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Operation Flipper

Page Created
October 22nd, 2022
Last Updated
October 23rd, 2022
British Flag
Special Forces
Special Boat Section
November 10th, 1941 – November 19th, 1941
Operation Flipper
  • Attack the residence and Headquarters of the General Officer Commanding the German forces in North Africa near Beda Littoria, Libya and try to capture or kill the German commander, Erwin Rommel.
  • Attack and destroy a wireless station and intelligence centre at Apollonia, Lybia.
  • the headquarters of the Italian Trieste Division near Slonta, Lybia.
  • Attack an Italian headquarters and communications cable mast at Cyrene, Lybia.
Operational Area

Beda Littoria, Apollonia, Slonta and Cyrene area in Libya.

Unit Force
  • Fifty men from Layforce under command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Laycock.
  • Two men from Special Boat Section.
  • Long Range Desert group
  • Submarines H.M.S. Torbay and H.M.S. Talisman.
  • Foldbots.
Opposing Forces
  • Afrika Korps
  • Trieste Division

November 10th, 1941

The raiding force leaves on two Submarines from Alexandria, Egypt. The H.M.S. Torbay carries Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Keyes, Captain Robin Campbell, Lieutenant Roy Cooke and twenty-five men. The H.M.S. Talisman transports Lieutenant Colonel Robert Laycock, Captain Ian Glennie, Lieutenant David Macbeth Sutherland and twenty-five men.

Temporary Captain Haselden is delivered in the Operational Area by a patrol of the Long Range Desert Group. He starts reconnoitring the area and gathering intelligence.

November 14th, 1941 – November 15th, 1941

During the night, the detachment of Lieutenant Colonel Keyes lands on the beach of Khashm al-Kalb, guided by two-man Special Boat Section (SBS) teams in foldboats. The beach is close to a place known as Hamama, some four hundred kilometres behind the Axis lines. Once ashore, they make contact with temporary Captain Haselden. Haselden informs the raiding force about the conditions and delivers military information which is wired to Cairo, Egypt.

The group under command of Lieutenant Colonel Laycock has much more difficulty in getting ashore. Due to the harsh weather only Laycock and seven men are able to land. The rest of raiding group remain stuck on the H.M.S. Talisman. With only thirty-four of the fifty-nine men available, instead of four detachments attacking the targets, there were only to be three. The detachment under Laycock remains at the rendezvous area with three men to secure the beach.

Lieutenant Cooke takes six men to destroy the communications facilities near Cyrene.

Keyes leads his detachment of twenty-five men for the attack on Rommel’s supposed headquarters. Guided by an Arab guide, provided by Haselden, they start heading that way immediately until first light. Keyes leads his detachment into a wadi, where they shelter until dark on the second night then move off. With his own mission completed Haselden makes his way back to a rendez-vous area and is picked up by the Long Range Desert Group.

November 16th, 1941 – November 17th, 1941

At dawn, their Arab guide refuses to accompany the group of Lieutenant Colonel Keyes any further in the deteriorating weather. The wait another day but on the second night Keyes decides to lead his men himself. They perform a 550 metres climb, followed by an approach march of 30 kilometres in pitch dark and heavy rain until they reach a cave where they hide during the day. When it gets dark again, the detachment advances to within a few hundred metres of the suspected Headquarters by 22:00.

November 18th, 1941

At zero hour after having despatched the covering party to block the approaches to the house, Keyes with the two others crawls forward past the guards, through the surrounding fence and to the house itself. Unable to find an open window or door, Keyes takes advantage of Captain Robin Campbell’s excellent German and has him pound on the front door and demand entrance.

Unfortunately, when the door is opened, they are unable to overcome the sentry silently, and it was necessary to shoot him. This shot naturally aroused the other German soldiers of the house and Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes, appreciating that speed is now of the utmost importance, posts one of his companions at the foot of the stairs to prevent interference from the floor above. In the firefight that follows Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes is shot almost immediately after flinging open the door and falls back into the passage mortally wounded. He is carried outside by his companions and dies within a few minutes. There are indications that Keyes is shot by friendly fire.

Shortly afterwards, Captain Campbell is accidentally shot in the leg by one of his own men. He passes command to Sergeant Jack Terry and remains behind. Terry gathers the raiding team and retreats with seventeen men to re-join Laycock at the beach.

November 19th, 1941

Lieutenant Roy Cooke’s Detachement on its way to destroy the communications facilities are hiding along a mountain ridge. Here they are noticed by the paratroopers of 3rd Platoon, 2nd Company, 1° Battaglione Paracadutisti Carabinieri Reali under command of 2nd Lieutenant Alfredo Sandulli Mercuro. The Italians think they are looking at a group of Arabs. When Mercuro calls upon his Arab interpreter, the Italians are fired on by Cooke’s men.

The paratroopers engage the British commandos, who withdraw to a cave. With no way out, the wounded commandos surrender after Mercuro threatens to use flamethrowers on them. The Italians take prisoner a group consisting of an officer, one Non-Commissioned Officer and three other ranks. Except for the officer, all the British Commandos are wounded and receive medical treatment from the Italians. Mercuro’s men search the cave and find small arms and three demolition charges. The Italians suffer three wounded during the fight.

Still due to the harsh weather the Laycock party is unable to re-embark on the submarines and so they wait for the weather to improve. While waiting they are discovered and exchange fire with the local Italian gendarmes. Aware that they could not hope to stand off the large force that is surely being organised, Laycock orders the men to scatter and find their way home in small groups.

December 1941

Lieutenant Colonel Laycock and Sergeant Jack Terry make it back to the Allied lines after 37 days in the desert. Bombardier John Brittlebank, one of the two members of the Special Boat Section team, escapes and survives alone in the desert for forty days until being picked up by Allied troops.


Of the raiding force who made it ashore, twenty-eight are captured of which three are wounded. Only Lieutenant Colonel Keyes is killed by the Germans, one other man drowns during the landing. The German suffer four killed and three wounded.