were withdrawn – but at what cost?

The casualty figures were staggering. Of the total of 4,963 Canadians who embarked for the Raid, 56 officers and 851 other ranks were killed, 586 were wounded, and 1946 were taken prisoner (POW).  The British Army and Marines casualties numbered 275. The Royal Navy had a destroyer sunk, lost 28% of their ships deployed and 550 officers and ratings.  The Allied Air Forces lost 106 aircraft against 48 lost by the Luftwaffe; the heaviest Allied losses in a day since the war began: 67 personnel were lost. The German casualties were less than 600 overall.

What was obviously a military disaster was redeemed only by the courage of those who fought, and by the many examples of leadership in action.[1]

At least 25 Ex-Cadets were involved with Operation Jubilee, including the three senior commanders – No. 891 Maj Gen J.H. Roberts, the Commander of 2nd Canadian Infantry Division from which formation the majority of the Canadian Troops were drawn; the Deputy Force Commander, No.1623. Brig C.C. Mann, and No. 1432. Brig W.W. Southam, the Commander 6th Cdn Inf Brigade; his Brigade Major was No. 1841 Maj D.G. Cunningham (later  Commandant of RMC (1944-45).

Three of the assault Battalions were commanded by Ex-Cadets – the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) by No.1620 Lt Col R.R. Labatt; Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal (Fus MR) by No.2290 Lt Col Dollard Menard; and the South Saskatchewan Regt (SSaskR) by No. 1866 Lt Col C.C.I. Merritt. No, 2320 Squadron Leader (S/L) C.J. Fee and a classmate, No. 2366 S/L R.C.A  Waddell, commanded RCAF Sqns 412 and 400 respectively, with aircraft from seven other Canadian Sqns taking part..

Three Ex-Cadets were Killed-in-Action – No.1426 Capt W. R.Dillon, No. 2383 Capt E.R. Eaton, and No 2661 Capt D.W. Purdy. A number were wounded (Dollard Menard, five times), and of the over 85 officers who became POW, nine were Ex-Cadets (including Southam, Labatt & Merritt).  Two, Merritt and No. 1882 Capt J.E.R. Wood, (again classmates), escaped from Oflag VIIb (an Officers’ POW camp to which the Dieppe POW were sent at Eichstatt, Bavaria) and eventually ended up in Colditz Castle. Here, they linked up with No. 2367 Flight Leader D.S. Thom, RAF, whose capture was not Dieppe-related.

Oflag IVc, where the inveterate ‘escapers’ from other POW camps were sent, or Colditz, was  deemed ‘escape-proof’ – the comment by Capt Wood, later Editor of Detour, The Story of Oflag IVC, a collection of material produced by the Colditz POWs describes this ‘Special Camp’ clearly – “Colditz was the end of the road. Once in, there you stayed.”

There were countless instances of bravery under fire by the Canadians that day, and many decorations and medals were awarded in recognition of the heroism and leadership displayed.  Three Victoria Crosses (VC) were awarded for “matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership” at Dieppe –  two to Canadians: Lt Col Merritt, VC and Honorary Captain John Foote, VC, Chaplain to the RHLI, (the third to a British Gunner, Maj Patrick Porteous (attached to No 4 Commando).

Colonel Merritt as a POW, one of the pastel drawings done by Lieutenant J.F. Watton of the Border Regiment, part of the illustrations for Detour, a copy of which is held in the RMC Museum.

In a radio report to Canada by Wallace Raeburn of the Montreal Standard, (himself wounded at Dieppe) the report on Col Merritt’s ‘inspiring leadership’ was:

We took cover behind a building and waited for the barrage to subside. While we were lying there, Lt Col Merritt came walking along the road. He was calm, determined and unflustered. He was even carrying his tin hat in his hand, twirling it as he asked what the trouble was.

He is a young man – he’s only thirty-three. Best way to describe the sort of soldier Colonel Merritt would be is for me to repeat what I heard from one of the officers on the ship leaving  England. To one of his friends, he said: ‘ You have to put a drag rope on the Colonel to keep up with him.’

‘Come on, men,’ shouted the Colonel, ‘we are going to cross this bridge, Spread out – don’t bunch up ! Here we go.’ And with that, he set off walking across the bridge, tin hat in hand, twirling round as he walked erect, not the least bit concerned by the ’muck’ that was lying around him… .

Several hours later as we set off for the beach, to leave, I heard Colonel Merritt’s voice: ‘Don’t run. men’ he said, ‘shoulder arms and march to the beach.’ And they did, all of them.”[2]

His citation reads in part “When last seen he was collecting Bren and Tommy guns and preparing a defensive position which successfully covered the withdrawal from the beach”…and he became a POW.

