Today's Reading

With the deaths of the engineers, no matter what, the tanks were blocked. However, the Churchills had never been used in combat before, or even thoroughly tested, and the beach itself proved another unexpected obstacle. The waterfront was made of pebbles, billions of smallish rocks polished smooth by the eternal grinding of the waves, and the rocks got stuck in the tanks' exposed gear mechanisms. The tanks threw off their tracks. Almost all got stuck, at least one flipped over, and several somehow caught fire. Every single tank was destroyed. Some of the troops had been equipped with bicycles so they could travel farther into the town, and these, too, sank feebly into the pebbles. Almost nobody was able to clear the broad, steep shores.
When Laurens Pals landed, he took what cover he could in a small divot in the sloping ground. When ordered to advance, he dashed to a second small hole. From there he could see the street where he was supposed to start his specific mission during the raid. He would never reach it; the opposition was too great. A haze of death filled the space between. Dodging mortars and machine guns, he dove behind a landing ship that had tipped over, joining dozens of troops who had been shot. He helped establish a sort of field hospital in the cover of the sideways vessel. Pals and the others hunkered down and tried their best to survive the ongoing hailstorm of bullets, periodically darting out to drag more wounded and dead behind their improvised protection.

Laurens Pals was charged with a secret mission. He had been ordered to sneak into town, aided by a select handful of explosives-carrying engineers—all now dead—and steal a big yellow code book out of a hidden safe. There were others also charged with intelligence-gathering missions, and these missions were the true purpose of the entire raid. The Allies hadn't wanted to bomb the town of Dieppe beforehand and risk destroying the fragile information they sought. But the official explanation for the lack of bombing was that it was hard to teach pilots to aim properly in such a short amount of training time.

So, because of the lack of bombing, the intact, beautiful residences along the waterfront stayed packed with machine guns and machine gunners. These gunners, too, fired at Laurens Pals every time he ran out to retrieve more wounded and dead from the bloodstained waves.

Desperate to accomplish the secret missions and gather intelligence from the town, the commanders offshore continued to send wave after wave of new troops to Red and White in the hopes that a few individuals would manage to break through and maybe find a code book or an encryption device known as an Enigma machine. The new model of Enigma was being used by German submarines to receive encoded messages and wreak havoc in the Atlantic. However, the reinforcements served only to add to the growing piles of Allied bodies strewn about the rocks. At 1100, after hours of abuse, the exhausted and battered survivors finally received a radio transmission ordering them to surrender.

The convoy offshore never sent ships for an evacuation. One group of sailors made an abortive attempt, but their lone vessel got overwhelmed by enemy fire and too many troops trying to scramble on board. They managed to evacuate only a small fraction. The rest were abandoned. Slowly, the screams went quiet.

* * *

Under pressure from the Russians to open a second front in the west to divide and distract the Germans, and under pressure from the Americans to try an invasion of the European mainland, Winston Churchill had reluctantly permitted the raid on Dieppe. Churchill had already been part of one beach debacle, when during World War I he had been responsible for a failed beach-landing attempt on the Gallipoli peninsula in modern Turkey. The travesty had resulted in 250,000 casualties stretched out over nearly a year of misery without resolution. He knew the Allies were not yet ready to assault beaches, but when pressed, the infamously fractious leader had been willing to prove his point in blood.

Ham Roberts, the commanding general of the 2nd Canadian who had made the quip about cake and kept sending in reinforcements to die, fled his home country. He would allegedly receive an anonymous parcel on his doorstep containing a single stale piece of cake on the anniversary of the raid every year for the rest of his life.

* * *

In the weeks following the massacre, when the tides had finally washed the blood off the pebbly shores and the Allied news media lied to pretend it had been a victory, the Allies would title the key section of their official report simply, with the most optimistic veneer they could muster: "Lessons Learnt." The Dieppe "Lessons" report is unequivocal in its language: "As soon as it is known that a project involving a combined operation is under consideration"—meaning an operation like an amphibious invasion that combines sea and land—"the question of beach reconnaissance in all its aspects must be investigated."

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