Prologue; March 1942
March 1942 was the thirty-second month of the war for the UK. During that month the British raided St Nazaire in German-occupied France achieving all their objectives although 169 were killed and 215 taken prisoner. In North Africa the great turning point of the campaign at El Alamein was still six months away. The Battle of the Atlantic pitched technology against enemy, ocean and the elements in a war of attrition, the prospect of victory tantalisingly close for both sides but yet still years away; on the 27th U-123 sank the American Q-ship USS Atik and the next day U-587 was depth charged and sunk by the British. In the Far East the Japanese were victors in the Second Battle of the Java Sea and in doing so they sunk HMS Essex, one of the heroes of the Battle of the River Plate two years earlier. The last British cavalry charge in history occurred when about 60 Sikh sowars of the Burma Frontier Force attacked Japanese infantry at Taungoo. Most of them were killed. Thailand declared war on the UK and USA.
In the same month at Castle Bromwich in the English midlands Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb serial number BM324 made its way down the production line and was subsequently delivered to No.5 MTU.
Meanwhile at Combined Operations Headquarters Vice-Admiral Lord Mountbatten and his staff had not yet conceived Operation Rutter, nor had Montgomery yet recommended it be abandoned; the need however, for a large-scale operation in France had been recognised.
The following month, on 12 April, after its flight trial and pre-operational issue inspection, BM324 was issued to No. 340 Squadron where it eventually became the regular aircraft of Bernard Dupérier, a veteran pilot and prominent member of the Free French Forces though at the time he had not yet joined 340 Squadron. Dupérier had joined the RAF a year earlier after making his way to England via the United States.
Originally conceived as Operation Rutter, the Dieppe Raid as it came to be known (Operation Jubilee) was a large raid on the French Coastal town of Dieppe the purpose of which was to gather information and experience required to plan and execute large scale amphibious landings. The kind of assault that would be required, eventually, to retake Europe from the Germans. Prime Minister Winston Churchill discussed the reasoning behind it in his memoirs;
I thought it most important that a large-scale operation should take place this summer, and military opinion seemed unanimous that until an operation on that scale was undertaken, no responsible general would take the responsibility of planning the main invasion …
The final plan was prepared jointly by the three Force Commanders under the oversight of Vice-Admiral Lord Mountbatten was based on the flawed assumption that if all three forces executed their plan, the whole would be a success. Events were to prove that assumption deeply flawed.
The plan involved landings on the outer flanks of Dieppe at “Orange” and “Yellow” beaches by Nos. 4 and 3 Commanders supported by tanks. Concurrently, a regiment of 2nd Canadian Corps was to be landed to secure “Green” beach three miles to the west of Dieppe.
Simultaneously to the flank assaults, the Royal Regiment of Canada was to secure “Blue” beach a short distance east of Dieppe. The main assault by the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, the Essex Scottish Regiment and the Cameroons of Canada would come on “Red” and “White” Beaches thirty minutes after the flanking assaults; eighteen tanks were assigned to their support.
The final assault was to be delivered by Royal Marine Commandos supported by tanks whose objective was to demolish objectives in Dieppe’s dock area. It was intended, when the tasks ashore had been completed, to withdraw the whole force for re-embarkation on or around 11.00am after six hours or so of action.
The RAF was tasked with protecting the 6,000 Canadians on the beach and the 240 vessels the Royal Navy deployed to get them there and bring them back.
Although the Luftwaffe had 260 fighters deployed in its western bases, it was considered unlikely that the fighters from Brest and Holland would be able to reach Dieppe at least early in the operation. Those fighters that could reach the Dieppe area would therefore be limited to those operating from Abbeville, Beaumont-LeRoger, Cherbourg and possibly St. Omer and Courtrai totaling just under 200 single engine fighters.
Additionally, the Germans had around 120 bombers available to attack the beachheads, though this force was disposed mainly in the Dutch bases far to the north.
