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Operation "Flipper" to kill Rommel

The spring and summer of 1941 brought England humiliating defeat in the Mediterranean basin. Most of the commando units ceased to exist at the beginning of the year, and their remains were combined into an improvised Layforce structure, which even included Jews and Arabs. The Layforce brigade in May 1941 was sent to fight for Crete. Here, scattered commandos among the panic Allies troops shared the fate of those who had the hardest part to fight with the airborne landing of the Germans.

The largest unit commandos under the command of Colonel Laycock served as a cover for the departure of the remnants of the English corps from the island. A few lucky people, escaping bullets and precipices in the mountains, finally reached the fishing village of Sfakion, from where the royal fleet was to take them, found it empty, without a single ship. They were left to the enemy - a typical story of cover-ups sentenced to death for the salvation of the main forces. But even then the commandos of the Allies did not lose heart. Under the leadership of Laycock, repulsing the attacks of German patrols, they quickly repaired several abandoned barges and began a risky voyage towards Egypt, breaking about 700 km.

British commandos in the North Africa

The return of the deceased commandos did not save them from disbanding. Some were transported to England, where they were attached to other special forces, some became instructors. Someone was sent to the garrisons of Malta, Cyprus, Lebanon, and Egypt. Most of them again joined back their first and ex-units. In conditions of deep defenses, with a chronic shortage of people to keep the extended front in Libya, the command did not see any reason to allow entire battalions of extremely experienced soldiers only occasionally to demonstrate their capabilities in widely advertised operations.


Only a few small commando units remained, among which the largest consisted of 59 men and belonged to the 8th Army. The commander was still the same Laycock, who was trying to revive his still powerful brigade. The fate of this unit remained unreliable. There were voices in favor of disbanding. Not surprisingly, his staff was constantly thinking about how to raise its prestige. In 1941, there was only one way to do so - the battles. Hence, it was necessary to prepare and conduct an important military operation, for the consequences would be felt by the entire British army in the area.


Soon, the idea of Laycock Deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Keyes, was advanced, and he proposed simultaneously attacking several objects in Libya, located far from the front line. The main purpose of Keyes chose a villa in the town of Beda Littoria. Intelligence established that there was the residence of the commander of the Afrika Korps, Erwin Rommel. Commandos hoped that the removal of an extraordinarily gifted general would have a devastating effect on all German and Italian forces in Africa. Laycock had no problems agreeing to such an operation, and sure he was promised to be supported in such an operation.


Preparations of the operation "Flipper" began and, above all, thorough reconnaissance was needed. Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) which conducted raids in the Sahara often in enemy uniforms or in Arabian clothes, was connected to the operation. The soldiers of this unit and its commander, Captain Haslden, managed to reach the nearby neighborhoods of the buildings where German headquarters were located. They gave a detailed topography of the terrain, took photographs of the houses, described the regime and habits of guardians, the route of patrols. This inspired hope for success.


An important problem was the method of approaching assault groups to the point. Parachute assault was impossible, as the people of Laycock did not receive appropriate training. Penetration from the desert, as Haslden and his people did, was also considered unreal - there were no skills for a long stay in the desert. There was only a sea route, which they confirmed at the end. The transfer was decided on submarines, using the experience of the Courtney commandos - specialists in kayak operations. Immediately, 4 experienced scouts and equipment were sent to North.


In the attack on the residence of Rommel were to participate 59 commandos, divided into 4 groups. It was planned to destroy simultaneously 3 targets: the Italian headquarters, the intelligence center in Apollonia and the communication centers. On November 10, 1941, in the evening, operation "Flipper" began: 2 submarines departed from the seaport in Alexandria: HMS Torbay and HMS Talisman. In the cramped place, along with the team, there were 59 commandos, various weapons, kayaks and other military equipment.


When the submarines reached the destination where the landing was to begin, according to the plan, 2 canoeists sailed the first to the land - Lieutenant Ingles and Corporal Severn, in order to establish communication with the LRDG who was waiting on the shore. It happened on November 14 in the evening. Soon the signal lights flashed from the shore, and it was possible to begin the landing. At this time, the weather, still favorable to the British, began to deteriorate. The wind in the direction of the shore grew stronger, foam appeared on the waves. The conditions did not facilitate the movement on rubber pontoons. Laycock had serious fears before launching the landing. In the end, not wishing to violate the plan of the operation, he gave the order to begin. The first commandos came from the submarine HMS Torbay. It all started with the fact that 4 out of 6 inflatable boats washed away into the sea. Several hours they were caught and again prepared for the descent. As a result, the group's landing under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Keyes turned into a five-hour battle with a mounting storm. It was not only time lost, but also a significant part of the combat equipment and the food stock.


When it was the turn of the Laycock group from the HMS Talisman, the dawn was approaching, the natural disguise was over. It was necessary to interrupt the landing, but Laycock decided to take a chance and convinced the submarine captain that he was right. But his group was even less fortunate. Boats flung, they turned over, pouring out all the inventory. Most barely surviving fatigue soldiers returned to the saving board of HMS Talisman with the help of the team. Time was not enough, the horizon was bright, the boat could be found at any moment, which would have catastrophic consequences not only for commandos group, but for the entire operation.

Commandos 1941


A total of 36 commandos happened on the Libyan coast, just over half of the planned number of the team members. The soldiers, together with the Arab guides, immediately began to clean up the traces of the landing forces. Rubber boats buried in the sand, heavy weapons and food supplies moved to the next ravines and caves. Only now they could look for shelter for themselves. They were hollows in the rocks, flooded with streams of rain. Very soon, the condition of the future Rommel "killers" was regrettable. Wet and exhausted in the sea, they did not have protection from the cold and rain. The rain intensified, and the storm did not allow the landing of the rest of members.


