The War Illustrated, No. 247, Vol. 10, December 6th 1946

fmi’ cnf Stories o f the War 1 tv to Id The Darin a R a i don Rom mel ’sM LJB I n 1940 and 1941 the plight of the Allies precluded any major inoffensive Europe and caused the world to turn its gaze upon the British Empire’s struggle in the Middle East. The campaigns in North Africa —initiated by Wavell and concluded gloriously by Alexander and Montgomery—destroyed the Italian Armies and were eventually to expel the Nazis from African soil, smarting under their first major defeat of the war. The fighting lasted many months, and as many heroic deeds are recorded in the annals of the soldiers of the Western Desert. None, however, is so worthy a story of British gallantry as the raid by the men of No. 1 1 Scottish Commando upon the residence and Headquarters of the General Officer Commanding the German Forces in North Africa, Field-Marshal Rommel. Late in 1941 a large-scale advance by the 8th Army was planned with the object of relieving Tobruk, then besieged for many months, and rolling back the Axis army with such heavy losses in men and material that the security of Egypt and our Mediter­ranean bases would be assured. At that time Colonel (later Major-General) Robert Laycock was flown out, on the instructions of the Prime Minister, to organize the Commandos but on his arrival there remained only No. 11 Unit, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Geoffrey Keyes, son of the famous Admiral who was at that time Director of Combined Operations. Laycock found Keyes engrossed upon a plan for raiding Rommel's Headquarters. He did not share Keyes’ enthusiasm, express­ing the opinion that “the chances of being evacuated after the operation were very slender, and ihe attack on General Rommel’s house in particular appeared to be desperate in the extreme. This attack, even if initially successful, meant almost certain death for those who took part in it.” But Keyes and his Commandos were not to be deterred. The elimination of Rommel might well crumple Axis resistance, and such a project 250 miles in the rear of the enemy, timed to coincide with the 8th Army's attack, was worth a gamble, however desperate the odds. Exhausting Landings Oil the Beach Accordingly, at 4 p.m. on Monday, November 10,1941, two officers and 25 other ranks, under Keyes’ command, embarked upon the submarine Torbay at Alexandria. Three days later—on the Thursday—they arrived off the selected beach and carried out a periscope recon­naissance of the surrounding area. The following day preparations were made for disembarkation, and at dusk the Torbay surfaced. The first seven rubber boats pulled away and after a few upsets soon reached the shore, where Senussi guides led the force to a cave. Owing to the increasing swell and the inexperience of some of the soldiers several of the remaining boats capsized many times. Eventually, however, all were landed, after an exhausting experience. According to the Torbay’s narrative, “Those of the crew who look part received avery severe buffeting while handling the boats alongside in the swell and nearly all of them were completely exhausted at the finish. No less splendid was the spirit of the soldiers under strange and even frightening conditions. They were quite undaunted by the setbacks experienced, and remained quietly determined to get on with the job.” During the landing the men had been soaked through, not only by their immersion in the sea but by heavy rain. A few hundred By KENNETH HARE-SCOTT LIEUT.-COL. GEOFFREY KEYES, V.C., M.C., led the raid on Rommel's H.Q. Warned that the attack meant almost certain death, he refused to be deterred. Front the painting hy Sidney Kendrick, by kind permission of Lady Keyes yards from the beach a cave afforded good shelter, and with the aid of afire, clothes were soon dried and spirits cheered. By 2 a.m. the landing was completed. Unfortunately, the second submarine with Col. Laycock’s party had not been so successful in making the beach, and only a handful of men were landed to reinforce those from the first submarine. During the evening the men rested, dried their clothes and fed themselves while Keyes continued to supervise the landing of stores and equipment. The morning of the 15th brought sunshine and an anxious moment. An enemy ambu­lance aircraft flew overhead at 800 feet, but failed to detect the party. As little more than half the original force had been able to land the plan for the attack needed modification and, in consultation with Laycock, Keyes spent the morning doing this. In the afternoon the new plan was explained to the men, and the evening was spent in opening, repacking, and distributing ammunition, explosives, and rations. A local Arab shepherd had been enrolled as a guide to substitute for two Senussi from the Arab Battalion who had failed to land. Inland March Over Rocky Tracks During the latter part of the afternoon more rain had fallen and it was a damp and cheerless company of men who offset at X p.m. on their march into the interior. The difficulty of the conditions and the spirit of determination which prevailed are best disclosed in this personal record of Captain Robin Campbell who was at Keyes’ elbow throughout the operation :“That night we reached the top of the first escarpment (which is half a mile inland) at about 9.15 p.m., I imagine, after a fairly stiff climb, and all that night we marched inland over extremely difficult going, mostly rock-strewn sheep tracks. Our guide left us at about midnight, fearing togo any farther in our company. Geoffrey then had the difficult task of finding the byway the aid of an indifferent Italian map, his compass and an occasional sight of the stars. Just before light he tousled the top of a small hill, arranged for relays of sentries, and ordered the rest of the party to disperse among the scrub for sleep.” Drizzle and a scare ushered in the next morning. The sound of excited shouting brought a report from a Palestinian soldier, who was a member of the parly, to the effect that the force was surrounded by armed Arabs. Rascally-looking Arabs brandishing short Italian rifles seemed everywhere, but they appeared neither particularly formidable nor implacably hos­tile, so Keyes gave the order for the chief to be brought to him for a talk. A few civilities were exchanged and, although a letter from the Chief of all the Senussi Tribes, instructing his subjects to co-operate, was unintelligible to a “Deputy Chief” ROMMEL'S HEADQUARTERS AT SIDI RAFA was 250 miles behind the German lines. To get within striking distance the Commandos had to accomplish a three-day journey by submarine and a landing in rubber boats through a heavy swell. Where the man is standing in this photograph are th2 steps leading to the door by which the raiders entered. PAGE 515 War Ojjice photograph
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