Dieppe Raid

24th July 2017

This August marks the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, in which Spitfires from RAF Westhampnett were at the forefront of the action.

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This is the story of Harry Strawn of the 309th Fighter Squadron, 31st Spitfire Wing who flew one of the Spitfires overhead the Dieppe raid in August 1942.

“As for myself, you might say I was born under a lucky star, at least I believe I was. With things as hot as they were, I can't understand how I got out, but I did. The Germans are plenty good and have a good fighter plane in the Fw190 but I believe we are better”.

Often overlooked, this was one of the first major operations that the 8th Air Force fighter squadrons undertook in the European Theatre of Operations. Much is written about the American contribution of the Eagle Squadrons and also the later role of the 8th Air Force, but the earlier contributions of the first squadrons arriving in the UK are not well known.

The unit was due to fly its P39s to the UK with the rest of the squadron's personnel arriving by boat. After discussions in the UK with the RAF who blatantly informed the Americans that the P39 was already outdated as a fighter and would not stand up to the BF109 or FW190, it was decided that through reverse lend lease arrangements that the now renamed 31st Fighter Group, consisting of the 307, 308 and 309 Fighter Squadrons would convert to Spitfires and operate them under RAF control initially.


Upon arrival in the UK the young and eager fighter jocks were sent to RAF Atcham and High Ercall to convert from nose wheel to tailwheel and to familiarise themselves with the Spitfire. This process did not go smoothly with over 20 Spitfires being written off or damaged in a short space of time.

The 309th undertook a number of patrols but did not really get into action until on the 18th August, when they got wind of their first major taste of action as Harry recorded in his wartime diary.

“We had a secret meeting and got some real “gen”. Tomorrow we have a big show starting at 4:00am. Some 31 Fighter Squadrons, 2000 Canadian soldiers, Commandos, bombers and boats are going to make landings at the town of Dieppe on the coast of France. We are going to destroy the entire town and hold it for one day. Our job is to escort the boats across the channel. Of course we will be fighting FW 190’s all day. It should be a big show and my first fight. I'll need strength tomorrow”.

The 309th were to provide air cover against marauding Luftwaffe fighters and bombers. They arrived over Dieppe and found a scene of confusion, having to fight their way out. The Squadron arrived back at Westhampnett at 09:30 having been well and truly broken in. Albeit a brief diary entry, Harry later recalled his part in the operation.

“I guess this is the big day in my life for I got a real taste of aerial warfare. I got up at 3:00am this morning and by the time we got to the field everyone was really busy. Planes warming up in the dark and others in the air on their way to Dieppe, France for the big day. Most of us were joking and laughing but I rather imagine it was to cover up their nerves. I know I felt a bit on edge and a little shaky.

“Our first mission was at 9:00am in the morning and the boys really ran in to hell in the skies. When they came back, two of our planes were missing. Collins bailed out about five miles from the French Coast after getting his engine shot up by an FW190, Junkin got a 20mm shell in his shoulder and bailed out. Both were picked up by Boat. The ground flak was terrific but it didn't bother me much. The town was completely destroyed and we the 309th lost three planes, but all pilots got back.

“No one got a victory, but we lost none and that was a good record. I believe the score was 67 to 69 destroyed and the Jerrys were on top but we completed our mission successfully”.

On the ground a total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were killed, wounded, or captured. The air force lost over 100 aircraft as figures vary, compared to 48 lost by the Luftwaffe.

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