In such circumstances, Laycock decided to conduct the operation on a limited scale by the forces on the shore. He divided them into 3 groups. The main group was led by Keyes and Captain Campbell. Together with 17 soldiers, they were supposed to kill Rommel. Senior Lieutenant Cook and 6 commandos received orders to paralyze the radio connection in the vicinity. Laycock with the rest of the people had to stay in place to guard the landing site, equipment and receiving reinforcements. On November 15 at 19.00 the assault groups led by the Arabs moved towards the enemy headquarters.


Keyes's group at night from November 16 to November 17 reached the point at 15 km from Bede Littoria. All day they spent between rocks, hiding from the enemy, and even more from the rain. Grinning with teeth and scarcely resisting coughing and cursing, they warmed themselves with their own warmth.


In the evening, with new guides, but with even worse forebodings, they began to move towards the point of the attack. This time they were happy with the rain and darkness, which concealed them, drowned out the steps and probably dulled the guard's vigilance. A mile from the trouble in the gaps of the clouds appeared the moon. In the moonlight, the guide Bedouin pointed to the coveted goal - a complex of buildings surrounded by fluffy palms and a thickets. Commandos said good-bye to him, since he did not want to go any further, and started creeping up to complex of houses in small groups.


At this point, there was an incident that could destroy all plans: Campbell heard the approaching voices. He listened and stood with his people. A minute later they realized that there were numerous Arabs who were in the service in the Italian army. From shooting they were separated only seconds. Campbell jumped out of the darkness and in the clean German began to scold the patrol for walking near German apartments and noise. Confused Arabs, justifying themselves in several languages, hastily retired, confident that they were breaking the peace of the German ally.


Five minutes before midnight the commandos took their initial positions. Keyes, Campbell, Sergeant Terry and 2 more soldiers, went to the parking lot and the garden surrounding the villa of Rommel, intending to eliminate those who would run through the windows. The other 3 commandos were supposed to turn off the electricity, 4 guys remained on driveways with machine guns, and 2 of them were waiting for the officers from the nearest hotel.

Commandos kills Rommel


The subsequent action was developed at lightning speed. Keyes gave a sign with his hand to begin the action. Together with his 4 fighters, he rushed to the front door of the villa, but did not notice a single guard. The door did not open. Again Campbell activated with his excellent German. He knocked energetically on the door, and, pretending to be a courier with urgent news, demanded to be admitted. In his right hand he had a knife and in his left pistol. A sleepy guard, as if he felt his fate and reluctantly opened the door, simultaneously raising the machine gun. Through a narrow slit they could not use a knife. Since German suspected something, he removed the weapon from the fuse, the commandos had to shoot. The German collapsed with a terrible noise on the marble flooring. Commandos jumped over him and found themselves in a large hall. From the second floor, 2 officers fled, pulling out the guns. Terry killed them with a burst of Thompson. The officers were still rolling down the stairs, but Keyes and Campbell were already at the door of the next room. They started shooting through the door, but there was no answer. At the same time, the light went off.


From the next room, the Germans opened fire also through the door - the instigator of the operation, Keyes, fell dead. Grenades were thrown inside, then the commandos gave an automatic burst of fire. A similar procedure was repeated in the rest of the premises until they were convinced that there was not a single living German inside the villa. There was no time to search and identify Rommel anymore. Outside, the shooting was increasing from all sides. Campbell, who took over the command after the death of Keyes, ordered to retreat and throw the building with grenades to cause a fire. At the last minute of the fight, he was wounded in the leg, and he decided to give up so as not to delay the entire unit. Now the command was taken by Sergeant Terry, who splendidly organized the retreat. He managed to collect all the other commandos, set on fire and destroyed the villa, and then escape from the chase, using darkness and pouring rain. An experienced Sergeant was perfectly oriented on unfamiliar terrain and after a march, for 1 day he brought the subordinates to the place of the landing, where worried Laycock was waiting for them. The return of the attacking group with small losses overshadowed the death of everyone's beloved Keyes, and Cook's group also did not return. All consoled themselves with the possible death of Rommel. The next day passed in double expectation of the remaining commandos and favorable weather for landing on the boat. HMS Torbay signaled that the waves are too high. The submarine team sent some food on a drifting pontoon, which the wind brought to the shore.


On the afternoon of November 21, 1941, Germans and Italians appeared in the vicinity, immediately discovering the English. A fierce battle began, where chances of the commandos were minimal because at first they were cut off from the sea, and then from the only escape route. Laycock could only go deeper into the desert. He wanted to hide in the uninhabited mountains of Jebel El Akhdar, confuse the chase, and then make his way across the front line. However, the enemy, who had a significant advantage, upset the Colonel's plan. Only he and Sergeant Terry reached the mountains. The rest were killed or taken prisoner.

Libyan desert 1941


Laycock and Terry after 41 days of wandering through the desert and mountains reached the line of British troops. Only they survived. However, the most tragic thing for them was that the commandos attack did not reach the target. During the assault in Beda Littoria, Rommel was not in Libya. A few days before he flew to Rome to meet his wife and quietly celebrated his 50th birthday. From the German materials known that the British intelligence service was mistaken. In Beda Littoria Rommel never had a residence. The sly Desert Fox never even visited it. In Beda was the main apartment management of the German Afrika Korps. His personnel almost completely died, but it was not worth the death of one of the best units of English commandos.

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