Spring and Summer, the Gathering
The Canadian government lobbied that their troops be involved in any upcoming action and as a consequence the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, formed at the outbreak of war and commanded by Major General John Hamilton Roberts, was selected for the main force for Rutter/Jubilee. The troops were drawn from Combined Operations and South-Eastern Command, initially under Lieutenant General Bernard Law Montgomery though soon thereafter withdrew his support and recommended the operation be abandoned. By late July, after adverse weather forced the cancellation of Rutter, Operation Jubilee was decided upon with the conditions that it could be launched in August and planned with utmost secrecy. So secret it turned out to be in fact that no records were kept of its planning.
To carry out the plan, the Royal Navy supplied 237 ships and landing craft including six Hunt-class destroyers. Despite Mountbatten’s request for a battleship to provide fire support for the Dieppe raid, the Navy was mindful that Japanese air attack had sunk HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales off Malaya in December 1941 and were reluctant to risk capital ships where air superiority could not be guaranteed.
For their part, the Germans busied themselves throughout the spring and early summer of 1942 with night-time bombing raids and defense from the reciprocal RAF activity. At their disposal the Luftwaffe fielded approximately 260 front line single-engined aircraft between Brest in France and Texel in Holland with most in and around Pas de Calais.
To combat the Luftwaffe, and to ensure air superiority over the shipping and beaches, the RAF significantly reinforced No.11 Group (including Bernard Dupérier and 340 Squadron) with an additional fifteen fighter squadrons to bring its total to thirty. These final movements were completed only a week before the operation.
In total, the RAF assigned 74 squadrons to the operation, of which 66 were fighters. With the USAAF also providing 6 squadrons of fighters and bombers, the air operation was the largest of the war so far, eclipsing the Battle of Britain by an order of magnitude.
The RAF fielded 48 Spitfire squadrons of which 3 were American, 5 Polish, 2 Czech, 2 Norwegian, 1 Free French (340), 1 Belgian and 5 Canadian; 8 Hurricane squadrons of which all were British; 4 Mustang squadrons of which 2 were Canadian; 3 Hawker Typhoon squadrons, both British; 2 Bristol Blenheim light bomber squadrons; 1 Bristol Beaufighter squadron; 1 Boston light bomber squadron, Canadian. RAF Bomber Command No. 2 Group provided 5 Boston squadrons. The USAAF Eighth Air Force, 97th Bombardment Group (B-17s) provided 4 bomber squadrons; 307th Fighter Squadron 2 fighter squadrons.
Upon joining the RAF, then Captain Bernard Dupérier was initially posted on May 27, 1941 to No. 242 Squadron, then in September to No. 615 Squadron. In October the same year he joined the newly formed Île-de-France No. 340 “Free French” Squadron as one of its four founding Flight Commanders, his being the “Versailles” section. Later, on April 11, 1942 he took command of the Squadron following the death of Lieutenant Commander Philippe de Scitivaux. In May, the same month that the squadron scored its first victories over the Germans, his appointment was formalized as Squadron Leader. By July the squadron had established itself as an effective fighting force (and even found a French chef to run the mess!). On 12 July 340 Squadron was sent to Ipswich to rest, though at this point they could not know for what yet. Nine days later, Squadron Leader Bernard Dupérier along with two other pilots were informed they were to be awarded the [British] Distinguished Flying Cross. “Île-de-France” and its commander were now firmly established as an effective fighting force.
Along with much of Fighter Command, No. 340 Squadron flew the Spitfire Mk.Vb in that spring and early summer of 1942. While the definitive Mark of Spitfire, the Mk.IX was in production, not enough had reached the front line squadrons. This was to prove expensive in the coming battle as the Mk.Vb’s struggled against the superior German Focke Wulf’s in particular.
In place of 1940’s Dark Earth and Dark Green camouflage, the RAF had switched its camouflage scheme in 1941 replacing the Dark Earth with Ocean Grey and the underside now painted Medium Sea Grey.
Construction of my Spitfire Mk.Vb BM324 had begun as usual with the cockpit. While construction was uneventful – it’s a Tamiya remember, I took a bit of a risk and chose to use Vallejo paints for the grey colours and Tamiya acrylics for the green on my Spitfire. Thinning the Vallejo can be tricky but I’ve found that thinning with their Airbrush Cleaner and adding a drop of retarder ensures they spray beautifully.
