David O'Keefe (historian)

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David O'Keefe
Born(1967-02-09)February 9, 1967
Alma mater
OccupationHistorian, professor
Home townRigaud, Quebec

David R. O'Keefe (born February 9, 1967) is a Canadian historian, television presenter, and writer.[1] His cutting-edge research gleaning insight into the once-classified world of the signals intelligence apparatus known as Ultra employed by Allied High Command throughout the Second World War has earned him praise among his contemporaries.

O'Keefe presents history programs including the popular television show War Junk alongside Gemini nominated and Emmy award-winning producer and director Wayne Abbott.[2] His passion to convey the Canadian military narrative to a wide-reaching audience has garnered success. He has appeared on many television and radio networks, including: CBC Radio, Global Television, CTV Television Network, UKTV Network and History TV channel.


O'Keefe studied at Concordia and McGill Universities in Montreal before attending the University of Ottawa for his graduate studies. He remained at the University of Ottawa for four years as a research assistant and lecturer on Military and Diplomatic History before teaching at the College level in Montreal as a professor of Modern and Military History. Today, O'Keefe teaches history at the prestigious Marianopolis College in Westmount, Quebec.


O'Keefe served as an infantry officer in the Royal Highland Regiment (The Black Watch of Canada) in Montreal, and was later employed as their historian for nearly a decade. In addition, he worked as a Signals Intelligence specialist for the Department of National Defence and conducted research for the Official History of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War. O'Keefe has extensive research experience in government and private archival repositories in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. O'Keefe's publications include highly influential articles in Canadian Defence Quarterly, the Journal of Canadian Military History, and the Canadian Army Journal to name but a few, including a chapter in Great War Commands: Historical Perspective on Canadian Army Leadership 1914–1918. Recently, O’Keefe was signed by Knopf (Random House) Canada Publishers to write his first full-length monograph on the Dieppe Raid. His research on the Dieppe Raid began almost two decades ago and has continued throughout his graduate work and his career as an academic and documentarian.

In addition to his academic pursuits, O'Keefe has served as a historian for History Television in Canada for 15 years and appeared on CBC Radio, Global Television, CTV Television Network, UKTV Network in Great Britain. During his time with History Television, he was worked on numerous television documentaries and publications to his credit, including: the highly rated Camp X (1999); Murder in Normandy: The Trial of Kurt Meyer (1999); and Forced March to Freedom (2001) for Academy Award-nominated David Paperny Productions.[3] In 2002, he joined forces with Emmy award-winner Wayne Abbott for the Gemini-nominated four-part series, From a Place Called War. This partnership, which has now spanned a decade, produced Black Watch: Massacre on Verrières Ridge for History Television; the two-part History Television program Bloody Normandy and Bloody Victory; The Secret War Files for History Television; Battle of the Mace; and most recently, Dieppe Uncovered, and the television series, War Junk, both for History Television. He is currently in discussions for a TV series based on his path-breaking research into Ultra and its impact on the history of the Second World War.


One Day in August[edit]

One Day in August: The Untold Story Behind Canada’s Tragedy at Dieppe re-examines the disastrous raid at Dieppe, France, in light of new discoveries, and attempts to finally uncover the real reasons behind a seemingly senseless tragedy. On August 19, 1942, Allied soldiers launched an attack against German forces on the beaches of Dieppe. The assault was a major disaster, resulting in the loss of 907 Canadian soldiers. With no substantial explanation or purpose and an incredibly high casualty rate, the battle is regarded as one of the most controversial events of the Second World War. Ultimately, One Day in August promotes a new understanding of this seminal moment in Canada's history.

David spent two decades delving into the research surrounding Dieppe. Initially, he wanted to stay far away from that event. However, the tragedy of Dieppe is ubiquitous in Canadian military history; dealing with it was simply inevitable. On a research trip in 1995, he stumbled across a single document that briefly mentioned the Dieppe raid. Being familiar with the story, he immediately grasped the potential significance of what he had just found. This one document grew into 150,000 pages of research. Though in 1995, much of the documentation surrounding this event was still highly classified, David continued to follow it as closely as he could, before approaching the British government. The evidence he collected, and the possible impact it could have, pushed the government to accelerate their declassification process, which not only confirmed David's suspicions, but opened the door to more than he had ever anticipated. "It was much more a fundamental shift than I ever expected in this story."

Essentially, David's research connected the Dieppe raid to the activity undertaken at Bletchley Park, the center of the British government's code-breaking efforts. Cryptographers there had already managed to crack the German Enigma machine, allowing them to gain crucial naval intelligence. However, in 1942 the Germans introduced a new four-rotor Enigma machine, which was, as David describes "bigger, badder and literally blacked out Bletchley Park for 10 months. The effects of that were almost catastrophic, particularly in the Battle of the Atlantic, the most vital of all campaigns." According to David's research, the Dieppe raid was possibly meant as cover for a smaller team tasked with a "pinch" mission – going into enemy territory and capturing material related to the new 4-rotor Enigma machine.

