Posts Tagged 'Dieppe'

Operation JUBILEE and the Transformation of Air Support for Combined Operations: The Case of Command and Control and Aerial Bombardment

[Cross posted from Birmingham “On War”]

Operation JUBILEE, the raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942, has remained an area of intensive and divisive debate amongst historians. Debate remains over questions relating to the reasons for the operation, authorisation for the raid, and the argument over lessons learnt. One area of the operation that has received scant attention from historians is the question about the performance of the RAF during the operation. What attention has been paid to the role of air power has concentrated on the issue of the lack of air bombardment in support of the raid. Brain Loring Villa has remarked that ‘There was a degree of callousness in Portal’s allowing a largely Canadian force to go in without the bomber support they needed.’ However, this concentration on the issue of bombardment ignores the state of Combined Operations doctrine in the early years of the Second World War, which stressed the importance of ‘Control of the Air’.

In addition, Operation JUBILEE has been criticised for Earl Mountbatten of Burma‘s claim over the ‘Lessons Learnt’ from the raid and the impact this had on Operation OVERLORD. However, a careful examination of sources illustrates that the raid did have an impact on future operation, albeit not in the direct way that Mountbatten suggested. Therefore, this chapter examines the ‘Lessons Learnt’ thesis with reference to the transformation of air support for Combined Operations. It contends that JUBILEE formed an important catalyst to changing thoughts over the use of air power in Combined Operations. It will do this by examining the development of Command and Control systems and the use of aerial bombardment. It will illustrate that Dieppe formed an important element of the experience gained in 1942/43. This chapter argues that while there may not be a direct link to Operation OVERLORD in 1944 operations at Dieppe had an impact during 1943 and needs to be considered as one line of development in parallel with those from other theatres of war.

By Ross Mahoney, PhD Candidate, Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham

(This is an abstract from our forthcoming book on transformation and innovation in the British Military)

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The Joys of the Archive…

[Cross-posted at Birmingham “On War”]

One of the advantages of being a researcher is the little gems of information that crop up from time to time in the course of examining new files. Having recently completed my MPhil I was pleased to come across to extra pieces of information in the course of my PhD research that supported the general conclusion I had reached with regards to the performance of the RAF over Dieppe. My general argument had been that the RAF had performed well in the course of the operation because Combined Operations doctrine had argued that the key role for air power was to fight and maintain air superiority over the attack force. This was its primary role before role such as aerial interdiction and direct air support could be affected in the battle area. Therefore, the key lessons learnt at the Dieppe for the RAF was the reinforcement of this idea and it is obvious that in subsequent Combined Operations the desire to attain air superiority was of paramount importance to the planners involved. This is not to say that Dieppe holds a central place in this source of information but that given the plurality of experience in 1942 this was the general conclusion reached.

The first source I came across was of even more use because it is a German source and was found in the papers of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor.[1] The file in question is entitled ‘The Effect of Air Power’ and was compiled by the Air Historical Branch based upon captured documents.[2] The following extract from an 8th Abteilung Staff Study written in 1944 states that:

…The large-scale coastal landing operations which have taken place in the present war would not have been practicable without the co-operation of the air force…During the landings at Dieppe on August 19th 1942, support by the Air Force and consequent air supremacy, was necessary to equalise the position in view of the numerical inferiority of the ground troops landed and the weakness of the naval forces. Air power was also essential to protect the very vulnerable Allied transport shipping…

…As a result of the experience gained during the Dieppe operations as to the necessity of air supremacy, the Allies made certain of such supremacy in all subsequent landing operations…[3]

It is interesting that the Germans use the term air supremacy for the air actions over Dieppe. I would characterise the RAF as gaining a degree of air parity i.e. enough to stop the Germans seriously interfering with the operations on the ground. At most we might consider the RAF having a degree of local air superiority though the loss of HMS Berkeley might bring this into question. Also it is interesting that the Germans also draw a more direct line from Dieppe to subsequent operations than I do. I find hard to ignore the lessons learnt in late 1942 and 1943 in the Mediterranean. However, this study, written in 1944, does not mention this.

I’ll post the other source later…

By Ross Mahoney


[1] Slessor’s paper are to be found in AIR 75 at the National Archives, Kew

[2] TNA, AIR 75/147, The Effect of Air Power

[3] TNA, AIR 75/147, The Effect of Air Power, p. 9


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