There’s nothing unusual or tricky about the RAF’s standard “A” Scheme and I won’t bore with you details on that except to record that I used the Blue Tack masking method to paint it. Suffice to say that both the original and my BM324 carried a standard “A” Scheme of Dark Green and Ocean Grey over Medium Sea Grey.
I painted all the markings except for the stencils and the nose art. This I accomplished with Montex masks and it came out quite well I think, though if you look closely there are obvious errors on the fin flashes and the fuselage roundels. Nothing that photoshop couldn’t fix if I were so-inclined but we’re all about total disclosure here so I left it all visible and zoom-able as it were. (You’re zooming in now, aren’t you?)
I added the yellow friend/foe identifier leading edges but did use the kit decals for the red muzzle tape. I did this because I wanted to punch a hole through the decal when it was dry to simulate their condition upon return from a sortie during which the guns were fired.
Finally, I learned something a bit new to me when considering the wheel wells; the part where the wheel itself seats is painted the underside colour, but the remainder is painted in silver lacquer.
The Largest Air Battle; 19th August, 1942
By 04.45 Kenley and Northolt Wings were airborne followed soon thereafter by another eight Squadrons. Five minutes after that No.226 Squadron’s Boston’s laid smokescreens, and four squadrons of Hurricane IIc’s and b’s came in low over the beach, delivering cannon fire and dropping 250-lb. bombs with impressive accuracy on the German defensive positions.
By 05.15 the air attack was in full swing with No.88 Squadron Boston’s attacking gun batteries in addition to the Hurricanes’ work on the beach. Unfortunately, the ground attack had succeeded only in keeping the Germans; heads down. When the landing commenced at 0523 the essentially undamaged German defenses chopped the main attacking ground forces to pieces. On the beaches all control of the situation was lost and the assault was pinned down. The beaches however were covered in smoke screens and a communications broke down between the beach and tactical commanders off shore, a situation that remained unchanged for three hours.
The first Luftwaffe aircraft airborne were from JG 2 flying reconnaissance north west of Dieppe. Biggin Hill and Hornchurch Wings, including Dupérier and No.640 Squadron, were up before 0600 and soon after the Luftwaffe’s JG 26, was up too. Before the Hornchurch Wing could even get to Dieppe though, Fw 190s had already shot down three No.174 Squadron Hurricanes (including the CO) which were covering Boston’s engaged in laying smoke.
Squadrons continued to get up according to timetable; the Norwegians from North Weald took off at 0620. In one particularly epic engagement Capt. Bjorn Raeder fought a single-handed action against eight Fw 190s after he was separated form his squadron. He held them off until he disengaged over the Channel and managed to crash-land in England.
Over the assault area Boston’s were bombing the inland batteries and six Hurricanes went in to attack a German Divisional HQ. Four Hurricanes were lost in that action their pilots killed along with eight civilians when they crashed into the town.
By 0700 the next wave of beach landing were left bereft of air cover because only one Hurricane was still on station. The smoke laying Bostons had returned to base to refuel and rearm. In what would be a recurring element of the unfolding disaster onshore the landing wasn’t on schedule and the air plan proved inflexible to cover it.
While the main beach landings at 0700 were faring no better than earlier ones, cover for the shipping was being provided by Hurricanes searching for F-boats with MTB’s in the Channel. JG 26’s Fw 190A-4/U8s attacked some of the more isolated British ships though without much success.
Thorough the rest of the early morning action, up until the situation became clear to the commanders offshore, tactical reconnaissance Mustangs were looking for German reinforcements; sections of Hurricanes arrived for ground support patrols over Dieppe every twenty minutes; Boston’s were doing the same albeit at longer intervals in providing smoke cover; the fifty fighter squadrons allocated to the air umbrella were rotating sorties providing a constant air cover above the ground and sea-borne forces. The largest air battle of the war was in full swing with hundreds of aircraft aloft of which about fifty were German, including the first bombers.
