Prolific novelist DeFelice (Leopards Kill, 2007, etc.) turns to nonfiction and brings to life a disastrous World War II encounter.
American infantry first battled the Nazis in August 1942, when Allied forces raided the coastal French town of Dieppe and suffered massive casualties. There were only 50 U.S. Rangers among 5,000 Canadian and British attackers, so previous accounts have paid little attention to their contribution. DeFelice tracked down survivors and additional documentation that helped him produce a vivid, detailed picture of the Rangers’s baptism by fire. The elite unit had just been formed in June 1942, and when word of a major special operation reached its leader, Major William Darby, he selected 50 men for “advanced training in demolitions”—combat experience. Describing the raid’s planning and execution, the author resists the urge to blame a single culprit for the debacle. Historians generally agree that Allied leaders yearned to take pressure off retreating Russian forces, Churchill loved special operations and planners made a string of wrong decisions, rejecting a heavy pre-invasion bombardment and assuming that the defending German divisions were weak. The Rangers shared in the general failure and the minor successes. Small commando units landed east and west of Dieppe to successfully silence coastal defenses. Large Canadian forces made a suicidal frontal assault on the unexpectedly well-defended town. Most of the Americans did not make it to shore because of problems with their landing craft; three died, three became prisoners and only four returned uninjured. With lucid prose DeFelice knowledgeably contradicts some aspects of previous accounts.
A valuable contribution to the history of a catastrophic raid.