One Day In August by David O’Keefe

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

On the 9th August 1942 over 6000 infantry launched an attack on the French Port of Dieppe. They were supported by a regiment of tanks as well as naval and air cover. They were to capture the port and hold it for a short period of time, test various landing operations and gather intelligence on German defences. On leaving they were to cause damage by destroying buildings.

It turned out to be a bit of a disaster though, after 10 hours around half of the men had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The naval and air support was not as effective as it was hoped and they lost 106 aircraft and 33 landing craft and one destroyer. Whilst they learned important lessons that would serve them well when they came to invade in the Mediterranean and later in Normandy, the raid was a complete disaster.

For the past seventy years, no one has really understood why it took place at all. The horrific losses of the Canadian, American and British Troops have left a bitter taste with those who did make it back and there has been much speculation bordering on conspiracy theories at the time as to why it ever went ahead.

David O’Keefe has long been fascinated by the reasons behind this raid and it was the chance find of some comments in some declassified documents that piqued his attention. The first said: The party concerned at Dieppe did not reach their objective. It was then followed by: ‘No raid should be laid on for SIGINT purposes only. The scope of the objectives should always be sufficiently wide to presuppose normal operational objectives.’ The document concerned was talking about pinch raids, small scale operations that had the aim of obtaining cipher and code bodes and ideally a new four rota Enigma machine.

As clever as the boffins were at Bletchley Park, they could only do so much. To fully be able to understand and be able to reverse engineer the messages that had been coded using the four-rotor Enigma machines they needed to get their hands on one. This is where Commander Ian Fleming’s Intelligent Assault Unit came in. They would assess various targets and see if they were viable places to get their hands on the equipment that they desperately needed. Was these statement in the document the real reason behind the raid? It was the beginning of a search that would take O’Keefe another two decades to completely tease the story out from the secret documents.

This book is that story. It is a multi-layered story and convoluted as you would expect from the rummaging around in the secret world. He writes about each of the people involved in the raid, From Fleming to Lord Mountbatten and of course, Churchill and how they did their best to shape the direction of the war at the time. There is a monumental amount of detail in the book and quite a lot of build-up the actual raid in Dieppe, which is only detailed in the final two chapters of the book. It does occasionally lose the narrative in all this detail, but it is still worth reading, in particular for the very powerful last paragraph.

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2 Comments

  1. Dorothy ~Jane McLachlan ~ Wortley

    I had heard of this event. I shall add to wish list. Thank You.

    • Paul

      I hadn’t until I read the book. You’re welcome

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