In his new book, Canadian historian David O’Keefe uses hitherto classified intelligence archives to prove that this catastrophic and apparently futile raid was, in fact, a mission, set up by Ian Fleming of British Naval Intelligence as part of a ‘pinch’ policy designed to capture material relating to the four-rotor Enigma Machine that would permit the codebreakers at Bletchley Park to turn the tide of the Second World War.
We caught up with David to find out more.
The book involved research undertaken over 15 years in the Intelligence archives of 5 countries. Did you ever have doubts you would reach a satisfying conclusion?
Not really as I was testing a hypothesis – trying to debunk the original document that kicked off the journey – and not trying to make a case as in a court of law. No matter what the outcome, the journey would be worth it as after trawling through 150K pages and pushing for the release of formerly Ultra Secret material, surely something completely new would be revealed and contribute to our understanding of the event. In this case, it could mean case hardening for the existing narrative, a completely new narrative, or somewhere in between. In this case, it was the new narrative that emerged from the corpus of data.
Could you describe the moment when you realised you had ‘cracked the code’ so to speak in linking the real intent behind Dieppe and Fleming’s 30AU Commando Unit?
I reached out to GCHQ on 2012 with a five-page email that set out the thesis, what I had found, what I could prove from the direct and indirect evidence and of course infer from the evidence implied. The historian at GCHQ replied in less than 24hrs and agreed to speed up the release of the Ultra Secret Sigint Histories written during and immediately after the war. It was here that I had the most significant of many “Eureka moments” so to speak – the fact that the British had been developing a “pinch policy” or “pinch doctrine” and that these raids were not “ad hoc” in nature – far from it. Once I knew there was a policy behind these operations I gained the confidence to state that Dieppe was a “Pinch by Design” rather than a “Pinch by Chance” or “Pinch by Opportunity” as laid out in said doctrine. From there, with this information acting as glue, all pieces slid into place firmly.
What sort of scars did this tragedy leave on the Canadian psyche?
Deep and lasting to say the least. Make no mistake – this was NOT a Canadian planned or led operation but with that said, it was a British Operation with massive Canadian participation fully sanctioned by Canadian High Command and the Federal Government. Canada in fact, “hoisted” themselves on this raid which Mountbatten originally wanted his beloved Royal Marine Division to carry out. The results, however, 907 Canadian dead, seems to have trumped all notions of that with the Brits willing to hand off the tragedy of Dieppe the Canadians who were more than willing to take it on as a sign of Canadian martyrdom.The real tragedy I argue, in addition to the deaths (obviously), is the lack of truth for some many years after. Certainly, I would agree until the Ultra Secret was revealed in the late 70s you could keep the secret but once that cat was out of the bag the authorities should have come forward with the truth about this operation and others like it. In this case, it appears in part that they preferred to use the cloak of security which was long past its due date to deflect from their responsibilities on that One Day in August and the narrative they built on such a “shaky edifice” after that war.
One Day in August (Icon Books) is available from all good book shops and Amazon.
Professor David O’Keefe, a former officer in the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) is an award-winning historian, author, film-maker and leading authority on Canadian military historical research. He currently teaches history at Marianopolis College in Quebec.