The Blood of Others: Alan Bardos Interviews Graham Hurley

The two novelists discuss the Dieppe Raid and the history behind Hurley's new novel.
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Graham Hurley your new novel The Blood of Others, is a thriller about the disastrous raid on Dieppe in August 1942. What was it that drew you to the story?

A while ago, as a documentary producer with ITV, I made a series of revisionist films to mark various WW2 anniversaries. The first of them, Comrades in Arms? explored the multiple flashpoints between the French and the BEF on the retreat to Dunkirk.  Another offered an account of the fallings-out between the Americans and the Brits after the D-Day landings.  The Wars Within had lots to say about Eisenhower and Montgomery, but the much smaller episode that really drew my attention was the Dieppe Raid, on 19th August, 1942.

The question I’ve always asked myself is what really happened on that bleakest of days?  My WW2 collection, The Spoils of War, has won decent reviews and Book Eight The Blood of Others gave me a chance to come up with an answer.

What do you think went wrong with the Dieppe raid? If the task force hadn’t bumped into a German convoy on the way there and lost the element of surprise, would the operation have succeeded, or was it doomed from conception?

Mountbatten inspecting his ratings.

Key to the operation – initially code-named Rutter – was the supremo of the new Combined Operations.  Combined Ops was headed by Louis Mountbatten, hastily promoted Vice-Admiral after a rather chequered career as Captain of HMS Kelly, a destroyer eventually sunk off Crete.  Mountbatten had impeccable connections in every corner of the establishment, including royalty, and was a man of unbounded ambition (and no little vanity).

By 1942, Combined Ops had chalked up some decent results  but on a smallish scale.  With the Russians banging the table for a Second Front on mainland Europe, Churchill knew any kind of permanent lodgement was out of the question and therefore warmed to the notion of a brief awayday excursion to a French port to storm ashore, kill lots of Germans, seize booty, and retire on the next tide.

Alas, there were two major problems.  The first was Dieppe itself. Geography had already turned the town into a near-perfect fortress. The second was that Operation ‘Rutter’ – the raid’s first incarnation – had been cancelled in July due to poor weather plus the discovery by the Luftwaffe of key elements of the Dieppe fleet at anchor in the Solent.

There was only one monthly tidal window remaining before the weather made the crossing impossible and the military consensus argued for the raid to be abandoned but Mountbatten was at his most persuasive in the counsels of the mighty. The Dieppe Raid was rebadged as Operation Jubilee and departed on the night of 18th August. The rest, alas, is history.

Was Lord Mountbatten to blame for the failure of the Dieppe Raid?

The short answer, I suspect, is yes.  Mountbatten had enormous self-belief, his men worshipped him, and he was convinced that a minute-by-minute assault schedule could deliver six thousand Canadian troops in perfect working order, flanked by Brit Commando landings to silence heavy artillery, and thus give the Germans a very black eye. This would serve as a trial run for the much bigger invasion that had to come later, in which Mountbatten might play a leading role.  What he forgot is the incontestable fact that no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. This is a failure at the tactical level.

Do you think a comparison can be drawn between the Dieppe raid and the Gallipoli landings in 1915; with the need to carry out a complex and risky combined operation to relive pressure on Russia?

Neat suggestion. I suspect the answer is probably yes.

There is a very interesting storyline showing the raid from the perspective of German Intelligence, laying a subtle trap, how much of that is based on historical fact?

The answer is very little. In the interests of shedding light on the episode as a whole, I’ve taken fictional liberties thanks to Willi Schultz but what I suspect is incontestable is the fact that the cancellation of Operation Rutter sounded an important alarm bell with the garrison in Dieppe. It was no accident that six thousand Canadians faced a wall of fire as they tried to make it as far as the sea wall.

The Blood of Others is the eighth book of your Spoils of War series, which is a non-chronological series about World War 2 with reoccurring characters. I think that’s a great way to write a series, but it must be incredibly difficult to organise over eight novels. Did you write detailed character arcs and did you know what each book was going to be about when you started the series?

The answer to each of your questions is no.  Like you, I suspect, I relish the freedom of being able to alight on any episode in the war that arouses my interest, regardless of the chronology, but I have no masterplan for the series as a whole, other than to keep the writing as fresh as possible, and neither do I burden my guys with detailed character arcs.

The Dieppe Raid was a forlorn hope, would you say it’s a theme that runs through your series?

The bloodier consequences of hope eternal, poor planning, and the sheer efficiency of high explosive are definitely themes that run through the series (now neatly rebadged as ‘The Collection’). I remember reading Alistair Maclean’s HMS Ulysses when I was eleven and being moved to tears by the sheer weariness of men battling the odds on the Russian convoys.  Thanks to Maclean (who drew on firsthand experience), this had the taste and the smell of real life and sixty years later nothing has persuaded me that war represents anything but the grotesque failure of politicians to come up with a better solution.

Is there going to be a ninth novel, if so can you share any details?

The next novel in the collection is Dead Ground, which explores the background and outcomes of Operation Felix, the German bid to kick the Brits off the Rock of Gibraltar after Hitler’s armies had occupied most of Europe in May/June 1940.  It’s an episode about which I knew nothing, but the more deeply I read, the more I sensed that it was perfect for The Spoils of War.

Graham Hurley is the author of the The Blood of Others part of The Spoils of War series. Alan Bardos is the author of The Assassins, First World War novel published by Sharpe Books.


Graham Hurley

Graham Hurley

Graham Hurley