Finally, at around 0900 the Force Commanders became aware of the true situation on the beaches though even then it was not until 1030 the order for withdrawal, code named with supreme irony as “Vanquish,” was given. The inflexibility of the planning struck again though, the RAF’s timetable only allowed for a maximum effort to cover Vanquish at 1100; smoke screens would be required from 1040 onward to cover the withdrawal from the beaches.
By 1000 the Luftwaffe had committed over a hundred aircraft to battle over Dieppe at any one time. The RAF was paying a high price in maintaining an effective air cover over the main assault force. Its Spitfire Vb’s were outclassed by the Fw l9OA’s, and more than evenly matched by the Bf l09Fs, but they were stopping the German bombers from getting at the ships and the beaches. Even while shooting down more RAF aircraft than they were losing, the Luftwaffe was losing the air battle of Dieppe.
As Vanquish got under way at 1030 multiple actions unfolded away from the main theater; the USAAF’s 97th Bomb Group bombed the airfield at Abbeville-Drucat in an effort to further disrupt Luftwaffe operations. Even further afield nine Spitfire squadrons were sent to support Typhoons (two of which crashed when their tails broke off in dives) in diversionary attacks over Ostend. On their return they bounced some Fw l90s, damaging three. Some of the Spitfire squadrons where then tasked with stopping bombers reaching Dieppe with the North Weald Wing, on their second sortie of the day shot down eight of nine unescorted Do 217Es.
Back at Dieppe, Vanquish was going badly. In the face of dense AA fire No.226 Squadron Boston’s laid dense smoke screens on the headlands and along the waterfront at 1100 to cover the withdrawal. Luftwaffe bomber reinforcements penetrated the fighter cover and arrived in strength.
At 1115 No.43 Squadron’s Hurricanes attacked the East Headland but the beach was where the support was now needed. Requests for close air support were made at 1135 and 1138 to help get the men off the beaches. By now though, the ground attack Hurricanes were a long way off though and unable to get to Dieppe until noon.
Over at the West Headland the evacuation came under increasing attack from both shore and air. Fw 190s and Ju 88s relentlessly attacked the ground forces while the now stretched-to-the-limit RAF was fully engaged across the whole operational area and could not give cover at all.
Finally, at 1200 close air support Hurricane’s arrived back over Dieppe and resumed their ground attacks. Spitfires continued to take on Luftwaffe bombers attempting to bomb the beaches and shipping. However, despite a final heroic smoke screen pass by Boston’s (in the face of heavy friendly AA fire from the Royal Navy as well as German), the survivors on the beaches were forced to surrender at about 1300.
By now, around 250 vessels were making their way back to England in convoy, with the inevitable stragglers behind. The Luftwaffe renewed pressed home their attacks in an effort to inflict more casualties. For the RAF fighter pilots flying their third, fourth or even fifth sorties of the day, this was the last challenge, not least in fighting their own fatigue. Among them was S/L Bernard Dupérier and No 340 Squadron on their fifth sortie of the day; they were still fully engaged, still covering the ships, still keeping the Luftwaffe at bay. At the tail end of the convoy a free-for-all was developing over the last ships getting into station and it was during this phase of the battle that Bernard Dupérier shot down a Do217. There were Naval casualties though, the RAF couldn’t stop everything that was being thrown at them; at a little after 1305 a section of three Do 217s broke through the defending Spitfires and sunk the destroyer HMS Berkeley.
But, by 1545 the Luftwaffe had largely disengaged. Many of the German crews had flown multiple sorties too, and accumulated fatigue, losses and distance left the final effort to some individual aircraft attacking stragglers. The main convoy though was left largely unmolested in its return to England.
BM324 was about three and a half months old at the time of Dieppe and I weathered it according to how I think it would have appeared at the end of that day.
Having flown five sorties over Dieppe, Dupérier’s Spitfire would have exhibited some significant exhaust staining as well as gun staining on the wings at the end of its battle. Additionally, I expect the airframe would have had time to get a few dings on the leading edges and prop blades along with some worn paint on the wing roots from maintenance and pilot ingress/egress.
