Friday, December 17, 2010



14/18 NOV 1941
“It was a brilliant operation and with great audacity” Rommel

Among the troops of the 8th British Army great admiration existed for Rommel and their feats. In only two months, Rommel had radically changed the course of the African war, forcing General Wavell's army, that attacked, to retreat, and to combat in the defensive. Therefore, the General Auchinleck was sent to substitute Wavell. For her time, the General Alan Cunningham, person in charge of driving the general offensive against the German positions on November 18, had the idea of previously eliminating Rommel, by a stealthy and effective ambush. Something very daring, for certain.

If we get to eliminate him anyway that it is - he said - we will get the confusion in Afrika Korps. And it was as soon as, disposed to execute the idea, some young officers proposed a reckless action plan. It was known, certainly, that Rommel had his HQ in Sidi Rafa's place, 375 km behind the German lines, and 18 km of the sea. The access to the place was possible by sea or by the parallel highway to the coast. Attacking Sidi rafa the HQ could be destroyed and Rommel killed .

Cunningham approved the idea immediately. It was that the beginning of the Operation Flipper. An exceptional plan, of a nonparalel audacity, to be executed in the dawn of November 18. In this point a subject appeared: Who will command the operation?

The answer was not long. There were among them an authentic follower of the hunt to the foxes. It was Lt. Col. Geoffrey Charles Ticker Keyes, of the 2th Regiment of the Real Dragons. Former-student of Eton, and belonging to an aristocratic British family, Keyes showed to the informed being: - I am right of the success, if they entrust me the mission...

Disposed the plans for the operation, he was determined the following: will be used, in the action, three military detachment. The first, commanded by Keyes, would attack Rommel's house, half kilometer to west of the city, and the German HQ that was in Beda Littoria. The second military detachment under Lieutenant Southerland's command, would assault the Italian HQ in Cirene, and it would destroy the phone and telegraphic communications. There was a third group commanded by Jock Haselden that would sabotage the Italian Intelligence Office in Appolonia and communications between Faidia and Lamdula and finally general sabotage actions in the Axis rear. Two submarines, Tobray and Talisman, would be assigned of the soldiers' transport.

The group was largely composed of the members of the LRDG, SAS and SBS.

At the 20 hours of Friday, November 14, 1941, the submarines left the port. It is 22, when the men met in the covered with the submarine. Keyes, with serenity and British blood-cold, ordered to open several reserved bottles of champagne for the occasion. At the 23 hours, the time began to worsen. Suddenly s machines stopped. It was made silence. The men arose to the bridge. The visibility was scarce. The beach appeared cut out in the distance, among the shadows.

Keyes consulted his clock. It was the established hour. They should disembark. Quickly they appeared the eraser boats. They were inflated with bicycle pump. Then, played to the sea. Each boat had capacity for two men. The disembarkation, that in the trainings if it made in one hour, it delayed six.

On Saturday, November 15, all stayed occult in a close forest to the coast. On that same afternoon, it began to rain. At nightfall of the following day, at the 20 hours, they arrive at 8 km of Sidi Rafa. They decided to stay overnight at a cave. In the distance, in the middle of a small forest, on a hill, raised a construction of two floors. Rommel would be there.

On November 17, at the 18 hours, Keyes consulted his clock. They lacked six hours to begin the operation. It still rained. All men maintained tense, ready for the adventure, prepared for the fox hunt...

waited like this until midnight. When the clock made an appointment 12, the soldiers left the refuge, under the rain. Three of them should disable the electric installation. Five would watch outside. The rest would control the neighboring huts. Close to Keyes marched Campbell, Coulthread, Drori and Brodie. They crawled until an empty room. Several doors opened up on both sides. For which to enter?

Trps "Cocky" Leggale, Bill Calderwood and Tom Fraser in a tent at Geneifa. Fraser was later killed in the Rommel Raid. (picture source unknown)

Suddenly one opened up and a German soldier appeared, in unworried attitude. He was immobile. He recovered immediately and opened the mouth to scream. But Campbell, fast as a ray, rushed on him and it dropped it with a well-aimed blow of his dagger. The soldier fell on a table, dragging in the fall, a crystal container, that broke into pieces. Keyes, understanding the risk of the incident, that he made committing all the success of the mission, hurried for another door and open quickly. Inside of the room was a group of German soldiers, seated around of a table. Didn't they listen the noise? So much worse for them. It threw a grenade that took in his right hand and threw threw himself in the ground. But, on that same moment, a machine gun discharge was shot. A German soldier kill him.

Her sacrifice had been useless. As well to the one of is comrades. In fact, on that same moment, Rommel was very far away from there...

Of the entire force only Col. Laycock and Sargeant Terry made it back to British lines after 37 days in the hills of Cyrenaica. The remainder of the force were either taken prisoner or killed by hostile Arabs. It later transpired that Rommel had never used the building raided by Keyes although at one point he had used the original building but only as a logistics HQ. In any event he had been in Rome and did not return to North Africa until the 18th. Jock Haselden and his men completed their demolition task and successfully returned to Allied lines courtesy of the Long Range Desert Group. The raid was largely unsuccessful since few of its objectives were achieved and virtually all the men involved from Middle East was being pursued by both Italian and DAK patrols as well as by pro-Axis Libyans. This was the "only" official "Raid on Rommel" during the North African campaign.

On November 18, Rommel knew about the happened. Immediately gave order to his chaplain, priest Rudolf Dalmrath, that drove to Sidi Rafa, to give a Christian grave to Keyes. After a trip of 36 hours, the priest, arrived on time for the funeral. An official put in the tomb a small crown. Then, a cross improvised with branches of cypresses. On the cross, a paper with the following sayings: "In the name of Rommel".

With the contribution of Arthur P. Sekula

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