JBPDT 2010* – Day Three: Dieppe, Pegasus Bridge (WWII)


*Juno Beach Professional Development Tour 2010

No travel was required to get to our first stop of the day, as we spent the night right on the beach at Dieppe. Mike B. took us up the beach to discuss the events of the Jubilee raid and the Canadian regiments involved that each have memorials along the beach. I found one such memorial, to the Canadian Essex Scottish Regiment to be particularly striking.

Essex Scottish Regiment Memorial - Dieppe

Essex Scottish Regiment Memorial - Dieppe

The memorial is a black obelisk (see picture) that has a maple leaf cut through it that shines sunlight on to a silver target on the ground every anniversary of the raid. “Red Beach” is indicated on the memorial, as this one one of several beaches (others in Puys and Pourville) that were a target of the Dieppe Raid.

This raid still causes heated debate amongst historians, as to whether Canadian lives were just thrown away to satiate Russian desires for a second front, or if the lessons learned were actually worth the lives lost. What is clear, is what was always intended to be a raid (attack, then retreat, without holding ground gained) turned into a major disaster with almost 60% casualties.

The beach itself posed serious problems to the landing. With one of the largest tides in the world, the decision to land is either with the perils of high- or low-tide. They chose low-tide which created the challenge of running up a long open pebble beach with heavy packs. I tried running up the steep incline of the beach without any heavy load (or anyone shooting at me) and I was winded! The large ‘chert’ pebbles of the beach also act to magnify the effect of the enemy artillery fire. Sand does a good job of absorbing the energy and shrapnel of artillery shells, while this chert beach just takes the energy and transfers it to the rocks, which become deadly projectiles.

The Beach in 1942 and 2010

Another big challenge to the Canadians when they landed, was the great observation posts the cliffs offered to the German defenders. We were taken to a observation point on the south end of the beach, which offered a commanding view of the entire length of the beach. Our guide indicated that ‘if you can see it, the Germans could shoot it’, which was all of the beach.

It was two years later that Canadians were able to avenge the raid when they liberated Dieppe after the D-day landings. How thankful the local French citizens are to Canadians is apparent everywhere. Canadian flags can be seen more often than the Tricolour in many places. Many street names have been changed to make reference to the liberating Canadians. This was very apparent at our next stop in the town of Pourville, where we visited Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt Bridge. This bridge was named after a Canadian soldier of the South Saskatchewan Regiment who won a Victoria Cross for leading groups of his men over the bridge under heavy enemy fire, and then covered their retreat resulting in him being taken as a POW.

Unusual Arrangement

The next stop was at the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, a cemetery originally created by the Germans, which accounts for it’s unusual (for Commonwealth cemeteries) arrangement of the graves head-to-head. Like all the other Commonwealth cemeteries we visited, it was immaculately kept, and a fitting memorial to those who gave their lives.

With jetlag still lingering, the two hours drive to the Pegasus Bridge site near Caen was a welcome chance to have a rest. During the drive we watched a video of  Garth Webb, D-Day veteran and President/Director/Founder of the Juno Beach Centre, discuss his experiences in the Canadian artillery. It was largely his efforts that gave us the opportunity to have to this trip, and to visit the excellent Juno Beach Centre which I will discuss more later.

Pegasus Bridge was the site of early operations of the D-day landing. Once the beaches were taken, the allied forces needed to make sure they could control access to key bridges. British troops used gliders to land near the bridge and take it and the adjacent Ranville bridge from defending forces. Many similar operations were being undertaken at different key sites, but this operation has the distinction of having the first allied casualty of D-day. One of the gliders landed in the water, resulting in the drowning of one soldier (the ‘first casualty’); another was lost in the battle for the bridge. The operation was successful, and the bridges were taken intact. The neighbouring café was the first building liberated on D-day.

Glider Landings near Pegasus (highlighted)

The site has an excellent indoor museum with many large static displays outside, including the original bridge (which was replaced by an identical –but wider– bridge), artillery field pieces, vehicles and a replica Horsa Glider. The original gliders, made almost entirely of wood and fabric, didn’t survive very long after the landings, as raw materials for building were in short supply. The museum collected what little was left and put it on display.

In the museum itself, they have an exhibit, using a lighted map and live narrator, that does a great job of illustrating the Pegasus Bridge operation (Operation Deadstick) and other parts of Operation Tonga.

We finished our day in Bayeux, a beautiful city which would be our base of operations for the next five days.

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One Response

  1. […] field. Near the field was a memorial to the 14th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. In the day 3 post, I had mentioned Garth Web, President and Director of the Juno Beach Centre. It was in this field […]

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