Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Exercise in Sacrifice

On the evening of August 18, 1942 the men of The South Saskatchewan Regiment were gathered and told that they would be going on another training exercise. The men were taken to Southampton and loaded on to one of two ships, the 'Princess Beatrix' or the 'Invicta.' Once on board the troops were issued new guns and grenades, it was then that they realised that they were about to embark on something much more than a training exercise.

Throughout the night the men we're briefed on Operation Jubilee, the Allied forces first attempt at a France invasion. Along with the SSR, troops from 13 other regiments, including the 14th Army Tank Regiment were being similarly prepped. As the ships sailed toward Dieppe in the calm, cool predawn hours a German convoy spotted the ships and opened fire on the on the far flank. Unable to communicate effectively with the other ships due to damage to the aerial, the raid continued as scheduled, no one knowing for sure if the Germans on shore had been alerted to the coming attack.

At approximately 5am, the first troops of Operation Jubilee landed on the beaches of Dieppe. The men of the SSR were assigned the task of securing Pourville, a small village to the east of Dieppe that was a major defensive position for the German Forces. It was through Pourville, or GREEN BEACH, that other regiments would pass and rendezvous for the assault on Dieppe. It was vital that the SSR secure the bridge and two main roads that sectioned through Pourville swiftly and completely.

Due to choppy seas and mist, the majority of the men landed on the wrong side of the river estuary in Pourville, creating confusion and a hasty scramble to position themselves correctly. By this time the Germans were on full alert and were spraying all beaches with gunfire and mortar blasts. Most of the first wave of the SSR were able to scale the sea wall and make their way through the treacherous barbed wire to begin their sweep of the houses along the first streets.

This successful advance was short lived as it soon became apparent that the Germans were better prepared than first anticipated. Most of the key objectives were well guarded by pillboxes and slit trenches containing dozens of German soldiers with machine guns and heavy artillery. The men of SSR made many brave and valiant attempts at securing Pourville, losing many good men along the way. In the end they were called to retreat along with the rest of the Allied Forces of Operation Jubilee.

Due to the heavy counter assault the Allieds were experiencing and the choppy seas most of the landing crafts were unable to approach the beaches for the retreat. Soldiers who were retreating had to sprint across the beach, dodging gunfire, mortar explosions and the bodies of their fallen comrades. Many of the wounded were picked up and carried to the landing crafts, waiting off shore. Several brave soldiers made several trips between the beach and the landing crafts to evacuate the wounded.

In all the Allied Forces were on the beach for less than 8 hours. The Canadian Regiments bore the brunt of the casualties with 907 killed, 2,460 wounded and 1,874 taken prisoner. Of the 2,210 Canadian soldiers who returned to Britain after Operation Jubilee only 236 were uninjured...and 200 of those never made it to the beach in the first place.

By many, Dieppe was considered to be a practice run for a future Allied full scale assault, a way to test the German defenses. These brave men went into this operation full in, they were committed and ready to fight. They may have been scared and unsure of what to expect but that did not stop them. This was not a practice run for them, this was the real thing. They really fought, they really bled and many, many of them really died.

Remember these men and the sacrifices they made to ensure success in the years that would follow. Remember their wives and children and parents and the love they carried, and carry still, in their hearts for their brave men. Remember that today, the same kind of men and women are living and serving all over the world in the name of the freedom that the soldiers before them fought for.


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