At the time, this information was classified Ultra Secret, and remained so for 70 years. It took so long to declassify in part because of the scale of the disaster, but also because "…cryptography is so important in this particular day and age, that they didn't really want to tip people off about what they were doing and how they were doing it." In the meantime, most people were at a loss to find an explanation that could justify launching an operation that seemed doomed from the start. Upon the release of One Day in August, much of the historical community was caught off guard, because of the sheer amount of research as well as the huge shift in thinking prompted by this discovery. "For years we were trying to figure out what was the intent behind the raid at Dieppe – the most controversial raid in Canadian history and in the Second World War." Up until now, there were only excuses. The connection to a pinch mission will forever reframe the way we think about Dieppe and give new meaning to that ill-fated battle.

Publication credits[edit]

  • "It Means Men's Lives: Training, Preparation and Innovation for Battle – the case of Major-General Loomis 1917" – article in Canada's Red Hackle, (Spring 2009)
  • "War’s Fickle Fate: The Sammy Nichol Saga" – article in Esprit de Corps Volume 15, Issue 1 (Spring 2008)
  • "With Blinders On: The Black Watch and the Battle for Spycker, Sept 12–14, 1944" in Canadian Army Journal (Spring 2008)
  • "A Brutal Soul-Destroying Business: Brigadier-General F.O.W. Loomis and the Question of "Impersonal Generalship" in Godefroy", A. ed. Great War Commands: Historical Perspectives on Canadian Army Leadership, 1914–1918 (2010)
  • "Double Edged Sword Part I: Ultra and Operation Totalize, Normandy, August 8, 1944" in Canadian Army Journal Vol. 12 No 3, (Winter 2010) 85–93
  • "Double Edged Sword Part II: Ultra and Operation Totalize, Normandy, August 8, 1944" in Canadian Army Journal (Forthcoming Summer 2013)
  • "Voices from Vimy: The Lost Battle Diary of Major-Gen F.O.W. Loomi"– article in Canada's Red Hackle (Summer 2007)
  • "Pushing their Necks Out: Ultra and the Black Watch at May-sur-Orne, Normandy August 5, 1944" – article in Canadian Military History (Spring 2006)[4]
  • "The Eleventh Hour: Intelligence and the Black Watch during Operation Spring July 25, 1944" – article in Canada's Red Hackle (Spring 2005)
  • Canadian Defence Quarterly, Toronto, Ontario, Article: "Fortune's Fate: The Question of Operational Intelligence for Operation "Spring" – July 25, 1944". (Spring 1995 issue)
  • Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University May 1996 – Conference Paper: "The Other Side of the Hill: Operational Intelligence and the Canadian Attack at Verriéres Ridge, July 25, 1944"


  • Bedford St. Martins History of Western Civilization PowerPoint lecture series for Hunt, Making of the West (2001)
  • Hudson Historical Society, Hudson Quebec, Spring, 2007. "Lecture: Ridges are not Kind to Infantry: The Black Watch at Verriéres Ridge."
  • Canadian Armed Forces, Directorate of Land Concepts and Designs, Kingston, Ontario. Spring, 2009 Lecture: "Anatomy of Disaster: The Black Watch at Verriéres Ridge."

War Junk[edit]

War Junk first aired July 2012 on History TV and currently under production in its 4th season.[5] War Junk features Canada's preeminent military history team of historian David O'Keefe and director co-host Wayne Abbott who connect the past with the present as they explore battlefields reuniting lost personal artifacts with relatives while delivering evocative stories of personal and collective heroism.

David and Wayne share their emotional and gratifying journeys conveying the human side of conflict in a palpable and meaningful way. Episodes are based on their search through bunkers, pillboxes and gun positions aiming to uncover personnel items with inscriptions etched by past owners.

Awards and honours[edit]

O'Keefe is a recipient of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal[6] awarded by then Minister of Veterans Affairs, Honourable Steven Blaney for his services to Canada in the field of historical research on the Dieppe Raid.


  1. ^ "One Day in August (2013)". RBC Taylor Prize. Knopf Canada. March 2, 2015. Retrieved April 16, 2015.
  2. ^ http://www.history.ca/war-junk/ War Junk History TV Canada. Retrieved April 15, 2016
  3. ^ David Paperny Films, Inc.. Retrieved April 16, 2016
  4. ^ Pushing Their Necks Out": Ultra, The Black Watch, and Command Relations, May-sur-Orne, Normandy, 5 August 1944. March 2, 2006. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
  5. ^ War Junk. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
  6. ^ Minister Steven Blaney Hosts a Viewing of Dieppe Uncovered. November 6, 2012. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved January 21, 2015.

External links[edit]