In St. Mary’s Church, Dover is a case, donated by Mrs S Banks in memory of her husband Stan Banks, who was awarded the BEM for bravery during the Dieppe Raid. Nearby is a plaque dedicated to MY Robrina, a Royal Air Force High Speed Rescue Launch 186 that was based at RAF 27 Air-Sea Rescue Marine Craft Unit, based at what is now Lord Warden House, Dover that also took part in the Raid.
The raid, given the name, Operation Jubilee took place on 19 August 1942 and was the largest combined operation carried out on the Continent since the evacuation of Dunkirk two years previously. Over 6,000 commandos were deployed and the stated objective was:
– Testing the defences;
– The destruction of German batteries;
– Obtaining the importance of a radiolocation (radar) station
– The capture of prisoners for interrogation.
The intelligence of the area where the Raid was to take place was sparse. Much of it had been obtained from pre-war holidaymakers’ photographs together with information from the Resistance. However, although aircraft reconnaissance had taken place, due to camouflage the sites and number of gun positions could only be guessed.
The commandos were taken across the Channel and were escorted by Allied air force contingents, Royal Navy minesweepers and destroyers. Approximately 250 ships including the Invicta* and launches including MY Robrina – RAF High Speed Rescue Launch 186, based at Dover.
The force embarked from Dover and other southern seaports arriving at 04.50 on six selected beaches in the Dieppe area. Although meant to be a surprise landing, each faced a different but violent reception.
Albeit, at Verengeville-sur-Mer, 4½ miles west of Dieppe, No 4 Commando force succeeded in destroying an enemy 6-inch gun battery of howitzers. Captain Patrick Porteous was afterwards awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.
At Berneval, east of Dieppe, the job of No. 3 Commandos was to silence the coastal battery. However, an encounter with German S-boats escorting a German coastal convoy led to a loss of some of the landing craft and alerted the coastal defences. Only 18 Commandos landed at the designated place but they did reach the perimeter of the battery. There they engaged their target with small arms fire. Although they were unable to silence the guns they did distract the occupants from taking aim at Allied vessels out to sea.
Between Dieppe and Verengeville is Pourville-sur-Mer on the east of the River Scie. There the tanks disembarked from the special landing craft and troops surged onto the beach with few losses. However, some of the landing craft drifted off course, landing west of the River, and the Commandos had to go through Pourville to reach the main party. As they tried to make it to the centre of the town, they faced unrelenting opposition. Many were killed, the remainder taken prisoner-of-war, including Lieutenant Colonel Merritt who was awarded a VC for his gallantry.
While this was going on, the main contingent and the landing craft crew were coming under increasing heavy fire. As the troops withdrew, this became so ferocious that only 341 men embarked, 141 were killed and the remainder were forced to surrender.
On the cliffs above Pourville was a German radar station and radar specialist RAF Flight Sergeant Jack Nissenthall’s objective was to enter the radar station, assess its importance and put it out of action. Eleven men accompanied Nissenthall and, because of his knowledge, were ordered to kill him if he was in danger of being captured.
The group, under constant fire, managed to get to the parameter of the radar station compound. Nissenthall then crawled to the rear and managed to cut the telephone wires forcing the German’s to use radio transmissions to contact their superiors. These were intercepted by English ‘listening posts’ and convinced the Allied commanders the importance of radar. This led to its increase in use and the development of jamming equipment. Of the twelve men, only Nissenthall and one other came home.
Between Dieppe and Berneval is Puys. Just after the smoke screens had been set to hide the landing parties, some grenades accidentally went off killing and injuring a number of men. Not only did the accident delay the landings it alerted the German gunners on the shore. By the time the men landed the smoke screens had lifted and even though there was only 60 Germans defending the beach 225 men were killed, 264 surrendered and just 33 returned to England.
Throughout the day, the Royal Navy supported the land operations by keeping up a constant bombardment of the enemy shore positions. Nonetheless, the bombardment was reciprocated and the destroyer H.M.S. Berkeley was lost.
There was also an extensive air umbrella provided by about 70 squadrons including 48 squadrons of Spitfires. The Luftwaffe took retaliatory action and the fighting developed on a scale not seen since the Battle of Britain. These combined operations were not only heard in Dover but the heavy explosions shook the houses in the town.
A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were killed, wounded, or captured. Of the 5,000 Canadians, who formed five-sixths of the attacking force, 3,367 were killed, wounded or captured. The German Army lost 591 killed or wounded. The destroyer, HMS Berkeley was lost along with 33 landing craft, with 550 killed or wounded. The RAF lost 106 aircraft and the Luftwaffe 48.
Throughout the Raid, MY Robrina duties was to patrol the English Channel close to the Dieppe coast for the Allied Aircraft supporting the Commando Landings. With two-wounded crew aboard, she was the only rescue launch to return to Dover.
During the early stages of the Dieppe Raid, a BBC broadcast to the French urged them to avoid all action that would compromise their safety and told them that no invasion was contemplated. Albeit, following the raid, Germans propaganda created the impression that the Raid had been a failed full-scale attempt at invasion.
* The Invicta, was launched April 1940 and immediately commandeered by the Admiralty for war service. On 15 October 1946, the refitted Invicta replaced the Canterbury and became Southern Railways (afterwards Southern Region) flagship carrying the prestigious Golden Arrow service.
- 16 & 30 August 2012