Capt Foote was a particular case of bravery. Honoured at the end of the War (his citation is dated February,1946), he had spent the intervening years as a POW, refusing “a final opportunity to leave the shore, choosing to suffer the fate of the men he had ministered to for over three years… Those who observed him state that the calmness of this heroic man as he walked about collecting the wounded on the fire swept beach will never be forgotten.”[3]

In addition, of the 12 Distinguished Service Orders (DSO) for “meritorious or distinguished service by officers during wartime, typically in actual combat” awarded to Canadians on that day, six were awarded to Ex-Cadets: Roberts, Mann, Labatt, Menard, Cunningham and No. 2357 Maj. W.D. Whitaker, RHLI. From some the citations, the extraordinary leadership shown includes:

  •             Roberts –“He showed throughout the operation ability, courage and determination of a high order.”
  •             Labatt – “All ranks of the unit have paid tribute to the worth of his leadership and the inspiration of his example.”
  •             Menard – “He set an example in the best tradition of the service and was an inspiration to all ranks in his battalion.”
  •             Whitaker – “He was at all times cool and collected and displayed great courage and initiative in the command of his troops. Capt Whitaker was an inspiration to all ranks of the Bn.”

S/L Fee received a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his leadership on the day. In addition, there were two Military Crosses (MC) and a Mention-in-Dispatches (MID) awarded to other Ex-Cadets – No. 1955 Capt H Carswell, RCA; Capt. Wood, RCE; and No 2615 Capt D.B.D. Warner, RCSigs.

Brig Southam,  (the only member of his Brigade Headquarters to land), on becoming a POW had arrived at Oflag VIIb at Eichstatt by the end of August, 1942. Shortly thereafter, he ran a formal debriefing on the Raid, recording the result to be handed over at the end of the war. There remained a least 84 Dieppe Officers in the Camp in April, 1945, at the time of its liberation by the Americans.  One was Col Labatt, who finding that he could not fit through the escape tunnel entrances (because of the width of his shoulders), at the time of Eichstatt escape in June, 1943, gave up his place to Capt Wood. Col Labatt was eventually to lead the process of erecting the stained-glass Memorial Window at the entrance to Currie Hall.

After 75 years, there remains much debate and controversy over the Dieppe Raid and that is fair enough. But the gist of this story is that many who took part showed incredible leadership and bravery, and of that number, Ex-Cadets made a significant contribution.  It is about the timeless military value of  leadership; it is about bravery and endurance under numbing circumstances and in great danger, and when everything is going wrong, it is about putting into action lessons learned earlier when young.

  1. The casualty figures are taken from the entry on the Dieppe Raid (1942) in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Military History, Oxford University Press, 2011 by J.L. Granatstein and Dean F. Oliver.
  2. From a report in the December, 1942 RMCC Review, p.12
  3. VC Citation for John Weir Foote, Cdn Chap Svcs, The London Gazette, 14th February, 1946.

 

5 Comments

  • Andrew Knapper

    August 28, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I had the good fortune to meet padre John Foote when I was a teenager before I went to RRMC. He lived just up the end of street from me in Cobourg.

  • #3594 Gilchrist

    August 28, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks Frank. While serving in The King’s Own Calgary Regiment (the Calgary Tanks that participated) I got to know a number of the vets … some continued in the Regiment after the war, including Bob Sharp who was CO when I joined the Reg’t (was on the ship but never landed) and Tommy Cunningham, POW, who was RSM with Bob.

  • Ray Van Den Nieuwenhof

    November 23, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    I served with the RHLI from 30th April 1968 to 10th June 1971 and then transferred to the 5th B.C.Field Battery R.C.A. until honourably released on 21st September 1973.
    I was a member of the RHLI bugle band under the command of bugle major Roy Collins, participating in Shefield Pennsylvania, Buffalo N.Y. and numerous other parades in and around Hamilton. The Rattray boys ( John,Don, Bob,George Gerald and Bill ), would know me for sure.
    I represented the RHLI in an unofficial capacity in May 1970 in Holland during the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Holland by Canadian Armed Forces.
    I again visited Holland in 2013 at age 69 and participated in the Nijmegen 4 day March, marching with the Canadian contingent, and during the third day of the march we visited the Holten cemetery in Groesbeek. I was able to visit five gravesites of fallen RHLI comrades who gave their lives for the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945 a few months before the end of the war, and fell all within a few days of each other and buried in Holten cemetery near the spot where they fell….a very sad their families.
    RHLI ptv. Manford Elner Loxton B/148760. 20.2.1945. XX H.1.
    RHLI ptv. Ross Wilford Quinn M/1325. 20.2.1945. XX H.2. Age. 21.
    RHLI cpl. Richard Allen Colburne F/36186 26.2.1945. XX H.3. Age. 20.
    RHLI ptv. Wilbert Arthur White B/113950 20.2.1945 XX H.4. Age. 21.
    RHLI ptv. John Duncan Hilts A/109555 22.2.1945 XX H.5
    I am living in Rossland, B.C. and am currently the Service Officer of the R.C.L. Branch.14, being a continuous member now for 44 years. Is their perhaps anyone interested in the photos I took of the headstones of our fallen RHLI comrades ? If so give me your details and I shall send them to you by Canada Post.
    Yours in Comradeship. Ray Van Den Nieuwenhof.

  • Ray Van Den Nieuwenhof

    November 23, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    I met with Captain John Foote, and also Lt Col.Robert Labbatt, who was our honorary col. while I was a member. I can remember him telling me that his thumbs were tied by barb wire behind his back (the wire strewn across the beach where he was captured).
    These meetings will stay with me forever.