Otherwise however, I would not have expected it to be a war weary flying wreck as sometimes we modelers sometimes like to depict. In fact, by this time in the war maintenance and general upkeep of the aircraft would have been very diligent indeed, the bases being largely un-harassed by the otherwise engaged Luftwaffe, and the condition of the aircraft should reflect that.
I chose to leave Rutter’s identifying white stripes on my model; the only photo reference I had of BM324 shows them present and while it’s highly likely the markings were removed (they were not popular with the pilots) there is no proof either way for BM324. I’ll call it artistic licence.
I used a silver pencil for the chipping and well thinned Tamiya “Smoke” for the staining. I also added some staining to represent dirt/lube being blown back from control surface hinges, etc.
While the Raid itself was a disaster, the RAF won a clear victory. Despite facing superior aircraft, and in many cases superior tactics, the air umbrella over the beaches and shipping had held firm, the Luftwaffe did not and could not gain air superiority on the day.
The Luftwaffe admitted the loss of 48 aircraft, the RAF claimed 91. Luftwaffe pilots claimed 97 kills and Flak another 15. The RAF admitted 106 losses. Consider that at least six RAF aircraft were shot down by the Royal Navy and Army AA gunners, one Typhoon was shot down by a Spitfire and two others were lost due to structural failure, and two Spitfires collided during the withdrawal across the Channel. Accepting the total of 106 losses to be accurate, almost 10% (11 aircraft) of the total loss was no fault of the Luftwaffe.
There were mistakes to be sure though. In the main, the air attack plan was too ridged and when tactical adjustments were needed to support specific areas of the engagement the required aircraft were not available. The situation had been too confused and too poorly coordinated for the air attacks to be directed on the most important targets at the right times; in effect there was no tactical control. A little under two years later, with the additional experience gained in amphibious assaults in Africa as well as Italy, new landings on other French beaches proved the lessons of Dieppe well learned.
My final tasks with BM324 all that remained was application of a final flat clear to take most of the sheen off the paint, and then and blend in the paint chipping; I don’t really mean blend in per se: I mean flatten it too, enough that the chipping becomes part of the finish rather than something applied to it.
Also, I had to tackle to the wire IFF antenna as by the end of 1940 most front-line Spitfires were fitted with VHF and IFF; so, the wire from fin to antenna post was gone but the wires from horizontal stabilizers were still present. The plain tapered mast was universally fitted though. It’s been a while since I’ve had to apply one of these, but it went well enough. I stretched out some sprue and attached it at both ends with some white glue. When the glue set up, I used smoke from a burnt cocktail stick to snap the lines tight.
Despite my original intention to the contrary, I’ve focused on the air operation rather than on Bernard Dupérier in this piece, even though I’ve featured his aircraft. That day, during that air battle his role was no more nor any less important that anyone else’s. Dieppe was too big an event to focus on only one man.
Almost one hundred pilots and aircrew lost their lives in a pitched aerial battle involving hundreds of aircraft. Furthermore, most of the Spitfires fought against superior German fighter aircraft, the ground attack and support aircraft flew in the teeth of dense and accurate flak – sometimes even from their own side!
On the beaches, 916 Canadian troops were killed, hundreds more wounded and another 1,900 captured. Of the 4,963 Canadians who embarked that morning, only 2,210 returned to England that evening. There’s no such thing as glorious defeat – perhaps glory in defeat – but there is honour, comradeship and duty and Dieppe was all these.
References and Credits
- Military History Journal, Vol 1 No 5 – December 1969 – “Air Umbrella – Dieppe”
By Michael Schoeman
- “Air Operations at Dieppe – An After-Action Report” By Air Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory
I am indebted to “Vingtor” from Britmodeller.com forums for his input on the white tactical markings for Rutter and Jubilee and their application to BM324.
Copyright: I claim original work and Copyright 2019 for the text in this article and the photos of the model. For the air battle’s narrative I leaned heavily on Michael Schoeman’s excellent article published in 1969 (see credits above) for its narrative structure. Except where noted otherwise, I sourced all other images and photos from the internet and are used under fair-use. Any copyrighted images will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its owner.
Categories: Feature Article