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

IN ROMMEL’S H.Q. :from the room with the open door (left) was fired the shot that killed the leader of the raiders, Lieut.-Col. Geoffrey Keyes. War OJJicc photograph .vho could not read, a promise was eventually made that at nightfall he would guide the force to a cave within a few hours1 march of their objective. Meanwhile, a kid would be prepared for them to eat. Lateran Arab boy, on instructions from his chief, produced cigarettes for Keyes’ men he had runoff and bought these from an Italian canteen while the meal was in progress! YVThen darkness fell the march continued,’* and two and a half hours later the cave which the Arab had mentioned was reached. It was roomy, dry, arid—apart from an appalling smell of goals—an ideal place to spend the rest of the night. At daybreak the party moved to a small wood, and here Keyes left Campbell in charge while he went off on a final reconnaissance with the Arab guide, Sergeant Terry, and Lieutenant Cook, who was to lead the party attacking a communications pylon near Rommel’s Head­quarters. The result is again best described in Campbell's own words :“Geoffrey told me that he had been able to sec in the distance the escarpment, about a mile from the summit of which lay Rommel's Headquarters and that he was going to try to prevail upon the Arab to send his boy to the village of Sidi Rafa (the Italian name for which is Bcda Littoria) to spy out the lie of the. Headquarters building and report on the number of troops he saw there, and soon, before making his final, detailed dis­positions for the attack. The boy offset after receiving careful instructions from Geoffrey, who had promised him a big reward if he brought back the desired in­formation. This proved a brilliant move, for when the boy returned a good many hours later Geoffrey was able to draw an excellent sketch map of the house and its surroundings, enabling him to make a detailed plan of attack and to give the amen good visual notion of our objective.” A thunderstorm and heavy rain which followed turned the coun­tryside to mud before the eyes of the party and spirits sank at the prospect of along, cold, wet and muddy march before reaching the starting point of a hazardous operation. The men passed the time eating, dozing, or collecting water from the dripping roof in ompty bully-beef tins. From the start the attack had been planned for midnight, November 17-18,1941, to coincide with the launching of the big inoffensive the Western Desert. In view of the state of the ground, Keyes decided to allow six hours to reach his objective. At 6 p.m. the company assembled with parade ground precision for the final stage of the operation, and at a whistle signal the march began. Rain continued and, ankle deep in mud, the men slipped and staggered through the night. Occasionally one would fall and the column would halt for his recovery. Another would lose touch with the man in front of him, and a reshuffle would mean further delay. Grim Encounter at Close Quarters At 10.30 p.m. the bottom of the escarpment was reached, and after a short rest the 250-foot climb of muddy turf with occasional protruding rocks was begun. A man slipped, and in striking his tommy-gun against a rock aroused watchdog. A stream of light came from the door of a hut as it was flung open, 100 yards away. The party crouched motionless. The dog received a rebuke, and presently the door closed and the march was resumed. At the summit Cook and his party detached themselves, and those who remained, about 30, continued along a path towards Rommel’s Head­quarters. At this point the guides could stand the strain no longer and fell back, haying been promised that their reward would be forthcoming when they linked up with the returning body at the conclusion of the operation. At 11.30 p.m. the outbuildings were reached, and Keyes with Sergeant Terry made the final reconnaissance of the building. Again a dog proved troublesome. His furious barking brought an Italian and an Arab from a hut, and it required Campbell's best German and his Palestinian interpreter's Italian to convince them that a “German ”patrol did not like being interrogated !When Keyes returned he led his men into the garden of the house and here again Campbell's own account can betaken up. “We followed him around the building onto a gravel sweep before a flight of steps at the top of which were glass-topped doors. Geoffrey ran up the steps. He was carrying a tommy-gun for which he needed both hands and, as far as I remember, I opened the door for him. Just inside we were confronted by a German in steel helmet and overcoat. Geoffrey at once closed with him, covering him with his tommy-gun. The •Great Stories o f the War Retold -fought and died with the valorous 8th Army, is now the grave (left fore­ground) of Lieut.-Col. Keyes. He was awarded the V.C. posthumously on June 19,1942. PAGE 516 War Ojfict photograph man seized the muzzle of Geoffrey’s gun and tried to wrest it from his grasp Before I or Terry could get round behind him he retreated, still holding onto GeoTrey, to a position with his back to the wall and his either side protected by the first ind second pair of doors at the entrance. Geoffrey could not draw a knife, and nei.her I nor Terry could gee round Geoffrey as the doors were in the way, so I shot the man with my ‘38 revolver, which I knew would make noiseless than Geoffrey’s tommy-gun. Geoffrey then gave the order to use tommy- guns and grenades since we had o presume that my revolver shots had been heard. “We found ourselves, when we had time to look round, in a large hall with a stone floor and stone stairway leading to the upper storeys and with a number of doors opening out of the hall. We heard a man in heavy boots clattering down the stairs, though we could not see him, or he us, ashe was hidden by a right-angle turn in the stairway. Ashe came to the turn and his feet came insight, Sergeant Terry fired a burst with his tommy-gun. The man fled away upstairs. Meanwhile, Geoffrey had opened one door and we looked in and saw it was empty. Geoffrey pointed to alight shining from the crack under the next door, and then flung it open. It opened towards him, and inside were about 10 Germans in steel helmets, some sitting and some standing. Geoffrey emptied his Colt ‘45 automatic, and 1 said, “Wait, I'll throw a grenade in.” He slammed the door shut and held it while I got the pin out of a grenade. 1 said, ‘Right !’and Geoffrey opened the door and I threw in the grenade which I saw roll in the middle of the floor. Died AsHe Was Carried Outside “Before Geoffrey could shut the door the Germans fired. A bullet struck GcofTrey just over the heart and he fell unconscious at the feet of myself and Sergeant Terry. I shut the door and immediately afterwards the grenade burst with a shattering explosion. This was followed by complete silence, and we could see that the light in the room had gone out. I decided Geoffrey had to be moved casein there was further infighting the building, so between us Sergeant ferry and I carried him outside and laid him on tjie grass verge by the side of the steps leading up to the front door. He must have died as we were carrying him outside, for when I fell his heart it had ceased to beat.” The men's spirits fell when they heard of their Colonel's death—his inspiring leader­ship gone. Almost immediately afterwards Campbell was shot through the leg, and subsequently taken prisoner. Terry mustered i he remainder of the party and began the long march back to join Laycock on the beach. >Rommel, by chance, was away from his Headquarters that night and so eluded the fate designed for him by the courageous Com­mandos. At Keyes’ funeral, at Sidi Rafa, Rommel made an oration and pinned his own Iron Cross on the body of the deK: hero. This token of admiration for the bravery of his personal antagonist by an enemy Com- mander-in-Chief must be unique in the history of chivalry. When the official account of the raid could be made known Geof­frey Keyes was awarded a post­humous Victoria Cross, on June 19,1942. A Memorial Service held in Westminster Abbey was at­tended by many Commandos who had shared with him the events of that week in November 1941.
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