February 19, 2015

Finest Hour 162, Spring 2014

Page 51

By Terry Reardon

One Day in August, by David O’Keefe. Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 496 pages, $35.

Dieppe, in 1941—the largest amphibious raid since Gallipoli in 1915—was a disaster. Troops landed at wrong locations, defences were much heavier than anticipated, and an unexpected naval encounter alerted the defenders. On the beach, Allied troops were sitting ducks for Germans in the surrounding cliffs. Most of the invaders were Canadian: of 4963 Canadians engaged, only 2104 returned to England.

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In a wholly new slant to the operation, Quebec professor David O’Keefe spent twenty years examining thousands of historical documents, some only recently released. He provides a thorough insight into British code-breaking at Bletchley and its successes in reading enemy messages. Alas these were from the three-rotor Enigma machine; by late 1941 the Germans had introduced a four-rotor Enigma which brought code-breaking to a halt. O’Keefe therefore contends that the major objective of the Dieppe raid was to steal code books, documents and equipment, known to be in the Dieppe headquarters, which would allow Bletchley Park to regain mastery of the Enigma messages.

Historians had acknowledged an “intelligence” aspect to the raid that was not part of the “official” mission, but O’Keefe argues that what he refers to as a “pinch” operation to obtain code equipment was larger than previously recognized. He incidentally notes that Ian Fleming, later the creator of James Bond, was heavily involved as personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence.

The problem is O’Keefe’s crisp dismissal of the “official” objectives of the raid. Discounting the need to take pressure off the Russians, he says Stalin was satisfied with the “relocated second front,” namely North Africa, set to occur a few months later. But why, if Stalin was so satisfied, did Churchill fly to Moscow to reassure him that the western allies were committed to offensive actions? In Moscow, part of Churchill’s assurances were to tell Stalin of the upcoming Dieppe raid, although he exaggerated the number of troops and tanks involved. O’Keefe also brushes aside the second official objective, that Dieppe was a prelude to D-Day— despite testimony by Churchill, Alanbrooke, and the historians Martin Gilbert and David Reynolds.

There surely was a need to break the new Enigma code, but it is difficult to accept that a major operation like Dieppe would have been launched for that reason alone. Ironically, O’Keefe admits, just two months after Dieppe a group of Royal Navy sailors “pinched” a four-rotor Enigma machine in Port Said, Egypt, and the Bletchley Park decoders were again able to read Nazi messages.

This is a well-written, important addition to the Dieppe canon, but readers should make up their own minds up when considering the author’s conclusion.

Mr. Reardon, a member of the FH editorial board, wrote “Winston Churchill and the Raid on Dieppe” in Finest Hour 154.

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