Thesis – Background and Rationale

The Anglo-Canadian raid on the French port of Dieppe on August 19 1942 has possible come in for more scrutiny than any other day in the history of the Second World War. Up to date thousands of pages have been written on its planning, execution and failure.[1] The historiography of the raid can be split distinctly into two opposing camps. The orthodox histories have consistently concentrated looking at the operation itself and have not sought to seek out answers for the reasons behind the operation and any structural reasons, which led to its failure. A notable example of this school is Ronald Atkins’ work, Dieppe 1942: The Jubilee Disaster. This book only gives over only fifty of its two hundred and seventy five pages to analysing the planning of the operation.[2] On the other hand, revisionist works have tended to concentrate on the events leading up to the raid. For example, Brian Loring Villa’s work, long considered the pre – eminent work on the raid, only briefly goes over the actions of the raid itself. In fact, it is a mere eleven pages out of two hundred and sixty seven in the book. Even these eleven pages contain outline facts dealing with the planning of the raid. However, revisionists’ have tended to look at the failure of the operation from a higher command level and have seen it as a failure in strategy and have tended to negate any real explanation of the failure on the tactics used during the operation. For example, Loring Villa’s work tends to concentrate on the role of Earl Mountbatten of Burma in the planning and execution of the operation as well as concentrating on the decision making processes, which led to the raid. He also makes a certain amount of reference to the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, and the various chiefs of staff’s, and their role in the raid.[3]However, one aspect of the raid, which has received little thorough attention to it, is the application of air power by the Royal Air Force (RAF) before and during the raid. This started almost as soon as the dust had settled on the raid in Captain Hughes – Hallett’s Dispatch, which was initially submitted to the Commander in Chief Portsmouth on 30 August 1942, and then published in the London Gazette on 14 August 1947. In this dispatch Hughes – Hallett gives scant attention to the role of the RAF; a paltry ten lines, thus showing the importance, which Hallett placed upon it.[4] It is true that Norman Franks wrote his history of aerial operations on the day, The Greatest Air Battle; however, this book has several major failing’s in that it only briefly deals with the planning of the operations and mainly deals with the events on the day itself.[5] Franks does not attempt to look at any of the pre-war planning of the RAF and any of the structural problems inherent in the RAF at the time in terms of supplying Close Air Support (CAS) to an operation of this nature. John Keegan has noted in his work on the Battle of Normandy that Captain John Hughes-Hallett’s, the Naval Force commander at Dieppe and Mountbatten’s Naval Adviser at Combined Operation Headquarters (COHQ), main lesson drawn from the operations was the need for air cover during amphibious landings, he noted this because he felt he had seen it done well during the raid by the RAF.[6] However, this is not the full explanation as the RAF was to lose heavily at the hands of the Luftwaffe during the operation. With the exception of the Frank’s work the only other major attempt to explaining the role of the RAF during the raid again comes from Villa’s work.[7] However, in keeping with the theme inherent in Villa’s work the chapter concerned concentrates on the role of Air Marshal Portal in the decision making framework with regards to the raid. Villa also concentrates on the role relating to the decision not to involve RAF Bomber Command in the raid.Therefore, the rationale for this thesis proposal is to investigate a much maligned and hitherto ignored area of the raid on Dieppe. For example, with the exception of the texts previously mentioned, both the role of the Royal Navy and the role of the Commandoes involved in the subsidiary attacks Orange and Yellow Beaches have recently received the much deserved recognition which they needed.[8] Where as the RAF has received little attention and that which it has had has arguable ignored the important aspects of the development of the RAF as a force and how this affected the service’s performance during the raid. Hence, this thesis will seek to place the raid in its historical context and explain the evolutionary nature of RAF air power leading up to the raid as means of explaining it perceived failure during the raid. Therefore, this thesis plans to take as its starting point the RAF’s strategic planning of the inter – war period and its participation in the Inter – Service Training and Development Centre, which was set up in 1930 to examine the problems of amphibious warfare. The thesis will then turn its attention to the early war period and look at the nature of Fighter Command Strategy and the role of Trafford Leigh – Mallory, the operations air commander, and the nature of Fighter Command operation and how the RAF perceived its role in raiding operations. As such it will also look the RAF’s role in the Combined Operations Headquarters. The thesis will also examine the question of why Air vice Marshal Barrett’s Army Co – Operation Command was not heavily involved in the operation. The thesis will then seek to analyse the performance of the RAF on the day on understand why it did so badly against the Luftwaffe on the day of battle.

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[1] For example see; Ronald Atkin Dieppe 1942: The Jubilee Disaster (London: Macmillan, 1980), John P Campbell Dieppe Revisited: A Documentary Investigation (London: Frank Cass, 1993), Brian Loring Villa Unauthorized Action: Mountbatten and the Dieppe Raid 1942 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989)
[2] Ronald Atkin Dieppe 1942, pp. 3 – 53
[3] Brian Loring Villa Unauthorized Action, passim
[4] Dispatch No. 38045 Captain John Hughes – Hallett ‘Dieppe Raid: Dispatch on the Raid 1942 Aug. 18 – 19’ The London Gazette, 14 August 1947
[5] Norman Franks The Greatest Air Battle: Dieppe, 19th August 1942 (London: Grub Street, 1992)
[6] John Keegan Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris (London: Pimlico, 1982) p. 124
[7] Loring Villa Unauthorized Action, pp. 127 – 163
[8] Will Fowler The Commandos at Dieppe: Rehearsal for D – Day (London: Collins, 2002), Christopher Page The Royal Navy and the Raids on Dieppe and St Nazaire (London: Frank Cass, 2002) and Brereton Greenhous ‘Operation Flodden: The Sea Fight of Berneval and the Suppression of the Goebbels Battery, 19 August 1942’ Canadian Military Journal (Autumn 2003) pp. 47 – 57
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