More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed in the French coastal town of Dieppe on August 19, 1942, the bloodiest day for Canada in the entirety of the Second World War.
Saturday will mark the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. Ceremonies honouring veterans will be held Saturday in Dieppe, Montreal, Calgary and on Sunday in Dieppe, N.B.
Of the nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers who took part in the ill-fated siege, more than half were injured. A total of 916 Canadians died.
Some of those survivors will spend the anniversary in France paying tribute to fellow soldiers who never made it home.
Canadian veteran David Lloyd Hart held back tears as he recalled what happened on the rocky shore of Puys Beach.
“The thing to remember is that I have to come back and remember. And I’m glad I did,” he told CTV News.
The mission depended on stealth. But by the time the Canadian troops landed on the shore that morning, they were 17 minutes late. The sun was already up, and the soldiers were barraged by German gunfire from the cliffs above. Hundreds of bodies were strewn across the beach.
A few small contingents of soldiers were able to make it into the town of Dieppe, but they quickly retreated once it appeared the raid had failed.
Amid the chaos, Hart snapped into action. He was credited with saving 100 Canadian men who hadn’t received the signal to retreat from the beach.
Asked about his heroic efforts, Hart insists he was simply doing his work.
“When you have a job to do, you do it,” he said.
Three-quarters of a century after the raid, historians are still divided on the details of why the mission was carried out in the first place. But one believes he’s closer to the answer.
Military historian David O’Keefe has spent the last 15 years researching the subject, and he says the ill-fated siege was a top-secret mission to crack a Nazi code.
“At the heart of the operation was an ultra-secret pinch operation designed to capture anything and everything to do with what was called the four-rotor German Naval Enigma machine,” O’Keefe told CTV News.
The encryption machine belonging to the Nazis was used to protect communications, making it a critical tool that the Allied Forces hoped to seize.
The plan was for the technology to be extracted by a small British commando unit. Commander Ian Fleming -- the future author of the James Bond books -- was waiting offshore for the captured machine.
O’Keefe has been credited as the first historian to make the connection between Fleming and the sought-after machine.
Despite the defeat, historians say the Dieppe Raid was important for the military because it laid the groundwork for the D-Day invasion in Normandy in June 1944.
With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian in Dieppe, France