- Operation Flipper
Operation Flipper Part of Western Desert Campaign Date 10-18 November, 1941 Location Libya Result British objectives not achieved,
Belligerents United Kingdom Nazi Germany Commanders and leaders Robert Laycock
Geoffrey Keyes †
Erwin Rommel Casualties and losses 29 killed or captured
Operation Flipper was a British commando raid, during the Second World War, that included among its objectives an attack on the headquarters of Erwin Rommel, the commander of the Axis forces in North Africa. It was timed to strike on the night of 17/18 November 1941, just before the start of Operation Crusader, a major British offensive. The mission was a total failure. Rommel had left the targeted house two weeks earlier, and all but two of the commandos who managed to get ashore were killed or captured.
- Rommel′s headquarters near Beda Littoria, some miles inland from Apollonia, Libya
- Italian headquarters at Cyrene
- an intelligence centre at Apollonia
- various communications facilities
One of the main goals was to kill Rommel himself. This was intended to disrupt enemy organisation before the start of Crusader.
The overall operation was led by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Laycock. Lt. Col. Geoffrey Keyes—who had been present throughout the planning stage—selected the most hazardous task for himself: the assault on Rommel′s headquarters.
On 10 November, two submarines left Alexandria. HMS Torbay carried Keyes, Captain Campbell, Lieutenant Cook, and 25 men, while HMS Talisman transported Laycock, Capt. Glennie, Lt. Sutherland, and 25 men. On the night of 14/15 November 1941, Keyes′ detachment landed on the beach of Hamama (in some sources Hamma), some 250 mi (400 km) behind enemy lines. There, they made contact with Capt. Haselden, Lt. Ingles, and Corporal Severn, inserted earlier by the Long Range Desert Group for reconnaissance. The weather deteriorated and Laycock's group had a much more difficult time getting ashore. Only Laycock and seven men made it; the rest were stranded on Talisman. Thus, with only 36 of the 59 men available, a change of plan was required. Instead of four detachments attacking separate targets, there would only be two. Laycock remained at the rendezvous point with some of his men in the hope that the rest would be able to debark. Keyes led his group for the attack on Rommel′s headquarters, while Lt. Cook took six men to destroy communications facilities.
Shortly before first light, Keyes′ men moved to a wadi, where they sheltered during daylight. After dark on the second night, the detachment moved off, but their Arab guide refused to accompany the party in the deteriorating weather. Keyes then led his men up a 1,800 ft (550 m) climb followed by an approach march of 18 mi (29 km) in pitch darkness and torrential rain. Hiding during daylight, the detachment advanced to within a few hundred yards of the objective by 22:00 on the third night.
At 23:59, Keyes led his party past sentries and other defences up to the house. Unable to find an open window or door, Keyes took advantage of Campbell′s excellent German by having him pound on the front door and demand entrance. The soldier who opened the door was set upon by Keyes and Campbell, but Campbell had to shoot him. The noise alerted the other German occupants to their presence, fighting broke out, and Keyes was shot. He was taken outside and attended to, but quickly died. Capt. Campbell was then shot in the leg by one of his own men when he ventured around a corner, having previously given his private orders to shoot on sight. With no other option, he passed command to Terry and remained behind. Terry gathered the raiding team together and retreated.
Terry and 17 men rejoined Laycock at the beach. Cook′s detachment did not return. It proved impossible to re-embark on the submarines, so they waited for the weather to improve. However, they were discovered and the enemy began gathering and firing on them. Aware that they could not hope to stand off the large force that was surely being organized, Laycock ordered his men to scatter in small groups. However, only Laycock and Terry made it to safety after 37 days in the desert. The rest were either killed or captured.
Keyes received a burial with full military honours in a local Catholic cemetery on Rommel′s orders. For his actions, Keyes was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. A fictionalized version of the raid is in The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel in which nearly a dozen-not four-Germans are shown being killed during the raid
- ^ Jones, Tim (2006). SAS Zero Hour: the Secret Origins of the Special Air Service. London: Greenhill Books. p. 197. ISBN 1853676691. http://books.google.ca/books?id=xVE1thAtu_4C&pg=PA197&lpg=PA197&dq=HMS+Talisman+Operation+Flipper&source=bl&ots=srbUZGDF4L&sig=7vrbtD_bKm3z8zSHlrlrGkvnYLs&hl=en&ei=WYQwSoHxMYKEtAOiz7jRAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9#PPA197,M1.
- ^ a b c Jones, Tim (2006). SAS Zero Hour: the Secret Origins of the Special Air Service. London: Greenhill Books. p. 198. ISBN 1853676691. http://books.google.ca/books?id=xVE1thAtu_4C&pg=PA197&lpg=PA197&dq=HMS+Talisman+Operation+Flipper&source=bl&ots=srbUZGDF4L&sig=7vrbtD_bKm3z8zSHlrlrGkvnYLs&hl=en&ei=WYQwSoHxMYKEtAOiz7jRAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9#PPA198,M1.
- Asher, Michael (2004). Get Rommel: The Secret British Mission to Kill Hitler's Greatest General. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9780297846857.
- Slee, Geoff. "Operation Flipper - Rommel's HQ - 14/18 NOV 1941". http://www.combinedops.com/Operation%20Flipper.htm. (combinedops.com)
- "Operation Flipper - the Raid on Rommel's HQ". http://www.combinedops.com/Black%20Hackle.htm#Operation%20Flipper%20-%20the%20Raid%20on%20Rommel%27s%20HQ. (combinedops.com)
British Commando raids of the Second World War A B C D EExporter F G H I J K L M N P R S T British Commandos · List of Commando raids on the Atlantic wall
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