Cover Image: One Day in August

One Day in August

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

One Day in August reveals in full for the first time the “Ultra Secret” story behind one of WW2’s most controversial mysteries—and one of Canada’s most sorrowful moments. In a narrative as powerful and moving as it is authoritative, David O’Keefe rewrites history, connecting Canada’s tragedy at Dieppe with an extraordinary and colourful cast of characters—from the young Commander Ian Fleming, later to become the creator of the James Bond novels, and his team of crack commandos to the code-breaking scientists of Bletchley Park (the closely guarded heart of Britain’s wartime Intelligence and code-breaking work) to those responsible for the planning and conduct of the Dieppe Raid—Admiral John Godfrey, Lord Louis Mountbatten, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and others. The astonishing story critically changes what we thought we knew. 

For seven decades, the objective for the raid has been one of the most perplexing mysteries of WWII. In less than six hours on August 19, 1942, nearly one thousand Canadians—as well as British and Americans—lay dead or dying on the beaches around the French seaside town, with over two thousand other Canadians wounded or captured. These awful losses have left a legacy of bitterness, recrimination and controversy. In the absence of concrete reasons for the raid, myriad theories ranging from incompetence to conspiracy developed. Over almost two decades of research, sifting through countless recently declassified Intelligence documents, David O’Keefe skillfully pieces together the story like a jigsaw puzzle to reveal the prime reason behind the raid: a highly secret mission designed, in one of Britain’s darkest times, to redress the balance of the war.

Magnificent and engrossing, this is a deep dive into one of the most fascinating and clandestine mysteries, which O’Keefe has cracked open. With extensive research, he produces a captivating and revealing narrative full of intricate detail and written in an accessible and flowing manner. Much of the information is new and I can safely say this will appeal to those interested in history, in particular, that of WWII, and those who find strange and enduring mysteries compelling. A compulsive, informative and eminently readable book, One Day in August is a multilayered and deeply thrilling expose.
Was this review helpful?
This book is about the disastrous Dieppe Raid in 1942. David O’Keefe, a Canadian historian, makes a convincing case that raid was planned to try and seize Enigma machines and the accompanying codebooks from the German Naval HQ in the town and from armed trawlers and other vessels in the harbour. It has previously been published in Canada, appropriately as most of the troops involved were Canadian.

The book divides into two parts. The first deals with the background information on naval signals intelligence (SIGINT). As is now known, the British codebreaking organisation at Bletchley Park had broken the German naval code and for much of 1941 and up to early 1942 was able to read most German signals which were sent on a three rotor Enigma encrypting machine. Most importantly, it enabled the British to re-route Atlantic conveys as we they knew about the whereabouts of the German U Boat “Wolf packs”. In early 1942, the Germans began to introduce a new four rota Enigma machine that Bletchley Park were unable to crack. British losses in the Atlantic rose to unsustainable levels and the Americans who had just entered the war following the attack on Pearl Harbour also suffered heavy losses. British Naval Intelligence was desperate to seize one of these machines and their accompanying codebooks and instructions.

The second part of the book covers the raid itself, a complex operation involving Naval Intelligence, Combined Operations, the Canadian Army, the Royal Navy, the RAF, the Royal Marines and American marines. It was repulsed with heavy casualties by a well organised German defence. 

At the time, the operation was regarded as a futile loss for life, organised mainly to tie down German troops on the Atlantic coast to assist the Soviet Union and to gain experience of amphibious landings. Now that the secret work of Bletchley Park is known about and many previously classified documents have been released, Professor O’Keefe had put together exhaustive research in British, American and Canadian archives to show that there was an important imperative to stage the raid even though it was unsuccessful. 

An interesting part of the narrative is the role of Ian Fleming, the future author of James Bond. He was never a spy but played a significant role in British Naval Intelligence during the war. He was the personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence, and acted as his liaison officer with other intelligence organisations.    

I found this book an intriguing read. Having visited Bletchley Park, I was aware of some of the SIGINT background but knew little about the planning of the raid. Accounts of the raid written after the war were either written by people who were unaware of Bletchley Park’s work, or if they were, were bound by the Official Secrets Act and said nothing about it. This book sets the record straight and would be of interest to those with an interest in wartime intelligence or the Canadian Army.
Was this review helpful?