November 18 This Day During World War ll

November 18, 1941 – 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. On 10 November, two submarines left Alexandria. HMS Torbay carried Keyes, Captain Robin Campbell, Lieutenant Roy Cooke, 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. John 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 three. Laycock remained at the rendezvous point with three men to secure the beach. Keyes led his detachment, totalling 17 men, for the attack on Rommel′s supposed headquarters, while Lt. Cooke took six men to destroy the communications facilities near Cyrene. Haselden’s detachment successfully completed its mission and were picked up by LRDG. 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 in a cave 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 Sergeant Jack Terry and remained behind. Terry gathered the raiding team together and retreated. Terry and 17 men rejoined Laycock at the beach. Cooke′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 the 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. When news of the raid reached him, Rommel was said to be indignant that the British should believe his headquarters were 250 miles behind the front. Rommel was certainly courageous, and was always close to the front, often visiting the front line, sometimes unwisely close. 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.

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